The end of the walled garden

In January 2015, I wrote a deck to help me talk to the music and audio industries about Roon, which was still months or more from launching. Depending on how you looked at it, the presentation was either a cool product vision or (as Danny complained) it was “full of lies.”

The problem was a pair of slides that (I thought) handily summarized how Roon was going to work. The first stated that “Roon understands all your content,” meaning that it would find and identify music in various file formats on your hard drives, your iTunes library, and on your NAS, as well as importing your playlists and favorites from your streaming service. All of that was true enough (sort of). The second slide more boldly claimed that “Roon plays with all your hardware” which was – there’s no nice way to dress this up – just completely untrue at that point.

A fresh start with a new vision

After years of building closed hardware systems at Sooloos and Meridian, we learned that our place in the world is designing user experiences, not audio hardware. To reach all the enthusiasts and audiophiles out there, Roon had to work with absolutely everything.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. Roon 1.0 worked, to varying degrees, with USB, AirPlay, and Meridian devices. It was a good start, but hardly “all your hardware.” Over the next few releases, we added support for Squeezebox, Google Cast, Sonos, HDMI, and a handful of proprietary integrations like Devialet AIR, Linn, and KEF. The Roon Remote apps on iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows also play audio, so the dream of playing music everywhere was ever closer to becoming reality.

As we expanded Roon’s support of audio devices, though, two issues emerged as show-stoppers: (a) there was uncertainty about whether a device would work with Roon, and (b) there was no simple, reliable way to play high-resolution audio over your network.

To solve the first issue, we created the Roon Tested program, which lets us collaborate with audio brands on testing and quality assurance. Manufacturers send us their products, and we confirm that Roon identifies them correctly and has their features and specifications in its database. It turns out that seeing your device pop up in Roon – fully identified and working as expected – goes a long way to building confidence.

The second issue was a bigger challenge. The broadly accepted standard for high-resolution streaming at the time was UPnP, which we actively chose not to support. While promising in principle, the UPnP standard (and its derivative, DLNA) makes sacrifices in user experience (specifically audio format support and rich metadata) that run contrary to our goals for Roon. Also, because there’s no certification mechanism for UPnP devices, implementations vary widely and the experience of using them is… variable.

Build it and they will come

As an alternative, we chose to develop a high-resolution streaming protocol (RAAT) that addressed the shortcomings of existing systems, and we built an SDK for hardware manufacturers to integrate into their devices. Armed with a data sheet and a dream, we set out to convince an industry that we had built something better.

That was December 2015. To our surprise and delight, it was only 30 days later that the world’s first Roon Ready device was unveiled at CES in Las Vegas – the Auralic Aries. Since then, over 80 brands have signed on to the program, making it the most widely-used high-resolution streaming protocol in the world.

Together, the Roon Ready and Roon Tested programs have changed the audio industry. By collaborating with manufacturers, we’ve created a new kind of experience, in which hardware from one company and software from another genuinely work together flawlessly. Roon subscribers can readily get support from a team that has access to the products they’re using, so both our subscribers and our partners are happy.

Which brings me back to my infamous deck. This week, five years since we launched Roon, we can finally say with a straight face that Roon plays with all your hardware.

Share, Inspire, and Enjoy with the Roon Referral Program

Our aim is to build the best platform for listening to and exploring the music you love, and we want to help you share your excitement and experiences with others.

The new Roon Referral Program lets you do just that, while earning rewards! Simply share your unique referral link with friends and family and you both get an extra month of Roon for free* when they activate their subscription

So while you’re spending a bit more time at home, visit your Roon account page to start sharing your referral link and help us grow our amazing community.

On another note, we’re still looking to fill 7 open roles on our development team. Check out our jobs page for more information, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you or anyone you know is interested.

*Unique referral link available to paid subscribers only, terms and conditions apply

Roon in the time of coronavirus

In the last century, there have been more than a few events that have shaken the world. It’s hard to think of another one, though, that has touched the lives of every person on the planet simultaneously. We’ve each had a unique and deeply personal experience to navigate, but as I reflect, my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude – for the Roon team, our community of subscribers, our family of partners, and the very nature of our business.

New York City is Roon’s spiritual home – it’s where the founding crew met and first collaborated back in ancient times – and we feel deeply connected to the city as it struggles. But we’ve always worked remotely. Our Slack workspace is our office, and the company is now spread over four continents. Fortunately for us, that means that as we grow our team, we’ve been able to prioritize domain expertise and product passion over geography. From Bangkok to Paris and Toronto to Montevideo, we’ve always been a “pants optional” operation, meeting on Skype, and passing the baton from time zone to time zone in a kind of global relay.

For most of our team, the biggest change we’ve had to handle is having significant others and kids at home. That hasn’t always been easy, but it’s a cakewalk compared to the challenges faced by our friends and colleagues in other sectors. The last few months have felt largely like business as usual for us, which seems surreal because we’re growing even as startups are closing their doors. If you know a developer with a passion for music who has been affected by the downturn, please ask them to check out our jobs page.

All of this is to say that we feel extremely fortunate for the opportunities we have today. In these times of social distancing, there has been a surge in the consumption of streaming content; music and movies have had to stand in for the social activities of simpler times. Roon is a product that people enjoy in their homes, and we’re happy to find that our subscribers seem to be doing more of that than ever. We’ve actually seen a sharp increase in people trying Roon for the first time, and an uptick in the number of listening hours per week among all users.

We’d like to thank every subscriber, every contributor to our community site, and everyone who engages in the always-lively debate about what could make Roon a better product. We’re grateful to be able to sustain our growth plans and we look forward to smoother sailing ahead.

Roon 1.5 is here!

We’re very pleased to announce our fifth major software update: Roon 1.5. In the four months since we released 1.4, we’ve launched our first hardware products (Nucleus and Nucleus+) and introduced home automation support with Crestron and Control4 modules. As the Roon team continues to grow, the pace of our releases is increasing so we can bring more features to our members more frequently.

Continue reading “Roon 1.5 is here!”

What Makes Nucleus So Special?

We’ve been asked this question about a million times since we announced Nucleus – our first hardware product – last year, so we’ve put together a comprehensive white paper that discusses the concept behind the product, the design decisions that were made during the development process, and the nitty-gritty of the hardware and software technologies we ended up using. This post is an overview of some of that information; if you want the whole story, go read the paper!

Continue reading “What Makes Nucleus So Special?”

Roon Ready Update: September 2017

One of the great features of the Roon Ready program is the diversity of product functions, features, and prices that are represented in the range of available devices from our partners.

From $50 Raspberry Pi hats to $50,000 DACs, table radios to headphone amplifiers, and soundbars to multi-room amps, you can find almost any kind of audio product you need in the Roon Ready family.

Continue reading “Roon Ready Update: September 2017”