• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Roon Music Player and Library Management Software Review

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
19,591
Likes
20,805
Location
Seattle Area
#1
Hi everyone. This is my review of Roon media player. It is the highlights of what I find attractive in the software. As some of you know, my team was responsible for building the Windows Media Player which ships in every copy of Windows. Alas that software has been frozen in time for the last decade or so, and does not for a variety of reasons meet the needs of an audiophile or music lover. So with the build of my new server, I decided to go a new route.

I had tried JRiver a couple of years ago and immediately dismissed it. It is a huge piece of software and quite bloated in my view. I know it has immense set of features and I am not giving it a fair review in what I just said :). Having managed the development of another complex player namely Windows Media Player, and seeing how hard it was to keep it reliable and performant, I have learned to heavily appreciate simplicity. I don’t need or want video playback for example. What I need is something that doesn’t mess with all parts of Windows. This will be critical to keeping a PC based system reliable.

Software Architecture
On that end, the best appeal of Roon is not what you see, but what you don’t. Architecturally, this is one superb piece of software. You install one to N copies of the software on every device from PCs to tablets and phones. You then designate one of them as the master librarian that has your audio hardware connected to it.

If you have a display on that computer, you can fully navigate and play your content of course. But the beauty is that you can also do that from any other computer. Sitting my laptop for example, I can start and stop playback of music started by my tablet as it plays out of my music server connected to my main computer.

Importantly, the user interface is identical on all devices. What you see on your Tablet is identical to what you see on your computer. Everything down to changing the setup of the server can be done as if the screen of the tablet is that of the server. In that sense, the tablet interface is not yet another user interface to learn. It is identical to what you see on any other instance of it including the computer.

This is a hard thing to do as you have to build a completely distributed system that is independent of the hardware layers underneath. Other systems start with a PC implementation and then cook up yet another interface for tablets and such. They cannot move their massive software base on the PC over to the tablet. With Roon, this is designed from day one to be this way, recognizing the role of all these devices to be equal to the PC. It is elegant underneath, and on the surface in how you can do everything from every device.

The great architecture does not stop there. The system is highly robust underneath. Things that would easily screw up less-well-written software don’t even make Roon blink. Let me give an example. I built my NAS with my library and pointed Roon to it. Once it had fully cataloged it, I deleted that folder, created a new one with the same name and put a bunch of other albums in there. I think for sure once I fire up Roon, there will be confusion, crashes and such. Nothing like that happened. I watch it as it erases the old albums it had cached and quickly build them up again using the new library. Likewise, all other copies of Roon refreshed themselves as if nothing had happened. I have thrown a bunch of monkey wrenches like this at it and it simply does not care.

As another example, I buy music on my laptop and copy them to my NAS. Then I fire up Roon and it goes through processing the new additions that the main server copy of Roon then uses. Fully parallel, and distributed architecture that makes sure the entire system “state” is never corrupted by multiple instances of it running. And with it, ease of use and not worrying about how the system works. You just do things that come to you naturally and the system accommodates them by design.

Another sign of great design is performance. The user interface is extremely fast no matter what device you use. Screens come up instantaneously. This is especially noticeable on tablets where their slower CPU means the interface on most programs is more sluggish than on the PC. Not so here. Everything is lightning fast.

The only slow down I noticed is when I put my library on a server. Now there is about half a second lag before album art shows up. But the rest of the interface is there very fast.

Roon User Interface/Features
OK, enough theory let’s dig into the features of the software. What is here is not anything terribly exciting until one zooms in:



Let’s play an album now:

Usual stuff shows up like the album cover and name. Not so unusual are audiophile type information seen right below the album cover: “FLAC 44.1 Khz 16bit 2ch.” I just love that. At a glance I can tell if I am playing CD quality audio or high-res. Can’t tell you how often I tell myself, “boy that high-res track sounds good” only to look and see that 44.1/16 bit designation there :).

Other times I am comparing the CD to high-res version and it is fantastic to know which is playing. On that front, if you have two audio interfaces on your computer server as I do with two USB to S/PDIF (and AES/EBU), you can switch between them instantly. You can see what is playing down below which says “Berkeley.” One click on that and you can switch to another device. Very, very cool for making comparisons. That name by the way is what I chose for my Berkeley USB to AES/EBU converter. You can call it anything you want in the settings.

Speaking of settings, clicking on the Berkeley brings that up on any instance of the player:


I am running this again on my laptop so it shows things that exist here like but also networked devices on my main server, i.e. the Berkeley. At any time, you see a composite of all playback devices both on the computer you are typing on, and what is available from servers elsewhere on your network.

As mentioned, you can drill into settings of networked servers/audio devices as well as you can do for your local device. So let’s do that by clicking on Audio Setup:



This is the top part of the menu. The “Private” devices are what are on my laptop. I can share them out if I want but I have not done so. You can see the list of devices which were at one time connected to my laptop such as the Meridian and iFi DACs.

The list in white below that black box are the interfaces shared out by other Roon systems. In this case, my main music server has broadcast its devices that I can also use. One is Berkeley at the bottom using ASIO interface. Others are what is available such as the speakers in my Samsung TV that is the computer monitor for my music server (“Syncmaster”). You can enable them and then they show up as sources you can select with a gear symbol next to them, allowing configuration of each one.

Scrolling down we see the rest of the devices:


The SC-61 is a Pioneer AVR in our living room which has DLNA/UPnP support. I have not tried to output to it be presumably I can.

At the bottom, I can configure DSD to PCM on the fly conversion. My main DAC does not support DSD so it is wonderful to have this feature there and so easy to configure on and off. Various algorithms are offered there with a programmable gain. The default was 6 dB which made DSDs sound louder than equiv. PCM files I have. I dialed it down to 4 dB as you see and that made them sound the same :).

Clicking the gear for Berkeley brings up this super useful dialog:


For every device you can set a limit of maximum sample rate and whether it can play DSD or not. My DAC currently is limited to 96 Khz PCM and no DSD so these features were a godsend. I can now play everything without worrying about the same rate being too high or being DSD files. Roon automatically resamples files above these limits so that they can play. Again, every one of these settings is device specific and can be independently configured for every DAC.

I don’t know about jRiver but compared to Foobar2000, these settings are so easy to configure and put a smile on my face. Another thing that does that is the little “light” next to the track being played. Clicking on it shows a dialog like this:



Purple says the path is completely bit-perfect as indicated by “lossless” designation. The full pipeline is shown for confirmation. Should I play a DSD file, that color changes because Roon will be performing the resampling so what is played is no longer lossless. Most excellent!

Speaking of most excellent, let’s look at the playback bar:


Notice the waveform display at the bottom. I love that as often music starts at very low volume or even silence and I think maybe I didn’t hit play yet. But then see the waveform and can quickly see if a much louder section is to come as to be ready to lower the volume as needed.

Metadata and Sorting
OK, enough tech talk. Let’s look at the features we want to use to enjoy music. Let’s look at a full album detail as we are playing it:



I must say, at first I was dismissive of the rich metadata Roon sports. But as soon as I used the software, I got hooked on reading what they have to say about the artist and the album in question. The first few lines are shown there. If you hit the down arrow, then you get a pop up with the rest of it:



This gets me to a gripe I have which is lack of paragraph breaks. The above is an exception in having one. The rest I have looked at can be a full page with no breaks in sight which makes it hard to read. That aside, they are still enjoyable to read as I listen. There is an author by the way which was at the end but would not fit on the screen so it got cut off in my snapshot.

You have the usual controls of selecting favorites by clicking on the heart icon for both album and tracks. The albums will have two ratings: one provided by the Roon service and one by you.

Back to our original album view, note the rich set of subtags. You can also add anything you want yourself which comes in handy as this rich metadata does not exist for audiophile recordings from likes of Sound Liaison, and Blue Coast Records.

All tags are “hot” of course and clicking on any of them will bring up a menu for that genre. Let’s do that for Jazz:




I am not a Jazz expert so those of you who are have to tell me if those are valid subsegments.



One cool feature is the automatic radio station. When your queue of music you have selected finishes, by default Roon will synthesize a playlist for you that is similar to what you had selected manually:



Now such features have existed forever. Roon analyzes your music when you import them and based on that and subtags (I think) will create a playlist that more than once I have confused to be part of my original album! It is that good. In that sense, you can prime the pump with one album and then have the system take over entertaining you for the type of music you are in a mood to listen.

Similar to this is the “Discover” tab in the main menu which brings up this type of output:



Roon is remarkable in finding things in my library that I then play. Not sure what logic it is using but whatever it is, it is quite effective when you are indecisive as to what to play next. It has especially come in handy as of late when I have been buying way more music than I have had time to play.

Other thoughtful features abound. See for example this history that shows up when you hit the same button in the main UI:



Again, a great help if you are buying a lot of music and want to go back to something you played yesterday but don’t remember the name. Click on any and it will play that track.

Similarly, any view of the interface can be bookmarked and then you can go there with one click:


Here I had named this place as “Test” and clicking on it got me there. I can add, rename and delete bookmarks using the same interface.

Creating playlists and such are totally intuitive:


Misses
No software is perfect of course and there are a few things that are negatives:

1. The software is expensive. iTunes/WMP are free and Jriver just $50. I paid $450 for a paid up license for Roon. I am a stingy guy and takes a lot for me to fork over that kind of money. I did it for two reasons: one, I like to support development of such superb software. And two, I find the software critical to enjoyment of my music library that costs way, way more than this. Metadata licenses for rich data you see in Roon are expensive to license unfortunately and that is the cost that we bear when we sign up for them this way.

2. Scroll bars are tiny and invisible unless you hover over the right margin. Many times I wondered where the rest of the UI was only to realize that I could scroll down them. The dark blue scroll bar is almost invisible against the dark background of the interface. I like the elegance of it disappearing but it reduces discoverability by a mile so I think it should be fixed.

Also need fixing is that if you move the mouse outside of the window, the scroll bar no longer functions even though you are still holding down the mouse button.

3. The search function is not phonetic. Searching for Muddy Watters but spelling the first word as “ModdY” gets you nothing:


Many international titles have characters that are difficult to type in using US keyboards. Having phonetic search is essential there and easy technology to deploy.

4. By far the most annoyance is this. There is no fast way to play an album. Saying you want to do that in the UI, always brings up this second dialog:



You have to click again on “Play Now.” There should be a button on the main UI that does that without having to do it again for such a common operation.

5. The software uses significant amount of CPU cycles if you let the little progress bar run at the bottom. I am talking 5% or so. Hiding that gets the CPU usage to essentially zero. I am unclear why it take so much CPU cycles just to show that moving tick. There is no practical impact there but for a software with such beautiful architectural design, this is a miss.

Summary
Roon is an elegantly architected and highly functional music playback system targeted toward music lovers that are audiophiles. It is fast, and designed by people who truly understand how people like us want our software to operate. Little touches are everywhere that put a smile on your face in this regard. While pricier than other competitors, Roon has my highest level recommendation for a media player. And it is what I use every day for my music enjoyment.

P.S. I have no commercial interest or connection to the company. The review are my own opinion formed during the free trial and after purchasing the software.
 

Mivera

Major Contributor
Joined
Mar 4, 2016
Messages
2,322
Likes
58
Location
West Kelowna
#2
Nice review Amir. But you didn't mention the best feature that Roon has to offer. The Hqplayer integration. :)
 
Joined
Jun 15, 2018
Messages
10
Likes
2
#4
It is possible to write metadata to files?
For example I have music collection in my PC, I will copy part of it to my mobile phone and I dont want loose all metadata like artist name, song name, cover, lyrics etc.
 

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
19,591
Likes
20,805
Location
Seattle Area
#5
I am not sure of your question. Roon has its own metadata that it attaches to the files using its own database. I don't believe it touches the original metadata in the file but I am not sure. Is this what you were asking?
 

DuxServit

Active Member
Patreon Donor
Joined
Apr 21, 2018
Messages
196
Likes
159
#6
Thanks Amir. This is one of the most comprehensive reviews I’ve read about Roon.

I tried Roon for a year, liked it, and upgraded to a Lifetime membership.
 
Joined
Jun 15, 2018
Messages
10
Likes
2
#7
I was asking if it can overwrite metada stored in original file so you answered my question.
Thanks
 

jackenhack

Active Member
Patreon Donor
Joined
Oct 25, 2018
Messages
190
Likes
411
Location
Stockholm, Sweden
#8
Tried out Roon after reading about it on this forum. I used Audirvana Plus before, but after trying out Roon for a couple of days, I've now converted all my Raspberry Pi's over to DietPi and Roon. I hate subscription software, but I'll buy a lifetime licence in a year. Love the album info and reviews. The interface is also very nice, especially the simple way of checking the entire signal chain. So I guess, thanks, guys!
 

FrantzM

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Patreon Donor
Joined
Mar 12, 2016
Messages
972
Likes
604
#9
Loooove Roon. Only thing is that it is not great for Clasical music so far
 

Kal Rubinson

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Industry Insider
Joined
Mar 23, 2016
Messages
911
Likes
713
Location
NYC/CT
#14
One cool feature is.....................................
I am now streaming 5.1 channel recordings at 24/96 or DSD:D via Qobuz/Roon!
OUCH!! It turns out that I was playing MCH but Roon had drudged up some of my own (but unfamiliar) files. There are MCH albums on Qobuz but they are for purchase and will only stream in stereo. Sorry.
 
Last edited:

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
19,591
Likes
20,805
Location
Seattle Area
#15

Kal Rubinson

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Industry Insider
Joined
Mar 23, 2016
Messages
911
Likes
713
Location
NYC/CT
#17
Can you please explain your hardware configuration for 5.1 music?
First, please note my correction above.
Second, I used a Nucleus+ feeding an exaSound PlayPoint (via ethernet) and exaSound e38 DAC.
 
Last edited:

Webninja

Member
Patreon Donor
Joined
Oct 8, 2018
Messages
63
Likes
58
Location
Los Angeles
#19
I was able to get the Qobuz 1 month trial working, but I quit just before this new Roon integration. For me, Tidal has more of the music and playlists I listen too, but Qobuz has almost everything I searched for, lots of World Music and obscure albums. I dropped mostly because of the lack of Roon integration (you get use to the interface), so I might have to revisit in the near future.
 

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
19,591
Likes
20,805
Location
Seattle Area
#20
So far I don't know one of the UI changes they made. Used to be in the play bar you could hit a heart symbol to select a favorite song. That is gone now. Problem is that when Roon switches to radio mode or off screen tracks, there is no way to find the same indicator on the track list to do the same.
 
Top Bottom