Here at Roon we have the immense challenge of developing software that plays nicely with a multitude of network topologies. From the crusty 12-year-old router with 8 daisy-chained switches, to emerging technologies like a mesh network from Eero, Roon must work flawlessly in any configuration. These 5 tips will help you set up a robust network ready for WiFi audio streaming.
1. BAD ROUTERS FOR AUDIO STREAMING
Time and time again we see poor quality or underpowered routers responsible for catastrophic issues with audio streaming. It’s a bummer when we have to say “throw it out and go buy this”, but there’s nothing software can do to overcome an underpowered or poor quality router.
We don’t like to name names, but if you’re serious about home audio it’s important that we spare you the headache and tell you what to avoid.
Apple WiFi Devices
Sorry Apple! Your laptops are great, but routers and network attached storage devices aren’t your strong suit.
Avoid the Time Capsule, AirPort Extreme and AirPort Express for audio streaming. These devices work fine for basic tasks, but we suspect Apple are exiting this business and have noticed that they’re paying little attention to open issues. We’ve had an uptick of support issues related to these devices, so right now our best suggestion is to avoid them altogether.
The Cable Company Special
Some “cable company specials” work just fine for every day tasks like browsing the internet or streaming 1080p video, but fall apart handling multiroom high resolution audio. If you’re about to sign a new cable contract or have already done so, make sure you know what model router you’re getting with the deal, and decide whether or not you should pick up your own.
This technology moves over time–a first-generation 802.11n router will underperform compared to something more current, simply because the newer ones have more CPU/RAM. If at all possible, make sure your router does 802.11ac. Even if your endpoints are n-only, the bandwidth hungry phones/tablets/laptops on your network are more likely to have ac support, which will help to get them out of the way and reduce interference.
Ditch the cable company special for one of these high performance routers from ASUS:
|Router Model||802.11ac||Throughput||LAN Ports||Price|
|ASUS RT-AC88U||Yes||2100 Mbps||8||See on Amazon|
|ASUS RT-AC5300||Yes||5334 Mbps||8||See on Amazon|
|ASUS RT-AC68U||Yes||1900 Mbps||5||See on Amazon|
2. Line of sight
Line of sight issues can cause periods of time where packets cannot flow. Place your router in a part of your home that isn’t blocked by stone or brick, isn’t too far from the devices that you use on a day-to-day basis, and if it has antennae make sure they’re upright and tightened.
You can monitor for line of sight issues by investigating ping times. Ping your router and monitor the results — if you’re seeing periods where ping times shoot up into the hundreds of milliseconds or more, there may be an obstruction between your device and router. Move your router and try again.
WiFi networks are sensitive, and a perfect one can start acting up from a loose antenna on the router, too much distance between the router and device, or something as simple as the family dog nudging your router further behind a stone or brick wall.
3. Wifi congestion (cities, apartment complexes)
Congested environments where there is a lot of WiFi interference can make setting up a robust network difficult.
In dense urban areas or apartment buildings we recommend using 5GHz connections as much as possible, so in the very least you’ll want a 2.4/5GHz dual-band router like the ASUS RT-AC68U, or make the upgrade to the ASUS RT-AC88U.
Another option is ponying up for a mesh network by NETGEAR (Orbi), Google, or Eero. The technology is new, but mesh nodes communicate with each other out of band with the WiFi signal, which means they’ll perform well in dense environments.
A mesh network also helps decreas the distance between devices and the thing they are talking to. For example, maybe you can set up a mesh node in your dining room which is closer to your audio system, but using a modem/router combo you would have to run wires through the walls and attic, or settle for it being farther away from your audio system.
Don’t forget to choose the right channel for your router!
If you’re using a router in a dense environment, it’s important to make sure it’s on the channel with the least congestion. There are a few tools you can use to find those channels, detailed in this article.
If you’re on OS X, Apple have built a tool to let you peek at which channels have the least chatter. Just open Wireless Diagnostics, ignore the setup wizard and click Window, then Scan. A list of WiFi networks will pop up, with a dialog that tells you which channel is best. In the scenario below, it looks like channels 6 and 2 have the least amount of traffic for 2.4GHz, and 149 and 165 are the best for 5 GHz:
Some routers also allow you to install custom firmware like DD-WRT, which have built in tools for monitoring channel traffic and changing the channel you’re on, not to mention a whole host of other features to help boost router performance. If you want to learn more about optimizing your router with custom firmware, check out this article.
4. additional access points
Poorly configured network access points have been the root cause of several seriously puzzling support cases. If you need access points in your home, it’s worth considering a mesh network becuase handoffs between WiFi repeaters or managed switches can cause problems.
It’s also easy to misconfigure additional access points such that the devices end up re-associating when they hop between access points in a way that disrupts connections, or end up accidentally living on segmented networks.
If you think your access points are causing instability on your network, try unplugging everything but the main router. You may find that Roon and everything else start working better, at which point you can re-introduce your access points to find the culprit.
5. wifi range extenders
On paper they sound like the perfect solution, but WiFi “range extenders” or “repeaters” have too many tradeoffs to be considered an actual improvement.
This is another device that will serve your needs well for everyday, basic tasks, but when it comes to more advanced things like high-resolution audio streaming, they simply fall short.
Range extenders communicate on the same WiFi signal which means more interference. Mesh technology (where all of the base stations are cooridinating with each other out of band of the WiFI signal), will serve you better if you need stronger WiFi coverage throughout your home.
Opt for a single 802.11ac router with a good reputation like the ASUS RT-AC88U, or hop on a train to the future with a mesh network by NETGEAR (Orbi), Google, or Eero, and you’ll be on your way to uninterrupted multiroom audio streaming. Even if you don’t have a high performance router or mesh network, avoiding some of the pitfalls outlined in this article will have you on your way to a robust, headache-free network.