Streamed music always seemed to me like a great idea, but one that, over the years, I have had begun to have serious doubts about. I know that, in many households, music has been somewhat relegated to commodity-level these days, but the systems I was hearing had left me unimpressed, despite the hype. As I began to dip my toe into the world of high-end streaming I was encouraged by the process but still generally disappointed with the overall quality I was hearing. Would it take years before we had the necessary equipment and software to really explore its potential and depths? Compact Disc was like that and we all blamed the early discs for their rather thin and indifferent sound. It took a long time for me to both accept it as a main listening source and even longer to understand that there was a lot more music on those early discs than I had ever thought. I hoped that digital file storage and streamed music wasn’t going to take so long to reach maturity because when digitally encoded music for the home first came to prominence in the early 1980’s, it absolutely stank.
The dream that streaming has always promised the music-lover is the world of high-quality music at your fingertips. Through lossless streaming from companies like Tidal, this dream has notionally become reality, or at least has been on the cusp of real success. In fact I have had several set-ups at home that have come close(ish) to high-end CD replay but the quality has always been ‘consistently inconsistent’. As the software improved so did the music, but a great sounding album could always be followed by flat and rather anaemic disappointment. Add to this a certain clunkiness in the operating systems requiring all-too-frequent reboots and I have often found it a rather unfulfilling experience. But, as far as sound quality goes, streaming and its electronics have moved on enormously over the past year or so and easy access to an enormous library is, in no small way, thanks to my choice of Tidal, and Roon’s software with its superb detail and implementation acting as Tidal’s able wingman.
Where home audio is concerned, there was a time when our musical horizons were defined by our libraries. How many CD’s or albums had you accumulated? Along with the occasional foray into the world of FM radio, that was your musical world, as seen from the comfort of your listening chair. Then along came iTunes and then Spotify, and the amount of music at your fingertips grew enormously. But there was always the sound-quality to consider if you aspired in that direction. You could plug into all sorts of music and even rip the contents of your CD collection onto any number of storage systems with a few clicks of the mouse. That was fine, but the sound certainly wasn’t. It was often excruciatingly bad. In fact, the sheer amount of material available and the various ways of storing the associated files was always going to require some creative software to bring it all together. If you’ve ever stood before your CD collection wondering what to play or hunted for an elusive disc, you’ll know what I mean. Some companies were ahead of the game here and supplied software providing this gateway and the hand-held tablet was quite obviously the most convenient way of actually seeing what was available to listen to. Throw in some metadata like the album artwork and other details, incorporate this into the mix alongside the world of recorded music and it’s not hard to see the scope for some serious software innovations. This is where Roon comes in.
Imagine a situation where you have a subscription-based account with a company like Tidal, NAS drives crammed full of your ripped CDs, some downloaded files, perhaps a memory stick or two, and a drive crammed full of hi-def files. That’s a hell of a lot of music you can access, and you’ll want to achieve that quickly along with some cover art and relevant information. You may just want to browse your music for inspiration, or even have suggestions made for you. Often there is a cascading effect where one piece suggests another, and this is the way great and memorable listening sessions come about for me. Roon is your friend here and is the richest and most rewarding of its type that I have tried. But, as a fan of great sound, I was never going to get too excited until the quality to rival a top CD player was achieved. For me it’s all about the total experience and not just the sheer convenience.