Has Roon’s native engine caught up to HQPlayer?


So I have been a Roon user since about 2017 having purchased the lifetime license which was then $500.00, glad I did. The shear flexibility and fact that I no longer had to bother with maintaining an iTunes library that PureMusic “wrapped” was, well, music to my ears. I didn’t buy into Roon at first because for all it’s slick features and convenience, it’s core audio engine simply couldn’t compete with PureMusic (which I much preferred over Amarra and Audirvana). I haven’t tried the latest version of PM so I have no clue how it sounds at this point in time. I do recall that the sonics for PM would change from version to version and I recall reverting several times to previous versions because I was unhappy with changes I perceived in the sonics of subsequent versions.

Enter HQPlayer. After installing, tuning and finagling with the HQPlayer software I found it to be the best sounding audio engine I had yet to experience. Team that with the fact that Roon, could divert its audio stream directly to HQPlayer and it was game over. Two weeks spent tuning the filter and I had a glorious sound coming from my digital rig (Mac mini with Uptone Audio linear power board and analog fan-kit internally replacing the nasty cheap stock smps along with the JS2 outboard linear supply, iFi iUSB 3, (2) iFi Gemini 3 usb cables, an iFi iPurifier3 and (2) iSilencers (1 is a “+” the other is the first gen) all feeding my AMR DP 777se. In fact a fellow audiophile buddy heard it and duplicated the setup excepting the dac as he used his existing gear (gotta reign it in somewhere :). I even took pics of my HQPlayer setup parameters so he could dupe them.

The setup has produced some of the best digital music I’ve yet to encounter and yes, although I’m big into analog, tape and records, I have had digital only listening sessions on weekend nights which have lasted for six hours with zero bits of “digital-fatigue” that I so often read about as it relates to others experience with digital.
 I presented the previous information to show that I am as thorough and demanding for my digital as I am for my analog such as aligning my cartridges with the SMARTractor and AnalogMagik software and far more than I’ll mention.

Just last eve as I was reading about the Fern & Roby Tredegar TT and thinking of getting into more audiophile trouble :) when I came upon an award announcement form 12/19 for Roon 1.7. It mentioned the improved sonics in areas where I thought Roon’s core audio engine lacked, namely being a bit thin and sterile sounding hence my use of HQPlayer as the audio engine. I thought, well, yes I have installed several upgrades to Roon lately maybe I should do a comparison of Roon’s native engine to HQPlayer. 
The results shocked me.

The Roon guys must have been listening because I found through many back and forths, including the Lp and 45’s in cases where I also own the vinyl, that the sound quality has gone up tremendously! My dac does not play DSD but with HQPlayer I can convert my DSD files to 176.4khz and it would outperform my iFi iDSD PRO (which is a stellar do everything dac) playing them back natively. The AMR, big brother to the iDSD PRO costs more than twice its little brother but I was still a little surprised the DP777se edged it out when playing converted DSD as the PRO playing native DSD sounds awesome.
 I compared HQPlayer converting DSD files to 176.4khz and then allowing Roon to natively convert the same file to 176.4khz and to my shock Roon edged it out. I did this over multiple albums.

Next was PCM playback (Red Book), things were closer here with HQPlayer initially seeming to still hold an edge. Something strange occurred at one point. With all the switching back and forth (zones in Roon talk) my USB receiver on my dac hung-up and the dac required a power down and up sequence (super rare). Upon powering up again, I noticed that HQPlayer sounded it’s same glorious self but Roon now sounded better. Roon (Red Book) now sounded more natural and little less dry, dryness I hadn’t perceived with HQPlayer prior to all of this back and forth. 
Long story short (yeah yeah, I know too late) I think the Roon Core Audio engine has grown up and can stand on its own. I am glad about this because with HQPlayer if I wanted to hear DSD in its best presentation I had to go in and change the sampling to 176.4khz, which meant everything plays at 176.4 kHz. In my case I don’t want that because the DP 777 se has two dacs, a ladder dac for classic RB which sounds better to me than the Delta Sigma dac playing RB. The Delta Sigma dac sounds fantastic on hi-res PCM. Now that Roon can be used natively it does all the switching for me automatically playing everything back at native resolution (excepting that DSD is converted to 176.4khz (desired behavior) as my dac does not play DSD natively).

If one owns a dac which can handle native DSD, you won’t be faced with the specifics of my dilemma when running HQPlayer because you can tell it to play dop (DSD over PCM) when it encounters DSD files and even though the PCM sampling rate my be set to whatever (192khz) you would still not have to settle for one size fits all between PCM and DSD. You are still forced to convert all PCM to the selected sample rate and I never loved that aspect of HQPlayer.

whew!!! And I’ve heard people say analog is too much work :)

After all that, has anyone else found Roon’s playback to have exceeded HQPlayer at this point? 
audiofun
Sorry, I don't pay to play music on my computers. That's what streamers are for.
Not helpful at all but streamers can be end-points for Roon, so the query still applies.
Besides a streamer is nothing but a closed system computer running something like embedded Linux. This is why I don’t run streamers, tried the Aurender W20 and the DCS One, and two variants of the Lumin, I’ll stick with my configured computer and my own dac as it sounds better to me as it is pieced together to sound the way I think it should sound. That sound would be as close to my TT and R2R deck running master dubs. No streamer I’ve heard comes close.
Streamers have their place, they are cool looking, usually come in small form factors and probably most importantly, they don’t require a ton of tech knowledge to setup and configure. I get it. I am beyond streamers.


Maybe it’s my fault because of all the information I supplied. I am not seeking personal beliefs on computers or streamers or dacs or any such thing. I am simply am asking people WITH experience running HQPlayer and Roon the following question:

Has anyone else found Roon’s playback to have exceeded HQPlayer at this point?
Nice writeup @audiofun 

You have certainly earned your wings! Your next step though is actually to understand what is happening in streamers today because I, like you, was very committed to a similar path but your weak link is likely the USB interface. You may not think so and I didn't either but I did extensive a/b testing in my setup and in my two main systems I now stream over ethernet. I presently have both a Roon Nucleus + and an Innuos Zenith Mkiii. Via USB, the Innuos was far superior to the Nucleus +. I tried a bazillion USB cables and settled on the Final Touch Audio Callisto, which is an exceptional cable. I now, however, stream over ethernet to a Boulder 866 in one system and an AQUA Linq in another. A/B testing between the I2S and the USB inputs of my dac the I2S feed from the Linq is amazing. The results have been eye opening versus USB streaming. YMMV. Best wishes and thanks again for taking the time to write up your experiences.
ghasley: 

Hey thanks for the kind words. I actually am very aware of how dirty usb is as well as SMPS units :) through some experiments back around 2011 I figured out what USB was doing wrong. I sent my findings to an acquaintance at a famous audio company concerning the deleterious effects of usb. He initially didn’t think there was any merit to what I sent him, but he looked at the little cheap device I was putting between my computer and dac and he figured it out. Several months later one of the first if not the first and best usb filters was born. 
I keep a very good magnetic swing-arm CD transport around with the hall motors and actual glass Rodenstock laser lens around as a metric for my digital :). The swing-arm Philips-drives with actual German glass lenses are arguably the best drive mechanism ever created as cost was no object when competing with vinyl in the early days of digital. Of course this unit has been modified elsewhere but the point is that in my case, the usb is clean and it is almost indistinguishable from the CD Drive unit into the same dac when playing the EXACT same ripped disc. 

There is no weak link. My server system outperforms my buddies ~70k analog rig easily. It can’t beat my Ref TT or R2R (nothing really beats great R2R) but is was about equal with my former Technics GAE and associated gear ~$15k analog system.

I find no fault in the system, just looking to see if anyone else noticed an uptick in Roon’s core engine performance vs HQPlayer. Not sure how else to ask the same question.

Believe me when I tell you I know how antiseptic and amusical the signal can sound when coming directly off a USB port into a dac. 
I listened to many streamers via network connections and they were passable, but nothing special. The DCS One was nice and beautiful but the sound was nothing to talk about, not bad, just not special.

I even auditioned the Boulder 866 with the lumin connected via network (this was the non streaming version of the Boulder). That was not for me, but courses for horses :)
I was actually close to picking up an Esoteric P0s to use a my metric but after listening to it and comparing it to some other pieces I decided to pass.

i definitely put my server through the paces via direct comparisons to the same Lp’s, tapes and the same CD on a superlative CD drive. The server is at the top of its game :)

I do, however, appreciate the information regarding the serious deleterious effects of raw usb. It’s nast-eee.
@audiofun 


apologies for the truncated reply to your question. I went with Roon and a lifetime subscription in 2015. I had also been an early adopter of Pure Music and dabbled in Hqplayer. A friend/audio dealer set it up and I am not even remotely qualified to discuss hqplayer other than to say I thought it sounded great streaming from a Macbook pro at the time. 
When I bought the Nucleus + a few years ago it replaced the Macbook pro feeding my dac. It was quieter but maybe a little less interesting than the previous setup. The Innuos Zenith to my ears sounded better than the hqplayer feeding dacs via usb. I thought Lumin sounded tinny and veiled. I was feeding several different dacs: Chord Dave, Nagra Classic, Totaldac d1-tube plus a few others. Eventually settled with the Innuos feeding an Aqua La Scala Optologic dac. The Aqua Linq streaming via i2s to the La Scala is a game changer if you enjoy R2R.

Aqua is releasing an Hqplayer module for the Linq this fall so I may stick my toe back in.

Regarding your setup, Ive only heard your dac once several years ago in an unfamiliar system. Your usb fix sounds intriguing and congrats on being able to overcome what so many manufacturers have been unable to. I believe the usb out of the Innuos to be exceptional but the ethernet into the Linq and the i2s from the Linq to the La Scala to overcome usb’s limitations. YMMV. 
The Boulder 866 version with the inboard dac/streamer is exceptional. Hearing it fronted by a Lumin you havent heard it yet. In that system I sold my audio research reference pre and ref amp and replaced it with the 866 driving wilson sashas. My aqua setup is in another setup currently along with an audio note meishu tonmeister silver or a leben cs600x driving devore o96’s.

in short, hqplayer sounded very nice but i believe the improvements in roon combined with overcoming the inherent limitations of usb and clocking challenges presented by usb and a computer make hqplayer less necessary to achieve exceptional sound quality.
ghasely:

No apologies needed:) I didn’t find your reply to be truncated.
I must say, I respect your audio choices! Very nice.
I too like ladder dacs. I also own a customized AMR CD 77.1 with Jupiter Copper foil paper in wax output caps, a TDA 1541 (real) Double Crown dac (I replaced the non crowned TDA1541) and some strategic capacitor replacements on the digital engine. Even before the changes, the CD 77.1 was my absolute benchmark for digital. Nothing I’ve experienced regardless of sampling rate or format has come close to that unit. Actually the CD 77.1 is the unit that made me realize Sony/Philips got it right the first time. I think it took time for engineers to learn to record to the digital medium correctly and then some very bad things happened along the way, digital compression, delta sigma dacs, switch mode power supplies and cheap drive units.

I’ve always wanted to hear the Innuos gear. I completely agree about the Lumin sound, I found it just terribly grating, thin and sterile.
I admit, some single bit dacs can sound exceptional. I also own a Museatex (Meitner) Bidat that would shame many modern high end dacs for shear musicality and for the emotional involvement it can elicit. When I use it with the music server, I have to use my Sonicweld Diverter HR to convert USB -> SPDIF or iFi iLink.

Innuos makes an active USB filter which looks serious and I can tell you the iFi iUSB 3.0 is indispensable. I would not be able to listen to my music server without that essential piece in the chain. I power the iUSB 3.0 with the second output of the JS2 regulated linear supply. Add the USB iPurifier3 and it’s even better.
Cleaning up USB is pretty easy these days, cleaning up the insidious soul stealing noise created by switch mode power supplies is FAR more difficult! I’ve been at it long enough to have some tricks up my sleeve that work:) The best solution is to keep them out of your system altogether. I even found a linear 24 volt brick to replace the cheap SMPS that came with my very cool L.E.D. articulating lamp that sits over my TT :)

I’d love to hear your Audio Note amplifier !
Hats off to you sir, excellent tastes. I’m sure your system sounds superlative.
Correction, I have heard the Innuos streamer but I don’t know the model and it was in an acquaintance’s system. As I was not familiar enough with that system, I can’t speak to the sound of the Innuos.
The Innuos Phoenix reclocker is the way to go if someone wishes to stay with usb. I have no proof but it seems like some extra steps and opportunities for more issues to be introduced with the Innuos Phoenix route. USB from the server/computer into the Phoenix and then another USB out to the dac. Alot of wonderful gear out there these days and we are talking degrees of terrific. I agree with you regarding early digital challenges being related to analog minded miking and recording techniques didnt travel over to the digital domain very well in the early days of digital. The tonmeister is pretty special for those who appreciate the set sound without slop, slush or rolled off frequencies. A considerable accomplishment and I hope you get to hear one. Be well.
ghasley:

Thanks, hopefully I will get a chance to listen to a Tonmeister. I do own and listen to a Reimyo PAT777 300B, it drives the Raal Ribbons in my active speaker system which I designed. The Reimyo is as you describe your amp, SET sound without slop or exaggerated coloration. In my case I’m rarely ever pulling a full watt excepting for transient swings.
Audiofun,  I have been using Roon through HQPlayer for years but recently, via an oversight, I was listening to Roon directly.   When I realized my "mistake", I was very surprised at the Roon sound.  I did not notice HQPlayer missing.  Roon by itself seemed to match the qualities that I admired via HQPlayer.  

And Roon is certainly more flexible with the ability to configure different upsampling rates for each native rate. This added convenience, by itself, may make using Roon alone more enjoyable.

So to your question...I certainly noticed that Roon's and HQplayer's sound are much closer to each other now than when I initially started using HQPlayer.   Does Roon now exceed HQPlayer?  Not sure but they certainly are now closer than ever.


mysearcher257:

Thank you for your observations! I definitely know what I hear, but I hadn’t seen anyone else comment concerning the topic. Roon’s core audio engine has indeed come a long way from its initial state of musical reproduction.
Hi audiofun:

FWIW, you restoked my curiosity and over the last few days I spent some time doing A/B comparisons between Roon alone and Roon with HQPlayer.   I am now definitely of the opinion that I prefer Roon WITH HQPlayer.   Roon alone seems more forward and bright while Roon with HQPlayer is further away behind the speakers.   So, at least for the near future, I'm going with HQPlayer.


myresearcher275:
I can definitely understand that as the dac and indeed the whole system comes into play. In my system it just so happens that the improvements to Roon combined with the overall qualities of my system lean towards Roon’s audio engine.