Let Me Count The Ways: 10 Reason Why I (Still) Use Roon

I sat in on a seminar at Axpona 2022 called Reviewers on Reviewing. After moderator Julie Mullins (Stereophile) finished her questions for Marc Phillips (Part-Time Audiophile), Greg Weaver (the audio analyst), and I, Julie opened the discussion up to questions from the audience.

Two of the people who stood up to the mic to comment wanted to talk about Roon. Essentially both shared that they were happy Roon users, but it took some time to get things working. One woman spoke about how helpful Roon and the people on the Roon forums had been whenever questions arose, while the other person explained that he first learned about Roon from my work at AudioStream.

This experience got me thinking about how much I still enjoy Roon, which I’ve been using since it was a wee Beta. My history with the company dates back to before Roon was called Roon, when I saw a demo on a laptop at a hotel bar during a CES all those years ago. Of course I also was familiar with Sooloos, which is where Roon started.

All of which got me thinking it was time to update my Roon resume and share 10 Reason Why I (Still) Use Roon.

1. The Blend: Stored or Streamed, It’s All the Same in Roon-ville

My stored music files live on a Synology 412+ 4-bay NAS, and this music library grows most weeks with new music purchased, ideally, from Bandcamp or directly from the artist. When something new really tickles my fancy, I call it LP-Worthy and when you buy vinyl on Bandcamp, you also get the lossless download for free. A win win if ever there was one.

I also subscribe to Tidal and Qobuz because I enjoy both and their libraries don’t match and I use these streaming services as a main source of new music discovery along with FM (typically while driving), and recommendations from friends and readers. Back in the Dark Ages of Computer Audio, stored files and streaming services lived in silo’d worlds, never the twain shall meet, which is the result of what I like to call crappy tech. Another example of crappy tech is hardware that does not support gapless playback. Crappy.

Roon seamlessly mixes and matches music from locally stored files, Tidal, and Qobuz making for an experience that mirrors how things should work. Enjoying a new album streaming on Qobuz? Just click “Add to Library” and voilà! It is so. Of course you don’t own the albums you add to your library in this manner, but you have access to them as if you did as long as you continue to subscribe to said streaming service and that album doesn’t disappear from their library. I’ve encountered this happening a handful of times in the past 8 years or so, which amounts to a nonissue for me.

2. Roon Radio = Music Discovery On A Grand Scale

One of my favorite things about music is discovering the new, whether that’s new releases or old(er) music that’s new to me. Roon Radio is an optional feature that, once activated, continues to play music after your selection is over. Roon Radio pulls music from locally stored files and streaming services to generate your custom Radio playlist. How does it pick what to play next? A mix of mind-reading and magic. OK, its algorithm-based, which may as well be a mix of mind-reading and magic.

I have discovered more music that’s new to me from Roon Radio than any other source and that makes me infinitely happy. I will add, as a side note, that Roon’s linked metadata—including musicians playing on a given record whose names become links to every other piece of music they have played on in my library, songs that have other versions in my library again presented as links, record producer links, and on and on—has educated me about the music I own and its interconnectedness which is something I also value. Greatly.

3. Plug & Play Networking

Confession time—I hate to fuss when it comes to playing music. Once you have Roon set up, adding a new Roon Ready device, like a streaming integrated amplifier, is simply a matter of physical connectivity. Once its connected to your network, hifi, and powered on, it automagically shows up in the Roon app. No fuss, no muss.

4. Roon Works Across Multiple Manufacturers

What’s more, this plug and play-ness applies to every Roon enabled product regardless of who made it. You can mix and match Roon Ready devices as if you’re at a hifi buffet—feel free to fill your plate with gear from this company, that company, with a side from that other company. Roon, the great leveler.

5. Multi-System/Multi-Room Support

Of course all of this gear can exist in as many rooms as you have, and the Roon app makes playing through them, whether to a single device or multiple devices, whether playing the same music or different selections, a few taps away.

6. Roon Keeps Getting Better

Roon works at improving Roon continuously. Updates come down the wires automatically with some offering new features, improved performance, and/or bug fixes (shit happens) that come with a simple reboot of the app.

7. Roon Turns a Tablet and/or Smartphone Into a Superb Remote

I use an iPad running Roon when sitting in the Red chair to control music playback because it turns that old iPad into a lovely, image- and function-rich remote. Depending on the device, this control can also include volume. Nice.

8. Drag and Drop Add to Library

When you download new digital music or rip a CD, just drag and drop it into your Roon library folder, or set your CD ripping software to do it for you, and it shows up in the Roon app in no time flat. Like magic.

I’m not a big classical music listener, and I ripped my CDs many moons ago, so I (thankfully) don’t have to fuss with metadata no more. Did I mention I hate to fuss when it comes to listening to music? But if you rip a lot of classical CDs and/or compilation CDs and you are stringent about how you want these things tagged, you can expect that some time will be required to manually massage that associated metadata. I know of no music control app that is any different in this regard, other than the mechanism by which you go about manually editing metadata.

9. Roon Sounds Great & The Interface Can’t be Beat (a twofer)

I’ve heard grumbles, for years, about how Roon doesn’t sound as good as X. I have thankfully left the world of comparing music playback software years ago and I enjoyed doing so about as much as wearing wet wool. In my experience, the sound quality of music playback software is dependent on more factors than most people acknowledge or realize, so blaming playback software for how your stereo sounds is like blaming the flatware for how your dinner tastes.

What’s more, if you think you’re hearing a big difference between Roon and X, swap out an interconnect cable, any one will do, and you’ll more than likely hear a larger change in sound quality. Still not satisfied? Roon works with HQ Player which is some serious audio player software that allows users to massage digital files till the cows come home and tailor the sound coming out of a DAC to taste.

The Roon interface cannot be beat in terms of ease of use, features, functions, and fun. Of course this is an opinion, but sometimes I feel bolder than others and in my experience, the Roon interface can’t be beat. It can also tell you about what you’ve been listening to and for how long, something I find inexplicably kinda embarrassing. OK, Phoebe Bridgers is still high on the list.

10. USB Was a Bandaid: Ethernet Is Where Its At

It’s time to rip off the USB band aid and put an Ethernet connection in that DAC (or preamp, or integrated amp). We have seen USB outputs on network players disappearing faster than polar ice, and its just a matter of time before most DACs, or any device with a DAC in it, will add an Ethernet input. Judging from Roon’s history of adding Roon Ready devices from companies across the board, from small boutique manufacturers to big box movers, the majority of these new streaming DACs, preamps, and integrated amps will come with Roon inside.