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Audiophiles spend too much time optimizing their gear when true music enjoyment should actually be on top of their lists. Since discovering Roon Labs, my life has completely changed (in a good way that is). As soon as I start listening, I cannot seem to get enough of my own albums. I also discover new music all the time.
What actually is Roon Labs?
Roon is sort of a spin-off of Meridian and their Sooloos software. I’m sure some of you even remember their advanced music library technology. With Roon, all of this is now available to every audiophile on the planet on an annual subscription basis. Roon automatically creates visually stunning live catalogs from your existing music library. It also neatly integrates with Tidal so you no longer need to remember where a particular track is stored. That’s great news because I personally hope to switch to a cloud-only musicing streaming solution. There’s a ton of features and I wouldn’t be able to explain them all without having to repeat what the guys at Roon Labs have already explained.
Roon actually consists of multiple components. The back end is called the “Core” and runs on virtually any computing platform that is powerful enough to manage your library.
Next, we’ve got a controlling front end. That can be your iPad or even a standard Windows Laptop.
For playback, Roon relies on compatible music server devices or USB DACs. Squeezeboxes are also supported as playback devices.
The general concept behind Roon is to have dedicated devices for specicic tasks: a library manager, a NAS storage, a controlling point as well as an audiophile streaming device. No single device is perfect for everything.
How much does Roon cost?
Well, Roon is kinda expensive. An annual subscription is going to cost you $119 (This is the plan I personally picked). If you want to pay once and never think about fees again, there’s also a lifetime subscription at $499. Roon certainly has a bright future and their technology is rock-solid. I never experienced any hickups.
Compatible playback devices
If you own an Auralic Aries, a Squeezebox or compatible USB DACs, Roon is a great way to enhance your music enjoyment. Unfortunately, Roon support is only available for the larger Auralic devices and not for the Aries Mini which is a pity given the very competitive price point of the Mini. If you want to keep it simple, even an outdated Mac Mini or a laptop can be turned into an output device. But that would defeat the purpose of having optimized mini computers for highest quality music playback.
Building your own Roon playback devices
Here’s the fun part :) Using a simple Raspberry PI with the free PICoreplayer software can turn a $30 device into a full-featured Roon output device! All you need is the Hifiberry installer which prepares an SD card image with the latest version of PICoreplayer. Because it essentially emulates a Sqeezebox, Roon is happy to use that device for playback. Then you can either add a DAC module to your PI or even better – use digital outputs from the Hifiberry Digi+ module into your own external audiophile DAC.
But I found an even better way to build a true native Roon playback device that works with your Raspberry PI. Here’s what you need to do:
1.) Download the Hifiberry installer
2.) Choose “ArchLinux” as the distribution when preparing your SD card image
3.) When you’re done, boot up your PI (make sure it is connected to your network) and find out its IP address
4.) Using SSH (Windows Command prompt), type SSH 127.0.0.1 (this should be replaced by the actual IP address of your PI)
5.) Log in as root (User: root, Password: root)
6.) Enter these commands (followed by ENTER) – this will download the automatic installer and configure your PI SD card
curl -O http://download.roonlabs.com/builds/roonbridge-installer-linuxarmv7hf.sh
chmod +x roonbridge-installer-linuxarmv7hf.sh
7.) Follow the on-screen setup instructions.
8.) After a successful installation, you need to reboot your PI.
Congratulations! Now you have a fully compatible Roon playback device. If everything goes well, this process should not take more than 10-15 minutes so it is definitely worth your time. Roon should automatically detect it on the network.
Another advantage of having a native Roon client is that you get even more choices for your hardware such as sampling rates, DSD downsampling etc. Those are not available if you are using PICoreplayer.
The sound quality is absolutely fabulous. Any my Raspberry PI Model 2 boots up in about 10 seconds. I keep my music collection on my Mac termporily but hope to be able to set up a dedicated machine with NAS in the next couple of months.
To learn more about Roon, check out the Roon Labs website. Oh, and I have zero affiliations with them, just a happy music lover ;)