Roon 1.8: rock family tree climbing
What does Roon do, exactly? Whenever we mention Roon, that’s what people ask — and it’s a familiar question, since we asked it ourselves for quite a while before we lived with it.
Roon organises all your music, pulling together stuff on networked hard drives or in Music/iTunes, but also integrating with subscription services Tidal, or Qobuz, now that this highly regarded high-res/download service is launching in Australia.
But since you probably have your preferred way of playing all your available music already, why do you need Roon?
Well there’s a second set of abilities: Roon can also control and output your music to devices all over your home — anything which is ‘Roon Ready’ or Roon-compatible, but also targeting anything with AirPlay or Chromecast onboard. You can control it all from a computer, phone or tablet (it can also stream music direct to these). And it gets nicely hi-fi in routing your music with the utmost care, ensuring the best possible quality gets through, with a coloured light by the song title showing the general quality, with a click pulling up a complete list of quality checks (right) from source to sink. It’s geek heaven.
A journey through music
What Rooners tend to bang on most about, however, is how it uses metadata and the magic data cloud called Valence to help you discover new music and new connections between the tunes you already have. And now, with Roon 1.8, its biggest update yet, this connection building has gone to the next level, promises Roon. And indeed it is such a complete redesign and rejig, it’s a surprise that they didn’t call this Roon 2.0.
When we first took the upgrade to 1.8 we were disappointed, almost immediately discovering that a favourite Roon function — the ‘Discover’ page, which offered a magazine-like menu of artists, genres, composers, labels and more — had disappeared from the side menu. We soon found it, though, relegated to ‘classic’ status at the bottom of a new and extended Home page. We soon realised why — it’s no longer required. Roon has instead laced the intertwined axons of its Valence brain through every page of Roon. Related things are everywhere — past collaborators of the current artist here, or zoom out to the whole genre and find new artists there.
‘Focus’ used to filter the ‘Tracks’ view by date, file quality and type; now Focus is also everywhere, so from a full discography you can pick a musician in the band, a producer, a record label, so reducing an uncountably baffling list of Bob Dylan albums, say, to the 26 on which Robbie Robertson played, or the 25 which are available as MQA Masters on Tidal — if you’ve stumped for the double-price HIFI-level Tidal subscription. It’s hard not to recommend combining Roon with Tidal, because Roon can then do its stuff on a whole world of music, not just your local collection. It’s the task which Valence is simply begging to do.
The new Roon 1.8 look is beautifully clean, especially in its white version, which Roon clearly favours in its publicity, although the black version will use less power for your screen, and reduce the glare impact on a darkened room. Extra information is everywhere; even the ‘Now Playing’ screen is not just title and album cover, it’s likely to offer images, reviews, album credits, and lyrics that move up the page as the song plays.
There is indeed so much distraction, leading you down diverse paths of pleasure, that there’s a danger you’ll forget to stop and listen to the music sometimes! Using the Roon app to control things from a phone or iPad makes it easier to lay it down and zone out to the tunes. Should your queue run dry, Roon’s ‘radio’ function autofills with intelligently curated content, again using the Valence connections, and your own preferences. If you skip a radio track, it politely asks why — didn’t you like it? Doesn’t it fit the flow? You can dismiss these enquiries, but the more often you reply, the better your radio will fit you.
The cost of Roon
As ever, the only downsides to Roon are firstly having to keep its ‘core’ software permanently running on a computer (or Roon NAS drive) somewhere in the home, and secondly the pricing: US$120 a year, or US$700 for a lifetime subscription. Plus, as noted, it’s best with a Tidal or Qobuz subscription on top.
But the joy of its operation is impossible to deny. Opposite is just one brief stroll through its metadata, from the artist page for Peter Gabriel to a list of performers on his albums through to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and a night spent listening to qawwali artists. (And nothing soothes our soul like a deep dive into Nusrat; thank you Roon!) If you can afford it, and preferably Tidal too, 1.8 has made Roon better than ever: it’s the ultimate control system for digital music, up to the highest levels of quality. More at www.roonlabs.com