Sound Quality

Sound Quality


Roon is built from the ground up to produce extremely high-quality output, however, Roon works differently from other software, so you may not be able to drop it into an existing setup and get the same results immediately. Like most things in the world of Computer Audio, it takes some tuning before everything is just right. Roon is no exception. This page contains our official advice for maximizing the sound quality that you obtain from Roon.

Some Basics First

If you are using a connected output like a USB DAC, start by checking out our Audio Setup Basics. Make sure that you are using Exclusive Mode output. If you are playing back DSD content, make sure that Roon is set up to utilize the DSD capabilities of your DAC. Networked outputs generally require minimal setup work in order to achieve excellent sound quality. In general, if you're chasing sound quality, you should start with a bright purple light in Signal Path, like this:

Focus on getting that configuration right first. Once you're there, you may or may not want to experiment with enhancement features like DSP Engine or Volume Leveling. Always proceed carefully, and try to pay attention to how each change impacts what you're hearing. When it comes to DSP enhancements, less is often more.

Roon is heavier than Other Player

Many Audiophile-grade media players focus solely on audio playback, and on being extremely lightweight. This is a tradeoff--they get to offer a simpler approach to sound quality, but they can't offer a rich user experience. At Roon Labs, we aren't willing to sacrifice user experience or functionality at the altar of sound quality--we are determined to provide both at once.

At the same time, this is a bit of an oxymoron. A fully-featured media server doing everything that we want it to do will never be as lightweight as a standalone, single-zone player application. So instead of trying to do the impossible, we've addressed this problem by changing the rules a little bit. Instead of trying to pack a lightweight media player, and heavyweight media server into a computer in your listening room, we provide the tools you need to put space between those pieces--because they really don't belong together anyway.

This is, we feel, the best of both worlds:
  1. Our lightweight playback components (Roon Bridge, Roon Ready devices, and networked endpoints) are much lighter than any media player software out there because all they do is copy audio from a network interface to an audio device. They don't even have to do work to decode your media files!
  2. Our media server can afford to do things that no lightweight player app could do without losing its lightweight status--like automatically fetching and updating metadata for your library in the background, and supporting audiophile-quality playback in the listening room while other members of your household import new content and play audio in other rooms simultaneously.

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

Out of the box, Roon is configured to optimize for usability and a great first-run experience. These aren't necessarily the best choices for Sound Quality! This guide is here to help you get the best possible sound quality out of Roon without compromising other features. This is possible, but it requires some legwork. Let's get started.

Before proceeding, please be familiar with our Architecture. The words "Server", "Control" and "Output" will feature prominently in the rest of this document.

Our Recommendations

Rule 1: Server and Output on separate devices

To get the best sound quality from Roon, plan for an ethernet cable between your server and output components. One way to accomplish this is with a Roon Ready hardware device.

You can also get there by using Roon Bridge--our lightweight endpoint package. Combine that thing with a Raspberry Pi or Cubox and an audiophile-grade power supply and you have a great little network bridge to use with your existing USB DAC. You could also use one of our other supported networked devices, like a Squeezebox Touch, or a Meridian MS200, MS600, ID40, or ID41. For more information on setting up these devices, see Meridian Setup or Squeezebox Setup. Finally, you could use Roon with HQPlayer and NAA (Network Audio Adapter). In this arrangement, we recommend locating Roon and HQPlayer on the same (powerful) computer and locating the NAA in the listening area.

For more information on setting up Roon with HQPlayer see HQPlayer Setup. We provide many solutions because solving this problem is important to us!

Rule 2: Control and Output on separate devices

Roon's user interface is a GPU-accelerated OpenGL masterpiece. It works your GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) harder than any other audio app we're aware of. Do you really want that GPU to do its thing right next to your audio gear? Didn't think so.

We permit you to connect audio devices to just about any place where Roon's control software runs. This might be great for members of your household who value convenience and user experience first, but it's not great for your listening room. One great way to satisfy this rule is to use a tablet or phone to control Roon in the listening room. These devices are great control points--they wake up, do their thing over WiFi, and then go to sleep when you start listening, thus ending their ability to influence what you're hearing. Even better, they have no direct electrical connection to anything audio-related since they are battery-powered.

Rule 3: Keep an eye on the Signal Path

Features like Volume Normalization, Crossfade, DSP volume controls, and DSP Engine all affect what you're hearing. If you have those things turned on, and you're not happy with what's coming out, it's worth experimenting with turning them off or changing their settings. Note that Roon's DSP volume control is a pass-through at 100% volume--so it should have no influence unless it's being used. You can always check Signal Path to see what is going on.

Rule 4: Don't under-spec the server

Slow servers, NASs, and network connections can affect sound quality by preventing the Output components from receiving audio in time. This can manifest as clicks, pops, dropouts, and static. Both Roon and all RAAT outputs use strategically placed memory playback buffers to limit the impact of this sort of thing, but poor performance can still lead to behavior in the CPU or networking hardware as it handles the audio stream in fits and spurts.

Invest in your server components just like you would in your other gear, and remember that there is no downside to a Core i7 with a fan if you've got it located two rooms away from the listening area. Take a look at our hardware specs, and try not to come in below our recommended level, and especially, plan on using an SSD to store Roon's databases.

Rule 5: Use Ethernet between Roon Server and Output

Roon has comprehensive and robust support for WiFi, but the sound quality often isn't the same. For your highest quality rooms, plan on using wired gigabit ethernet connections between the server and the Outputs.

But I want to do it all on one computer!!!

We value convenience and flexibility as much as we value sound quality, so we're not going to stop you. Check out Sound Quality in One Computer for more information.
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