In the comments section of the first slab of Roon coverage chief 6mooner Srajan Ebaen writes, “I’ve hesitated installing Roon after reading user feedback that it retags their custom tags to instead conform with how albums are tagged by their own reference data bases.”
“Let’s say you’ve got three albums of the same, differing only in resolution. You’ve given them particular names to keep ’em apart. Now Roon reads/assimilates your library and voilà, they’re back to all being called the same as they were before you retagged them as you wanted them to appear.”
“Could you chime in on whether that’s true – or whether such users overlooked a bypass feature somewhere that wouldn’t have touched their meta-data changes?”
Sure I can. Ebaen’s enquiry is of sufficient import to warrant a dedicated post, whose side-spill will also benefit the Roon-curious. As such, Part 1b name-checks The Orb and not Pink Floyd. What’s on the backside of the Roon: benevolent dictator or user-managed official? Let’s investigate.
But first, a quick detour…
Metadata is sacrosanct for the serious digital audiophile. Much like our own bodies (and minds), it takes diligence and time to keep a library in shape. Assisting with audio file tagging at DAR HQ are mp3tag and (the rather excellent) Bliss.
I’ve been a Bliss user since 2011 and so it was a pleasure to finally meet its developer Dan Gravell at this year’s Munich High-End Show. Shout out to Dan!
Bliss is a little different to most other music file tagging applications. It adds cover art sourced from the web and allows for basic tag correction. It can then restructure files and folders according to that metadata. Change the metadata and Bliss will relocate the affected files accordingly. Pushing its point(s) of difference still further, Bliss runs in the background as a server daemon, watching and waiting for metadata changes. It runs on OS X, Linux and Windows but also comes pre-installed as standard on Vortexbox-derived music servers (like those of New Zealand’s Antipodes Audio).
Roon doesn’t yet talk Linux lingo so I’m on a MacBook Air with OS X versions of Bliss and Roon applied to a small sample library.
Here we see the sample library’s Lou Reed album collection from within Bliss:
Note the doubling up on Berlin and Transformer for which the album title tag for each has been amended accordingly to keep them apart in Bliss and its attendant folder structure: “[Original CD]” for the Redbook version and “HDTracks 24-96]” for the hi-res.
I’ve instructed Bliss to give each album version its own folder. That looks like this:
In Roon’s settings panel the master library folder (‘INCOMING’) is added as a ‘Watched Folder’ and analysed by the app. “1244 tracks imported,” reports Roon.
Now let’s look at how that same collection of Lou Reed albums appears under Roon’s artist view:
…only one version of Berlin and Transformer shows up. WTF?! And yet each version’s folder remains unchanged in Finder and Bliss. The latter confirms metadata has not been touched at all by Roon. So where’d that second copy of Berlin disappear to?
Let’s click through to the copy of Berlin that we do see. Under the cover art we note that Roon is serving us the Redbook version. “FLAC 44.1kHz 16bit 2ch”. Beneath that sits the “Original CD” album title tag differentiator previously applied in Bliss.
But wait! See the “Other versions of this album” button just below the album synopsis? I’ve marked it out in red:
Clicking that button provides answers as to where our second copy of Berlin went:
Here Roon shows both versions but asks the user to specify a primary version whilst giving the option to remove what it sees as a duplicate. Personally I’d prefer to see ALL versions laid out under the artist section. Thankfully nothing has been deleted or even omitted, only tucked away out of plain sight. Crucially, each album’s tags remain untouched by Roon and so Bliss performs no (unwanted) folder reorganisation.
That chimes positively with the guarantee made by the Roon settings panel; that ‘Watched’ folders won’t be “copied or modified”. Roon gets to look but not touch.
‘Organized’ folders on the other hand are for the user who require Roon to intervene on matters meta. I copied both versions of Berlin and Transformer to a fresh folder in Finder before specifying it as a destination to which Roon could do its worst. Bliss is kept in the dark about this folder lest it corrects the file/folder housekeeping exacted by Roon.
To further simplify things I disabled the previously ‘Watched’ folder (‘INCOMING’) so that the library saw a dressing down to all but two versions of two Lou Reed albums. Once again Roon asked for the specification of a primary version or removal of duplicates. Here’s Transformer:
…and Finder pulls the curtain back on Roon’s own file/folder restructuring.
OK – but what about metadata? Had Roon applied any of its own fixes to the files hosted within the ‘Organized’ folder? Let’s load the newly-created Berlin folder, that Roon decided should contain both versions, into Jaikoz – another OS X tag editor. Ch-ch-changes? Computer says no.
What if we then use Jaikoz to remove the tag data from the “[Original CD]” version of Berlin. – would Roon inject the correct metadata back into those files?
Nope – zero changes were made to the metadata inside the files (that I or Jaikoz could see). But in Roon’s album view, artist, album title and track titles were all present and correct. It would seem that Roon applies an in-app, meta-data gladwrapping as opposed to injecting metadata into each FLAC’s bloodstream.
I’d say Srajan’s metadata is safe from Roon interference, especially if he uses ‘Watched’ folders. As always when messing with new software like this, seeing how Roon interacts with a sample library is the safest first step.
Further information: Roon Labs