Roon, the music player software (think iTunes but 1 million-times better), is more than a beautiful interface to your music. It is an ecosystem that relies on hardware, software, and a network. As such, there are some things you need to understand about Roon’s hardware requirements if you want to avoid confusion.
There are three main functional pieces to the Roon puzzle— core, control, and output. Think of “Core” as the central repository for all of your music as well as all of connections Roon knows, and continues to learn, about and between your music, both streaming and stored. “Control” is your interface for controlling playback (and more), while “Output” is an audio device.
There are three main hardware setups you can use to run Roon—one device, like a computer, can act as all three pieces, you can run Roon Core and Control on the same device while using another device as output, or you can run all three Roon software pieces on three different hardware devices. Which approach is best is entirely up to you.
Basic Roon Hardware Scenarios
Scenario 1: You have a computer and you want to listen to music through it on your desktop.
1. Roon (“Roon” is both Roon Core and Control) installed on the computer
2. Speakers, either the ones inside your computer or an external pair attached to your computer.
Scenario 2: You have a hifi and want to listen to your file-based music through it using your computer as remote.
1. Roon installed on the computer
2. A Roon-Ready device connected to your hifi
Buy a USB-DAC which connects to your computer with a USB cable while connecting to your hifi with standard RCA interconnect cables.
Buy a Network Player/DAC which connects directly to your network via an Ethernet cable or WiFi while connecting to your hifi with standard RCA interconnect cables.
Buy a Network Player (no internal DAC) which connects directly to your network via an Ethernet cable or WiFi while connecting to your DAC via a standard audio interface (USB, S/PDIF, AES/EBU). Your DAC then connects to your hifi using standard RCA interconnect cables.
Buy an All-In-One Roon-Ready Network Integrated Amplifier which connects directly to your network via an Ethernet cable or WiFi. The Integrated Amplifier connects to your speakers.
Buy an All-In-One Player (with speakers inside) or Roon-Ready Powered Speakers which connect directly to your network via an Ethernet cable or WiFi.
Scenario 3: Replace the computer with a dedicated Roon Server.
1. Buy a Roon Server. This can be a computer running Roon Core, like an Intel NUC, or a purpose-built Roon Server.
2. Follow Step 2 from Scenario 2.
In every scenario, you can add a phone or tablet as a remote control by installing Roon remote.
If you own music or plan to purchase downloads (or rip CDs), you need a place to keep it. You can store music on a computer, on an external hard disk drive (HDD), or Network Attached Storage (NAS).
The simplest and preferred solution is to purchase a dedicated Roon Server with internal storage. If you go this route, you’ll want to add an external HDD at some point for backup.
Are you out of Ethernet ports on your Router? No problem. Just add an Ethernet Switch like this one from Netgear.
Another cool thing about Roon is you can also run multiple hifi’s. Want to listen to music on your desktop and on your hifi? No problem. One Roon Core can handle multiple outputs. Using Roon Remote, you can easily group different outputs or run them independently. Cooler still is, unlike Sonos, you can use hifi gear from different companies for each output.