Roon has transformed how I listen to music

Fiio FA19 connected to Fiio M23 music player
(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

I have a sizeable music library, and every few years, I try to organize it — to no avail. Ultimately, I would just go back to using foobar2000 or MediaMonkey and manually play back whatever album I want to listen to. Over the years, I used a variety of media players and organizers, but most of them ended up either being buggy or too convoluted that I often spent most of the time tinkering with the settings instead of listening to music.

Hardwired

Android Central's LLoyd with a bionic eye

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

In Hardwired, AC Senior Editor Harish Jonnalagadda delves into all things hardware, including phones, AV gear, storage servers, and networking products.

So when I heard about Roon, I figured it might just be the solution I was looking for. I was skeptical of the service initially; it costs $15 a month, $129 annually, or you can get a lifetime license by shelling out $829 — I thought that was an absurd amount of cash for what is basically a glorified music player.

Roon isn't a music streaming service; it is instead designed to work with the music you already have, so if you don't have a sizeable offline music collection, you won't get much use out of the software. As a high-level overview, Roon is a music management service that organizes your media library, and it easily lets you stream content to connected devices, including Cast-enabled products.

As the pricing suggests, the service is clearly aimed at enthusiasts, and it has a lot of prerequisites. You need to set it up on a NAS server, and an SSD is mandatory — it isn't designed to be run on mechanical HDDs. You don't need to store your music library on an SSD; that can still be on a regular HDD, but Roon's database needs to be installed on an SSD. 

Moondrop MIAD01 next to Venus headset

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

After you configure the software and point it to your music library, it does the rest: cataloging your music library, sorting albums and bands into categories, adding metadata, classifying music into genres, and so much more. What I like about Roon is the detailed information you get on each artist; it's how I found out that Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk made an orchestral score called Mythologies (which is brilliant).

Another nifty trick is that Roon doesn't change any of the file metadata itself — it just creates an overlay based on the albums in your library, and that again is markedly different to how other media players work. But the best part about the service is that it removes a lot of the friction involved in maintaining a music library, and that alone justifies the asking price.

There are plenty of other niceties: if you use Tidal, Qobuz, or KKBox, you can link these services via Roon, and it creates a seamless blend of online and local streaming that just makes a lot of sense. Roon uses a custom signal path to deliver bit-perfect audio, and the sound engine has a ton of useful additions, including a DSP engine, EQ, presets, and unique filters.

Fiio FT5 review

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

I use Roon with my Windows machine that's connected to a Fiio K19 DAC and Audeze's MM-500 headset, and it is a terrific combination. The service is great at discovering new music, but what I like best is that it makes playing music across various devices extremely easy; I have a lot of eclectic audio gear that's connected via Chromecast Audio and WiiM streamers, and Roon lets me select the device I want to cast to in a matter of seconds.

Roon Arc is a relatively recent addition that enables these features on the go, unlocking the ability to stream your local music library over the internet. What makes a greater difference in my use case is Roon Ready; this feature allows Roon to be integrated into network streamers and digital audio players, and I use it extensively with the Fiio M11S and R7.

Ultimately, the ease of use combined with the interface and detailed notes make Roon stand out from other media players. There is a high barrier to entry, but having used the service for just over 15 months, I can't see myself switching to anything else.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

  • pjhercules
    I switched from XBMC/Kodi to Plex years ago. Their plexamp app for mobile/tablets is awesome even with ai integration if you want it. For me it's the best personal music app I've ever had with zero monthly/yearly costs. I paid for the lifetime Plex pass several years ago for $60. It's completely worth it. Everyone will have their own favorites but this one is mine for sure.
    Reply
  • SyCoREAPER
    It is a powerful solution but I don't see the value in paying someone a monthly fee just for access to my own content. It's marketed too expensive.

    Not to mention (while unlikely) you may be technically violaiting your ISP agreement. Most do not allow hosting of servers, especially high traffic, so you might get dinged.
    Reply
  • simbonzo
    SyCoREAPER said:
    It is a powerful solution but I don't see the value in paying someone a monthly fee just for access to my own content. It's marketed too expensive.

    Not to mention (while unlikely) you may be technically violaiting your ISP agreement. Most do not allow hosting of servers, especially high traffic, so you might get dinged.
    After trialling it and loving it, I went all in and got lifetime. Psychologically, spending a big chunk on a component feels less problematic than committing to ongoing expenditure. A bit of mental gymnastics, dividing the total cost by the number of zones it was serving, and I was more than happy. I'd admit if I'd spaffed the money up the wall. I didn't.
    Reply
  • SyCoREAPER
    simbonzo said:
    After trialling it and loving it, I went all in and got lifetime. Psychologically, spending a big chunk on a component feels less problematic than committing to ongoing expenditure. A bit of mental gymnastics, dividing the total cost by the number of zones it was serving, and I was more than happy. I'd admit if I'd spaffed the money up the wall. I didn't.
    Were you an early adopter though? I recall a few months ago vaguely entertaining the idea (until I saw the price) and read it had gone up a fair amount.

    Regardless, if you have the lifetime, I guess I can see it so long as it's decentralized or can be made such should they ever shutter.
    Reply
  • samagon
    simbonzo said:
    After trialling it and loving it, I went all in and got lifetime. Psychologically, spending a big chunk on a component feels less problematic than committing to ongoing expenditure. A bit of mental gymnastics, dividing the total cost by the number of zones it was serving, and I was more than happy. I'd admit if I'd spaffed the money up the wall. I didn't.
    keep in mind, "lifetime" is the lifetime of the company, and not your lifetime.
    Reply
  • scgf
    pjhercules said:
    I switched from XBMC/Kodi to Plex years ago. Their plexamp app for mobile/tablets is awesome even with ai integration if you want it. For me it's the best personal music app I've ever had with zero monthly/yearly costs. I paid for the lifetime Plex pass several years ago for $60. It's completely worth it. Everyone will have their own favorites but this one is mine for sure.
    I've had a Plex Pass for many years and have used Plexamp. As you say it works well with your personal music on the go but it does not integrate well with a home audiophile HiFi system. Clearly an audiophile does not want to go down the Chromecast/AirPlay route. I investigated using it on my system but soon realised it was not up to the task - only because that usage scenario is not something it purports to do. You would need a Plexamp client of some sort in your system for it to work.
    Reply
  • scgf
    AC News said:
    Roon is the best music player I have ever used, and if you have a large music library, you should consider giving it a try.

    Roon has transformed how I listen to music : Read more
    I am a Roon user. It has revolutionised the way I listen to music for a reason you haven't mentioned. If you subscribe to a streaming service like Qobuz, Spotify or Tidal it integrates your home library and the streaming service/services seamlessly. Where the music is coming from is of little concern. What you see is a unified interface which focuses on the music and allows you to explore and discover and which learns about your taste. You need a Roon Ready streamer and you install the Roon software on a Mac or Pc somewhere on your home network. I bought an Intel NUC and installed the Roon Rock OS it - literally a job which takes just a few minutes. Alternatively you can buy a Roon Nucleus - which is like a NUC without fans and is already set up with ROCK. Since Harman Kardon bought Roon there have been many exciting developments and an affordable Roon Nucleus is one of them.

    I use an iPad to run the Roon app which is the user interface to the whole system. I've also installed it on my Pixel 8.

    It sounds complicated, but all you need is the Roon server - which could be as simple as a computer you already have - like a Mac, Windows PC, Linux machine or NAS or you buy a miniPC and install Roon's own server OS, ROCK. If you use a normal computer Roon runs as an app so you can carry on using that computer as as you did before. You then need the app on your phone, iPad/Android tablet or even another computer. Ideally your streamer will be Roon Ready and so many streamers are. The Wiim range is reasonably priced and is Roon Ready. I use an iFi Zen Streamer with an external Bifrost DAC - because the iFi Zen doesn't have an inbuilt DAC.
    Reply