Researching an "affordable" Roon server/streamer, and my choice...
I learned a lot while researching (ie, torturing myself) for this project, researching an "affordable" Roon server/streamer. I DID NOT want to run the Roon Core on a computer. Obviously there are many other choices like Auralic, Lumin etc and I’ve read reviews until my eyes bled. Oh, to have an unlimited budget!
Items 1-6 are what I considered and eliminated. Obviously if you have $3000 to >10,000 to spend, there are other choices. Your mileage may vary. I really wanted something made in the USA or EU, not China (though I would bend that rule for a Denafrips DAC, maybe). If I had super big bucks, some of the DAC/preamps/streamers that have Roon server capability built in look amazing, like SimAudio Moon, but they are *really* expensive, and still require a Roon server. I decided I want to spend more money on an amp upgrade by spending less on the Roon server/streamer, so I set a budget of around $1500. Don’t need/want anything with an onboard DAC.
- Bluesound Node 2i: Many owners are reporting hardware and software problems and frustrations. I wanted both a Roon core and endpoint, and it isn’t.
- I originally thought I’d get an Aurender N100 until I decided I want Roon, which it doesn’t do. Then I read about problems with Aurenders after power losses and other issues. Nope. Nice units, especially the one for $6k with ripper.
- Then I settled on the Innuos Zen III, but it’s made in Portugal and they don’t have a US service facility. In addition, in reading the fine print they don’t guarantee that with the Zen you can run it well as both a core and streamer, and it only has an i3 (or slower) processor, which some claim isn’t powerful enough. They don’t offer an SSD drive until the Zenith, which is $4k+. It’s out, for a one box solution. I wanted an i5 processor, which means their high end unit for a lot more money.
- Roon Nucleus -- i3 processor in the std Nucleus, expensive for what it is, just a server box. I'm sure it would be fine, but I am budget conscious.
- Salk Streamplayer -- Looks nice, has an i5 processor, and the maker is very nice on the phone. Only available in the mid-level with an HDD drive, and I wanted SSD. No internal ripper drive either. So no.
- The Wyred4Sound MS is my alternate choice, given more money. One box, many connection options (I2S, SPDIF, USB), built in ripper. $3500 for the i3 processor and 2TB of SSD, I recall. Very nice unit, but more than 2X the cost of my choice.
- THE ONE I CHOSE: Small Green Computer Sonictransporter with 2tb onboard SSD and a Microrendu streamer (the UltraRendu is more and maybe I should have done that?). About $1500, a great value I think. No, not a one box solution but that’s okay, and not really a compromise except for that. Has an i5 processor, comparable to the Roon Nucleus+ which is 2x the price. Should work great with Roon using DSP if I want to. No onboard ripper drive, but just plug a CD reader in and works the same. MOST bang for the buck that I have found, so I hope I am happy with it. The proprietor Andrew Gillis was very helpful and patient with me as I decided. www.smallgreencomputer.com
I put the Sonictransporter server on the computer desk in the corner of my listening room on the opposite wall from the hi-fi rack and speakers, because my router/ethernet is there and I don’t have to run an ethernet cable halfway around the room. Plugged it into the router and fired it up. Hooked up the Rendu streamer to the nice linear power supply (both are in the hi-fi rack), into the network via ethernet, and plugged it into my DAC/preamp with a good Audioquest USB cable.
Logged in to SGC’s website to do the setup via the network (Roon is preloaded on the server) and to download other apps to server. Took 10 minutes. I’d already set up my Roon trial account, which was a mistake because the SGC comes with a 60-day free Roon code but I can’t use it with the Roon 14-day trial. SO--wait to create your Roon account after you get everything hooked up to use the 60-day code. Doh!
I bought a 10" Kindle Fire tablet to use as a remote for Roon. Don’t want to use laptop or phone. On Roon forums rich guys will tell you to get an iPad Pro because it works in portrait mode, but a $1000 for a tablet to use as a remote? Nope! The Fire tablet was $150 and works fine so far.
THE SOUND: It sounds great! I don’t have other server/streamers to compare it to like the Roon Nucleus, the Wyred, Innuos etc but to me it’s excellent and a bargain. Roon unfolds the first fold of MQA so Tidal Masters are coming through at 48/96 ... better than Redbook. Non-MQA tracks sound great too ... as good as my Rega Apollo playing CDs.
I am very pleased with Small Green Computer and their product (it’s only been a day, of course, but I hope for excellent reliability). I still like in a way a one box solution in the rack, like the Wyred 4 Sound Server, but it would have been $1500 more and I’d rather put that towards the monoblocks I am saving for. Maybe I will upgrade from the MicroRendu to the UltraRendu at some point. Maybe. Or the OpticalRendu.
NOTE: If you want a server to pair with your Roon endpoint streamer like a Lumin etc, I think the SGC Sonictransporter is a more affordable choice than the Roon Nucleus---faster processor and smaller footprint for less money. I know the Nucleus is good too, and some people want that Roon logo on the box.
Andrew Gillis at SGC is great to deal with, and very patient. I recommend them. https://www.smallgreencomputer.com