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Opinion: Revolutionary sounds

Digital music finally grew up, says columnists Rob Lane.

Last issue I reminisced about the once crowded consumer electronics magazine market, and promised to add a little CE spice to the pages of Installation, albeit with a commercial twist. When it comes to digital music, Roon is that spice.

So what is it? In simple terms, Roon is software wizardry for downloads, rips and streaming – digital music, in other words. It could be said to give a vinyl makeover to digital, while smartening up streaming so that audiophiles find it more acceptable.

All hi-fi systems using Roon (which requires a monthly or lifetime subscription) need to be based around a ‘core’, which manages digital music from a variety of different sources.

Roon service

The Roon core is able to manage even the most disconnected digital music collections – from multiple sources and even multiple PCs and Macs – curating them into a seamlessly interconnected digital library, augmented with enhanced information from the Roon software service.

Cores can be Macs or PCs, NAS (network attached storage) devices, music/media servers/rippers, or Roon-ready network players or zone controllers from Roon’s burgeoning list of hardware partners. Roon even has its own NAS/media server device, the bold-looking Nucleus, which Roon says is the best way to enjoy its service – whether part of a hi-fi or home cinema set-up.

The cores work with Roon to stream music (via Tidal or downloaded/ripped files) to any appropriately networked, Roon-ready audio devices: “high-resolution, multi-protocol, multi-room streaming for the whole home”, as Roon puts it. Roon can stream formats up to 384kHz/24-bit PCM and DSD256 to Roon-ready devices, intelligently converting audio to the optimal resolution for all other devices.

It is, in my opinion, the perfect revenue booster for hi-fi and AV retailers and custom installers – but is could also be of great interest to AV integrators working with commercial establishments requiring music.

“Roon gives digital music a chance to stand alongside its analogue cousin as its audiophile equal”

I believe Roon is also the perfect digital companion to vinyl, and bridges the gap between the digital and analogue listening experiences, while also dovetailing streamed audio with digital files in an intelligently sophisticated and seamless way. Roon’s design team – the brains behind Meridian’s groundbreaking Sooloos system – has built a system that treats digital music files with the same care and attention as a vinyl box-set might treat the black stuff inside. The previously (to my eyes) cold experience of listening to downloaded and ripped (and, to a lesser extent, streamed) music is now given an exciting, visceral and engaging aesthetic. Digital vinyl-heads would be proud to use it alongside their turntables, in other words.

Living Roon

With an iPad or similar as the controller and interface, Roon presents users with a beautifully designed, intelligently curated ‘playbook’ of their entire digital collection, with additional information for albums and bands (it licenses extensive artist information and will continue to review and expand) sitting alongside Tidal-driven access to related and influential artists, and so on. Think album sleeve notes to the max and you come somewhere close.

So, while viewing one’s collection of Bowie LPs – ripped or downloaded – with information and ratings for each album, one is then able to segue seamlessly to other albums and tracks by the same artist on CD-quality Tidal, alongside related artists and similar music genres – a rabbit-hole well known to all fans of streaming services!

It’s also possible to experience 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.

In these strange days, where 13-year-old girls would rather buy vinyl copies of Billie Eilish’s 2017 debut LP on vinyl than download them (forget CD – they’re not interested!), Roon gives digital music a chance to stand alongside its analogue cousin as its audiophile equal.

At the same time, its unrivalled system architecture allows residential and commercial users to easily and seamlessly navigate through both their own extensive collections and the CD-quality (or better) library offered by Tidal.

Roon is an audio game-changer and a must-have for audiophiles and commercial venue operators alike.