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Roon is must-have software for hardcore music fans

Michael Brown | May 21, 2015
Fair warning to fans of high-end audio: Don't sign up for the free two-week trial to Roon Labs' Roon media server unless you're prepared to commit to the $119 annual subscription. Once you've spent some quality time listening to music and managing your music library with this software, you won't want to go back to whatever you were using before.

Metadata to the max

So Roon is an awesome tool for music playback, but that's less than half its value. The Roon features that really knocked me out are its database- and metadata-management capabilities. The folks at Roon consider my library of 1750 albums (20,757 tracks) to be small. By their standards, a mid-sized library would contain 3000 to 5000 albums and a big library would contain upwards of 20,000 albums.

One way to get to higher numbers quickly is to subscribe to Tidal, which streams CD-quality music (16-bit, 44.1kHz FLAC files) over broadband. Roon will combine the music you own with the music you "rent" into one big library and manage all of it for you. The software instantly fixes everything that's wrong with Tidal's abysmal user interface, and it does a brilliant job of using that service to expose you to new music based on what you're already listening to.

Roon Labs' stated objective is to use metadata to return our music-listening experience to the days of the LP, with its beautifully designed large-format cover, its gatefold art, and the lyrics and extensive liner notes on the record's sleeve. Roon will find all of that information about your music and present it in a browser-like playback window. That's part of the reason the software is being sold as a subscription service versus a one-time purchase. Roon builds some of its metadata in house, but it also licenses material from third parties, including Rovi and LyricFind. In doing so, Roon Labs incurs recurring costs that it recoups through its subscription fees.

For most albums, Roon's database will provide a description of the album; high-resolution album art; a biographical sketch of the artist; a critical review; a discography of other recordings by that artist; credits for all the performers, producers, engineers, and other personnel involved in the recording; the album's original release date; the length of the album; the recording's format, sampling rate, and bit depth; the complete lyrics for each song; editable, clickable tags indicating the genre(s) the album belongs to; and links to any alternative versions of the album (such as the ones included in boxed sets). Roon will even tell you if an album is incomplete and help you identify the missing tracks.

Almost every piece of information that's presented is clickable, encouraging you to explore other recordings by that artist, contributions that artist made to other musician's albums, other projects the producer or engineer were involved in, and more. Roon is made for people who love music and want to immerse themselves in listening, exploration, and discovery.

Is it really worth $119 a year?

I do have two minor nits to pick with Roon Labs. First and foremost, the company needs to finish its Android and iOS device software — pronto. Second, it needs to add the ability to wake the primary computer from a low-power sleep state. As it stands, the company recommends leaving the computer powered up 24/7 or using a third-party wake-on-LAN utility on a tablet or smartphone. That's lame. I shouldn't have to waste electricity running an unused computer all day long, and I shouldn't have to use third-party software on a secondary device to wake my PC from hibernation.


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