CHICAGO -- “That definitely sounds better!” my wife effused after hearing a few bars of Steely Dan’s "Aja" with the newly installed Roon Labs’ music player.
She had no idea how good it would get.
Following my review and subsequent purchase of LampizatOr’s DSD Komputer music server in 2016, Roon became its go-to software, so the principals installed it pro bono for me.
“Most people prefer it to Daphile,” Lukasz Fikus, owner of LampizatOr, had emailed. “And it sounds better, too.” He was right.
A Roon with a Magnificent View
Roon is a five star concierge that not only arranges to get you there in style, but provides you with all the information and accommodations for a memorable journey. The slick, superior graphics and presentation, the links, the plethora of information on artists and albums, the superb sound and a slew of other user-friendly features makes it indispensable.
Its layout more hip magazine than database, with a series of clicks, it allows you to explore your digital music library based on an artist’s name, album title, genres, credits, artist relationships, lyrics and more. Roon organizes, manages and cleans up your collection, updating metadata on the various drives and network storage. You can use it to manage multiple devices for playback. It runs on a wide variety of platforms, including Windows, Macs, and Linux devices and plays music from your collection, internet radio and -- optionally -- the paid subscription music streaming service, TIDAL. (“What Is Roon”)
Roon has an excellent online user’s guide and online community forum to address questions or problems (incidentally, I found a handful of good Internet radio stations to link up with Roon there). Annual Membership runs $119 a year, while their “Lifetime” plan costs $499.
At once, I prefer it to players like JRiver and others I’ve used that for all their utility, when compared with Roon, are like flying coach as opposed to first class. As Fikus said, the sound quality is excellent and I listen to it play for hours daily as I get the hang of Roon on my system.
Then in February 2017, Roon came out with version 1.3. As is often with new rollouts, some bugs and glitches had to be fixed -- which happened in the days following the new release. However, I had an ongoing issue with RAM filling up, causing eventual slowdown, skipping and cessation of playback after 35 minutes or so.
Accessing my Komputer with TeamViewer, LampizatOr’s IT specialist, Antoni, discovered that I had caused the problem by loading multiple pathways to the same music file folders under storage settings after installing Roon 1.3.
I still hit a few hiccups after that --- especially with upsampling.
A Word on Upsampling
Now, for the uninitiated, sample rate is “the number of samples of a sound that are taken per second to represent the event digitally.” (Rouse) Examples of sampling rates are standard CD 44 kHz, 96 kHz and 192 KHz. And then there’s DSD ((Direct Stream Digital, or DSD, is a high resolution technology created for mastering Super Audio CDs), with DSD 64, 128 and higher.
Upsampling is essentially a process of inserting “zero-valued” samples to the ranks of original samples to boost the sampling rate of a recorded signal to approximate sampling the signal at a higher rate. Unfortunately, “undesired spectral images” may be a byproduct, but can be eliminated by filtering them out in a digital process called interpolation. (“Interpolation”).
Bugs Turn to Butterflies
The glitches go away when Antoni removes HQPlayer (which has amazing logarhythms for upsampling, but intimidates me with its learning curve) from my server. With the new and excellent upsampling features in Roon is no longer necessary -- or supported at LampizatOr. I am elated!
We dance, we swoon and drink deep the intoxicating melodies swirling about and washing over us.
“Isn’t it amazing that we get to listen to THIS in our home?” Belle gushes as we savor luscious textures and timbre of vocals and acoustic guitars on the Eagles’ song, “Love will Keep Us Alive” from their album, Hell Freezes Over.
“Mmm-hmmm,” I say, noting her bedroom eyes as I cue up the next selection with my iPhone. Experiencing Roon’s full potential on this Destination Audio system is downright seductive! The synergy is undeniable.
Uplifted by Upsampling
Up until now, my home system listening has generally been limited to native playing (i.e., no upsampling) which, although excellent, raises the question, “What if?”
But now with my server sorted out, I am awed by the newfound organic, spacious and natural timbre of Frank Vignola and Vinnie Raniolo’s acoustic guitars on “September Song” playing over TheJazzGroove.org (an excellent non-compressed sounding internet radio station) upsampled to DSD 128. Then, there’s the John Basile Quartet’s rendition of “Desmond Blue”: the electric guitar, the brushes on cymbals, the resonant upright acoustic bass are vivid and amazing. I never knew you could upsample internet radio! Playing over the Destination Audio Horn Loudspeakers, it sounds soooo right!
Thrilled to my Core
As their website says, “Roon consists of a single core and as many controls and outputs as you need. This means you get the same Roon experience whether you're running on a single PC or on devices around your home.” (“How Roon Works”) I use the LampizatOr DSD Komputer music server as my core, which outputs to my main system, and control it with my iPhone 7 for convenience or my MacBook Air for more refined control features (like easier upsampling or alphabetically browsing my library for artists or albums) -- when my wife isn’t online browsing dresses, skincare or health products with it.
I love Roon’s “Radio” feature that, when turned on, plays similar selections to recordings you have selected after they end. Take last night, For example. I was grading papers and listening to Francis Cabrel’s Samedi Soir Sure La Terre (European rock). When the album ends, a catchy chill-out song comes on. Man, that sounds great, I think. What album is that? Seeing it’s from Paris Lounge 2 on my phone’s Roon display, I choose to play the album. I had forgotten that I had that (easy to do if you have over four terabytes of music).
For similar reasons, I enjoy Roon’s “Discovery” option, which allows you to rifle through scads of album covers in your collection and, again, find misplaced gems.
Now, favorite albums or themes have a way of turning into playlists. Some of Belle’s favorites -- like The Eagles, Cliff Richard and Roy Orbison -- comprise one such bundle. Another dubbed “Drew’s Playlist” features country artists like Eric Church, Brett Eldredge and Thomas Rhett that my stepdaughter, Colleen, and her fiance, Drew, enjoy when they visit. It’s not my thing, but this way, I don’t have to rack my brain to find music they like. Alternatively, I can select the genre, Country, and let the kids and Belle get their boot scootin’ groove on.
I generally prefer jazz, blues or rock, searching by album or artist and, when I want to be surprised, there’s the Internet radio option, which I not only enjoy for listening, but also for the occasional newfound artist.
TIDAL and Regrets
I have tried TIDAL, the premium music streaming service you can use with Roon, and I must admit it fits hand in glove with Roon with its groupings of enticing music across the various genres. The graphics and music quality are terrific. However, as an educator and sometime writer who cancelled HBO and Showtime (I miss my boxing!) to save on the cable bill, I cannot justify spending an additional $20 a month to listen to lossless music. Maybe that will change some day.
This brings me to my bone of contention: Roon is not currently compatible with other streaming services like Amazon Music (which we through our Amazon Prime membership), Spotify or Pandora. And, quite frankly, it does not look like that is going to change anytime soon.
Another thing: Roon does not currently play APE format (known also as Monkey Audio) or Windows Audio music files, and WAV (uncompressed music files) are problematic (as in they tend to disappear), as WAV has metadata issues and cannot be tagged in Roon. Having a lot of APE and WAV files that I used with JRiver media player on my old Toshiba laptop, I had to convert them to FLAC to use them. Ditto for a few Windows Audio files I had on the Toshiba. It was a hassle, but with digital technology, there are going to be occasional issues like these. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of my music was problem-free.
And last, if you are considering using iPads as a controller, not any old one will do. At present you will need a 64 bit CPU and can choose from the following: iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3, iPad Mini 4, iPad Pro or the iPad 2017u. Similarly, compatible iPhones start at the iPhone 5s (see www.roonlabs.com for more information). The reason I mention this is that several months ago, my wife was considering buying a used iPad for roughly $150 for me to use as a controller for Father’s Day. Thankfully, I looked into the matter!
Bottom line, I love using Roon and with my music library and internet radio options. It’s powerful, the audio quality is superb, and its features are intuitive and easy to use. Roon is indispensable for decompressing after work, critical listening, spending time with my wife, and entertaining guests. And, now, I will be using it to demo the Destination Audio Horn Loudspeakers and hi-fi amplification equipment. In short, you could say that I am “Rooned” when it comes to considering other music player software.
Serious inquiries about experiencing Destination Audio Horn Loudspeakers, preamplifiers or other products firsthand in the Chicagoland area can be directed to Sam Wisniewski at www.destinationaudio.eu. Alternatively, you can email Juan@ayllonmedia.com.
- LampizatOr DSD Komputer Music Server
- LampizatOr Lite 7 DAC
- Straight Wire USB-Link, Pro Special speaker cables, Pro Thunder and Black Thunder power cords -- as well as several other unknown manufacturers’ cables
- Destination Audio Preamplifier with separate power source
- Destination Audio Monoblock amplifiers
- Destination Audio Horn Loudspeakers
“How Roon Works.” RoonLabs.com. Roon Labs. N.d. Web. 2 June 2017
“Interpolation.” DSPGuru.com. Iowegian Corporation International. N.d. Web. 3 June 2017.
Rouse, Margaret. “Sample Rate.” Whatis.com. Tech Target. N.d. Web. 3 Jun3 2017.
Walker, Rob. “Cult Classic.” NewYorkTimes.com. New York Times. 8 October 2009. Web. 3 June 2017
“What is Roon?” RoonLabs.com. Roon Labs. N.d. Web. 5 June 2017