Nucleus One, the best budget Roon server ever made

Nucleus One the best budget Roon music server

It’s always exciting to encounter something that challenges belief and expectations simply by existing. Stress testing objects from Too Good to Be True Avenue and having them stand up to scrutiny is gratifying, inspiring even. 

Especially when they’re items that typically demand a bit of money to exhibit quality, like finding a well-made but affordable musical instrument. Another example is the trove of incredibly high-value, low-cost Hi-Fi gear that has sprung up over the last few years. Many of those devices are from Roon partners who have perfected the art of making great sound affordable. 

Since Roon’s earliest days, we’ve had a secret but similar ambition – we envisioned building the best budget Roon server ever made at a price all Roon users could afford. 

Roon has always provided two Nucleus options, letting buyers choose the best device for their needs. Over the years, we’ve received countless requests for a more accessibly priced model. We’ve been quietly working on it for a while, setting the bar for success high. We asked a simple question: Can we build something that bears the Nucleus name and performs like one but only costs as much as an off-the-shelf mini PC? 

We’ve realized that dream with the release of Nucleus One, priced at just $499.99 (U.S.). It’s thrilling to finally share my experience using Nucleus One—the best budget Roon server ever made—with you. 

In this overview, we’ll cover:

  • A physical description of Nucleus One
  • Ease of setup
  • Transferring my Roon settings and library
  • Nucleus One’s performance
  • Compatibility with my gear and sound quality.
  • And final impressions

To be most helpful to readers who want to know whether Nucleus One will work for them, I’ve tried to mirror the buyer’s experience as closely as possible. I relied on the same Nucleus One information available to our customers and asked tech support to confirm the best way to transfer my local files. As with all things Nucleus, the rest was smooth sailing.

Nucleus One best budget roon server

Physical description of Nucleus One

Despite having the privilege of reviewing many legendary equipment brands for Roon, I’ve never swooned over gear simply because of its price tag. I genuinely admire a well-made device that sounds great and is reasonably priced. Despite that, I wondered aloud how a $499.99 Nucleus One would compare to the base model Nucleus I’ve had in my AV cabinet for years and grown particularly fond of. 

Its physical impressions were the first of many times the Nucleus One surprised me and defied my expectations. Expecting a diminutively sized mini PC, I was shocked when an attractive full-sized retail box arrived on my doorstep.

I was immediately impressed by Nucleus One’s size and weight. It’s a 9-3/8″ square device that stands just over 2″ tall and weighs 4 lbs, 2 ounces. It’s broader and shorter than previous models and makes an immediate impression.

It also commands attention with its precision-molded matte black outer shell. It features subtle, stealthy, gloss black contrasting finish inside the roon logo on the face, the dividing groves of its dual vent wings, and the top design shared by the premium Nucleus Titan. 

The matching black metal enclosure underneath the outer shell has a lightly textured finish. The power button on the device’s rear clicks affirmatively and lights up when pressed.

Nucleus One the best budget Roon server

It features 2 x USB-A 3.0 ports for connecting storage drives or audio devices, a Gigabit LAN connection, and 1 x HDMI audio-only connection and sits firmly on four rubber feet. 

Nucleus One provides space for 2.5″ internal SATA drives up to 15mm high. When opening the enclosure, I noticed quality internals and that the rest of the hardware was safely partitioned. That means there’s no risk of unintended damage to the machine when installing a drive. 

All told I have to confess that I felt intense pangs of disloyalty toward my long-serving Nucleus over how swiftly Nucleus One seized my admiration. It’s a visually stunning and remarkably substantial machine that makes a winning impression, even before getting it set up.

Nucleus One ease of setup

One of Nucleus’s strongest selling points has been its ease of setup. It’s a turnkey device designed to streamline the process and one of the main reasons we say Nucleus is the best way to experience Roon. Nucleus One lives up to that reputation. 

A QR code printed inside the box lid opens the quick start guide. It’s laid out cleanly with clear instructions in plain language. No computer knowledge or networking skills are needed. Simply connect it to power and the internet, open or download the Roon app, and select Nucleus One as your server. Sign in to Roon, and you’re there.

If you’re new to Roon, the guide walks you through every step. The update process is even quicker for current Roon customers switching to a Nucleus One! We’ll cover that next.

Switching to Nucleus One server

If you’re a current Roon customer, you can create a backup in Settings and then restore it while signing into the Nucleus One. Then, Nucleus One will be ready and waiting with all your playlists, albums, tags, preferences, and other customizations.

Before restoring my backup, I installed a 4TB storage drive with music files from my old server in the Nucleus One. (It’s easy to do this; there’s a quick how-to in the Nucleus One unboxing video included here.) And just like that, all my music files appeared instantly when I pressed restore.  

Nucleus One performance

This is another area of the Nucleus One that surprised me and convinced me it’s the best budget Roon server made. I’ve used a base Nucleus for years and have loved it. So, I admit to being incredulous when I was told that the Nucleus One’s performance was comparable to a base Nucleus. That seemed impossible for $499.99.

Using it for several weeks completely erased any lingering doubts. It’s a remarkably snappy and responsive device. My library has around 103,000 tracks – just over the recommended limits – but Nucleus One handles them. Discographies and artist pages load quickly, music playback starts immediately, and albums are added instantly. Well, not that time I tried to add 29 Duke Ellington albums, some of them multi-disc sets, all at once – but that was compulsive and hardly One’s fault.

It also sailed through upsampling to DSD256 with Parametric EQ applied. Nucleus One has a fan onboard to assist CPU cooling via vents disguised in its side fins… allegedly. No, it’s there – I was told it has one, and I believe that. But I haven’t been able to coax it into kicking on. I’ve cranked Hi-Res tracks to multiple zones simultaneously and done other crazy things – like trying to add 29 Duke Ellington albums at once while playing music. And I have never heard or felt that fan fire up. 

It’s a formidable server that thoroughly exceeds expectations and delivers a great Roon experience at an unbeatable price.

Nucleus One the best budget Roon music server

Nucleus One plays with everything and sounds great

Like its predecessors, Nucleus One is built from the ground up to provide the best possible Roon experience. Part of Roon’s appeal is that it plays with everything and delivers unbelievably rich, detailed sound quality. Roon’s universal compatibility with gear ensures that all our customers get the most enjoyment possible from their systems.

Sonically, Nucleus One earns its name. It provides a perfectly achromatic foundation that feeds a transparent signal to Roon’s audio engine. That neutrality lets you add tonal color with MUSE or customize your sound with a diverse array of audio devices.

When fed by the Nucleus One, my gear’s sonic palette was instantly familiar and inviting. Whether I was shoving serious dBs into my primary system or moderate volume to a set of powered monitors, playing a small Airplay speaker in the kitchen, listening critically in headphones, or jamming ARC in the car – Nucleus One always delivered and never missed a beat.

Grouping a few devices and painting my space with sound was equally effortless, thoroughly satisfying, and musically inspiring. After using Nucleus One, any doubts I had about its abilities were entirely dispelled.

Final impressions

Whether you’re a seasoned Roon user or new to the platform, the Nucleus One is an excellent choice if your use scenario and listening needs are similar to the ones I’ve described above.

It easily crushes its goal of being the best budget Roon server ever made. It delivers impressive performance and an exceptional listening experience that belies its astonishingly low price. Actually, I’d so far as to say the only time a Nucleus One owner will think about what they paid for it is when they’re enjoying additional gear purchased with the money they saved.

Naturally, we can understand if you think this sounds like nothing more than a sales pitch or marketing copy. But profit was never the point of building Nucleus One. It was all about delivering incredible value, solid performance, and the best possible Roon experience – for a price anyone can afford. If any of that sounds appealing, we hope you’ll give Nucleus One a try.  

Click here to learn more about Nucleus One. Still not using Roon? See what all the excitement is about with a free 14-day trial!