Implementing a Roon Core Server--Success & Comments


I installed a Roon Optimized Core Kit or "ROCK" on a new Intel NUC.  Here are my thoughts.

1.  ~$450.  This is substantially cheaper than a Roon Nucleus (~$1300). 

2.  4 Hours Work.  After I got supplies, this took me all of four hours.  Why?  Well, There were all sorts of glitchy things with--interestingly, NOT ROON--the Intel NUC.  All sorts of dumb stuff happened that I had to spend some time on forums researching.  For example, I couldn't get the NUC to recognize a USB fed keyboard or mouse.  I'm not using the ROON ROCK with a monitor or keyboard, but you need one for the initial install.  What a pain!  That was one of 3-4 aggravating things, which once I cleaned up all was good. 

3.  Getting up To Speed.  The Roon ROCK integrated well.  During the initial 2-3 boots it was slow to get up to speed--likely reading everything for the first time. Up and running, it just stays on, 24/7.  Impressive that it's so stable.  Very impressive in today's world. 

4.  Worked OK with Bluesound.  The Roon ROCK did ok with Bluesound. Overall, things worked and sounded fine.  One issue was getting the Roon end to stop seeing players in the house individually; they were stuck in a group pairing from a party we had awhile ago.  No the end of the world, but it means I still have to use the Bluesound app to turn switches off here and there.  

5. Worked Wonders with my DAC.  My tube DAC, while it does do DSD, is not a Roon partner.  Nonetheless, I was able to find it networked through the software and send the Roon signal natively to it with no processing.  This was sonically amazing for me.  Everything got bigger, clearer and punchier.  My DAC has always been fed by my Bluesound Node or Node 2i.  This was a meaningful improvement. 

I love the Bluesound product line.  Yet, I have to agree with those who say Tidal sounds better directly into their DAC via USB or another compatible feed.  Running Tidal into the Bluesound then to my DAC is good, but not as great as this. 

6.  Roon Community.  The Roon Community made this much less a pain in the ass than it could have been or would have been in, say, 2005.  There are great resources at their website:  articles, forums, FAQs, and so on.  Very informative.  While I wish that I didn't need any of this to begin with, when I needed it, it was fairly clear and thoughtfully written with few exceptions.


jbhiller
sounds interesting.   I recall seeing small form PC for small money on Amazon.   I recently bought a cheap Lenovo s-145 laptop 4gb ram, 1 tb hard drive and its slow running Roon core.    I am adding 8 gig ram to see if that helps or maybe a SSD.

i will check into your build further and see if the is my new direction.
@gasnsteering,  the beauty of the Intel NUC is that it's super fast and has the processing power to do the job.  Further, because the NUC runs a simple Linux-based platform it's very stable.  The little, powerful computer for ~$500 has one task--run Roon.  There are no hiccups or issues whatsoever.  The sound quality blew me away.  I might sell one of my Bluesound Nodes because it's no longer needed and this sounds better. 

I used a quality SSD and 16GB of RAM. Here's my parts list: 

1.  INTEL **INTEL NUC 8I3BEH. $279.99

2.  CRUCIAL 16GB D4 2400 CL17 SODIMM. $69.99

3.  512GB I PREMIUM NVME SSD.  $69.99

I also had to buy a cheap keyboard and mouse to set this up for the first time; I had a spare monitor that I used too. Once set up, I put all that away and the little box runs silently by the system.  I have Mac computers so I couldn't use their mice or keyboards easily, forcing me to buy some junk stuff just to get it up. 

@jbhiller I understand that Roon ROCK acts as a purpose built operating system, but do you need to pre-install another OS before installing ROCK, or can it work in a bare metal manner?

Secondly, do you see any advantage in going with Core i5? I feel that if all we're running is Roon, i5 might be overkill. On Amazon there is a $100 difference between i3 and i5. I'm trying to gauge if it there is a sonic advantage that justifies the extra $$$
ROCK is Roons linux OS you can't use any other OS on the NUC. If you aren't doing DSP and your library isn't huge an i3 works fine. Here is Roons recommended products. 

https://kb.roonlabs.com/Roon_Optimized_Core_Kit
@djones52 -- thanks for the link. This is just what I was looking for. I almost pulled the trigger on Small Green Computer's sonicTrasporter i5 ($895). But if I can build my own Roon core at less than half the price, that is a winner in my eyes. Given that nowadays I'm streaming almost 80% of my music and don't foresee buying too many CDs in the future, I think the i3 is a good choice.
The sonicTrasporter i5 has the advantage that it is fanless and noiseless. Wondering how the NUC stacks up in this area.
@arafiq,  are you close to a Micro Center store?  Or you can buy online at Micro Center and have your parts list shipped to you.  I went that route as Amazon and other e-retailers didn't have exactly the model I wanted.  I went with the I3 version that Roon recommends in the link djones52 sent you.  

I'm about a week in and the ROCK has not crashed or slowed once!
Also, @arafiq , I forgot to answer your other question-- I3 v. I5 and sound quality.  If you aren't using DSP I3 is fine.  And, I bet I3 could handle DSP on one endpoint (just not through multiple streams). 

One thing to know-- you have to connect the Roon ROCK NUC to your wifi via ethernet as it doesn't do wifi or at least mine doesn't.  

I just put an extra xfinity pod (mesh router system extender) behind my system and plugged the Roon ROCK NUC right into it.  
I bought my components from newegg. I went with an i5 to do some DSP. I got a fanless case haven’t had any problems so far, been running it 24/7 for a few months. Something like this would work for a basic config it might do some DSP, you just need to add memory and M.2 drive. 

https://www.newegg.com/intel-boxnuc8i3bek1/p/N82E16856102212
Thanks for the DSP tip. Since I also use headphones (Hifiman Arya, Focal Clear, and Sennheiser HD6XX), I do have several DSP filters (parametric EQs) setup for each headphone. There is a Micro Center not too far from my house, so I will check it out this weekend. From what I've been reading so far, this is what I need ...
1. Intel NUC i5 (i5 mainly for DSP)
2. 16 GB of RAM
3. 512 GB SSD (NVMe)
4. Roon ROCK OS (free download from the Roon website)
5. Keyboard and mouse for the initial setup
6. USB stick (I'm assuming this is how I can copy the ROCK download onto the NUC)

Is this all, or am I missing something? Your advice is much appreciated.
You got it!  Right down to the USB stick--you have it all.  

I had a devil of a time getting the NUC to boot from the USB drive on which I put the ROCK OS.  I ended up having to go into the bios on startup and play around with the various settings concerning what drives the NUC would boot from.  I can't recall the exact process but I remember I had to putz around to make it boot from USB.  Also, even before that hiccup I had to hold down the delete key on the first bootup to get the NUC to recognize the keyboard.  After those two issues, the ROCK booted seamlessly and I've been stable since.  
You don’t need 512GB M.2 SSD I used 256 it was the smallest I could find at the time. Get whichever is cheaper, actually I think 128 is big enough. To boot from USB you set it to legacy in the bios. The main thing is make sure the NUC is one recognized by Roon, there is a list in the link but I don't think it's been updated for the new 10 series.
djones51 is likely very right on what you need. But, considering 512MB of M.2 SSD is so cheap ($70), I did just that.  Can't hurt to have more and the price difference was like $30 or something.  
Agreed. The price difference is not that much, might as well go with higher specs.

@djones51 -- thanks for the tip regarding usb boot.

Your help is much appreciated.
I built my Roon server using a NUC8i7BEH with 8GB RAM and 128GB PCIe SSD.

After using it for a couple months, I decided to get an Akasa Turing fanless case so that I could move the server close to my equipment in my listening room. At the same time, I increased the RAM to 16GB, and integrated a 1TB Samsung 860 SSD into the case for my music library. Previously, I was using a USB connected hard drive for the library.

It has been working very well since I put it together six months ago. It got fairly warm when I moved the library to the SSD and I had to re-index everything, but since then it has run cool even when running multiple zones and doing some modest DSP work (upsampling and EQ). 

I'm sure my configuration is over-provisioned for what I am using it for, but it sounds great, and still cost me under $1000 with all the bells and whistles. 

I currently have about 4200 albums (37,000 tracks) in my library, but I still have 92% space available on the the 128GB drive.  It's hard for me to imagine a library big enough to need more than the 128GB M2 drive. On the other hand, it's not that expensive to go to a larger drive.

I've recently purchased a linear power supply to use with the NUC, but I haven't had a chance to hook it up yet. I'm going to use it for a DIY amp project to do some transistor matching on a bunch of power FETs. Once that's done (hopefully this weekend), I'll relegate it to Roon Server duty.