For many users, Roon starts life on a single machine – a PC or Mac hooked up to a DAC over USB. Lifting sound quality to the next level might see a USB-S/PDIF converter (e.g. Audiophilleo or Resonessence Labs Concero), USB filter (e.g. AudioQuest JitterBug) or USB re-clocker (e.g. Schiit Wyrd, Wyred4Sound Recover or UpTone Regen) applied.
From there, perhaps a move to fancier hardware. The compromise is commensurate wallet damage. Products that combine Roon Server and Roon Endpoint on a single machine that feature fully-optimised (and sometimes bespoke) hardware and software like that offered by South Korea’s SoTM or New Zealand’s Antipodes Audio won’t head out the factory door for less than US$3K.
For keeping total spend on a tighter leash we might consider separating Roon server and Endpoint: run Roon Core (the server software) on a low-rent PC, Mac or NAS and have it stream digital audio across the network to a Roon Ready Endpoint, with an iPad or Android tablet app chairing the meeting. Simples.
At time of writing, Roon Endpoint options are few. Audio Alchemy, Bel Canto, Bryston, Cary Audio, Constellation Audio, dCS, Exasound, LH Labs, Lumin, PS Audio and TotalDAC all have Roon Ready compatibility in the works but timelines and pricing remain unpredictable. One look at that list and we could intuit with reasonable confidence just how many of these Roon Ready Endpoints will land with an RRP south of a grand: zero.
The exception proving the rule is the already suitably equipped AURALiC Aries which starts life at US$999. The Aries Mini misses out, presumably because AURALiC don’t want sales of their entry-level streamer cannibalising those of their more deluxe offering. Fair enough.
What’s a Roon-loving wallet watcher to do?
Fortunately there are options but each arrives with compromise in tow: 1) the discontinued Squeezebox Touch is capable of hi-res streaming but hardware supply and pricing remains variable; 2) the Apple TV up/down-samples incoming signals, even Redbook, to 16bit/48kHz – therefore no hi-res support; the Apple Airport Express sees Redbook streams untouched but higher sample rates downed to 16bit/44.1kHz – again, no hi-res. Neither Apple product make use of Roon’s RAAT streaming protocol – it’s Airplay or the highway.
In his CES 2016 wrap, Chris Connaker remarked that the Google Chromecast Audio might soon be appointed as Roon catcher. A US$35 Endpoint – nice. Until then though we hunt the middle ground between Apple’s Airplay devices and AURALiC’s upper-tier streamer.
Fitting that bill, a newly arrived contender from Sonore.
Based around an unmodified CuBox-i, the Sonicorbiter SE is a palm-sized Roon Endpoint that offers a “fast multicore ARM processor”, 1Gb Ram and Ethernet input. Hard-wire the Sonicorbiter SE to a router and power it up. Supplying the go juice is a 110VAC linear power supply (for US residents) or standard – presumably switch-mode – PSU for international folk seeing 220-240VAC at the wall.
However, an additional US$55 on top of the Sonicorbiter SE’s baseline price of US$298 nets a super low noise ‘iPower’ SMPS from iFi Audio. Alternatively, one could BYO a 5V 1amp linear supply.
At the business end, a USB output feeds the downstream DAC with “PCM, DSD/DoP and native DSD” (PCM support tops out at 768kHz, DSD at 22.5792 MHz). The Sonicorbiter SE’s optical output won’t deal in DSD but will accommodate PCM up to 24bit/192kHz.
Best of all, the Sonicorbiter SE is Roon Ready; a hi-res PCM and DSD-compatible Roon Endpoint for ~US$298.
But wait – there’s more.
Via a web browser-based remote config, the Sonicorbiter SE can be clicked into four alternative operational modes: Squeezelite will see it present as a Squeezebox to LMS/SqueezeboxServer; ShairPort as an Airplay device; DLNA as an OpenHome renderer (with MinimServer or similar running elsewhere); MPD will talk to a mounted network share; HQPlayer NAA will asynchronously stream from a HQPlayer outputting source.
Those wanting to reach Peak Roon here could append the Sonicorbiter SE with UpTone Regen and fancy USB wire, re-clock its Toslink output with a Wyred4Sound Remedy and/or make use of Roon Server’s in-built HQ Player compatibility for which Roon sends audio data to HQ Player and the latter marshals the network stream.
Not bad deal for three hundred clams. Not bad at all.
Further information: Sonore Sonicorbiter SE