In the last ten years, the way we access and listen to music has changed dramatically. Most of us will have digital files stored on several different devices around the home and subscriptions to multiple music streaming services perhaps, so the appeal of a piece of software that achieves a central access point to your digital libraries stored anywhere, looks like an attractive addition indeed. Enter Roon, a bespoke music integration software suite.
At almost $700 USD (around £500 at the time of writing) for a ‘lifetime’ membership or from $9.99 (£7.20) per month, however, I am honestly somewhat sceptical about how Roon software can possibly improve my listening experience. I just do not get it.
It is £1,550 for the Roon Nucleus I am reviewing here. The Nucleus can form the core of the Roon system you need to get it running effectively. I say effectively because you can set up and run a Roon core on any computer, laptop or other but it will be compromised by not having a dedicated processor involved, as the Roon Nucleus does. When I started this Nucleus review, I was new to Roon and you can read about my first impressions of the Roon universe and how these have evolved as I’ve become familiar with Roon.
Roon is a software architecture to streamline your digital music library using a ‘core’ and apps to access and control output devices around your home. The core forms the heart of the Roon architecture and the Nucleus is Roon’s own dedicated hardware component built to deliver this musical panacea in a way that best suits the Roon environment or universe.
You could use a Windows or Apple computer or other devices as the core of a Roon system, but this is something of a compromise and Roon’s Nucleus is built specifically for the purpose of delivering the best integrated music experience possible, without compromise.
The core is managed via free Roon apps downloaded to your desktop computer, laptop, smartphone or iPad, for example. The apps provide control of any Roon Ready or Roon Tested output devices in your setup. Check out this list of companies with links to Roon-compatible products and the huge number of big-brand partners.
The Nucleus is 2.5kgs of audio engineering excellence and forms the heart of my first ever Roon universe. It has a footprint of 267 x 267mm and stands 61mm tall and is hard wired to my home network. In order to review the Nucleus server, I have indexed the contents of my two NAS devices containing a mix of high and low-quality CD rips, but the beauty of the Nucleus is that you can search for the quality versions you want to hear pretty easily.
The Nucleus is attractively engineered and wonderfully understated with just the ribbed top plate and beautiful alloy fins down each side acting as heat sinks to dissipate any heat generated from all that internal processing power. The Roon Nucleus is based on an Intel i3 processor with 4GB RAM with a 64GB SSD that is home to the operating system and the indexing system that manages the locations of all of your music sources. The Nucleus can store files if you choose this option and it can act as a location if you are ripping CDs on your network.
I am not a fan of recessed rear connection panels and as such, the rear of the Nucleus is quite difficult to get at and make the appropriate wired connections – although once I have everything connected and set up, I have not needed to touch it again.
There’s also a Roon Nucleus+ server available costing a further £1,000. Roon says of the Nucleus+…
…it’s the more advanced solution, for complex or high-end environments and for lightning-fast handling of larger music libraries.
Roon Nucleus setup
Having downloaded and installed the Roon app software on my Dell XPS laptop, I ran the setup, entered my review username and password. The whole process took just five minutes and it felt as though I was up and running in next to no time. I pointed the core to my Naim UnitiServe network address and Western Digital MyBookWorld storage device holding some mashed up mp3s I enjoy.
The core is just processing and indexing the complexities of my music locations for the front-end control apps. My Roon endpoints have included Chord’s Hugo 2 DAC and AudioQuest’s DragonFly Red DAC from the USB port on my laptop, Bluesound’s Node 2i wireless music streamer, NAD’s M33 streaming amplifier, Naim’s Uniti Star one-box music system and a Chromecast stream to the TV in the kitchen. I can even use my Google Pixel phone as a Roon endpoint.
Roon Nucleus versus my Dell XPS laptop
This really is the key part of the review. To see if the Nucleus was worth all the money, I turned it off! In this case, when you fire up a Roon app again, it simply looks for the next option for creating a core and since I was on my desktop, this was the default. My laptop has an Intel i5 processor with 8GB RAM, 250GB SSD and is running Windows 10.
The word clunky comes to mind and setting up my laptop as the core took a lot longer than with the Nucleus. Of course, all my listening history went as soon as shut down the Nucleus, which was annoying, and the track library import took an age from my home music server. Unlike my laptop, the Nucleus is a ‘setup and forget’ high-quality audio component dedicated to administering music. My laptop is not.
After a couple of days of using my laptop as the core, I fired up the Nucleus once again and was instantly reminded how much better it is in terms of accessing music searches, selecting and playing tracks and all-round usability. Sound quality at my Roon endpoints was unaffected.
In terms of usability, if you’re considering signing up for a Roon subscription to streamline your digital music access, you will undoubtedly get the best from it with the Nucleus in place. For Roon subscribers everywhere, its inclusion into your digital music system feels like something of a no brainer.
Dedicated processor to music
A discreet ‘on’ indicator on the front of the Nucleus?