Roon Version 2.0 build 1169

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Roon Version 2.0 build 1169​

Digital Software​

Review by Mr Underhill



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Introduction​

A number of months ago our erstwhile editor, George47, asked me to give Roon ‘a go’ and write my impressions. I agreed and parked it in the to-do pile. Without short-circuiting this write-up that was a mistake.

In the following review, I will be examining Roon used in a Nearfield System, a Main System and a Portable System. This will include: using the Core on a bespoke audio NUC and a laptop; examining DSP and Roon upscaling; and, the use of Convolution files.

Before diving into Roon let me briefly give you my antecedents. The first bit of software I tried with digital was in the early noughties when I loaded up Foobar 2000. At that time I was using an old Dell laptop as a type of digital turntable. I had turned off everything in the operating system that was not needed, including networking. I was impressed by the dynamics and detail on show, but somehow it got used less and less over the months, but I had faith that there was something here that needed to be pursued.

Over the following years, I worked my way through a fair few software systems, including: VLC; Media Monkey; and, Jriver.

I have experimented with various server software systems, including LMS and Audio Linux.

I have found the efficacy and the ineffectiveness of cables, vibration control, earthing and power management when used in different scenarios.

More recently I have been using my Synology NAS running Minimserver AND an Audiostore Prestige 2. The Prestige had the SDD disconnected so that I was loading Audio Linux from a USB stick on boot. The music files were held on four 512GB USB sticks in a USB hub. The hub was independently powered by a dedicated LPSU. The digital systems were behind a transformer so the power supply was unpolluted by the house mains.

In terms of front end players I have worked my way through many schemes and included such things as the Sonore Micro and Ultra Rendus, NUCs and the SOtM Trifecta.

Associated with these bits of kit I have worked my way through all the usual widgets by Uptone et al, all the way up to and including the Mutec MC-3+.

I have experimented with Power over Ethernet, including power hubs.

In terms of my front end I ended up with a three-shelf Heath Robinson affair that sounded rather good. It was excellent VFM, as long as you ignored all the missteps I made along the way, or I suppose the learning? I then listened to a dCS Network Bridge, this was as good as my sprawling mess, more expensive BUT a lot neater; so that is what I use today in my Main System.

Please note that I will not be giving any impressions of Roon ARC, this is not something I will be using.

Technology


Roon has a client-server architecture. That is the main server, or Roon Core, can be hosted on a separate machine from the controlling software, or Roon Control. Additionally, the Core output is sent to a renderer, the Roon output device. The output device may be one that is ‘Roon Ready’ so that it already has the client component loaded into its onboard software, or you may choose to use an intermediate device, such as one from Sonore, SOtM, or indeed a Raspberry Pi – amongst others.

Of course, all three elements can exist on one system, such as your laptop.

In my case I will be testing Roon in three contexts:
  1. Main System
    Roon Core = Hosted on Audiostore Prestige 2;
    Roon Client = Roon Remote on Windows 10 laptop (see notes below);
    Output Device = dCS Network Bridge (Roon Ready).

  2. Nearfield System
    Roon Core = Hosted on Audiostore Prestige 2;
    Roon Client = Roon Remote on Windows 10 laptop (see notes below);
    Output Device = Meridian 210 (Roon Ready).

  3. Portable System
    Roon Core = Hosted on Laptop from (2);
    Roon Client = Roon Remote on Laptop from (2) (see notes below);
    Output Device = Chord Poly / Mojo.

    Roon Core = Hosted on Laptop from (2);
    Roon Client = Roon Remote on Laptop from (2) (see notes below);
    Output Device = Chord Mojo via USB (WASAPI).

    Roon Core = Hosted on Laptop from (2);
    Roon Client = Roon Remote on Laptop from (2) (see notes below);
    Output Device = USB to SingXer F1, WAVE cable to Chord Mojo via COAX input.

Test Tracks​

The tracks were selected to allow:
  • Comparison of local and QoBuz sourced versions of the same tracks;
  • Comparison of standard and remastered versions of the same track;
  • The presentation of vinyl RIP recorded from LP12/EAR868;
  • Comparison of older and modern tracks, with their different mastering priorities;
  • How problem tracks were presented.

QoBuz Playlist: https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/12563771

Problem Files: https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/12623970

Portable System​

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I live away from home for three days a week, which means I need a better-than-average portable music solution. To assist with this I bought a Chord Mojo and then a Poly. I connected to the Wifi with my Android phone running the Bubbleupnp app, this then fed the Chord Poly; the Poly lifted the achieved sound quality.

I had already installed and run Roon at home and so on arrival having put on my Quad ERA-1 headphones and fired up Roon it failed to find my home Roon Core, but gave me the option to pick the Core on my laptop, once I remotely logged out of the home Roon Core; of course, it did suggest that I might want to buy a further licence; errr, no thank you.

Roon searched for available outputs and recognised The Chord Poly/Mojo. It was going to use Airplay. This had me running back to the Internet and the Chord Manuals. I had to use the Chord GoFigure app on my phone to set the Chord Poly to Roon Ready.

The Roon Core works on Zones, one Zone per endpoint. Each Zone uses a dedicated processor core. On the bottom of the Roon interface to the right of the play and forward/back buttons is a graphic to indicate the output device. If you right-click or hold a left-click upon this a shortcut menu pops up from which you can select: The Zone settings; The device Setup; or, DSP.

Selecting the DSP allows you to alter various settings, I could make various recommendations but I will point you to the briefing by Archimago, who goes into some detail HERE.

Archimago covers the different settings, filters and conversion filters. An interesting and well-written briefing.

When I initially set up Roon in my Main System I set the sample rates to x2, 44.1 to 88.2 etc. This immediately impressed me and so I simply set the conversions to ‘Max PCM Rate’. I found this echoed experiences I had with early upscaling, the music became mellow and overly soft. Do experiment.

I configured Roon DSP, x2 for 44.1 and 48, and kicked things into gear. The sound was very good but I was having dropout issues. The DSP processing speed was running at 70+, so there was no issue there. The processing speed is shown via the star icon on the play bar in Roon, this opens a widget where the speed is just above the Source. This shows the number of seconds that Roon is processing ahead of what you are hearing. Anything less than one second will be a real problem. No such issue here.

The problem was network utilisation. I was pulling data from the local hub to the laptop for processing and then back to the hub and out to the Poly for playing via Wi-Fi. This got worse in the evening, which I assumed was additional contention on the 2.4GHz frequencies, which the Chord Poly uses, once the neighbours got home.

Having examined the metrics and considered various options I took a radical step; I disconnected my Chord Poly and used a VERY standard USB cable. The Core immediately saw various options to connect to my USB-connected Mojo and I selected WASAPI. To emphasise, the USB cable is of the boggiest of standards, usually used for 5V device charging.


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I upped the DSP setting to x4 and hit play. I will re-state that I had found that the addition of the Poly was not only more convenient but also was a sound quality upgrade. The Rooned Mojo is at least as good as the Chord Poly; although hardly as portable!

The configuration I settled upon was:

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Even at 4x upscaling the processing speed never fell below 55.0x, although that is on an i7 Laptop with oodles of RAM, industry term.

This proved to be a first-rate listening experience. It made the most of whatever music I fed into it and never became tiring. When I arrived the following week, I was positively looking forward to listening to some more music; but could it be improved?

One way in which Roon can alter the listening experience is via Convolution files. In the main system, these would need to be produced via a program such as REW. Using a calibrated microphone you can generate Convolution files via frequency sweeps. In a headphone system, things MAY be simpler, as explained HERE. The previous link points to THIS PAGE where I download the relevant zip file for my headphones, Quad ERA-1 (with leather pads). I loaded up the convolution DSP filter and pointed it at the downloaded zip file and activated the filter, as explained HERE. If you don’t trust the provided files then there are links to explain how you can generate your own filters.

Let’s explore some (truncated) listening notes:

I will apologise for the over-use of Big Love, but this became a focus when I was reviewing the Benchmark DAC3 HGC, this handled problem files better than my Qutest, and so I was interested to hear how this sounded in particular via Roon.


Big Love, Tango in the Night (2017 Remaster), Fleetwood Mac, QoBuz, 9624
This version of the track can display some aggressive sibilance on the Ss, such as ‘...house on the hill...’.

Roon with Upscaling
This is a relaxed and dynamic presentation. When the annoying Ss arrived there was a tad of ssss, but nothing that pulled me out of the music. Guitars left and right are well presented with the urgent drum beats pushing the track forwards.

Roon without Upscaling
Very little difference to Roon upscaled.

Roon with Upscaling + Convolution
The volume needed to be increased, a lot. The presentation was sharper and the S issue was present and incorrect. The overall feel was that the bass was less present and the music less enjoyable.

So, Convolution is working but with these files, I am not enjoying its effect. I will not explore this further here, but I will play with it more offline.


Big Love, Tango in the Night, Fleetwood Mac, QoBuz, 192/24
This version is quieter than the 2017 version above.
No difference in the listening experience with the 2017 version. Not my experience to date.


Bombtrack, XX (20th Ann), Rage Against the Machine, QoBuz, CD

Roon with Upscaling
Wonderful BIG bass. Love the opening which then EXPLODES. This really is the best my portable system has sounded. There is a lovely resonance to the drums and the lyrics are easily followed.

Roon without Upscaling
On the whole, this sounds very similar, but I do think that the presence and dynamics of the drums are slightly reduced.

Sweet maxine, Stampede, Doobie Brothers, QoBuz, CD

Roon with Upscaling
Lovely upright piano opening then joined by the rock elements, but you can continue to hear the piano in support. Easy to follow the musical threads: Guitar; Piano; Bass; and, vocals. Again the bass drum joins with a lovely thump. Vocalists, lead and support, form a nice ensemble within the soundfield, with some good brass backing left field. This is a well-produced piece of rock/pop.

Roon without Upscaling
No difference.

The Greatest Show, The Greatest Show, Hugh Jackman, QoBuz, CD
Some music is a triumph of production such as Welcome to the Pleasuredome, this track is one.

Roon with Upscaling
Arrives with a BIG bass underpinning that just gets bigger, but doesn’t overshadow the multitude of elements. Just bring a grin to my face. This is hardly a real acoustic, not something that will ever be produced live, not without a LOT of technical support. But wow, it is a roller coaster of a number, and yet it is possible to follow the constituent parts AND follow Jackman’s lyrics. Superb.

Roon without Upscaling
Still excellent but there were some parts deep in the mix that I felt weren’t quite as apparent. And again the resonance of the bass drums wasn’t quite as wonderfully fat yet controlled, that is the drum’s tonal quality expands and contracts through the beat.

Upgrading?​

Is there a way to improve the performance? Well, as I have a panoply of HiFi bits hanging around I thought I would give this a go.

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Audiophile USB cable > SingXer F1 > WAVE coax > Mojo

And? Actually, it DID change things ....was this an improvement?

SingXer: There was slightly more micro-dynamic pop and brass and cymbals had a bit more metallic sheen. The upright piano in Sweet Maxine was more characteristic of its breed. Bass lines that are fast and low down in the max were somewhat clearer.

Bog standard USB cable: The detail was a tad reduced as were the micro-dynamics, that is the pop and pluck of individual instruments. The bass is slightly more present. BUT, the way I listen to this is somewhat different. I find myself being less analytical, I just relax and enjoy the somewhat more obscure presentation.

What is amusing is that this reflects the discussions I have with friends around valve vs solid state. An issue here is that we can all get caught by detail and see this as a shorthand for improvement. Some manufacturers can use this to tilt their products so that it is easier to demonstrate the extra you are getting. The big question here is can you settle down to a long listening session? Do you find yourself tiring and becoming distracted? Does the system do more to tell you about your BAD recordings than to get an emotional connection to the music you love?

For me, I preferred the boggiest of USB cables, saving over five hundred pounds. But, this is NOT a simple judgement. For instance, through the USB cable Bryan Ferry’s ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ was a tad sharper than I would have wished, but not so through the SingXer.

Nearfield System​

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The Hugo TT was a product that I have listened to a lot and thought I knew; well my views were about to be updated.


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The first step was to load up Roon Core on my Audiostore Prestige 2. This was straightforward. I then loaded Roon on my laptop. One frustrating area was that I had to load the full Roon infrastructure, I couldn’t just load Roon Remote, this is only available for phones and tablets. Initially I got ‘Wrong Password’ messages. This was due to the laptop having Roon 2.0 and the Prestige 2 having Roon 1.8. Restarting the Roon software on my laptop recognised that the remote server was an older version and allowed me to remotely update it, which was straightforward despite my trepidations.

Having connected to the remote Core the next step was to find the Meridian 210 in the Core interface.

In my nearfield system, I used the following DSP Settings:

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The Meridian 210 will accept streamed music up to 24/192, but it only handles it at 24/96. I therefore used Roon to BOTH upscale AND downscale in this scenario.

Please note the ‘Processing Speed’. As explained above this indicates the seconds of music that are being processed every second. If the speed drops below one, that is real time then you will have problems. My Audiostore Prestige 2 is an i3 and I never had any issues with DSP processing.

Those of you who have been kind enough to have read my reviews will know that I have something of an obsession with what I term ‘Problem Files’. This led me to experiment with methods of removing sharpness from digital replay. I found this could be introduced by a number of factors including poor power, poor grounding and lack of vibration control amongst others. Ultimately our systems are a complex environment in which certain solutions will not be universally efficacious. That said there are a few people with whom I discuss and listen to systems regularly and we do find effects that are surprisingly transferable, such as the qualities of the Audioquest Diamond Coax SPDIF cable. We all have a positive impression of Roon.

I find the quality of audio with Roon is remarkable. That it has the ability to improve the music without blunting it when sympathetically applied. This is the case even with my Chord M-Scaler in circuit.

One of the issues with recognising electrical/electronic pollution is that certain music acts as a herb or salt, it heightens the music. It adds a touch of energy, urgency and/or detail. This means that sometimes it is easy to misunderstand what you are hearing. One of the things I keep an eye on is HOW I FEEL. Good digital, like good analogue, means that any urgency and tension I feel is due to the music, and I am more relaxed. Not, I admit, always an easy exercise and dependent upon the music genre.

Time for some listening notes:

Take me to the River, Live at Blues Alley, Eva Cassidy, QoBuz, CD
This number really swings. Great supporting musicianship. The small club atmosphere just draws you in. Lots of different influences throughout this whole album. This was the last recording that Eva saw released, she dies six months after its release.

The bass line just takes me straight to ‘The Blues Brothers’.


The Greatest Show, The Greatest Show, Hugh Jackman, QoBuz, CD
Still a triumph of the production art but somehow, I hear even more detail through the Falcons than I did through the Quad headphones. The macro-dynamics here are a bit of a tour-de-force. The space the nearfield system gives you over and above the headphones gives the sound elements more space in which to breath, while perhaps losing a smidge of dynamic punch.

Headphone:​

A few listening notes:

Or not. I would end up repeating many of the observations from my notes with respect to the Mojo. The biggest differences were tonal. The music from the Hugo TT on the end of Roon feels richer and I relax more when listening to the music.

The Hugo TT was a tad better at not etching music, such as the sibilants in Big Love. Bryan Ferry’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was absent of the sharpness that I noted with the Mojo.

Main System​

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Having recently spent many a long hour enjoying the Benchmark DAC3 HGC I ended by being damned tempted to buy one. Whilst I was wrestling with temptation I set up Roon and put my Chord Qutest back in circuit, the temptation receded.

If you read the Benchmark DAC3 HGC review you will find that, like in this review, I spent some time listening to Big Love - Remastered 2017 (9624), I have included this in a list of files that can cause issues in my main system. With Roon in place, any issues were GREATLY reduced. This in combination with the way I support my Chord Qutest gave me some of the best music I have achieved with this little box, in combination with my Chord M-Scaler.

As with the other systems, I found the biggest effect was in using Roon, although fine-tuning Roon DSP can hone the final result.

Initially, through Roon DSP I selected the MAX output settings, as noted earlier this was smooth but a touch blunted. Music lost some needed edge.

In my main system the settings I initially ran with were:

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However, I ended up becoming less definite due to a visit I made to a friend who introduced me to Hugh Laurie’s ‘Let Them Talk’. This was played through his:

  • Vertere SG-1 turntable, SGTA-HB Arm, veRum Solo Armlead, Mystic Cartridge, Imperium Motordrive with Pulse HB Mains lead. Using RG-1 Isolation shelf on 3 x SlienceR Isolation pods.
  • Feeds into Naim Superline, Powered over 17Pin Naim burndy from Olive Supercap. Signal out over Naim 4-5 HiLine to…
  • Naim NAC82 (Pots 8 with input 6 uniti gain mod), powered by 2nd Olive Supercap.
  • Feeds into Naim Chrome Bumper NAP250 (sleeved, not bolt down) with H&F Transformer.
  • Feeds into a pair of Focal Chorus 826 W UK Limited Edition 3-way floorstanders.
  • These are supplemented with a high-level connection to an MJ Acoustics Ref200 SR Subwoofer.
  • Cabling in 2ch, other than explicitly stated Naim cables above, and a custom built Tellurium Q Blue High Level cable for the sub, is Vertere.
    Specifically, Pulse HB Mains leads on Imperium Motordrive, Both Supercaps and NAP250. Redline Mains on NA PSC2 for NAC82. Snaic5 (x2) and DIN to Cannon (x1) between NAC82, Supercap & NAP250 have been replaced with Vertere Redline cables.
  • Speaker cables are currently Vertere Pulse XS
In the interests of transparency my friend has been a dealer for many years but has joined Vertere. I should also point out that I am NO fan of the Naim Olive series, whilst acknowledging that they are more detailed than the Chrome Bumper amps.

With the right albums, this system is breath taking, and the Laurie album is one such. On returning home I played this album via QoBuz and it led me to re-evaluate the use of Roon DSP in my main system.

Let Them Talk is a superbly recorded album that immediately took me to the live recording session I attended care of Audio Consultants and Crescent Recording Studio. There is a sheer level of dynamics and detail on this album through this system that was breath taking. Not so much on my system using the Roon setup above. However, if I turned off sample rate conversion in the Roon DSP I got some of the magic back.

However, how did these settings work with my ‘problem files’?

Without doing a blow-by-blow commentary the answer was that with many there was little difference; with some, such as The War of the Worlds, I preferred the sample rate conversion dialled in. That said running Roon sans DSP is now my preference in my main system.

It would be good of Roon to allow you to flexibility select the DSP settings on an ALBUM basis.

Conclusion​

As you would expect from this review I heartily recommend this product …….damn it!

Let’s start with the portable system. I have NEVER enjoyed this system as much as I have by stripping out the Chord Poly and using the Mojo on the end of Roon with a bog-standard USB cable. Really superb. The sound quality and engagement I get using a laptop (Roon), Chord Mojo and Quad ERA-1s is excellent, with an engaging balance of tone, dynamics and detail.

Roon somehow removes etch and sibilance, but it can do so without removing energy and texture.

In my Nearfield & Main systems, the quality I got from QoBuz was raised to that of local files and was again the most consistently enjoyable music I have enjoyed through the systems digitally.

I love the quantity of music that QoBuz makes available to me, but there has frequently been a quality gap between it and my local files. Interestingly I recently found that much to my surprise, I very much prefer to have upscaling through Minimserver switched in for my local files. When I started listening to Roon I put its successes down to its DSP engine, but after some testing, I found that the main improvements come from the Roon system itself, DSP is the cherry on the cake. I would love to understand more about what Roon and RAAT are doing.

I have NO automatic DSP recommendations. If you have read this review, you will know that it has been a bit of a journey and that YOU need to experiment within your own systems.

Historically I have achieved the level of musical satisfaction I get with Roon for my local files, but the systems I have been using were less easy to set up. Roon is a very well-honed software system and intuitive in its set-up & working, at least for anyone reading this I suspect.

The bottom line for me is that I ENJOYED a greater breadth of the music available to me through all three of my systems more and more consistently than I have before.

The greatest compliment I can pay Roon is that since buying the Tron 7 G.T. this has been the source of choice, and generally still is, BUT digital has now returned to the fold and I am enjoying it far more. My audio diet has become far more balanced.

In addition to the technical and the musical Roon gives you easy access to a world of information, but this is something that I am only just starting to explore; perhaps a round two in due course.
 
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