A year or so ago, I put together a two-channel audio system purely based around analogue components: a Rega Planar 6 turntable, a Rega Brio Class AB integrated amplifier and a pair of Tannoy Revolution R3 speakers that I’ve had for 20 odd years. I wanted to augment it with digital playback but without a lot of complexity. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money on high-end systems like Aurender.
I came across Roon, which is a combination music player, music organization and discovery system with advanced audio processing. Why audio processing? You may have some devices that you want to stream to that do not support MQA or 96 kHz audio for example. The Roon server will fiddle with the bits to give you something that your devices can play. It also lets you create room groups a la Sonos. It isn’t particularly cheap at $119/year or $499 for a lifetime subscription, but it is rather good.
Roon uses a client/server model where the catalogue, audio processing and streaming happens on a server with endpoints rendering the bitstream, all controlled via a software application. You could have everything running on one device, for example a desktop PC could be the Roon Server, the Roon client and also playback music. But you are more likely to have a specific device acting as the Roon server, a tablet running the Roon client, and a separate renderer connected to your hi-fi. Money is the ultimate lubricant: Mark Levinson will sell you the rather attractive No 519 that does all the Roon magic. But what if you don’t want to spend $20k?
I put together a solution for under $1,000 that is plug and play and provides great bang for the buck.
DAC: I settled on using the standalone Pro-Ject Audio Pre Box S2 Digital, a $399 marvel that supports MQA and DSD512 thanks to an ESS Sabre 9038 dual DAC plugged into one of the Brio’s analogue inputs. I think this little DAC is considerably more flexible than many of the streaming devices available today including the ones from the big names. Whether you feel that MQA is the devil incarnate or not, it is nice to know that this device supports it hardware, without requiring processing on the Roon server.
So about $850 for the above. Regardless of which route you go, you’ll want a tablet to run the Roon Controller. I took advantage of an Amazon discount to get a Kindle Fire HD for about $50 and modified it to access the Google Play Store so that I could download Roon. I also have my music stored on a Synology NAS.