Roon with a view

Is Roon the ultimate music manager for digital downloads, ripping and streaming and a great new sales opportunity for retailers? Technology journalist Rob Lane explores

The resurgence of vinyl has buoyed sales for most hi-fi retailers, with traditional audio-heads returning to the LP and investing in new turntables and phono stages – and in some cases using these purchases as an excuse to refresh their whole system. Anecdotally, I’ve also heard of whole systems being purchased by customers who have caught the audiophile bug after many years in the ‘Sonos wilderness’, with the turntable purchase acting as the catalyst for full-on separates. Welcome back vinyl!

However, once that initial spike of turntable sales has subsided, there’s a danger that buoyancy will deflate, so it’s crucial that retailers find ways of maintaining the buzz created by vinyl’s ‘return’.

To my mind, one of the best potential revenue boosters, and a perfect fit for the vinyl revolution, is Roon.

I have to agree with Alex Scott-Simons, managing director of Stone Audio in Poole (see my Dealer Profile in the November 2017 issue of ERT), that Roon is a “streaming game-changer”. According to Mr Scott-Simons, while 99 per cent of his customers have never seen Roon when they come in, they “want it immediately” when they do see it demonstrated.

So what is Roon? For the uninitiated, Roon is software wizardry for digital music – downloads, rips and streaming. More excitingly, Roon gives a vinyl makeover to digital, while reclothing streaming in an audiophile suit of many colours.

Rob Lane
Rob Lane

All systems using Roon – which requires a monthly or lifetime subscription – are based around a ‘core’, which can manage music from a variety of different digital sources – including music servers, hard drives, multiple PCs and Macs (plus Tidal’s streaming service – more of which later). The core can manage even the most disparate collection of digital music, building an interconnected digital library and augmenting it with enhanced information from Roon.

The core itself can be a Mac or a PC, or preferably – from a sales perspective – a server or Roon-ready network player or zone controller from one of Roon’s growing collection of hardware partners. These include Meridian, with its incredibly versatile 218 Zone Controller (selling by the barrow load, I’m told), Bryston, Chord, Creek, NAD and Naim, to name but a few.

The core can work with Roon to stream music to any audio devices in the home. As Roon puts it – “this is high-resolution, multi-protocol, multi-room streaming for the whole home”. Roon streams formats up to 384kHz/24-bit PCM and DSD256 to Roon-ready devices, and intelligently converts audio to the optimal resolution for other devices.

So far so so-so, you might say: surely this is nothing new? What’s different here is the system architecture. Roon’s design team – also the brains behind Meridian’s Sooloos – have constructed a system that treats digital music files with the same reverence as the vinyl LP, bringing an exciting, visceral and engaging aesthetic to the previously cold experience of listening to digital music. Think gatefold sleeve notes on acid – the ultimate vinyl box sets.

Roon presents the user with a beautifully realised ‘playbook’ of their digital collection. Akin to album sleeve notes, the interface features information, links and musical genre suggestions. It licenses extensive artist information and will continue to review and expand the user’s added data as he or she continues to use it.

But where things get really exciting is Roon’s dovetailing with Tidal. Suddenly the array of additional music options is almost limitless – with Tidal seamlessly fleshing out users’ ripped and downloaded album collections, while also suggesting similar artists or musical genres. It’s even possible to use just one song to build a ‘radio station’ of Roon-selected tracks. Nothing new here, of course, but it’s all in the execution.

In addition, there’s the possibility of enjoying Tidal’s growing selection of MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) 24/48 recordings – although in order to fully appreciate full studio-resolution (24/192 or higher, if the MQA file was recorded at higher resolutions), users require an MQA-ready DAC.

Roon is, in my opinion, the perfect digital companion to vinyl: bridging the gap between the digital and analogue listening experiences, while dovetailing streamed audio with digital files in the most sophisticated and seamless way possible.

Roon presents retailers with an opportunity to make additional hay from the triple-threat boom in vinyl, streaming and multi-room audio, expanding sales beyond turntables and Sonos speakers to include Roon-ready network players, MQA-ready DACs and media servers.

Love the vinyl experience? You’ll adore Roon! Enjoy streaming? You don’t know the half of it! Want a multi-room system? You’ve simply got to incorporate Roon!

Ultimately, in these strange days where old-school vinyl is rubbing shoulders with first-choice (for most people) streaming audio, Roon mediates. It’s an audio go-between, helping digital to feel more analogue, while making more sense of analogue audio in a digital world. It’s also the perfect demo tool and a golden opportunity to add value to your sales.

  • Main image: Roon digital music software