Roon Ready Writeups: Roon Nucleus Music Server Review

Bringing it all back home

Since the release of Roon 2.0, we’ve presented a selection of mobile audio gear dedicated to helping us get the most from Roon ARC. If you’ve missed our recent notifications, ARC is a new app that transforms your Roon library into a bespoke streaming service with all your favorite Roon features. We’re pretty excited about the reception it’s received. This time out, we’re taking a different path to an enhanced ARC experience and optimal overall Roon performance by bringing it all back home to the most critical piece of any Roon system, your Core. 

Before we continue, let’s briefly describe the three components that make up a Roon setup; Roon Core, Roon apps, and audio devices. Those parts can be separate devices or bundled all in one. An example of the all-in-one approach is a laptop that functions as the Core, software control interface, and audio device – perhaps in the form of a headphone out. This is how the majority of people start using Roon. 

The separates method offers greater flexibility and limitless device possibilities. An example setup might consist of a Roon Nucleus Core, an Android or iOS tablet with the Roon app as remote, and Devialet Phantom I speakers running as a stereo pair as audio devices. Our How Roon Works video provides an excellent overview by our CEO, Enno Vandermeer. You can also check out the Show (off) your Roon Setup thread on our Roon Community for more ideas and inspiration.

In essence, your Core is the musical superbrain of the entire Roon operation. It manages your Roon library, handles signal processing, and oversees music playback. It’s home to your Roon software, it’s superior audio engine, database, playlists, local music storage locations, and all the customizations and preference settings you’ve made to Roon. Whether you’re listening at home or with Roon ARC on the go, it’s the first link of your signal chain. Accordingly, it’s super important that you ensure your Core is parked on a machine that’s appropriately up to scratch. 

In this review, we’ll explain why Roon Nucleus and Nucleus Plus represent the best choices you can make for your Roon Core. The Roon Store’s exclusive promotional offers means there’s no better place to purchase your Nucleus. But first, this important message.

roon nucleus plus music server

Friends don’t let friends run Roon Core on NAS.

This has been a public service announcement from your friendly Roon Technical Support team. Yes, it’s only said in jest… mostly. It’s also a genuine plea to help you help yourself. The most compelling argument for choosing a purpose-driven core machine is the mountain of support requests from customers with Celeron and Atom-based NAS cores or similar boxes with prohibitive native software that does nothing but fight with Roon. The same can be said for nine-year-old laptops with badly outdated operating systems. 

For the love of all things music, don’t do that to yourself. An underpowered core machine is the quickest possible route to a bad Roon experience, with a shaky home network coming in as a close second. If you’d like to start corresponding with Roon Tech Support regularly, though, then it’s a great strategy.

Let me clarify: there’s no judgment or snarky attitude in this advice. We totally get your thinking – you have an older machine sitting unused; why not make it a Roon Core. That’s all it’ll be used for; it should be fine, right? In our experience, no, not always. Ideally, you want each device in your system to perform at its best. Starting with an unstable foundation will have ripple effects further downstream. That’s not what we want for you. Nucleus and Nucleus Plus provide the most solid platform possible for Roon because we built them that way. 

roon nucleus music server

The only Roon Core designed specifically for Roon, by Roon.   

Before you wag your finger and turn red, we’re not saying you must have a Nucleus to use Roon. That’s not at all the case. 

We’re saying that Roon Nucleus is the best way to experience Roon. Here’s why – it’s the only music server on the market explicitly designed to showcase Roon’s full performance potential by the same team that created Roon. It immediately plants Roon on terra firma, and it’s the fastest way to upgrade the performance of an existing setup.

Alternatively, you can run Roon on a recent laptop or small form factor desktop that meets our recommendations and have great results – many of our customers do. My first Roon Core was a Mac laptop; it’s the easiest, most immediate point of entry for many of us. But much like the onboard DACs in our mobile devices, the problem is that most computers aren’t built to be high-quality audio transports. And, to make things worse, they’re distracted by a slew of behind-the-scenes activity and house circuitry that produces noise and deteriorates sound quality.

Nucleus has an advantage over other platforms because it was engineered to provide the most reliable and problem-free Roon experience. It’s designed to do one thing and do it unerringly: host your Roon Core. All that Windows and Mac busy-work jive is eliminated. Nucleus isn’t checking emails, looking for driver updates, juggling dozens of other unessential processes, or flexing your firewall against overly curious apps. Its only concern is Roon. 

It’s a gateway to plug-and-play Roon enjoyment that provides silent, high-performance, power-efficient reliability and superior audio quality in a visually striking modern enclosure. And it’s an unrivaled, dead simple to use, purpose-driven home for Roon Core! Why deny yourself that kind of luxury? 

roon nucleus music server plus

Inside the mysterious finned black box

When designing Nucleus, we ultimately decided to produce two models. They’re identical in all respects except for raw computing horsepower. We wanted to provide options based on specific needs and adjust device costs around the use scenario. A few other goals were for:

  • A turn-key Roon Core that does not require a Mac, PC, or NAS
  • Computing power to support Roon’s requirements now and in the future
  • Ease of use – little to no customer support needed after installation
  • Software and firmware updates downloaded “over the air” and managed by the end-user
  • Reliable and robust operation – tamper-resistant and nothing to service
  • Audiophile-friendly – no fans or moving parts

Nucleus is perfect for the majority of our subscribers. Nucleus Plus is for those with more rigorous processing requirements due to library size, more simultaneous playback streams, DSP, convolution, and high-rate DSD playback. Their differences and details are below.


  • Built on an optimized Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM
  • Library capacity: Up to 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks)
  • Pre-installed internal storage is available. 
  • Multi-room streaming: Up to 6 simultaneous zones
  • DSP capability: All DSP functions available in the PCM domain, certain combinations of functions using DSD, upsampling, or multi-channel processing may not be possible. 


  • Built on an optimized Intel Core i7 processor with 8GB RAM
  • Library capacity: Over 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks)
  • Pre-installed internal storage is available. 
  • Multi-room streaming: Over 6 simultaneous zones
  • DSP capability: All DSP functions available
  • Compatible with Crestron and Control 4 control modules
roon nucleus music server plus

Connection points are identical in both models:

  • Inputs are 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting an external storage drive, network attached storage, and Gigabit LAN connection.
  • Outputs include 2 x USB-A 3.0, 2 x HDMI audio-only stereo and multi-channel, networked Roon Ready, Apple Airplay, and Google Chromecast devices. 

They embody Roon Core, bold yet simple, functional and durable yet visually stimulating – just like Roon. Both models are housed in a striking winged heat-dissipating aluminum chassis finished in automotive-grade off-black satin paint. A low-profile Roon logo is stamped on its face. 

The connection points listed above, the power supply connection, and the power button are on the rear panel inside a port inspired by the hanger bays of the Death Star. Nucleus measures 10.5in (W) x 10.5in (D) x 2.5in (H). The device itself weighs about 7lbs, depending on internal storage. Nucleus can accommodate 2.5-inch HDD or SSD drives with a maximum height of 15mm.

Setup and software updates are done via an easily accessible, intuitively simple web interface. Control of Roon is handled with the Roon Remote app. On-the-go access to your Roon Library with ARC is guaranteed by Nucleus’ always-on design. You can also connect an external disc drive to rip CDs directly to the Nucleus. 

Nucleus and Nucleus Plus are identical sonically. While reviewing our recent parade of DACs, I’ve discovered that a direct wired or wireless Roon Ready connection to the Nucleus is always sonically superior to connecting to the USB port of a computer remote. It’s a darker achromatic slate that feeds an entirely transparent signal to Roon’s audio engine. That neutral background allows you to shape your system’s sound signature with DACS, playback devices, amps, and speakers. Nucleus provides the optimal platform for sonic sculpting; simply choose from any of our 1000+ Roon Certified partner devices to customize your sound.

If you’re looking for the quickest, easiest, most reliable, problem-free, best-sounding, sweetest smelling, and immediately excellent Roon-designed Roon Core experience… Ok, not the sweetest smelling; I was just making sure you were listening. If you’d like all that other good stuff, then Nucleus is for you! A personal bonus feature is that it’s provided snappier Roon performance and 100% problem-free operation since I added one to my setup. Now let’s look at some other benefits.

tidal for roon nucleus music server

Plug yourself into the web of sound

Ok, your Roon Core is sorted; now what? Now it’s all about the music. If you have a library of local music files, connect an external hard drive directly to the Nucleus, point Roon toward your network storage location, or simply drag and drop your music to the internal storage drive. Roon immediately flexes its metadata superpowers on your collection – to bring its hidden relationships and stories to life. You can tap into an even more spectacular sound repository if you don’t have many music files. Or…you can have both! Upload your music and add streaming; that’s our favorite!

As music lovers, we’re fortunate to live in a time when music is so plentiful and easily accessible. Syncing a streaming service in Roon immediately plugs you into what I call the vast web of sound. Adding TIDAL HiFi to Roon lets you explore and stream over 90 million lossless and Hi-Res tracks.​ It also means 24/7 access to an unrivaled array of high-res recordings when using Roon ARC. 

TIDAL membership places a practically limitless all-encompassing palette of sound at your fingertips, including their exclusive selection of Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) albums. Once synced, Roon’s rich features are applied to TIDAL’s catalog delivering effortless discovery of new and forgotten favorites informed by an intimate understanding of the interconnected storylines of the music we already love. 

tidal for roon nucleus music server

Using the TIDAL browse tab in Roon thoroughly unlocks an exclusive set of personalized mixes, new album recommendations based on popularity and your listening history, and the keys to exploring new genres. TIDAL’s selection of curated playlists is easy to find and even easier to spin. Roon uses your streaming subscription to augment those features with even more recommendations, featured albums, daily mixes, and a Roon Radio experience tailored to your specific tastes. Roon accentuates the treasure hunt while its superior audio engine deliver a pristine, uncolored, bit-perfect listening experience.

Try to imagine another way you can have all of the above with such ease. You cannot; Roon is the only way to experience what I’ve described. And Nucleus + Roon + TIDAL is undoubtedly the very best way to enjoy it. 


Nucleus is an unrivaled, dead simple to use, purpose-driven home for Roon Core and an immediate gateway to plug-and-play Roon enjoyment. 

Its high performance, power-efficient reliability, and fanless solid-state design guarantee superior audio quality. An intuitive user interface provides effortless ease of use and support-free operation, allowing you to focus on what Roon is all about – unparalleled exploration and discovery of bit-perfect high-resolution music delivered to your listening space – wherever that may be. 

If that sounds appealing to you, we’re confident you will love Nucleus. 

Click here to customize your Nucleus at The Roon Store!

roon nuclues music server plus

Roon Nucleus FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

They’re beyond certified; Nucleus and Nucleus Plus are Roon bona fide! This is the only music server explicitly designed for Roon by the same team that created Roon. 

What does a Roon Nucleus do?

Nucleus is a Music Server that acts as your Roon Core – it’s the foundation and the most critical piece of your system. It’s where everything begins and the best way to experience Roon. It’s also dead simple to use and a perfect purpose-driven home for your Core.

Do I need a streamer with Roon Nucleus?

You don’t have to have a streamer; Nucleus will handle all that. But you may still want one, depending on your use scenario and where you place Nucleus in your listening environment. Nucleus is your mothership; you can connect it to your audio devices using a wired or wireless connection. 

Does Roon Nucleus sound better?

Yes, I’ve discovered that a direct wired or Roon Ready connection to the Nucleus is always sonically superior to connecting to the USB port of a computer remote. It’s a neutral palette for Roon’s advanced audio engine that allows you to shape your system’s sound signature with any of our 1000+ Roon Certified partner devices.

In Roon Nucleus an endpoint?

No, it’s not an audio device; its job is more important. It’s your Roon Core – the origin of all things Roon, the gatekeeper of in-home listening and on-the-go Roon ARC enjoyment. Nucleus provides the most stable, quickest, easiest, utterly reliable, problem-free, best-sounding, and immediately excellent Roon-designed Roon Core experience. Get one; you’ll see what we mean.

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • Inputs are 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting an external storage drive, network attached storage.
  • Outputs include 2 x USB-A 3.0, 2 x HDMI audio-only stereo and multi-channel, networked Roon Ready, Apple Airplay, and Google Chromecast devices. 

Tech specs: 

Roon Nucleus

  • Audio inputs: 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting an external storage drive, network attached storage (NAS)
  • Audio outputs: 2 x USB-A 3.0, 2 x HDMI audio-only stereo and multi-channel, networked Roon Ready, Apple Airplay, and Google Chromecast devices. 
  • Zones: up to six simultaneous zones
  • Digital signal processing (DSP): complete DSP functionality in the PCM audio domain. Some DSP functions and combinations may be limited by the DSD and MQA formats to ensure format integrity.
  • Internal storage: 2.5″ SATA SSD or HDD up to 15mm drive height (drive not included)
  • External storage: 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting external storage drives, network attached storage (NAS)
  • Library capacity: up to 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks)
  • Network: gigabit network LAN
  • APP: Roon Remote (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android) and Roon ARC (iOS and Android)
  • Control systems: Roon API, Crestron, Control4
  • Power supply: DC Power Supply (19V, 60W); Barrel length: 2.5mm ID, 5.5mm OD, 11mm L; Cord length: 4 feet
  • Enclosure: heat-dissipating one-piece die-cast aluminum chassis.
  • Finish: automotive grade satin off-black
  • Dimensions: 10.5in (W) x 10.5in (D) x 2.5in (H)
  • Weight: 7lbs (product only)
  • Warranty: 2 years

Roon Nucleus Plus:

  • Audio inputs: 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting an external storage drive, network attached storage.
  • Audio outputs: 2 x USB-A 3.0, 2 x HDMI audio-only stereo and multi-channel, networked Roon Ready, Apple Airplay, and Google Chromecast devices. 
  • Zones: unlimited simultaneous zones
  • Digital signal processing (DSP): complete DSP functionality. Some DSP functions and combinations may be limited by the DSD and MQA formats to ensure format integrity.
  • Internal storage: 2.5″ SATA SSD or HDD up to 15mm drive height (drive not included)
  • External storage: 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting external storage drives, network attached storage (NAS)
  • Library capacity: More than 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks)
  • Network: Gigabit network LAN
  • APP: Roon Remote (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android) and Roon ARC (iOS and Android)
  • Control systems: Roon API, Crestron, Control4
  • Power supply: DC Power Supply (19V, 60W); Barrel length: 2.5mm ID, 5.5mm OD, 11mm L; Cord length: 4 feet
  • Enclosure: Heat-dissipating one-piece die-cast aluminum chassis.
  • Finish: automotive grade satin off-black
  • Dimensions: 10.5in (W) x 10.5in (D) x 2.5in (H)
  • Weight: 7lbs (product only)
  • Warranty: 2 years

What comes in the box?

Roon Nucleus/Nucleus Plus:

  • Roon Nucleus Server
  • Universal DC Power Supply with US/UK/EU/AU plug adapters
  • Quick Start Guide
  • One year of Roon promo subscription code
  • Four screws for mounting an internal storage drive (drive not included) 

Click here to see The Roon Store’s full line of products.

Roon Ready Writeups: iFi GO bar, GO blu, and xDSD Gryphon Review

A bold, and better-sounding, new world

The release of Roon 2.0 has revolutionized our connection to the music we love, thanks to the Roon ARC app. Roon ARC hands us the keys to a custom-built streaming service – powered by the very same music library and rich trove of Roon features we enjoy at home. Now that ARC is our mutual music obsession, we’re continuing our exploration of specialized portable DACs perfect for getting the most out of our on-the-go music listening.

Some folks may wonder why even bother with it – it’s just a mobile device. And that’s a reasonable question. Rather than fall back on a reflexive music obsessive’s “because music, dude.” answer, let’s consider why. One reason is that Roon ARC uses the same superior audio engine as your Roon setup at home. Another is that we frequently don’t realize what we’re missing until we hear the difference that a good DAC can make. Returning to mediocre sound afterward presents a real challenge – and potential suffering. We don’t want you to go through all that, which is reason enough.

Fortunately, audio manufacturers have stepped up to make the task more effortless than ever before. They’re locked in a feverish race to churn out value and feature-packed, small-form-factor DACs with impressive sound quality and plummeting prices. It’s a surprisingly competitive market that music lovers benefit from. The Roon Store is here to help you choose with a growing selection of portable converters featuring flagship DAC chipsets and inclusive format support in every price range – and in increasingly undersized packages. 

The iFi Audio products in this review are examples of that. The iFi GO blu is so tiny it could be a HiFi system for a fairy house – the GO bar resembles a lighter. They’re small small, but both earned a “though she be but little, she is fierce” rating on our scale of sonic subjectivity. Let’s take a closer look at what they have to offer. 

iFi Audio, specialists in affordable feature-packed on-the-go DACs

The GO blu, GO bar, and xDSD Gryphon aren’t iFi’s first foray into portable or desktop DACs. The retired micro and nano series devices were Roon Tested customer favorites and offered considerable value to feature benefits. Their new lineup retains many of the previous models’ connectivity and file format strengths while adding performance, sound, and circuitry implementation improvements in all-new, incredibly downsized enclosures. 

All three models feature balanced and single-ended headphone outs, impressive amp output power, multiple digital filters, and sound processing modes, plus bespoke device-tailored circuitry implementation to ensure winning performance before their individual character traits are dialed in. 

ifi go blu review

GO blu (seen above through a magnifying glass) is iFi’s most portable DAC and headphone amplifier. It supports every current Bluetooth codec plus high-resolution streaming up to 24-bit/96 PCM over USB-C. It’s sparse on LEDs and controls to maintain its size, and each button is multi-function. It also features a built-in microphone for calls and voice commands.

ifi go bar review

GO bar is a remarkably feature-packed DAC that offers uncompromised file support for up to 32- bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256, DXD, and full MQA playback. It packs a whopping 7.5 volts of balanced output power that outpunches every other DAC in this weight class. iEMatch allows the GO bar to push sensitive in-ears without associated hiss or noise. 

ifi audio xdsd gryphon review

The 2022-2023 EISA Best Portable DAC award-winning xDSD Gryphon provides unmatched connectivity with dual USB-C, Bluetooth, mini S/PDIF, and analog inputs with support for up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM; DSD512, DXD768, full MQA decoding and every Bluetooth codec in their familiar flask-shaped design. The OLED screen displays input, format, bitrate, and filter mode. iFi’s full suite of bespoke circuitry integration is tucked inside. Navigation is intuitive, and Gryphon is pleasantly easy to use. Full specs for each iFi model are listed further below.  

The iFi portable DACs paired exceptionally well with my headphone choices, powering them easily. We’ll cover general sound characteristics first and expand below with detailed listening notes. 

The devices have a slightly warm tuning consistent with iFi’s other models, but it isn’t overdone. There’s quick, realistic bass response; full, rich natural mids resulting in good upper mid presence. Imaging and detail are pretty impressive across all models. Staging is natural. Highs are clear and detailed, only bright or grainy on test tracks with those qualities. The Gryphon steps well forward of the other two DACs, but that’s expected given its price and award-winning status. 

Listening Notes

For close listening, I used Roon ARC and Roon to push Hi-Res FLAC and MQA from Qobuz and TIDAL directly to the headphone output of my iPhone, iPad, or Apple Silicon MacBook Air. Immediately afterward, I listened to each selection a second time with an iFi DAC taking the place of the system headphone out.

Then I activated the audio filters to assess their impact on each track and the headphone pairings I used. Headphone choices were the Meze 99 Classics and its new open-back look-alike – the Meze 109 PRO. I also used the Sennheiser Drop 6XX to test their output power.

The reference tracks came from my New Releases For You section in Roon and Community member recommendations from What We Are Listening To [2022-10].

John Coltrane – Blue Train – from Blue Train: The Complete Masters using the iFi GO blu with the Meze 99 Classics.

iPad headphones out:

Those landmark opening horn lines feel mournful! Paul Chambers’ loping bass is rubbery in the right channel. Coltrane’s horn soars in the center upper left, but there’s not a lot of detail to engage with. The piano and cymbals are lost, not much character in the drums. Backing horn parts aren’t very distinct. It almost feels like listening to an MP3. There’s good energy during Lee Morgan’s break, but that’s all coming from him. There’s heaps of nuance missing. 

iFi GO blu:

ifi go blu review

The legendary three-horn intro has returned to its full glory! Rhythm section synergy is on full display from the first few bars, and the bop lines from the piano cut through the mix better. Trane’s horn is rounded and warm, with sumptuous tonal color and mild grain when he digs into the body – but there’s also excellent air. 

The entire soundstage has improved depth. The backing horn lines are distinct, with more precise imaging now. Morgan’s break absolutely crackles with his signature fire. Curtis Fuller’s trombone lays in with some cool blue riffs. When the horns lay out, Kenny Drew kicks the piano up a gear as Philly Joe and Paul Chambers lock in perfectly. The GO blu presents the trio segment splendidly. This is what several constituents of the Miles Davis Quintet at work are supposed to sound like! The GO blu and the 99 Classics pair well here and do this track justice.

Filters review:

XBass: This filter doesn’t work too well here. The bass is placed pretty far right in the mix, and with the filter activated, the track feels lopsided. 

XSpace: This scoops out the bass a bit too much and also takes away from the piano, creating an unnaturally thin sound. Spatial shaping is just more EQ. 

XBass+XSpace: This added watery depth to the soundstage during Curtis Fuller’s break due to the splashy plate reverb. During the piano trio segment of the track, this filter played really nicely.  

No Filters: Returning to an unprocessed signal demonstrated that while the filter settings were agreeable in places, they’re not necessary on this particular track because the interplay and musicianship outstrip any need for sound fiddling. 

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River – from At the Royal Albert Hall using the iFi GO bar with the Drop/Sennheiser 6XXs.

MacBook Air headphones out: 

This is another excellent example of how a carefully chosen DAC improves music listening. The laptop headphones out doesn’t generate enough power to adequately run these headphones. This is something that many of us have encountered: we take tentative steps into quality headphones only to realize they need more than our stock devices can provide to sound their best. And that’s precisely what I experienced when I tried to run these moderately power-hungry Sennheiser 6XXs. 

Consequently, there’s not much going on here other than volume. The track is a live rocker, so it suffers considerably less than some other selections might have. The bass throbs shapelessly, cymbals are lifeless, anemic snare snap, boxy drums, and guitars are scratchy and mildly abrasive. These are relatively warm headphones, but some highs are sharp and brittle.   

iFi GO bar:

ifi go bar review

Here’s where the GO bar revealed CCR’s true colors. GO bar powered the Sennheiser 6XXs effortlessly. 

Green River exploded to life with driving bass lines that exhibit thunderous heft. The snare leaps to the fore tucking itself between the vocal and just below the bass. Fogerty’s vocal is filled out and soulful. His melismatic lyrics fold themself into Stu Cook and Doug Clifford’s heavy groove like broken-in chambray. Tom Fogerty’s guitar, practically inaudible before, provides extra color with Byrds-like chiming rhythm lines. John’s stinging guitar leads were so gritty and distinctive that they pulled me into an unplanned bonus lap. 

I loaded up the new Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall documentary on Netflix to see them crank this one out on archival film. Another benefit was immediately highlighted, portable DACs make everything sound better. They’re not just for music. It’s difficult to fully articulate how much detail was missing when using the laptop’s headphones out when compared to the GO bar. It’s something that has to be heard to fully understand.

Filters review:

XBass: the low bass region is heavier and has a rounder depth. There may be a slight heft for definition trade-off. But still, a decent enough filter when applied to this track.

XSpace: this filter has more of an upper mids/low highs focus, drawing out the airy frequencies. It saps the groove and doesn’t work on this track. 

XBass+XSpace: The added punch in the lows is balanced by the presence boost providing equal helpings of drive and space. This setting really works for this track and headphone pairing. 

No filters: returning to an unprocessed sound wasn’t a big jolt. That’s always a good indicator that the filters were well-implemented and designed. 

Abel Selaocoe – Ibuyile l’Africa / (Africa is Back) from Where is Home (Hae Ke Kae)  using the iFi xDSD Gryphon with the Meze 109 PRO

iPhone headphones out

This performance really drove home the point of our portable DAC testing exercises. Ibuyile l’Africa (Africa is Back) is a traditional South African hymn sung during the apartheid era that encourages African youth to shape their future and cherish their traditions. It provides a taste of South African cellist Selaocoe’s distinctive and diverse talents by blending isiZulu vocals with an ethereal cello solo contributed by Yo-Yo Ma. 

It’s also a demonstration of the eclectic range of recommendations you’ll encounter in the Music threads of Roon Community. Even the iPhone’s paltry headphones and its difficulty pushing Meze Audio’s 109 PRO couldn’t entirely strip it of its beauty and emotional depth. Still, it’s overtly apparent that instrumentation and musicianship of this caliber are painfully underserved by the iPhone’s onboard DAC. And in many more ways than just the downsampling of the original 24/96 Hi-Res track. I felt rude listening to the piece in this way.

iFi xDSD Gryphon

ifi xdsd gryphon review

When heard through the xDSD Gryphon, entire landscapes of previously absent tonal color, gentle dynamics, and acoustic space are revealed. The interplay of instruments and voices is intoxicating and captivating in equal measure. The violins swell among the warmer cello, and beautifully expressive vocal lines rise and fall with the melodic string accompaniment as the piano adds light punctuation and delicately flowing motifs. To enjoy a composition this beautiful with coffee and quality open-back headphones under a giant oak tree in the park on a golden autumn morning is audio-decadence-defined. One I never would have had without Roon ARC, iFi Gryphon, and the Meze 109 PRO’s similarly spellbinding contributions to the experience. 

Filters review:

XBass: Ouch! When activating the XBass filter, I was assailed by an unexpected loud snap. It’s the first time I’ve encountered that when using the filter options on one of these devices. That was quite unpleasant. In this piece, XBass has less of an effect. There’s some marginal added depth when the cello and piano are present, but they’re superfluous and unneeded.

XSpace: Again, not much benefit. The piece already enjoys a lovely recording space and remarkable dynamics.

XBass+XSpace: Another loud pop. The experiment is concluded until I figure out the cause.

No filters: The composition and performance are masterful in their own right. There’s no need at all for any menial improvements. The sudden, painful spikes caused by activating the filter have made me cautious about playing with the settings further.  


iFi’s commitment to making high-quality audio accessible to everyone continues. Their new lineup of versatile High-Res portable DACs is perfect for enjoying the benefits of Roon ARC, Roon, or any other media you consume on your mobile device or laptop. Portable DACs make everything sound better. They’re not just for music. Gaming, movie streaming, podcasts, radio… all your better sound wishes are granted.

All three models are flexible feature and connectivity-rich DACs with bespoke device-tailored feature implementation and impressive output power capable of driving demanding headphones. The iFi xDSD Gryphon is an award-winning portable DAC with support for up 32-bit/768kHz PCM; DSD512, DXD768, full MQA, and Bluetooth codec decoding overachiever with excellent sound and features. GO blu and GO bar were equally impressive by packing pristine audio quality into pixie-sized packaging. I can’t envision more portable on-the-go audio than iFi’s GO blu and GO bar.

They provided an immediate and obvious improvement over the onboard DACs we pitted them against, and they’re some of the most affordable inroads to high-quality audio that can be found. Even better, they were foolproof when integrated with Roon! Paired with our headphones and song selections, they were thoroughly exceptional sonically. iFi Audio makes it easy to enjoy high-quality audio wherever you go. Simply match them with any of the headphone options in The Roon Store to rediscover and reconnect with your favorite music.

Their winning streak in on-the-go value-for-price audio makes it a strong candidate for consideration whether you’re looking to take ARC to the next level or optimize your desktop setup. Any choice you make is guaranteed to reap Roon ARC rewards – and your ears will thank you!

See our full line of iFi Dacs in The Roon Store.

Additional observations of note:

  • If your iOS devices are older models, you’ll want to ensure they’re compatible with iFi’s portable devices. I use an older iPhone (iPhone 7 on iOS 15.6.1) that wouldn’t send audio via USB to the iFi devices if my battery was below a certain charge level. My newer iPad worked without any problems. 
  • The text on the GO blu and GO bar is nearly invisible due to its low contrast. GO bars LEDs are on the small side also, making them difficult to read.
  • The Gryphon’s analog inputs become line outputs when USB, Bluetooth, or S/PDIF are selected as input. 
  • The Gryphon USB-C input has priority over the S/PDIF input. To use the S/PDIF input of the Gryphon, you must disconnect the USB-C input.
  • On two occasions, Gryphon emitted a loud pop from the headphone out when activating the audio filters. I couldn’t determine a cause, but the unexpected jolt was unpleasant. Other iFi owners have mentioned similar behavior in online forums. I recommend caution when applying the filters. Hopefully, iFi will investigate and fix the issue. It was the only less-than-stellar impression I had of the Gryphon.

iFi portable DAC FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

  • Yes, each of these iFi portable DACs is Roon Tested. Simply plug them into a USB port or compatible adapter, then enable the device (or select the Zone connected to the iFi DAC) in Roon to enjoy better sound quality!

What file formats and resolutions do they support?

  • iFi GO blu: up to 24-bit/96kHz PCM via USB. Bluetooth 5.1 codecs: SBC (standard Bluetooth), AAC (Apple iOS), Qualcomm’s aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, and aptX LL (low latency), Sony’s LDAC, and LHDC/HWA Adaptive, aptX HD, and LDAC
  • iFi GO bar: up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 native, and MQA via USB.
  • iFi xDSD Gryphon: up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512, DXD768, and MQA. Up to 24-bit/192KHz PCM and DoP (S/PDIF) 

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • iFi GO blu: 
  • Inputs are USB-C and Bluetooth 5.1. 
  • Outputs include 1 x unbalanced 3.5mm, and 1 x balanced 4.4mm headphone outs.
  • iFi GO bar: 
  • Inputs are 1 x USB-C. 
  • Outputs include 1 x unbalanced 3.5mm, and 1 x balanced 4.4mm headphone outs. 
  • iFi xDSD Gryphon: 
  • Inputs are 2 x USB-C, (one for audio, and one for charging) Bluetooth 5.1, 1 x 3.5mm S/PDIF, 1 x 3.5mm analog, and 1 x analog. 
  • Outputs include 1 x unbalanced 3.5 mm and 1 x balanced 4.4mm headphone outs. 
  • The Gryphon’s analog inputs become line outputs when USB, Bluetooth, or S/PDIF are selected as input. 
  • The USB-C input has priority over the S/PDIF input. To use the S/PDIF input, you must disconnect the USB-C input.

Tech specs: 

iFi GO blu:

  • DAC Chip-set: Cirrus Logic 43131
  • Bluetooth Chip-set: Qualcomm QCC5100
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-C, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio outputs: 1 x unbalanced 3.5 and 1 balanced headphone outputs
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and Bluetooth 5.1 codecs: SBC (standard Bluetooth), AAC (Apple iOS), Qualcomm’s aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, and aptX LL (low latency), Sony’s LDAC, and LHDC/HWA Adaptive, aptX HD, and LDAC
  • Dynamic Range: > 120dB(A)
  • Output Impedance: < 1Ω
  • THD+N: Balanced: < 0.009% @ (6.5mW/2.0v@600Ω); Single-ended: < 0.03% @ (100mW/1.27v@16Ω)
  • Power Output: Balanced: 245mW @ 32Ω, 5.6v @ 600Ω; Single-ended : 165mW @ 32Ω, 2.8v @ 600Ω
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 45kHz (-3dB)
  • Battery Life: 8-10 hours
  • Weight: 0 lbs, 0.95 oz.
  • Dimensions: 2.1″ (W) x 1.3″ (H) x 0.5″ (D)

iFi GO bar:

  • DAC Chip-set: Cirrus Logic 43131
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-C
  • Audio outputs: 1 x unbalanced 3.5 and 1 balanced headphone outputs
  • Supported File Formats: up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 native, and MQA via USB.
  • Dynamic Range: 109dB(A) Balanced; 108dB(A) Single-ended
  • Output Impedance: < 1Ω
  • THD+N: Balanced: <0.002% (6.5mW/2.0V @ 600Ω); Single-ended: <0.09% (100mW/1.27V @ 16Ω) 
  • Power Output: Balanced: 475mW @ 32Ω; 7.5V @ 600Ω; Single-ended: 300mW @ 32Ω; 3.8V @ 600Ω
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 45kHz (-3dB)
  • Weight: 0 lbs, 0.1 oz.
  • Dimensions: 2.6″ (W) x 0.9″ (H) x 0.5″ (D)

iFi xDSD Gryphon:

  • DAC Chip-set: Cirrus Logic 43131
  • Bluetooth Chip-set: Qualcomm QCC5100
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-C, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio outputs: 1 x unbalanced 3.5 and 1 balanced headphone outputs
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and Bluetooth 5.1 codecs: SBC (standard Bluetooth), AAC (Apple iOS), Qualcomm’s aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, and aptX LL (low latency), Sony’s LDAC, and LHDC/HWA Adaptive, aptX HD, and LDAC
  • Dynamic Range: > 120dB(A)
  • Output Impedance: < 1Ω
  • THD+N: Balanced: < 0.009% @ (6.5mW/2.0v@600Ω); Single-ended: < 0.03% @ (100mW/1.27v@16Ω)
  • Power Output: Balanced: 245mW @ 32Ω, 5.6v @ 600Ω; Single-ended: 165mW @ 32Ω, 2.8v @ 600Ω
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 45kHz (-3dB)
  • Battery Life: 8-10 hours
  • Weight: 0 lbs, 0.95 oz.
  • Dimensions: 2.1″ (W) x 1.3″ (H) x 0.5″ (D)

What comes in the box?

iFi GO blu:

  • iFi GO blu
  • User manual
  • Warranty card
  • iFi decal
  • Soft travel case
  • USB-A to USB-C cable

iFi GO bar:

  • iFi GO bar
  • User manual
  • Warranty card
  • iFi decal
  • Leather travel case
  • Lightning to USB-C cable
  • USB-C cable
  • USB-A to USB-C adapter.

iFi xDSD Gryphon:

  • iFi Gryphon
  • User manual
  • Setup guide
  • Warranty card
  • iFi decal
  • Soft travel case
  • Lightning to USB-C cable
  • USB-C cable
  • USB-A to USB-C cable

See The Roon Store’s full line of portable DACs.

Roon Partner Update: September 2022

It’s been another busy month of partner launches at Roon! We’ve welcomed a brand new partner – Dynaudio – as well as new devices from Musical Fidelity, Astell&Kern, Denon, iFi, Wattson Audio, and Atoll Electronique.  

You can read all about them in our latest partner update below. For a full list of our partner brands – and every device that works with Roon – visit our Partners page on the Roon website.

Dynaudio Focus 10, 30, and 50

Roon Ready

We’re thrilled to announce that renowned Danish speaker manufacturer Dynaudio has joined the Roon Ready family! 

Celebrating the debut of this partnership are three all-new active speaker designs in the Focus 10, Focus 30, and Focus 50. Each speaker features custom-tuned DSP built-in, allowing the speakers to intelligently adapt to your room and listening needs.

The bookshelf Focus 10 is perfect for elevating the acoustic experience in smaller spaces, and the larger floorstanding Focus 30 and Focus 50 assert a powerful presence in just about any space. All in, Dynaudio offers a winning formula for your whole home. 

Musical Fidelity MX Stream

Roon Ready

The MX Stream from Musical Fidelity has been added to the Roon Ready family – a capable network bridge featuring unique connectivity and thoughtful, HiFi-focused design touches throughout.

Thanks to its built-in WiFi and Ethernet networking capabilities, adding the MX Stream to your system is a cinch. Meanwhile, the HDMI video output, ability to rip CD’s to connected hard drives, and broad support for resolutions  (up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD256) all make for a unique music streamer for any audiophile.

Astell&Kern SP3000

Roon Ready

The all-new A&ultima SP3000 from Astell&Kern is a remarkable, performance-driven Digital Audio Player – featuring the craftsmanship and attention to detail that Astell&Kern is known for alongside full Roon Ready integration inside.

Thanks to A&K’s custom-built music engine, TERATON ALPHA, and a Quad-DAC chip from AKM, you’ll never miss a detail in any song that you play.

Denon S660H, S760H, AVR X1700H

Roon Tested

The latest Denon models to join the Roon Tested family are the duo of S660H and S760H receivers, alongside the high-end AVR X1700H.

The S660H offers robust audio delivery for both music and movies to any full 5.1 system, alongside support for 8K video, HDR, and much more. The S760H integrates many of the capabilities of its sibling, with an increased channel count of 7.2 at 75 watts each.

The AVR X1700 shares much with its fellow Denon counterparts, however, it also boasts an output of 80 watts per channel, with 7.2 channel Dolby ATMOS support, and a myriad of audio and video inputs ready for any home theater system.

iFi Neo Stream

Roon Ready

The iFi Neo Stream is a unique solution to a familiar equation – home music streaming, simplified to its very essentials. The Neo Stream makes HiRes streaming as fluid and hassle-free as possible, with no need for specific app control, and integrations with full-featured Roon Ready streaming, Spotify Connect and TIDAL Connect – as well as AirPlay and other streaming integrations.

Simply set up your favorite music listening app and you’re ready to enjoy the symphony of high-end HiFi components that make this network bridge the fantastic audio component it is.

Watson Audio Madison

Roon Ready

The Wattson Audio Madison is a compact desktop streaming DAC that can easily integrate into your full HiFi system, serve as a powerful HeadFi centerpiece or possibly do dual duty! Precision Swiss engineering defines the character of this DAC, with carefully considered circuitry, Roon Ready streaming, and a collection of inputs and outputs that easily complement any system. 

Atoll Electronique SDA 300 Signature

Roon Ready

The SD300 Signature all-in-one integrated amplifier from Atoll Electronique gives you everything needed for your HiFi listening setup in a single enclosure. This integrated amplifier is ready to be the centerpiece of your main listening system – featuring a powerful 150W 2 channel amplifier, and full-featured Hi-Res Roon Ready streaming built in. From MQA to DSD, S/PDIF to RCA inputs, anything is possible – all you’ll need to add is speakers.  

Roon Ready Writeups: The AudioQuest DragonFly meets Roon ARC Review

The arc of Roon: A continuous line of progression

I’m going to start by giving you a peek behind the curtain. The last few weeks have been absolutely incredible at Roon. The reason is the recent unveiling of Roon 2.0, our most exciting release yet. It’s packed with new features and delivers significant performance improvements on more hardware platforms than ever before. 

Even better, it includes something our customers have requested for a long time – something that forever changes how we use Roon. It’s called Roon ARC – think of it as your own custom-built streaming service powered by your Roon Library at home. It’s now included free of charge with every new and existing Roon subscription. With ARC, staying connected to Roon and the music we love is easier than ever! We’re genuinely humbled by your enthusiasm for ARC and delighted to hear how much you’re enjoying it. 

We’ve been surprised by how many of you have asked about the name, “Why Roon ARC? What does ARC stand for?” Roon ARC isn’t an acronym for anything. Roon ARC just felt right – it named itself after what it wanted to be. 

ARC: a curved structure spanning space that forms a bridge and connects two points.  

roon ARC

And that’s precisely what Roon ARC does. It’s a beautifully designed, intuitive mobile app that creates a bridge to your entire Roon collection of local files and streaming favorites at home – no matter where you are. It includes Roon’s goldmine of music information, Roon Radio, Daily Mixes, New Releases For You, and Roon’s Valence discovery engine – all on your mobile device. 

Just as Roon Bridge creates a bridge between your audio devices, Roon ARC provides a connection across space to your Roon Library. And it utilizes the same audio engine as your Roon setup at home. Now you can explore, rediscover, and expand your music collection with great sound – no matter where you are. 

Wait, great sound on mobile devices? That’s not a thing… is that a thing?! 

We get it. Some of you may wonder if you read that correctly. High-resolution audio wherever you are… on mobile devices? Can you do that? Aren’t mobile devices solidly MP3 territory? We’re excited to say no, they are not, and yes, you can totally do that. As always, The Roon Store is happy to help.

We’ll show you how to get high-quality sound from Roon ARC on your mobile device using the AudioQuest DragonFly – a tiny DAC/headphone amp powerhouse disguised as a magic iridescent USB stick. Best of all, it’s one of the most affordable and enjoyable audio upgrades you can make. 

AudioQuest DragonFly red black and cobalt

Flight of the DragonFlys, a flash of sonic color 

Even the most conscientious and committed screen agnostics must admit that they spend a great deal of time with their mobile devices. As a music lover, that means the sound you’re getting from music apps probably isn’t all that it could be. More than that, none of the sound you’re getting is that good. That’s because our device’s DAC falls into the “just good enough” performance bracket, even on laptops. 

But it’s only a mobile device, right? So we deal with it. Our real listening happens on our music systems at home – we say to ourselves. But there doesn’t have to be such a vast disparity in sound quality on mobile if you take flight with a DragonFly.

They’re powered when plugged into the port of your mobile with an adapter and take over decoding from the integrated device DAC. They’ll work with tablets and nearly any Windows or Mac machine. Or you can use them as a pre-amp, plug DragonFly into the USB from a turntable, or your laptop, then connect a pair of powered speakers. Bam, instant hi-fi system.

AudioQuest’s first DragonFly appeared in 2012. Over the last 10 years, the squadron has grown to three wings. The DragonFly Black, DragonFly Red, and flight leader – DragonFly Cobalt. Three impressive DAC/headphone amps that deliver a significant upgrade in sound quality over each other and absolutely smoke the mobile’s onboard DAC. They’re USB sticks dressed in automotive-grade iridescent paint (except for Black) with a 3.5mm headphone out on the other end. Small enough to stick in your pocket or drop into a backpack. They even come with a travel case. So how do they work, you ask?

Each DragonFly model features an ESS Sabre DAC chip, advanced power circuitry, filtering, and signal implementation, producing exceptionally detailed playback of up to 24-bit/96kHz PCM and MQA audio. They have minimal impact on mobile battery life and are firmware upgradeable. The Dragonfly on the sticks lights up to indicate the resolution of the track being played: standby (Red), 44.1kHz (Green), 48kHz (Blue), 88.2kHz (Yellow), 96kHz (Light Blue), and MQA (Purple). Pretty. It reminds me of Chord’s use of color. We’ll discuss audio details a bit more when we talk about their sound using some excellent tracks AudioQuest shared with us. 

audioquest dragonfly for arc playlist

Listening Notes

I used Roon ARC to push High-Res FLAC from Qobuz and TIDAL to the DragonFlys using my iOS phone while out and about. Then used them with Roon 2.0 on an Apple Silicon MacBook Air. My headphone pairings were the Meze 99 Classics and its new open-back look-alike – the Meze 109 PRO (review coming soon). I also used the Sennheiser Drop 6XX to test their output power. I queued up the playlist AudioQuest shared with us (see the DragonFly for ARC playlist on your home page in Roon.) and let it throw songs at me. I’d pause and play tracks while swapping out DragonFlys, eager and amazed to hear their differences in real time. 

I started with the headphone output of my iPhone by shuffling the playlist. Then I free-played ARC and Roon for an hour to note the differences between the DragonFly models.

Bobby Hutcherson – Love Song from Montara

Love Song is a percolating electric piano, vibes, horns, and hand percussion track that fuses soulful jazz with 70s R&B and features the heaviest players Blue Note Records had in their roster at the time. The track is off Hutcherson’s simmering soul jazz groove-fest meets Latin rhythm 1975 album, Montara. A bit of a sleeper in the soul jazz lineage. All Blue Note albums seem to project a deeply individual groove, and this one excels at it. Its active arrangement and mix of instrumentation fit our needs perfectly.

iOS out:

With the headphone out of the iPhone, all I got was more volume. There wasn’t any degree of detail, which really robbed the track of life. It felt suffocated and flat. Still an interesting piece but obviously underserved with the OS DAC. There was clearly a lot missing.

Audioquest Dragonfly black

DragonFly Black: 

Immediately there’s a night and day difference in sound quality. It doesn’t even feel like the same song. It’s wholly alive and awash with detail. The vibes and Fender Rhodes piano resonate over each other as Afro-Cuban percussion and hand drums add depth and texture. When the horns come in, their timbre and tonal differences are vivid, finding space to breathe. The increased output power rendered greater imaging and clarity from the Meze 109 PRO.

audioquest dragonfly red

DragonFly Red: 

Just as the Black surpassed the iOS output, Red is a giant step up from the Black. The detail is much sharper but not bright or grainy. The bass extension is nice and full. The horns are incredible. There’s more space to the soundstage and depth to the recording. Everything sounds more filled out; the AudioQuest headphone amp in the Red delivers nicely. There was wonderful synergy on this track when paired with the Meze 109 PRO and enough wow factor to impress jaded gear heads.

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

DragonFly Cobalt:

This was another startling jump in sound quality. I only expected a subtle improvement, but there were remarkable differences between Red and Cobalt. The pulsing ringing current from the vibes and sparkle of the piano are soulfully articulate, the musical interplay feels more fluid with the improved resolution, and the bass has a richer depth. Horns have lovely detail and presence. All the percussion exhibits finer granular character. There’s beautiful organic density to the music, increased dynamic response, and excellent output power. The soundstage is wide but natural. Imaging is a bit more speaker-like. It’s genuinely impressive – enough so to make the listener study the specs. And I’m a sound guy, not a specs guy.

The ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip is here. That’s the same DAC chip I’ve seen in the best-sounding DACs I’ve reviewed. But we know there’s more to a DAC than just its chip. Looking further… there’s also an AudioQuest headphone amp, improved microprocessor, mono-clock with jitter control, improved power circuitry, noise filtering, and an integrated minimum-phase slow roll-off filter. All of that results in impressively natural and thoroughly enjoyable sound. It’s truly awe-inspiring performance, especially considering the Cobalt provides sound quality of this level from a USB stick that slips into your pocket.  

The sound character observations above held when free listening on ARC and Roon Remote across the tracks on the AudioQuest Playlist and my Roon library favorites. 

audioquest dragonfly red with roon nucleus

Conclusion: Climb aboard the DragonFly.

Each move up the DragonFly color scheme resulted in an immediately detectable jump in fidelity. With the DragonFly Cobalt ultimately glowing the brightest. As it should be, it’s their flagship DAC. I can’t emphasize enough how surprised I was by what I heard. If you’re seeking a no-compromise experience that’s on par with your at-home Roon listening, Cobalt provides astounding performance in an unbelievably small package. 

But Cobalt’s excellence in no way suggests that the others aren’t star players. The entry-level Black is a vast improvement over the iOS and Mac system output. It perfectly demonstrates what adding the correct external DAC can do. Compared to Black, DragonFly Red is aflame with detail and dynamics, providing an instantly perceived leap in sound quality that had already been greatly improved. They easily drove the Meze 99 Classics, Meze 109 PRO, and even the 300Ω Sennheiser 6XX.  

They’re versatile and can be used for a range of scenarios beyond music listening. Here’s a testimonial from Noris, our Tech-Support team lead:

AudioQuest’s DragonFly DAC and headphone amps are perfect companions to Roon ARC or any listening that could benefit from improved sound quality. They remove all roadblocks to high-resolution audio on the go and on your desktop – and the entry price is unbeatable, no matter which one you choose. Grab a DragonFly, your favorite headphones, and your mobile for travel-friendly, superior sound quality wherever Roon ARC takes you. 

Visit The Roon Store to see the full AudioQuest DragonFly line.

Additional observations of note:

  • For mobile device connection, use an Apple camera adapter for iOS. The AudioQuest Dragon-Tail USB-C adapter can be used for Android.
  • Each DragonFly was rock solid with Roon ARC and Roon Remote. When using them, I didn’t have a single sync, volume, or responsiveness issue. 
  • There’s an entire DragonFly flight detachment at the ready across Roon. It’s one of the most used DACs among Roon staff. 
  • Updating the firmware of the DragonFly is as easy as downloading the AudioQuest device manager and accepting the update. 

AudioQuest DragonFly FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

  • Yes, all three AudioQuest DragonFly models are Roon Tested. Simply plug them into a USB port or compatible adapter, then enable the DragonFly (or select the Zone connected to the DragonFly) in Roon to enjoy better sound!

What file formats and resolutions do they support?

  • AudioQuest DragonFlys support up to 24-bit/96KHz PCM and MQA rendering.

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • All AudioQuest DragonFly models feature a single USB-A input
  • All AudioQuest DragonFly models feature a single 3.5mm headphone output

Tech specs: 

DragonFly Black:

  • DAC Chip-set: ESS ES9010 DAC chip with integrated minimum-phase fast roll-off filter
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, MQA renderer
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-A
  • Audio outputs: 1 x 3.5 mm headphone output
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and MQA
  • Headphone Amp: Texas Instruments TPA6130
  • Output power: 1.2V
  • Dimensions: 0.74″ (W) x 0.47″ (H) x 2.44″ (L)
  • Weight: 0lb 3.5oz

DragonFly Red:

  • DAC Chip-set: ESS ES9016 DAC chip with integrated minimum-phase fast roll-off filter
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, MQA renderer
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-A
  • Audio outputs: 1 x 3.5 mm headphone output
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and MQA
  • Headphone Amp: ESS Sabre 9601
  • Output power: 2.1V
  • Dimensions: 0.74″ (W) x 0.47″ (H) x 2.44″ (L)
  • Weight: 0lb 3.5oz

DragonFly Cobalt:

  • DAC Chip-set: ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with an integrated minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound.
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, MQA renderer
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-A
  • Audio outputs: 1 x 3.5 mm headphone output
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and MQA
  • Headphone Amp: ESS Sabre 9601
  • Output power: 2.1V
  • Output Impedance: 10k ohms
  • Dimensions: 0.74″ (W) x 0.47″ (H) x 2.44″ (L)
  • Weight: 0lb 4.2oz

What comes in the box?

DragonFly Black/DragonFly Red:

  • DragonFly Black or DragonFly Red
  • DragonFly Flight (owners) Manual
  • 60-Day Roon subscription code (included with DragonFly Red only) 
  • DragonFly travel pouch. 

DragonFly Cobalt:

  • DragonFly Cobalt
  • 6″ AudioQuest Dragon-Tail (USB-C male to USB-A female adapter)
  • DragonFly Flight (owners) Manual
  • 60-Day Roon subscription code
  • DragonFly travel pouch. 

Visit The Roon Store to see our full line of products.

Roon Ready Writeups: Mytek Liberty DAC II and Mytek THX AAA Headphone Amp Review

The parade of DACs, and a word of thanks!

Before launching into our review on the Mytek Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA Headphone Amp, we want to thank you for your support and kind feedback. It’s what The Roon Store is here for, to make these choices easier for you. We’re excited to hear that these articles are helpful and welcome your questions.

A few of you have asked us why there are so many DAC models and what makes them different. We completely understand your curiosity. You’ve seen reviews on DACs, including ours, that mention the chips used in a device, and the same chips keep popping up repeatedly. If that’s the case, how can all these DACs sound different?

It’s important to remember that there’s more to a DAC than just the chip that converts the digital signal to an analog one our ears can understand. Implementing the chip into the surrounding circuitry, the power supply, the analog output section, and other factors make a big difference.

Think of it this way; many guitarists have played Fender Stratocasters, but they didn’t all sound the same. There was only one Jimi Hendrix. If the guitar were the determining factor, they would have all been Hendrixes, stylistically. How the chip (guitar) is plugged into the circuitry (an individual player) makes it unique.

Mytek Liberty DAC II and Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA

The origins of DACs, and their shared DNA with Mytek

A curious paradox about DACs is that they shouldn’t sound like anything. A DAC should be a ghost, present yet transparent. Stopping to consider the original purpose of convertors explains why. They began as ADACs – analog to digital to analog converters in mastering and recording studios. Their goal was to encode analog material to a digital signal and reproduce the analog original as accurately as possible. To achieve that conversion without introducing unintentional coloration was sonic Olympia. But it’s exceptionally challenging to do. There are innumerable ways to alter the sound unintentionally. Noise, harmonic distortion, inconsistent current, poor power… more than we could list. 

Fully grasping the importance of passing a musical signal through that conversion loop unadulterated is inherent in people with experience in the spaces where music is made. That understanding is at the foundation of every Mytek product. 

Mytek was born in the studio. And it’s a significant factor why their DACs and Amps are highly esteemed for their accuracy and musical purity. Mytek founder, Michal Jurewicz, worked in some of New York City’s most prolific studios just as recording technology transitioned from analog to digital. He knew what a well-recorded analog track sounded like. His understanding of audio circuitry, technical acumen, and passion for sonic transparency inspired him to improve the sound quality of the first digital recording systems utilized at Skyline Studio. Artists and producers praised the accuracy and sound quality of Mytek equipment, and soon Mytek gear was found in most of the top-tier recording studios in Manhattan.  

That spirit of innovation continued with Mytek’s desire to make the same musical playback equipment available to music lovers, which led to several award-winning home audio DACs that exude the same sound quality as their studio-based siblings. We’ll listen to, and share our thoughts on, the Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA Headphone Amp – two stunning desktop units that place great sound and captivating close listening within a headphone cable’s reach. 

Stacked Mytek Liberty DAC II and Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA with Meze 99 Classics on a bookshelf

Mytek’s Liberty series, quality transparency wunderkinds

The Liberty product line was envisioned as a series of affordable, high-quality single-purpose boxes. Each is designed to perform one dedicated function exceptionally well. The Liberty DAC II had to have missed its “you have one job!” email – because it does three quite remarkably. There’s always a show-off…

The Liberty DAC II is a DAC, Pre-Amp, and Headphone Amp all in one – and it is phenomenally adept at each task. Readers familiar with the original Liberty DAC will recognize external similarities in the Liberty DAC II. The machine-stamped enclosure with Mytek logo venting is nearly the same size and design. The subtlety scaled face plate, LEDs, and rear-mounted connections orientation differ only slightly, and inputs remain plentiful. The Liberty DAC II has a remote for added convenience; the original had none. The most significant changes are tucked away inside the enclosure, unseen – but immediately heard and felt. What are they? Off we go… 

A substantial improvement comes via the new overspeced linear power supply and accompanying toroidal transformer. The analog outputs and headphone section have also received enhanced linear power circuitry. The converter chip-set was upgraded to an ES9038Q2M, the junior version of the ES9038PRO used in Mytek’s flagship product lines. These aren’t the only changes that were made, but the presence of all three is rare in a DAC of this price and size! Remember earlier when we mentioned the importance of the power and analog output stages? They’re proven in this Mytek’s pudding. 

Those power sections push up to 3 watts from the headphone jack and easily drive most high-impedance headphones. The Meze Liric and Meze Empyrean headphones paired with it very well. And it’ll decode up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256, and MQA – that covers the waterfront, and then some format-wise, with Roon streaming partners.

Wiring it up to the legacy system we’ve used the last few weeks provided stellar results. Then we connected the Liberty DAC II to a Primare Prisma MK2 Roon Ready bridge and instantly had a Roon Ready wireless legacy system. But this box sounds incredibly good no matter how you integrate it into your system – we’ll dig into the sound more deeply in our listening notes.

If you’re new to Liberty DAC II, you appreciate its finer features as much as its sound. The feeling of the 1/2dB stepped volume pot, the snap of the headphone jack when the plug seats, and how perfectly cabling locks into the rear connections. Its tactile feel is beyond satisfying.

Personally, its look and feel were pleasantly reminiscent of the studio gear of my past. It’s the first time I can say that a consumer audio desktop unit felt like studio hardware since I last had production gear on my desk daily.

Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA

The Liberty THX AAA HPA, audio purity – not morse code

The Liberty THX AAA HPA is another impressive sonic wonder in the Liberty product line. Let’s start by decoding its name. AAA is an acronym for the Achromatic Audio Amplifier technology developed by George Lucas’ THX production company. HPA stands for Headphone Amp. 

The Liberty HPA utilizes THX AAA 888 circuitry, the most linear amplifier technology available today. Its goal is hidden in the name, achromatic means “without color.” AAA technology was developed to deliver completely transparent musical accuracy with unprecedented dynamic range while maintaining extraordinarily low levels of noise and distortion – even at -1dB from the maximum output level.

The Liberty THX AAA™ HPA is a reference-grade desktop headphone device nearly identical to the Liberty DAC and equally suited for dedicated HeadFi enthusiasts or professional sound engineers. The Liberty HPA features controls for input, gain levels, and crossfeed mode on its face and four sets of analog inputs on the back. (Full tech specs for both devices can be found below)  

The Liberty HPA reinforces Mytek’s technical expertise and commitment to developing equipment capable of pristine music reproduction. Its genetics continue the legacy of the legendary Mytek Private Q headphone monitoring systems used in almost every New York City recording studio in the 1990s. Headphone cue systems are critical in music studios. Creativity instantly craters when artists and engineers can’t trust the accuracy of their headphone feeds.

The technology inside the Liberty HPA cranks out up to 6 watts of rich analog sound to four headphone outs; balanced XLR 4pin and 4.4mm, and unbalanced 1/4” and 3.5mm. That’s enough muscle to drive any pair of headphones available today with reference-grade audio transparency. Whether you’re using the Liberty HPA for studio monitoring or music immersion, you can trust that you’re hearing exactly what’s in the mix or Final Master. 

And, for those who use another DAC for reference decoding, there’s good news. The Liberty HPA can be paired with any DAC or device with analog outs. Connect it to your current DAC and feel confident that you’re hearing it at its best. The Liberty HPA dishes out power and accuracy anywhere you tie it into your signal chain.

Mytek’s Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA HPA demonstrate the sonic benefits of the company’s studio heritage, delivering decoding precision and sound reproduction with astonishing musical accuracy. The only way to get closer to the original recording would be to hear it in the studio, where it was tracked and mixed.

Listening Notes

I auditioned the Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA HPA in various configurations. First, using the DAC and its integrated headphone amp out, then the Liberty DAC II paired with the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 Roon Ready bridge for wireless networked streaming. Then with both of them wired to the THX AAA Headphone amp. I left the Liberty HPA gain settings on normal with crossfeed deactivated. I used the Meze Liric and Meze Empyrean for reference.

I found the sound of these devices to be absolutely stellar in their transparency and musical nature. I don’t mean a bright “audiophile” sound signature when I say transparent. That kind of presentation isn’t generally accurate because it’s been tuned to enhance higher frequencies. Both Liberty devices presented my reference albums with an exceptionally natural, lifelike sound signature. What you hear is more of the genuine character of the original recording. I wondered if that may be undesirable with genres and records with lesser production quality. I decided to test that possibility with one of Rock music’s undisputed classics.  

Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street

This is an album I know like sugar knows ice cream. I’ve played it thousands of times on more systems than I can remember. It was recorded by The Stones while they were in the throes of legal and tax problems in England. Recording began in London before they decamped to an improvised dank basement studio in the South of France. It’s a legendary rock record, but it typically sounds murky when played by inferior devices because of its thick, humid mix. 

I demoed a few tracks from this album on the Chord Hugo 22go combo a month ago and was surprised by how wide the soundstage sounded – I’d never heard it open up so much. With the Liberty DAC II receiving wireless 24/192 kHz FLAC from the Primare streaming from Qobuz, the album crackled with wiry energy, displaying hypnotic rhythmic currents. The staging was narrower than it was with the Hugo, but it felt more natural. The sound was unbelievably analog in character. Like I was listening to a stereo mixdown on reel-to-reel tape at Sunset Sound circa the early summer of 1972.

The bass was full and had great punch. The depth of the kick drum cut through with lovely heft. The stacked guitars and organ felt less claustrophobic in the mids, and the horns, piano, and harmonica had wonderfully organic timbre and texture. The album sank wonderfully into my marrow when played through Meze Liric headphones. It was a transcendent listening session, one of those brief periods when you’re entirely engrossed in the music. It’s inspiring when music you’ve lived in feels this fresh again.

Sleep – Dopesmoker

This album just returned to streaming, thanks to renewed licensing from Third Man Records. The original album title has been restored. Dopesmoker evolved into Jerusalem upon release under the influence of eastern mysticism and cannabinoids. When I bought a copy on disc in 1999, it had a sticker on the front that read, “Threatens to eclipse the first four Sabbath albums in a wall of pot smoke and despair.” How could you not buy that?! 

For this one, I added the Mytek THX AAA HPA to the Liberty DAC II and Primare NP5 Prisma MK2, then seated the Meze Empyrean on my head. Now, admittedly, a stoner rock cult album may seem like a strange choice of demo music. But it contains one of the most unique untameable, and idiosyncratic organic signals you can throw at a converter – distortion-soaked layered guitar riffs.

For anyone schooled in fuzzology, Dopesmoker’s hour-long primordial riff swamp is ideal fuel for DAC study. The track’s chugging intro builds slowly in volume and instrumental intensity before an avalanche of Sovtek fuzz-fueled Orange Amplification crashes down upon the listener at 2:47 seconds in. It’s incredibly heavy, but its undulating oceans of woolly fuzz sounds remarkably musical. If ever there was an album that would suffer from enhanced analytical decoding, it would be this one. Instead, the waves of sonic magma are astoundingly controlled and detailed – oozing from the Liberty boxes with every watt of their pulverizing intensity perfectly delivered for maximum crushing impact.

It’s the first time I’ve played it in its entirety in a while, and I quickly realized just how poorly it’s been treated by Bluetooth streaming and the DACs on my laptop or phone. Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land? Can do, dude!

Conclusion, I have discovered my new go-to reference playback gear 

Mytek’s studio origins shine through in all their products; they exude a confident understanding of digital encoding, reference-grade playback purity, and studio-grade reliability. It’s a significant factor why their DACs and Amps are so highly esteemed. These products are perfection, unerringly reliable in Roon, and built to sustain years of heavy use – and, they make the same equipment used to create timeless music available to music lovers. 

The Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA Headphone Amp have become my new reference DAC and HeadAmp. Their transparency and accuracy resonate with my studio and production background like no other prosumer DAC/Headphone Amp combination I’ve used previously has. They deliver phenomenally pristine sound and allow me to hear my favorite music exactly as the artist intended. 

If you’re looking for a DAC/AMP or Headphone Amp that shares DNA with studio-grade gear – your search is over. That legacy is at the heart of everything Mytek does. My Liberty DAC II order has been placed. 

Visit The Roon Store to see our full line of Mytek products.

Additional observations of note:

  • Mytek Liberty Series devices have a combination input/power button. Press and hold the button for a few seconds to power up the units.  
  • The Liberty DAC II’s remote is fully integrated with Roon. Adjust volume, pause and resume play, or change tracks with the remote, and Roon responds just as if you were in the app. 
  • The Liberty DAC II remembers your last volume setting when powered back up. 
  • Exercise Caution: fixed output on the Liberty DAC II is achieved by turning the volume up to full. That would be an unpleasant surprise if one were to return to headphone listening after using fixed output. We’ll update these notes if an alternative fixed output mode is revealed. 
  • Connecting the Mytek THX AAA to the Liberty DAC II, I used inexpensive RCA, and XLR interconnects and found the sound quality exceptionally good. 
  • My preferred settings for the Mytek THX AAA HPA were with normal gain and without crossfeed activated.
  • The Liberty THX AAA HPA can drive the most demanding headphones with complete ease, purchase with confidence.

Mytek Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA Headphone AMP FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

  • Yes, the Liberty DAC II is Roon Tested and requires a wired USB connection. For wireless Roon RAAT streaming, simply connect the Liberty DAC II to a Roon Ready bridge. I used the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 in my tests with excellent results. 
  • Roon Certification doesn’t apply to the Liberty THX AAA HPA. It’s a standalone headphone amp that can be connected to a DAC, Pre-amp, or any similar device with analog outs.   

What file formats and resolutions do these devices support?

  • Mytek Liberty DAC II up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 native, MQA™, DXD (USB); up to 24-bit/192KHz PCM, DSD64 DoP and MQA (EBU, S/PDIF, Toslink)
  • Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA is a reference-grade headphone amp. It can handle any signal you send to it. 
Mytek Liberty DAC II

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • Mytek Liberty DAC II: 
  • Inputs are 2 x SPDIF, 1 x optical, 1 x AES/EBU, and 1 x USB-B (USB2 Class2 driver-less)
  • Outputs include 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output, 1 x unbalanced RCA, and 1 x balanced XLR
  • Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA: 
  • Inputs are 3 x RCA, 1 x balanced combination XLR / 1/4” TRS
  • Outputs include 1 x balanced XLR 4pin, 1 x balanced 4.4mm, 1 x unbalanced 6.35mm, 1 x unbalanced 3.5mm headphone outs, and 1 x Pre-amp RCA

Tech specs: 

Mytek Liberty DAC II:

  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, MQA decoder/renderer
  • DAC Chip Set: ESS SABRE ES9038Q2M DAC chip
  • Inputs are 2 x SPDIF, 1 x optical, 1 x AES/EBU, and 1 x USB-B (USB2 Class2 driver-less)
  • Outputs include 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output, 1 x unbalanced RCA, and 1 x balanced XLR
  • Dynamic Range: 127dB DR
  • Sample File Formats: up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 native, MQA™, DXD (USB); up to 24-bit/192KHz PCM, DSD64 DoP and MQA (EBU, S/PDIF, Toslink)
  • Headphone Output Power: 300mA, 3 Watts, designed for hard-to-drive headphones, 
  • Headphone output impedance: 0.1 Ohm
  • Power Supply: Linear with automatic voltage switching 
  • Dimensions: 1/3rd Rack Mounting – 5.5″ (W) x 1.740″ (H) x 8.8″ (D)
  • Weight: 4lbs.

Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA:

  • Amplifier Technology: THX AAA certified
  • Inputs are 3 x RCA, 1 x balanced combination XLR / 1/4” TRS
  • Outputs include 1 x balanced XLR 4pin, 1 x balanced 4.4mm, 1 x unbalanced 6.35mm, 1 x unbalanced 3.5mm headphone outs, and 1 x Pre-amp RCA
  • Dynamic Range: 147dB (A-weighted)
  • Volume Control: Premium 27mm analog ALPS attenuator
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: -150dB min
  • Headphone output power: 6 watts
  • Power Supply: Built-in oversized 60W linear toroid with automatic voltage switching
  • Dimensions: 1/3rd Rack Sizing – 5.5″ (W) x 1.740″ (H) x 8.8″ (D)
  • Weight: 4lbs.

What comes in the box?

Mytek Liberty DAC II:

  • Mytek Liberty DAC II
  • USB 2.0 Cable
  • Aluminum Apple remote
  • Power cord
  • Owner’s manual

Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA:

  • Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA
  • AC power supply

Visit The Roon Store to see our full line of products.

Introducing Roon 2.0 and Roon ARC

We are delighted to introduce Roon 2.0 and Roon ARC – our biggest release yet and something that will change how you use Roon forever. 

Roon ARC

Roon ARC is a brand new app that gives you the freedom to experience your entire Roon library – and Roon’s most powerful features – without compromise, wherever you are in the world. Right from your mobile device.

Whether you’re working out at the gym, heading into the office, or traveling thousands of miles from home – ARC gives you remote access to your complete library of artists, albums, playlists, tags, and streams. No more settling for second-best from streaming apps. ARC makes everywhere feel like home.

Powered by your Roon core, Roon ARC becomes your very own, custom-built streaming service. Explore and expand your entire music library, immerse yourself in new discoveries, access key Roon features, and listen in the best possible sound quality – all from a single, beautiful mobile app. All free and exclusive to Roon subscribers.

Learn more & download Roon ARC

Experience more with Roon 2.0

Along with additional enhancements, like native support for Apple Silicon, Roon 2.0 brings an amazing music experience to more people, on more platforms. Read all about ARC and Roon 2.0 over on our Community. 

Visit our Community to learn more

Updating to Roon 2.0

When you log in to Roon, you’ll be prompted to update your Roon Core to the new Roon 2.0. Please don’t forget to update your Roon Remote on iOS and Android devices before accepting the update on your Core.

To use Roon outside of your home you will need to download the Roon ARC mobile app and connect it to your Roon Core. Roon ARC is separate to and different from Roon Remote that you use at home, so even if you already have Roon Remote on your mobile device, you’ll need to download Roon ARC to access Roon on the go. More information on getting started with ARC can be found on our Help Center. 

If you have any questions or need some support, you can contact our dedicated Customer Success team via our Community.

Roon Ready Writeups: Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M and Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 Review

Saying it aloud sounds a bit silly… but this truly is a golden era for standalone DAC buyers. Today’s DACs come in every form factor imaginable with expanded connectivity options and future-proof format and resolution support. Whether you’re shopping for your first external DAC or looking to upgrade, chances are there’s an ideal product within your budget that covers your requirements and promises years of enjoyment. La belle epoch du DAC is now!

Chasing DAC magic

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

In our previous review, we explained how easy it is to integrate Roon and improve the sound quality of a legacy hi-fi system with a carefully chosen DAC. Saying it aloud sounds a bit silly… but this truly is a golden era for standalone DAC buyers. There’s a burgeoning selection of affordable, feature-rich, great-sounding DACs from an ever-growing list of manufacturers. 

Comparing current options in the <$500ish range to that of even a few years ago brings their rapid proliferation into sharp focus. Today’s DACs come in every form factor imaginable with expanded connectivity options and future-proof format and resolution support. Whether you’re shopping for your first external DAC or looking to upgrade, chances are there’s an ideal product within your budget that covers your requirements and promises years of enjoyment. La belle epoch du DAC is now!

We also touched upon adding high-resolution wireless streaming convenience to DACs without networking capabilities with the help of a Roon Ready Bridge or streamer. We’ll cover that in more detail later in this article as we continue our how-to/review theme by pairing two Expert Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) award winners. EISA’s 2021-2022 Best DAC recipient, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M, with the 2022-2023 Best Streamer awardee, the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2.

High-quality sound meets feature-packed value

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

Brit-gear powerhouse Cambridge Audio has built exemplary audio components for five decades and DACs since the mid-1990s. That pedigree of expertise is reflected in each new product they deliver. The DacMagic 200M is their latest flagship converter and neatly exemplifies the high-quality sound meets feature-packed value mashup we mentioned earlier. The proverbial boxes get a real tickin’ with this one. 

The DacMagic 200M provides:

  • Dual mono ESS Sabre DAC chips.
  • Support for up to 24-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512
  • Full MQA support – Cambridge Audio’s first device to do that. If you’re one of Roon’s many TIDAL subscribers looking for an endpoint that can handle MQA decoding & rendering, the DacMagic 200M takes you there.
  • Two sets of optical/coaxial input connections + USB-B and Bluetooth aptX
  • Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outs
  • A capable Class A/B headphone amp
  • Intuitive ease of use and all the front panel LEDs you could want. 
  • All of that is packed into a footprint roughly the size of a cigar box – making it equally at home on a desktop or in an AV cabinet.

The “single device solution” honor is tossed around plenty often in reviews, but the DacMagic 200M legitimately crushes it. It can accommodate three wired digital sources plus Bluetooth while integrated into a system and still handle headphones duties – for just $549. That’s a lot of DAC for the money. If the flexibility and features detailed above are on your must-have list, the DacMagic 200M certainly deserves a look. As expected, build quality, fit, and finish are typical top-tier Cambridge Audio caliber. So is its sound signature.

The DacMagic 200M has a curious reputation among some reviewers for being on the warmer side. I don’t really hear that. Defining “warm sound” is entirely subjective. In my opinion, warm sound involves a more classic tube-driven character, subtly rounded highs, and a pronounced midrange richness. The DacMagic was nearer to that in our test legacy system but not so much with powered monitors. As expected, the Bluetooth sound quality wasn’t as good as direct wired connections. But that’s typical with lossy streaming protocols. However, the DacMagic 200M’s Bluetooth sound was notably better than I’ve heard in some competing devices. In my opinion, Bluetooth connectivity is more of a convenience feature than a sonic one.  

Integrated with my test legacy system (RCA input only Yamaha receiver, B&W LM1 stereo speakers, and budget <$100 sub), the DacMagic 200M delivered clean, balanced, agile, and punchy sound. There was excellent detail and clarity throughout the frequency spectrum. The results were even more shocking when I connected it as a pre-amp to a pair of Klipsch R-15PM powered bookshelf speakers. 

The Klipsch are very efficient, energetic powered monitors – the detail retrieval and crispness of the DacMagic 200M practically exploded from the speakers. The notes seemed to be etched into the air. It wasn’t excessively bright or abrasively aggressive; more articulate and expressive in character. Though admittedly, the bagpipes in AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’ n’ Roll) certainly shaved off a few extra ear cilia. 

In headphones, the mids were full and seamlessly balanced with the punchy low-end but not augmented or pushed forward, cramping the highs. Snare drums had a nice snap, and cymbals resolved with crisp detail. Imaging and soundstaging were pleasing with an organic depth and breadth through headphones. Some tracks/headphones pairings exhibited a more pronounced “audiophile” character. But that had more to do with the source material or headphones I selected than a defining quality of the DacMagic 200M. 

Overall, the sound signature was balanced, natural, pleasantly detailed, and thoroughly enjoyable. Just what we expect from Cambridge Audio gear.

Bridges to better sound

Primare Prisma NP5

Another question we frequently see from potential customers concerns Streamers and Bridges, what they do, and whether they need one to use Roon. 

Technically speaking, your phone, tablet, or computer are streamers because they receive and play digital music over the internet or your home network from streaming services or local file storage. The trouble with those devices as streamers is they aren’t designed for optimal music playback. When installed on a device, Roon software takes over streaming responsibilities from the operating system and provides better quality audio. However, depending on your needs, you may still want a standalone streamer whose only tasks are audio-related.

Roon Ready network bridges behave similarly to streamers, but they’re more Rooncentric – any audio hardware attached to one is made immediately available to Roon. They provide plug-and-play readiness from Roon to the digital inputs of your audio gear, whether it’s a standalone DAC, powered speakers, or a legacy system with digital inputs. They’re an instant system game-changer.

Some recent audio hardware has streaming protocols built in that are compatible with Roon, such as Airplay or Chromecast. Those streaming methods have bit-depth and resolution limitations that can be offensive to some Rooners. Limiting a high-resolution FLAC file encoded at 24/192kHz to CD-quality 16/44.1kHz is anathema to many listeners. Nobody wants that, give us all the bits, man! If your feelings are reflected by any of the scenarios I mentioned, we can help. 

The Roon Store has several network bridges to choose from, and our selection is growing. 

Achieving prime sound with the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 streamer

Primare Prisma NP5

Primare of Sweden has applied a uniquely Scandinavian approach to audio manufacturing for nearly forty years – winning them awards and loyal customers. Their components meld premium sound quality with refined, timeless aesthetics. Primare practices the Swedish principle of Lagom (“laah-goam”), which translates to “just the right amount.” It’s an appreciation of harmonious, proportional balance – in all things. 

Fortunately for us, Primare puts that into practice in its components. Their 2022-2023 EISA Best Streamer winning NP5 Primsa MK2 continues their penchant for striking the perfect blend of technology, functionality, and ease of use. “Just the right amount,” as defined by Primare, turns out to be quite generous. 

The NP5 Prisma MK2 is the latest version of their standalone Prisma technology – the feature-rich platform at the heart of Primare’s most prestigious hi-fi components. The app reveals that the NP5 Prisma MK2 is an impressive hub of features, not just a streamer.

Even better, it’s a perfect candidate for this DAC + Streamer pairing how-to. There are a few critical factors to remember when selecting a streamer or bridge. They apply to our scenario as well.

  • Ensure that the connectivity features are consistent with those on the device you’re connecting it to.
  • Similarly, confirm that the streamers’ file format and resolution capabilities match those of the DAC, AVR, or component you’re pairing it with. 
  • Reflect upon whether a DAC is actually needed. If the DAC in your AVR, integrated amp, disc player, or powered speakers is to your liking, then forget the whole external DAC business. Connect a streamer/Roon Ready bridge directly to the device you already have, and you’re set to go.  

The NP5 Prisma MK2 gels perfectly with the DacMagic 200M. Its connection points are simpatico. It can send 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP, and MQA via coaxial to the DAC. Yes, the DacMagic 200M capabilities exceed 24/192kHz PCM but streaming services currently cap resolution at 24/192 FLAC or MQA. Anything above that is still a unicorn format that doesn’t exist.

Primare Prisma NP5

As a bonus, the NP5 Prisma MK2 brings high-quality streaming to any component with a digital input plus all the added benefits of the Prisma platform. Anyone interested in Roon who owns a playback device with digital inputs is all set. One and done. And it’s wee, small enough to sit atop the DacMagic 200M or disappear entirely in an AV rack. It’s about the size of the first generation of Roku boxes.

But what about sound quality; is that a factor with streamers as it is with DACs? Yes, whenever components are being paired they should be as compatible sonically as they are in terms of connectivity and format support. Sending Roon wirelessly through the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 to the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M offered an unexpected surprise.

The DacMagic 200M suddenly exhibited a sumptuous warmth. I pulled up the Great British Sound playlist Cambridge Audio shared with us (now available on the Home page in Roon) and hit shuffle. 

I played the first three tracks it kicked out through the DacMagic 200M on its own, then again with the NP5 MK2/DacMagic 200M pairing. Each time the crisp detail of the DacMagic 200M was slightly rounded, the mid-range tonality more decadent, the bass meatier and more responsive. Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good crackled with added soul, energy, and attitude when fed through the NP5 MK2/DacMagic 200M combo.

The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M by itself was plenty sweet. Teamed with the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2, it was absolutely divine. For my sonic tastes, they offer a perfect blend.


The award-winning Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M and Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 perfectly demonstrate the improved sound and convenience that can be had by carefully matching quality externals. It also demonstrates just how painlessly and affordably adding Roon Readiness to your setup can be with the help of The Roon Store. Whether you’re shopping for your first DAC or Streamer, or looking to upgrade, chances are there’s an ideal product within your budget that fulfills your needs and promises years of enjoyment.

Visit The Roon Store to see our full line of products.

Additional observations of note:

  • Some DacMagic 200M reviews I’ve read incorrectly state that it can’t be switched between variable and fixed output mode. The instructions are cleverly hidden under the heading Toggle between fixed and variable output modes in the owner’s manual.
  • The volume knob on the DacMagic 200M has a bit more resistance than most. If you have difficulty turning knobs, the DacMagic may provide a workout. I also noticed a bit of play in the knob but realized it facilitates the mute function achieved by pushing the knob inward.
  • The DacMagic 200M is set to turn off after 20 minutes of inactivity by default. That seems to make some folks dyspeptic. Thankfully it’s easy enough to turn off. See the manual for more details.  
  • For Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 MQA passthrough, use the Primare app to set the digital output to Native and sample rate to 192 kHz when connecting it to an MQA compatible DAC.
  • The Primare Prisma app is a treasure chest of features and incredibly easy to use. Peak around it there and enjoy it in addition to Roon.

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M and Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

Yes, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is Roon Tested and requires a wired USB connection. For wireless Roon RAAT streaming, simply connect the DAC to the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 Roon Ready streamer or any other Roon Ready bridge. 

What file formats and resolutions do these devices support?

  • Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M supports up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM, DoP64 (optical) up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP64 (coaxial) support up to 24-bit/762 kHz PCM, Native DSD512, DoP DSD256 (USB) Full MQA core and renderer
  • Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 supports up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP128. WAV, FLAC, LPCM, MQA, AIFF, ALAC, MP3, MP4 (AAC), WMA, OGG

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M: Inputs are 2 x Optical/Toslink, 2 x SPIDF, 1 x USB Type B, Bluetooth 4.2 SBC and AptX. Outputs include 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output, 1 x unbalanced RCA, 1 x balanced XLR
  •  Primare NP5 Prisma MK2: inputs are 1 x USB Type-A input for connecting digital storage devices. Outputs include 1 x Optical/Toslink, 1 x Coaxial RCA. Connectivity for Roon Ready, Airplay, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, UPnP, and more with the Primare Prisma App.

Tech specs:

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M:

  • DAC Chip Set: Dual ESS9038 DAC chips, one per channel
  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 58kHz (± 1 dB) 
  • Total Hamonic Distortion (THD): @ 1KHz, 0dBFS
  • Audio inputs: 2 x Optical/Toslink, 2 x SPIDF, 1 x USB Type B, Bluetooth 4.2 SBC and AptX 
  • Audio outputs: 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output, 1 x unbalanced RCA, 1 x balanced XLR
  • Output Impedance: <50 Ohms unbalanced, <100 Ohm balanced 
  • Max Output Level: 2.1V RMS unbalanced, 4.2V RMS balanced
  • Headphone Output Power: >300mW at 32Ω, >65mW at 150Ω 
  • Supported File Formats: support up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM, DoP64 (optical) up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP64 (coaxial) support up to 24-bit/762 kHz PCM, Native DSD512, DoP DSD256 (USB) Full MQA core and renderer
  • Power supply: 100-240V AC
  • Dimensions: 8.6″ (W) x 2.0″ (H) x 7.6″ (D)
  • Weight: 2.6 lbs
  • Warranty: 2 years

Primare NP5 Prisma MK2:

  • Connectivity: Roon Ready, Primare Prisma App, Airplay, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, UPnP
  • Audio Inputs: 1 x USB Type-A input for connecting digital storage devices
  • Audio outputs: 1 x Optical/Toslink, 1 x Coaxial RCA
  • Supported File Formats: support up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP128. WAV, FLAC, LPCM, MQA, AIFF, ALAC, MP3, MP4 (AAC), WMA, OGG
  • Power supply: 100-240V AC
  • Dimensions: 5.6″ (W) x 1.4″ (H) x 4.9″ (D)
  • Weight: 1.1 lbs.
  • Warranty: 3 years

What comes in the box?

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M:

  • Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M
  • AC power supply
  • 3 AC power plug adapters (US/Euro/UK)
  • 1-7/8″ Bluetooth antenna
  • Quick Start Manual
  • Important Safety Instructions

Primare NP5 Prisma MK2:

  • Primare NP5 Prisma MK2
  • AC power supply
  • 4 AC power plug adapters (US/UK/EU/AU)
  • RS232 cable
  • User Guide
  • Chromecast Built-in Quick Start Guide

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Recording Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1

Ulrike Schwarz, Skywalker, photo by Jim Anderson

In our previous blog post A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom, we spoke to recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom about their relationship with sound and music, and the inspiration behind their new album Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1. Here, we discuss the extraordinary recording story behind this album which was recorded remotely during the pandemic. 

The album was recorded remotely in Stereo and 5.1 Surround Ultra High Resolution (384kHz/32bit) using Merging Technology Horus/Pyramix recording systems and the Merging+Clock U by grammy-nominated recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz with mixing engineer Jim Anderson, and mastering engineers Ulrike Schwarz and Morten Lindberg (immersive). The album was co-produced by Jane Ira Bloom and Ulrike Schwarz.

Mobile control room at Miya Masaoka’s home, Sonobus on the iPad Pro and Pyramix on a PC Audio Labs laptop with Acousta LE03 interface. Photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: This album was performed in real time connected remotely from your homes in NYC. Please can you tell us about the recording process? It seems to have been very successful. If there were elements of improvisation, how did you manage this unique process remotely? 

Ulrike: Once we had decided that this should be done in the highest possible recording quality that we could get, I set up my Merging Technologies Pyramix v12 recording system at Jane’s apartment. We set up the Neumann TLM 170 and Sanken CU-41 microphones in her office. Then I went to Alison’s house and set up my Pyramix v14. Through my main recording system at Alison’s I could run Jane’s remotely and connect them.

For the musicians to hear each other I had a second set of computers and interfaces. The microphone signals were split analog after the mic preamplifiers and went to the Pyramix systems (in 384kHz) and the Acousta LE03 interfaces (in 192kHz). The LE03 works in a very ‘broadcasty’ and analog way by providing an n-1 where each musician gets their own microphone signal analog (that means without any latency) and the other musicians feed with only the delay that the transmission and the communication program provides. As latency is created in samples a higher sampling frequency will effectively cut down latency. However, one needs a higher data transmission rate (better internet connection).

For communication we used the program Sonobus which Jane recorded her first album with Alison and Mark with. Jane was used to it, I wasn’t. I had to run a lot of tests to make this as fast, and with as little latency, as we could. In order to do this, I brought in high speed gaming routers. Jane and Alison had very good internet, however the weakest was Mark’s. Jane and Mark were so used to playing with each other that even a bigger latency works.

The experimental part of it was matching the internet to the speed that all the devices could take for the communication lines. The interesting part was to establish communication between the musicians and to get the latency down.

Jane: If you think about it, less on a technical level, just how many platforms we’re trying to use to communicate with each other. The musicians are using zoom with no sounds, just looking at each other to feel each other. Then we’re using this Sonobus platform to actually communicate sound and improvise with each other. 

Ulrike is trying to keep the latency as low as possible, but when you think about it you’re playing with jazz musicians who you’ve improvised with for a long time, there’s a lot of mysterious anticipation that you use. You almost make decisions before you hear them, people in sport know all about this. You make split second decisions, it’s a marvelous thing that your mind does when you make things up. 

So that’s all going on with all the technical clarity. At the other end of it is Ulrike’s recording, which is separate, which is another platform and time relationship. It is interesting all these different ways our ears are trying to reach out to try and find one another.

Ulrike: There were different computers for everything so that things wouldn’t slow down the oral communication. Zoom, although it was very out of time, was so important just to see that the other person was still there. I’ve done fifteen years in broadcasting, the process wasn’t new for me, but what was new was that I couldn’t demand a fixed analog line. The costs for booking a fixed internet rate were too much so we had to be more adventurous.

Allison Miller in her basement practice studio, photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: How did you manage the acoustics? Did you make any changes to the room?

Jane: Yes, I put a towel on my desk! 

Ulrike: We put jackets on the sofa! I am really amazed at Jane’s office. It is a very small room equipped with several microphones. That could have created some unwanted effects. But at Skywalker we spread the microphones fully and had wonderful results. It is fascinating how we were able to shut out that room and replace it with the big sound stage of Skywalker. Jane lives in a quiet apartment building. At Mark’s it was a little louder. He has some acoustic treatment in his room, but the bass is not as loud as the saxophone or drums, so his recording was the most difficult. Alison has her drum set setup in her basement room. The great thing was that she got to play her drums, they are so well tuned and set exactly how she wanted. 

Jane: When you asked what is special about these musicians, and why this recording, these musicians have a sound, a voice, on their instruments that is extraordinary. It is a testament to all the audio engineering that it captures it, however, try to remember that in the craziest space in the world if you don’t have a sound what’s the point. 

Mark has an extraordinary bass sound, Miya will make you want to cry when she’s expressing a single note on the koto, and Alison has an extraordinary sound on her own drums. Usually a drummer has to go to a studio and play somebody else’s drums, instead she is playing her own set and her own percussion instruments. 

Ulrike: Anything Alison wanted to pick up was there. With Mark we selected basses for a while, there was a freedom in the choice of weapons you usually don’t have in a studio. 

Jane: When you think about the strange concept of taking something from a small room and putting it into a palatial sound space, the core of what is at the center of that is a musician with a sound, and how important that is. That’s what is at the center of a recording, and that is what translates into the microphone that Ulrike is capturing with great technique and great skill, to then amplify in terms of its sonic space and how it’s perceived.

Miya Masaoka’s koto in Miya’s home, photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: This album was all mixed at Skywalker studios. Can you tell us why you chose that studio and the recording system used? Were there specific techniques in the mix to prepare the album for mastering?

Yes, we flew our Merging Technologies Pyramix v14, Horus system, and Clock U to Skywalker. We used my recording system not theirs. Jim and I love to work at Skywalker. The control room is set up in a way that whatever we mix we know it works. If it sounds good in there it will translate to every other system in the world. 

The most important thing with all these recordings in small single spaces is that Skywalker has this fantastic sound stage. We turned the big sound stage into a live chamber, and this is how all these instruments get this enormous space. They are fed into the live chamber, and re-recorded in some ways and then mixed with the original instruments, and that’s how they become so big and free. The room at Skywalker is where the silence comes from and the space that everybody lives in. 

Jane: We wish we could have played in that chamber so we did the next best thing.

Ulrike: We (Jim) mixed in stereo, 5.1 and 3D. I mastered stereo and 5.1, Morten Lindberg brought all masters together with his 3D mastering in order to make them correlate on all platforms. 

Coming back to the recording and the latencies, I had two systems running that had to be synced. I had Jane record her side of the Sonobus system, and I recorded the other side. I always knew what the latency was by comparing those two, and if any corrections needed to be made. Sometimes even they locked in to their latency and it sounds like they were standing together. This is because of their anticipation. So I only had changes for a few milliseconds to make it totally lock in, and only in very few places.

Jane: It still amazes me how we do it, it’s mysterious even to us. We are playing as if we are together.

Ulrike: Even on stage you don’t know. We had 8 milliseconds latency at our best. If you translate that into distance, 3 milliseconds is about a meter. On stage it is very easy to have ten feet distance, and bad monitoring, so in certain ways you heard more of each other than on stage, with less latency. So once we had a stable delay, it’s just like playing with someone on a bigger stage, but with a clean headphone system. 

Jane: There are two of us, there’s no place to hide in a duet, you either have a sound and an idea or you don’t. A lot is exposed. 

Ulrike: The same for recording techniques, if something went wrong it would be very exposed. Something either takes or it doesn’t. Some things were actually better than on stage, but without the feeling you’re in the same place. We tried to create that with the headphones and zoom, but in many ways it wasn’t that bad.

Jane: If you think about the absence of the other during the pandemic, we haven’t been able to physically be with one another. Something happens, I’ve found over several years with remote recording – you find that your ears reach out even more to the person you’re playing with. It’s almost like hyper ultra-hearing. You’re so wanting to connect that it’s like your ears go into overdrive. 

There is something really interesting, neurologically, and emotionally going on about how tuned in you are to listening and responding this way.

Ulrike: It will be great when you get back together with them on stage, but there is still something in when you first played with Mark with bad zoom with bad delays, just the possibility to make music again was so overreaching. 

Jane: We were euphoric to play together again. 

Ulrike: It was a very interesting time, and thankfully music could still exist.

Merging Technology mobile Horus/Hapi AoIP setup with MT Clock – U. Powered by Essential Sound Products Eloquence Power chords.

In our previous blog post A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom we discussed Jane and Ulrike’s relationship with music and sound.

Listen to Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 on TIDAL or Qobuz.

Listen to our playlist Jane Ira Bloom in Playlists by Roon on your Roon Home Screen.

A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom

Jane Ira Bloom, picture by Brigitte Lacombe.

We had the pleasure of speaking to recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom about their relationship with sound and music, and the inspiration behind their new album Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1. This album features award-winning saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, percussionist Allison Miller, koto player Miya Masaoka, and bassist Mark Helias. 

Editor: The music on Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 was inspired by the science photography of Berenice Abbott. Please can you tell us more about this inspiration and how it is reflected in the music? 

Jane: If you look at the photographs, even though they’re about scientific subjects, they are beautiful. Probably one of the biggest influences I had from looking at these images was the stark contrast of dark and light. If that translates to your ear to the idea of sound and silence having equal weight in your audio field, then that’s the music that I honed in on for this project. The other thing is, if you look at the images, they’re all about momentum and physics, and light waves and patterns of sound waves being visualized. Motion and flow of melodic lines is something that I’ve always been interested in. You’ll hear a little bit of that influence as a composer, translating the visual motion and flow into audio motion and flow.

Ulrike: I always thought that these patterns are usually in science books, or books we studied for acoustics, they look like interferences. Like the water drops and filters. They can also be interpreted like audio phenomenon. So that’s also an image I had in my head. That’s also why I thought that going at the highest possible recording resolution that we had would probably display this best.

Miya Masaoka, photo by Heike Liss

Editor: Did this particular music inspire your choice in musicians? Can you tell us more about your choice to use the traditional Japanese instrument Koto?

Jane: It’s really about the koto player Miya. Miya could play anything, and I’d be interested in playing duets with her. She happens to be a master performer on the koto, but it’s really the musicians and their improvisational minds. These are people I’ve collaborated with in the past, so I have a history with them. I know how they feel about improvising music together. Alison Miller is an amazing creative mind for creating sounds spontaneously. Miya is a master on her instrument so when I talk about sound and silence – that’s her thing. It’s all a part not only of the instruments they play, but also their musical imagination. 

Ulrike: I would say that none of the musicians played traditionally. Miya is not only playing Koto, she was doing things to her Koto I’d never heard before, and that were a little difficult to capture. Alison doesn’t just play drums, it was more percussion – it was really creating these sounds that go so far beyond traditional playing of the instrument, as Jane does. They didn’t just play their instruments – it went far beyond that.

Ulrike Schwarz

Editor: Sound quality is clearly important to you, and you have had the album encoded in MQA. Can you tell us more about this? 

Ulrike: The sheer data rate of what we recorded is not very consumer friendly. There are some people who buy native DSD and want an incredible data rate that doesn’t even get them anything. 

I’ve found that with encoding it into MQA when the consumer has an MQA ready system, it will unfold back into the 384khz in this case. But it is a file of 48kHz which is of course much more manageable which can be streamed and downloaded easily. For me it is a great way of transporting super high audio quality in a manageable means. 

I was acquainted with it when we mastered some other albums with Bob Ludwig – he always sent it over as MQA. Since we purchased this enormous clock, the Merging Technologies Clock U, which is true to ten parts of a billion, our clocking has improved, and I find the MQA works really well. Since then, every album I’ve done has been MQA and I really like it a lot.

Jane: From a listener’s perspective, listening to sound at this level of quality has a richness and a depth that’s so extraordinary for the ear. You don’t have to play a lot of notes when you have this kind of quality of sound to your ear, to listen and luxuriate in. It’s almost like a single note becomes a whole full course dinner. It’s like one note sounds absolutely breathtaking, and it’s because of this quality of sound. 

When people listen, they don’t even know why they feel the way they feel when they hear it, but there’s a whole emotional response to hearing music this way in this type of quality. People don’t even understand what they’re hearing, it’s just this incredible breadth of sound that can make a single note sound like a symphony. 

Ulrike: I think the emotional response is actually very interesting. As with the super high quality, you also respond well to the immersive sound when it comes at you in 3D. When you add the next level to surround, it becomes a very different story emotionally. 

Jane: For the artist, it is so euphoric. We’re used to hearing sound around us on stage, but for an artist to hear themselves in relation to other musicians coming back at them in a completely immersive way, that’s completely new and very intoxicating. That’s why it’s so emotional to hear music that you’ve made come back at you in this way.

Picturing The Invisible, cover art by Assen Semov

Editor: Sound is important, how do you view the link between sound quality and the music? Is it about communication, nuance or helping listeners understand or get involved in the music? Or something else?

Jane: It’s a wonderful collaboration of these two things that are operating at an extremely high level and ultimately become indistinguishable. It’s such a joy, and this is the essence of my collaboration with Ulrike. We’re trying to combine art and science together to create a unique emotional experience for the listener.

Ulrike: It’s so much joy when you get the chance to record people on that level. You think, this is what they can do musically, and I think about what I can do to capture this and bring all of this across. The joy of it is to get the chance to work with people on this level and then think about what I can do to make them communicate even better and create those soundscapes that I’m hearing, and then turn this into something that everyone just loves to listen to. 

Jane: This is the essence of producing, we’re imagining taking the music and its audio capture to the highest level we can imagine, and then some. That’s a creative decision. 

Ulrike: A recorded product is always different from a live performance. Jane is very good at cutting things down, which means it is good quality music. That makes the whole thing so joyful.

They are seasoned musicians who know what to do. They command the room, and don’t wait for me to say whether it’s a great take. In the end, the musicians make the composition come alive or not. We do not keep a take that is not special. 

Improvisers are spontaneous composers, it’s very different to interpreting in an orchestral sense. When you get used to having a sphere where you make things up, you wind up collaborating with people who have a feeling for this process – who make composition come out of the air. You make it up right in the moment, but it feels like you composed it. The lines between improvisation and composition get blurred, and that’s a skill that improvisers in the jazz tradition spend a whole lifetime and career developing. Alison, Miya, Mark, these are pros at the highest level at this process.

Allison Miller

Editor: You received a grant from the New York City Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theater for this project, can you tell us more about how this came about and any personal significance of this particular grant.

Jane: There’s no question in my mind that the ‘Women’s Fund’ was the key inspiration. Look at the powerful women involved in this project: Ulrike on the audio engineering side, Berenice Abbot legend in the photographic world as the inspiration, Alison an unbelievable improviser on drums and percussion, and Miya, a complete contemporary musician. These are women who really excel in their worlds. When Ulrike and I first talked about this, it just started making so much sense. Look at all this girl power, let’s face it! 

Ulrike: We did accept Jim Anderson, the mixing engineer, and Mark into our world as honorary members of our group. Morten Lindberg was also involved in turning it into Dolby. The fund was about the combination of all these wonderful women and our original plan to bring in the media aspect – before the pandemic hit it was all supposed to take place in a great room.

Jane: The music was originally written for 5, 6, 7 instrumentalists. We didn’t record a lot of the music that I composed and we had to hone down our ideas a lot.

Ulrike: There might be Picturing the Invisible: Focus 2 at some point!

Editor: How did you form your taste in sounds and music? Did anything change or influence your taste in music during childhood or since, such as music played in the home on hi-fi or a piano, starting a musical instrument, friends at Yale University, or training at Yale College of Music?

Jane: I can remember from my earliest moments of consciousness loving musical instruments. I was just fascinated with them, with sound and what they looked like, I don’t know why. In terms of my journey as a musician, I think the most interesting aspect of how I’ve shaped a sonic identity is that I’ve been very interested in the sounds of other instruments other than soprano saxophone. I’ve learnt a lot from vocalists, trumpet players, violin players, shakuhachi players. I’ve gotten inspiration for my ideas about sound from places other than my instrument, and I think that’s affected how I come up with the sound that I do. 

Editor: What system do you use for playback of music?

Jane: You’re going to laugh because I don’t have any of the high-end equipment Ulrike uses. I have a set of AKG headphones I’ve been using for years. I listen on my headphones. They are not the greatest, but when you get used to listening on something it’s like a standard of listening that you get used to.

Ulrike: We got her a really nice headphone amp! [I have old AKG headphones, I know them, they’re honest. I use them in the studio and at home.]

Ulrike: In my editing suite I have Wilson speakers, Wilson CUBs, and an Eclipse TD725sw subwoofer. When I’m working, I’m listening through the Pyramix and sometimes have our clock there as well to really see what’s going on. I have a selection of headphones. The amps are Benchmark ABH2 Mono blocks and HPA4 pre amplifier. My favorite headphones are actually B&W P5s, the small ones. I took them with me to the recordings, I like them very much for work. I have a selection of Sennheiser’s but in the field I prefer the P5. 

Downstairs we have set up our other studio. For work Jim prefers to have his old Meyer HD1s. He’s had them for 30 years and these are the speakers he trusts for mixing. For listening we have Wilson WATT Puppies, and a Mark Levinson system with a 23.5 amplifier and 26S pre amplifier. In the dining room we have the surround 7.1 system of Eclipse TD712z MK2 speakers, the TD725sw and a Marantz A/V unit. For our wedding party we dragged a couple of those speakers out on the deck and entertained. We exclusively power all units – remote or at home – with Essential Sound Products MusicCord cables and Power Distributors.

In our next blog post Recording Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1, we discuss the extraordinary recording story behind the album, recorded remotely during the pandemic. 

Listen to Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 on TIDAL or Qobuz.

Listen to our playlist Jane Ira Bloom in Playlists by Roon on your Roon Home Screen.

Roon Ready Writeups: Burson Audio Conductor 3 Reference, Conductor 3X Performance, and Playmate 2 Review

Creating a Rooniverse of your own

The audio gear-o-sphere is absolutely bursting at its seams with devices and confusing terminology – especially when viewed from the perspective of the casual observer, budding audiophile, or veteran Hi-Fi enthusiast. Buyers begin to feel like they need an electrical engineering degree just to purchase new gear. That can be offputting; we know because you’ve told us so.

Every few days, The Roon Store gets questions like this one recently sent in by Terry.

Greetings, Roon Labs! I’m interested in Roon, my friend uses it and raves about it! He told me to find a good DAC and maybe a streamer, but I’m not sure what that is. I have a recent Mac laptop and was into stereo gear in college, but that was nearly 50 years ago. I’d like to try Roon, but I don’t want to replace everything I use now. Can you help me figure out what I need?

p.s. I’m also interested in a pair of headphones. Thanks!

Terry R.

Yes, we can! And thank you, Terry, for allowing me to use your question and requirements as the foundation for this combination Roon “how-to” and gear review! 

The Roon Store is all about helping our customers get the most out of their systems. Our new line of products from Burson Audio provides an ideal solution for anyone looking to modernize legacy equipment, get CD quality or better wireless playback, and add quality headphone capabilities to their current setup. For this installment of Roon Ready Writeups I built a legacy system similar to Terry’s to demonstrate how easily it can be done.

Burson Audio headphone amp/DACs – a single box solution.

Burson Audio Playmate 2 DAC

First, let’s start with a common question; “What’s a DAC?” Simply put, DAC is an acronym for digital to analog converter. A DAC is involved whenever digital audio is played from computers, tablets, or smartphones. Its job is to convert digitally encoded audio files, like those from streaming services, to an analog signal that can be understood by your amplifier, speakers, and ears. This helps illustrate a DAC’s critical role and why selecting a quality device when upgrading a legacy audio system is of paramount importance. A bad DAC is a fast track to tarnishing the sound of a classic Hi-Fi system with a single device. An underperformer will negatively impact every digital source it plays.

Fortunately, Burson Audio has several sonically advanced, sturdily built, and value-packed DACs to choose from. The Playmate 2, Conductor 3X Performance, and Conductor 3 Reference DACs cover our needs. Burson Audio’s value to cost reputation was established through building enthusiastic word-of-mouth appreciation from customers, reviewers, and select dealers rather than through marketing teams, advertising budgets, and trade-show attendance. It’s been a winning strategy for Burson for nearly thirty years.

Burson Audio DACs cut an attractive, minimalist profile in their high-density aluminum enclosures. The ridged “cool case” design acts as a heat-sink to offset the internal temperature generated by their Class A solid-state circuitry. The brushed space grey face plates are wonderfully clean, featuring a single OLED display, microphone and headphone connections, and a knurled knob for making volume and menu adjustments. Multiple or single menu buttons are provided on the front panel, depending on the model. The Performance and Reference series models include a remote. The Playmate 2 does not, but it can be purchased separately – which I highly recommend for added operating convenience. 

The menu and settings are intuitive and easy to use. Press the menu button to access options, turn the knob to your preferred setting, press the knob to navigate it, and save preferences. I left the more granular settings on the default settings for this review and only adjusted the input, output, and gain. 

Burson Audio’s research and development notoriety is well established. Their custom-designed op-amps, advocacy of “op-amp rolling,” and max current power supply circuitry are the most visible hallmarks of their innovative approach. But their tech sensibilities extend well beyond that. For proof, grab the included hex key and look inside one of their devices. You’re greeted with the same clean design aesthetic found on their exterior. You’ll see Burson Audio’s signature OP-amps alongside top-of-the-line components from Neutrik, specially tuned Qualcomm CSR8675 Bluetooth 5.0 receivers (in the Reference and Performance models), and Sabre 32-bit ESS9038Q2M DAC chips. A more complete breakdown of the specs for the discussed models can be found at the end of this review. 

Suffice it to say these are expertly designed, speced, and assembled devices. There’s nothing of merit to fuss about when inspecting the physical or technical build quality.

Supercharging a legacy Hi-Fi system

Burson Audio 3XP

To review the Burson DACs, I considered the questions Terry sent us: “How can I add Roon and headphones listening to my setup without having to replace everything else I’m using.” 

I’m happy to say it’s much easier than many new Roon customers think! The first step involves installing Roon software on a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer. That machine serves as the Roon Core, the central nervous system of your Roon ecosystem. Terry already owns a compatible Mac laptop, so his Core requirements are taken care of. On to step two…

He’ll need a device that’s recognized by Roon software and capable of talking to his current setup. The Burson Conductor 3 Reference, 3X Performance, and Playmate 2 are perfect solutions for that! They’re all certified by Roon to work seamlessly with our software. And I can tell you, as a former member of Roon’s tech support team, that I can’t remember receiving a single support request for a Burson Audio DAC. They worked absolutely flawlessly for me with Roon. 

They paired exceptionally well with the legacy test system I built using a late 1990s Yamaha receiver, B&W LM1 bookshelf speakers, and a budget subwoofer. I connected the Burson DACs to the Yamaha using inexpensive Monoprice Monolith RCA cables. And to further simulate Terry’s setup, I migrated my Roon Core to a Macbook Air, connected it to the Burson DACs with a 15′ USB-C cable, and then used my iPad as a Roon Remote.

Fulfilling the last requirement, the Burson DACs feed muscular Class A wattage to their headphone connections, plenty enough to drive even the most power-hungry headphones. They effortlessly pushed the Meze 99 NEO‘s, Empyrean, Liric, and my Massdrop 6XX cans. 

Sound Quality

I demoed each DAC with the legacy setup by randomly shuffling my Roon library to simulate laid-back weekend background music, then switched to headphones for a close listening session. As previously mentioned, all the sound shaping filter settings were left on the factory defaults. 

When integrated with the system setup, the Burson DACs sounded wondrously lush, exhibiting an exquisitely balanced, pleasing, natural sound signature across the entire frequency range. Their voice is full and dynamic; with stellar resolution and responsiveness. Detail, transparency, instrumental realism, imaging, space, and soundstage were at the level of quality powered stand mount speakers. I caught myself comparing their imaging and sweet spot to KEF’s several times.

Lows were full-bodied with excellent depth and chest-thumping energy. Charles Mingus‘s double bass literally made the walls vibrate. Impressive, especially when they were produced by <$100 budget sub that had never dreamed of sounding that good. 

Mids were rich, detailed, and wonderfully expressive. Unexpected song elements revealed deeper character – Fu Manchu’s fuzz-drenched guitars showcased molten texture as their amps unleashed waves of titan-slaying distortion. On the other end of the spectrum, Acoustic guitar strings were silky and articulate, and vocal presence was remarkably vivid and lively. 

Mid-Highs and Highs were airy and detailed but with a pleasant smoothness. There was copious transparency, excitement, and shimmer, but it was exceptionally musical and proportionate to the mids and lows. Gregor Piatigorsky, Charles Munch, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Dvorak‘s Cello Concerto in B minor (Op.104) danced in the high ceilings of my living room like it had been written for the space. The room is nearly entirely reflective surfaces and glass that sometimes cause problems for higher frequencies. But it accommodated the crushing volume I pushed through the Burson DACs without generating harsh harmonics or flutter echo. 

The sound signature of all three units was pretty consistent. The Conductor 3 Reference and Conductor 3X Performance benefitted in terms of transparency, resolution, and detail – advantages provided by Burson’s flagship V6 Vivid op-amp circuits. I also connected to those models using the enhanced Qualcomm Bluetooth 5.0 receivers and noticed the benefits of the upgraded circuitry. The Playmate 2 performed so admirably with the stock op-amps that I’ve decided to plug in the V6 Vivids for a test drive before returning it. All said it would take considerable effort and an active imagination to fault the sound quality of these units. They easily outperform devices several times their price.  

Headphones listening notes

My recent headphone listening has paired Meze models with the Chord Hugo 2 and Mojo 2. It’s a solid combination and one I’ve really enjoyed. My appreciation of Burson DACs was clinched after their test system performance, but their synergy was positively transcendent when partnered with the Meze 99 NEO, Liric, and Empyrean headphones.

Bob Marley and The Wailers – Positive Vibration from Rastaman Vibration

Pairing the 99 NEOs with the Conductor 3X Performance made them sing like open-back models. Heavy bottom end is synonymous with Roots Reggae, but it’s a very musical low end. Through an inferior DAC and poorly paired headphones, it often sounds muddled and flabby. I was floored by the depth of the bass extension and how well the Meze’s balanced them with the mids and highs on this classic track. Heavy detailed bass will reveal weaknesses quickly. But there were none present with this pairing.

Miles Davis Quintet – Shhh/Peaceful from In a Silent Way

For this incredibly funky, heavily textured Electric-Miles era jam, I broke out the Meze Liric and wired up the Playmate 2. The diminutive desktop Headphone Amp went straight to work, revealing tons of detail, luxurious mid-range wetness, and low-end groove. Miles’ trumpet fearlessly reaches far into the more challenging outer limits of its range a couple of times in this number. Those notes tend to sound sharp and brittle on most systems, but they were slightly rounded with the Playmate 2 and Liric. It’s a dense, energetic arrangement (three keyboards??!!), but with this combination, there was ample room to step inside, get comfortable, and look around.

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here from Wish You Were Here

The Floyd’s moving ode to Syd Barrett, their lost founder, and friend, was perfectly showcased by the Empyrean and Conductor 3 Reference marriage. David Gilmore‘s Martin acoustic and expressive vocal are the perfect vehicles for Roger Waters‘ stirring heartfelt lyrics to his erstwhile, broken bandmate. The BBC radio audio collage intro possessed surprising ambient detail. The whistling heterodyne signal haunts the corners of the soundstage like a phantom. After this, I hopscotched through the classic album rock in my library, playing one well-worn track after another, soaking up freshly revealed nuances with each new selection. 


Burson Audio manufactures sonically advanced, sturdily built, value-packed DACs that outperform units several times their price. The Playmate 2, Conductor 3X Performance, and Conductor 3 Reference DACs paired phenomenally well with our legacy test system.

Their sonics are wondrously lush, exhibiting an exquisitely balanced, pleasing, natural sound signature across the entire frequency range. Their voicing is full and dynamic. Detail, transparency, instrumental realism, imaging, space, resolution, responsiveness, and soundstage thoroughly exceeded expectations. Headphone listening was transcendent when paired with the Meze 99 NEO, Liric, and Empyrean.

Discovering previously missed details in my reference tracks and favorite songs is one of many rewards gleaned from testing and reviewing new gear. These Burson DACs scattered easter eggs throughout my most treasured go-to albums and performances to such a degree that finding them became a sonic fever dream of rediscovery.

The Playmate 2, Conductor 3X Performance, and Conductor 3 Reference DACs are ideal solutions for anyone looking to modernize, add quality headphone capabilities to their current setup, or affordably upgrade their existing DAC. I highly and enthusiastically recommend them!

To see the full line of Burson Audio DACS at the Roon Store

Additional observations of note

  • The Burson Audio Performance and Reference models run a bit hot after a few hours of use, even with the Cool Case design. Burson offers an optional Cool Stand to help alleviate that.
  • Like a Class A guitar amp, unplugging headphones or connection cables while the DAC is in use isn’t recommended. Doing so could damage the unit. Press pause before disconnecting cables. Power down by turning off the Amp, then the DAC to avoid speaker or headphone pops. Power up sequence is the reverse, DAC then the Amp.
  • Burson Audio provides specially designed XLR to RCA connectors for pairing the Conductor 3X Performance to receivers with RCA jacks. Failure to use them can damage the units. They’re quality connectors, use them. Burson has done the work for you, there’s no need to overthink things.
  • The fixed line-out signal of these DACs is pretty hot. Changing the output to Pre-Out and lowering the output level helped provide a wider range of volume adjustment for the Yamaha. Legacy receivers with adjustable input gain could use the fixed DAC line-out signal with minor input level attenuation.
  • The volume knob on the DACs is a little fussy. Volume units may jump up or down in the opposite direction of manipulation. 
  • The icon for Audio File Type and Resolution flickered slightly on the Performance and Playmate models I reviewed, a minor quibble – yet potentially annoying to some buyers.

Burson Audio DAC FAQs

Are Burson Audio DACs Roon Certified?

  • Yes, these DACs are Roon Tested and work flawlessly with a wired USB connection. For wireless Roon RAAT streaming, simply connect the DAC to a Roon Ready bridge of your choice.

What file formats and resolutions do Burson DACs support?

  • All three Burson Audio DACs we reviewed support up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM via their Toslink/Co-axial input. Connected via USB support extends to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and Native DSD512. The Reference and Conductor models support DSD via PCM up to DSD512. Playmate 2 DSD via PCM support up to DSD256.  

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • Conductor 3 Reference: inputs include 2 x RCA line-level, USB C, Optical Toslink, Coaxial, BlueTooth 5.0, and gaming microphone. Outputs are 1 x RCA Pre Amp, 1 x RCA Line Level DAC Out, and 2 x 6.3mm headphone jacks.
  • Conductor 3X Performance: inputs include USB C, Optical Toslink, Coaxial, BlueTooth 5.0, and gaming microphone. Outputs are 1 x XLR Preamp/DAC, 1 x RCA Preamp/DAC, 1 x 6.3mm headphone jack, 1 x XLR headphone jack.
  • Playmate 2: inputs include USB C, Toslink, and gaming microphone. Outputs are 1 x RCA Pre-Amp and 1 x 6.3mm headphone jack.

Tech specs:

Burson Audio Conductor 3 Reference:

  • DAC Chip Set: 2 x ESS9038 DAC chips, one per channel
  • Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 – 58Khz
  • Total Hamonic Distortion (THD): <0.0015%
  • Inputs: 2 x RCA line-level input, USB C, Optical Toslink, Coaxial, BlueTooth 5.0, Microphone
  • Outputs: 1 x RCA Pre Amp, 1 X RCA Line Level DAC Out, 2 x 6.3mm Headphone
  • Headphone Amp Wattage Rating: 7.5 Watts SE
  • Dimensions: 10″ (W) x 12.125″ (L) x 2.75″ (H)
  • Weight: 6 lbs, 9.75 oz
  • Warranty: 2+1 Years 

Burson Audio Conductor 3X Performance:

  • DAC Chip Set: 1 x ESS9038Q2M DAC chip
  • Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 – 58Khz
  • Total Hamonic Distortion (THD): <0.0015%
  • Inputs: USB C, Optical Toslink, Coaxial, BlueTooth 5.0, Microphone
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR Preamp/DAC, 1 x RCA Preamp/DAC, 1 x 6.3mm Headphone, 1 x XLR Headphone
  • Headphone Amp Wattage Rating: 6 Watts XLR / 3 Watts SE
  • Dimensions: 7.688″ (W) x 9.72″ (L) x 2.25″ (H)
  • Weight: 3 lbs, 15.125 oz 
  • Warranty: 2+1 Years 

Burson Audio Playmate 2 DAC: 

  • DAC Chip Set: 1 x ESS9038Q2M DAC Chip
  • Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 – 35Khz
  • Total Hamonic Distortion (THD): <0.002%
  • Inputs: USB C, Toslink, Microphone
  • Outputs: RCA Pre-Amp, 6.3mm Headphone 
  • Headphone Amp Wattage Rating: 3.5 Watts SE
  • Dimensions: 6″ (W) x 8.375″ (L) x 2.25″ (H)
  • Weight: 2 lbs, 4.5 oz
  • Warranty: 2+1 Years 

What’s in the box?

Burson Audio Conductor 3 Reference:

  • Conductor 3R DAC
  • Power cable and supply
  • Four spare OPamps
  • USB C cable
  • Allen wrench
  • Extra fuse
  • Remote

Burson Audio Conductor 3X Performance:

  • Conductor 3XP DAC
  • Power cable and supply
  • XLR to RCA adapters
  • Four spare OPamps
  • USB C cable
  • Allen wrench
  • Extra fuse
  • Remote

Burson Audio Playmate 2:

  • Playmate 2 DAC
  • Power cable and supply
  • USB C cable
  • Extra fuse
  • Gaming headphones adapter
  • Allen wrench

Visit the Roon Store to see our full line of DACs!