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What is Roon? It’s not the easiest music service to explain. The fact that Roon Labs has its own, dedicated Roon Knowledge website is testament to that. The shortest way to describe Roon is that it’s a multi-device, multi-room music platform.
It manages your music library, cleans up your files and directs the flow of music to your motley crew of hi-fi kit. A walled garden of hardware this is not. Roon aims to be a well organised, carefully considered and implemented, democratisation of multi-room.
Roon’s goals are also supreme usability and super high-quality sound. The interface is designed to be richer than anything else out there and it claims “bit-perfect playback of lossy and lossless file formats, including high resolution audio content (PCM and DSD)”.
High ideals indeed but, like all good things, Roon doesn’t come cheap. So, if you want to know exactly what the Roon music server is before you sign up, read on to find the big questions answered below.
What is Roon?
Roon is a connecting, streaming and music management software which brings multi-room smarts to your hi-fi equipment. It is the brains which tells your music what to do and where to do it – the policeman directing the traffic.
Roon is not a music streaming service in its own right. It does not offer you access to any music service to which you’re not already signed up. Instead, it takes control of your internet radio, your music streaming services and your own personal music files, and sends them to audio output devices as controlled on a series of computer, smartphone and tablet apps. It joins the disparate dots of your listening ecosystem.
To do that, there are several key parts to Roon’s structure – the Roon Core, the Roon app and the audio devices. Let’s look at those individually.
What is a Roon Core?
Every Roon set-up requires a Roon Core. It’s the conductor of your music streaming orchestra. It centralises the Roon application, which is responsible for all the thinking that your system needs to do. That way, you don’t need to go updating all your bits and pieces of hi-fi every time Roon is fixed or upgraded.
Naturally, your Roon Core needs to be something with decent computational chops and, in most set-ups, its likely to be a Mac or Windows PC. It could also be a NAS drive or a dedicated music server (such as Roon’s own Roon Nucleus) which is pre-installed or installable with the Roon Core server software. You can find a list of Roon partner products on the Roon website.
Wherever it sits, the Roon Core will manage the music from all of your digital sources: Tidal, Qobuz, NAS drives, HDDs, USBs, iTunes and live radio. It builds an interconnected digital library, with cleaned up, enhanced, up-to-date metadata, which is then tucked up into one, tidy interface with all the rich content that Roon can muster.
Those extras include photos, bios, reviews, lyrics, and concert dates, and makes connections between artists, composers, performers, conductors, and producers. The idea is to create a more searchable, magazine-type feel to your music.
As well as organising your collection, your Roon Core is responsible for music playback too, and its aim is to take as much of the heavy lifting away from your playback devices as possible. It does all the audio stream conversion and volume levels the output. It controls your play queue, your output devices and the multi-room zoning as well. It also handles all the software updates.
Keeping all of those computational processes in one place means that the audio circuitry of your hi-fi equipment can be freer of noisy chips and components which may otherwise harm the quality of music playback. It also means that your hi-fi kit won’t become out-dated.
AirPlay for audiophiles
Roon Advanced Audio Transport (RAAT) is the technology that allows this all to work in a centralised way. Roon describes it as “AirPlay for audiophiles”. It allows the Roon Core to do everything apart from act as your remote control or the audio output device itself. Consequently, it promises fewer drop outs, lower latency and streams of up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512.
What is the Roon Remote?
This one’s easy. Roon Remote is the name of the Roon app on most app stores. It is a software remote control for your Roon service. It’s not the core, it’s not your library. It’s simply the way you access what you’ve got and the way you ask your Roon Core to play music on your devices.
There are Roon Remote apps for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac OS to use on smartphones, tablets and computers. They’re all created with a single code base to make sure that the experience is uniform.
You browse and play music with Roon apps. You can install and use as many as you like. All the data is kept synchronized in real-time and Roon claims that there’s no lag and no stale data.
Audio devices: which devices are Roon Ready?
“Audio devices” are the part of the system that make the noise. These might be networked speakers, a music streamer, headphone amps, USB DACS or even a laptop.
Look out for Roon Ready certification on your playback devices. These are the guaranteed Roon integrated bits of kit which have Roon’s hi-res streaming RAAT technology inside. Roon will discover these without a problem and automatically deliver the highest possible audio quality to them.
You’ll find networked Roon Ready output devices from the likes of Ayre, Bluesound, B&W, Cambridge Audio, Chord, dCS, Devialet, Elac, JBL, KEF, Korg, Linn, Mark Levinson, Meridian, Moon, NAD, Naim, Onyko, Oppo, Pioneer, Pro-Ject, TEAC and more. Take a look at the full Roon Ready list for more details.