Roon: What's It Building In There??

Written by Dan Schwartz

A couple of years ago, along with a DirectStream DAC, I bought an older Mac Mini. Why older? The price was “attractive”, and I got the last model you could get with a “Super Drive”, the Mac DVD/CD drive.

For the first half-year or so, I connected the Mini to the DAC via USB (and tried various AudioQuest USB enhancements), but ever wanting to fiddle, I eventually connected it up to my network via a Bridge II card. This necessitated using JRiver, MC 20 and 21, and giving up on most other choices. But that particular software is really meant for someone who loves working in Windoze, and that person isn’t me (I’m insufficiently pointy-headed). Nonetheless, I did study computer programming back in the days of Fortran IV, and am completely comfortable dissecting my dissectable Macs. And the Laufer-Teknik Memory Player, which I had until I sent it back for updating a few years ago, ran on Windows. So I can at least say that my head has a bit of a point — I’m conversant in Windows, but much, much prefer Mac, as I prefer spending my time with art rather than technology.

So Roon was a great gift to people like me, who will do just about anything to avoid having to get down and dirty with tech. For those living on the Dark Side of the Moon, it’s software, and now an OS, that does for your system what the Sooloos did on it’s own — which, if you never saw it, was pretty slick[1]. Besides displaying the art, Roon lists (or attempts to, at least) the credits on albums (yes, it’s my best friend). And if the metadata is right, it does a pretty good job of it[2].

All was über-groovy until late this past winter. There was an issue, and Roon’s tech support mentioned to me that I might think about switching out the hard drive for an SSD. That’s fine, if you can spare the dosh. I tried to set it aside, but you know, it’s one thing after another. And then in the spring, a Roon update came and it all went to hell.

There’s still no answer, but although Roon continued to work, it was losing art. And lost more and more art. Over the course of about 6 weeks, I tried different things, including responding to inquiries as to the health of my drive (it checks out fine), but mostly waited on tech support. There was obviously some kind of dynamic corruption. Tech support and I managed to get pissed off at each other, with most of my questions still unanswered. And there the story almost ended.

I even communicated with their CEO, Enno Vandermeer, via a Facebook message, asking what he recommended. Finally, I got fed up, wiped the Mini’s drive and started over. By the time I got to this point, I was pretty sick of Roon. I tried to find an alternative, but there was only MC22. So I turned back to Roon, and I rebuilt all the playlists, about a dozen of them, which took the better part of a day. It worked, and a few weeks later it’s still working.

As I was contemplating putting pen to paper, so to speak, Editor Leebens suggested I talk to Roon’s Rob Darling. That conversation started out a bit testy, but once we found common ground, it was good. I’m not sure what did the trick, but eventually my career background came out, as did his (we both come from making records). I discussed the joys of taking apart my various Macs and replacing components (actually, it’s kind of fun). And he, finally understanding me, and me him, talked a bit about Roon’s plans.

Which brings us to this.

This is the computer that Roon recommends. Not quite a week after my talk with Rob, I found this article. If you want to go this way, fully tricked out, it’s about $400, give or take. That’s what I wanted the readers to know. These guys seem to have done their homework. I sent that link to Rob, and here’s his response:

“Hosting Roon on general-use computers can get hard with older computers.

“Many people have not needed to buy a new computer in many years as their phones and tablets have picked up most of their computing minutes in a day… unless they are a specialist in something like graphics, they are fine with an 8 or 10 year old computer.

“But Roon is a fully modern app developed to take advantage of all the tools in a modern OS, with clients on all major mobile and desktop operating systems. This can make for user experience problems and tough support situations with older machines.

“Asking people to pay for a new Mac Mini, which is overpriced and still presents compromises and challenges to the audiophile, just to use Roon, is something we are not very comfortable with. This is why we created Roon OS and ROCK for the DIY enthusiasts and Nucleus for those who want an off-the-shelf solution. Roon OS and ROCK offer the DIY’er an inexpensive (<$500) music server running a ground-up-built, rock-solid, stripped-down, audio-optimized LINUX OS, running on best-in-class hardware from Intel.

“Nucleus offers a turnkey version of this LINUX OS and best-in-class hardware, in a silent chassis that looks great in your listening room. Just as important as these basic values is the fact that Roon OS, ROCK, and Nucleus are things we can own, which means we can support them better and can optimize performance for them.”

This wasn’t intended to become an advertisement, for Roon, although given the fact of its display of credits, I should want to do that. But I thought it would do to hear from a spokesman for the company what I came to know, and what their thought process was.

For those who can afford the PS server when it appears, I’d choose that, too –– no question. But for those who can’t (and based entirely on hearsay — I haven’t used one yet), the NUC and ROCK, the Roon OS, sounds like the way to go. I expect to get one pretty soon.

[1] A couple of the guys started Roon after Sooloos was sold.

[2] Can you believe I’m writing about metadata? [NO.—Ed.]

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