"Need" Roon, Bluesound Node, or or other streamer?


I am thinking about adding a streamer, and have hopelessly confused myself, and hoping you all can straighten me out with some advice/options here.

All I want to do is stream my Tidal with MQA quality, Quboz, new Apple tier, Amazon, and my ripped CDs, all with as much sound quality as possible (with a budget of $1200 maxish).   Integrated playlist capability, and ideally with full MQA for the Tidal (but low priority in the scheme of things).   I do not need wireless, multizone, etc. 

Currently my Macbook Pro is the "streamer" using Tidal, Quboz & Apple supplied apps.  I USB out to my DAC.

-- If I buy the Bluesound Node, I lose full MQA if I connect my external DAC.  They tell me I have to use their internal DAC.  Otherwise I can connect my external at a lower "quality".  Yet, many people here trash their DAC...
-- Trial of Audirvana Studio is a train wreck so far... 

 Questions: For my situation, in you all's opinion:

  • Buy the Node, and call it a day? I could switch between Internal Node Dac for MQA and external DAC...
  • Buy a Cambridge or other streamer and call it a day? Are they worth the extra $$ especially if I would ideally like to stick with my external DAC?
  • Buy into Roon solution and either build a NUC server or go Little Green or Nucleus?  OR use one of my old Mac laptops maybe?
  • What the hell is the difference between Roon and the Bluesound Node anyway?

Sorry, all over the place here, but evidence of my frustration...

Any advice is greatly appreciated!






bogbeat
The Node can be used with and external DAC. I used an Ayre Codex with mine.
I eventually went with Innuos, and use Roon as a system manager.
The Bluesound Node is quite a buy for the money.
Not knowing your system, I would say get the Node and see if it is good enough. (BTW- Though the Node does unfold MQA partially, I never found MQA to be significantly better than a lossless High Rez format).
YMMV
Bob
Do yourself a huge favor and dump Tidal and its absurdly intrusive and limiting MQA sham.  Qobuz sounds as good or better and has a better user interface, and it’s cheaper.  The Node is a great way to step into streaming, especially if you have a good DAC.  Best of luck. 
I am also in the camp that MQA isn’t worth stressing over.  If you buy the Node then you do have to use its DAC for MQA.  The DAC in the Node isn’t unlistenable, but it’s a rare person in  these forums that prefers it to their external DACs.  Fwiw, the Node DAC has recently been upgraded, and I haven’t heard it, though I have only seen 1 user in Agon say it was a significant upgrade.
   Roon is a software application that organizes all of your music files, both on hard drives and streaming services, and also attempts to improve Sound Quality.  The previous sentence is as pithy as I can get describing it.  In some respects it resembles Audirvana Plus, which you seem to have had an unhappy experience with.  I suggest that you Google or You Tube Roon as there is a lot more to it, and Roon users here may have much more to add.  Roon is a large and complicated program that doesn’t always run well on computers and streamers, so Roon started manufacturing hardware, essentially dedicated streamers customized to run their software 
You are really asking about three separate things:
User Experience Software (Roon vs. BluOS)
Playback Hardware (which requires 3 parts: streamer/renderer, library storage
Control Hardware(tablet and/or phone)

I'd suggest watching some youtube videos of users demonstrating use of Roon(e.g. Hans Beekhayzen) and BlueOS and decide what experience you'll be happy with. For me, Roon was a game changer and I can't imagine going back to any other app. It makes choosing what to play more fun and increases engagement. This also applies with family and visitors. 

If you head this direction, building a NUC or buying Small Green Computer products both will work great. Internal storage vs. NAS(e.g. Synology or QNAP) for you library really depends on size of your present & future library.  

Any of the above and the Blue Node will all sound better than most Mac/PC setups unless you go to great length and cost to overcome those platforms disadvantages(e.g. NOISE, frequent OS updates screwing things up, many others)

Yes, your DAC is probably way better than that in the Blue Node and I agree that MQA is a sham. I would suggest not making MQA part of your rationale for choosing your path forward. Use your external DAC and a tablet/phone/mac as remote for any of the above. Cheers,
Spencer
We are streaming experts We sell bluesound, lumin,roon and 532evo servers

The node is best viewed as  a starter streamer

The roon nucleus is good

The lumin u1 mini is your best bet for a really top performer for the price

And te 432evo servers sound the best

Dave and troy
AUDIO INELLECT NJ
BLUESOUND,LUMIN, roon and 532evo dealers

+1 on dropping the MQA requirement.  Do some critical comparison MQA vs standard 24/96.  Opens up your options as well
Another vote on dropping Tidal. My experience is that it sounds worse than Spotify Premium.

Another streamer to consider is the Pro-ject Stream Box S2 Ultra which is supposed to sound better than the Bluesound Node. It’s about $750-800 new and you can easily get one used for about $500. It runs on the open source Volumio software so there is ongoing work on improving the interface. Some other interface software is slicker, but Volumio works fine for me. The Pro-ject doesn't have a lot of flashy features such as LCD screens, built-in DAC or internal memory for storage, but its materials cost seems focused on areas that improve sound quality such as the isolation of its power supply and cleaning up its USB output.

Here's some comments from the designer about the considerations behind the design of the Pro-ject: https://www.avforums.com/threads/why-is-pro-ject-stream-box-ultra-s2-so-expensive-700euro-for-an-r-pi.2175090/

What I heard about the current version of Roon is that it doesn’t sound as good as prior versions or compared to other streamer software.
I think there is only one product that meets all of your criteria:
  • Tidal with MQA
  • Quboz (I'm assuming also 24/196 lossless)
  • new Apple tier (lossless)
  • Amazon
  • and my ripped CDs
I think the only products that support Apple Music Lossless are the Apple TV, Apple computers running macOS, and iOS devices with a hardware dongle. Of those, the only one that supports all the other things is an Apple computer running macOS connected to an external 24/196 MQA-capable DAC over USB.
There are two different approaches.  Streamers and Servers/Renderers.  

A streamer (Node 2i, Naim ND5 XS 2, etc...) will allow you to control local files and streaming services.  I have used a variety of these devices and like the Naim units the very best.  You can just use them as "renderers/players" if you have Roon and a separate server or without a separate server and typically rely on their control app.

A Roon Nucleus, Antipodes servers, Rockna Servers, etc... have a powerful computer that runs software like Roon server.  This manages your local files and manages will handle Tidal and/or Qobuz.  

They can serve a dual mode and also function as a renderer or you can add a second computer to serve as a renderer.  This is the approach I take in my systems. The renderer requires a lot less power compared to the server.  taking data from the volatile web and making it placid is what the server does very well.  The player optimally will take a placid signal and simply get it ready to be decoded by the DAC.  

IMO, the best solution is a server (Roon Nucleus is awesome for the money) and an external DAC.  If you can get a DAC that is Roon ready, that is better. 

Bluesound and Roon are essentially competing software platforms.  Roon is pricier but has a very pelasant user experience.  

In the end, budget plays a huge role. Separate server, renderer and DAC costs a whole lot more than a streamer.  

In order, I would look at the following - 

Bluesound Node 2i and a simple external DAC like a Musical Fidelity V90.  This would be $850 list and be excellent for the money.

A Cambridge, NAD or Marantz streamer.  $1000 to $2000 depending on the model.   I am a big fan of the NAD C 658 in this price range at $1650.  It's internal DAC is a big step up from the Bluesound Node 2i.

From here, there are a million combos of DACs and servers or units from brands like Antipodes, Naim, etc...  I would need to know what sound profile you like and the rest of your equipment to make a good recco along with budget.

Good luck and let me know if I can help.

FYI...I am a dealer for a bunch of brands including Bluesound, NAD, Naim, Roon, Antipodes, etc...  I have no affiliation with a bunch of these brands like Marantz and Cambridge which are great products.  



Wow! Thank you for all very much for this amazing advice. I have learned so much, and you've all given me a lot to think about.


By way of update:  I have installed the ROON suite (14 day trial) on my MacBook Pro, integrated my Tidal, Qobuz, and my external HD with my ripped CDs.


So far, I am really liking the Roon user interface.  The MBPro is handling everything just fine, even while I am surfing or doing some work, etc.  


I will continue to trial Roon and see how that works out while I digest everything above and figure out which hardware direction to pursue given my budget constraints.  


Thanks again.  Loving the  journey!



Instead of a component streamer, can one achieve comparable results using a Windows laptop computer or home theater PC for streaming? Any disadvantages to this approach with regard to sound quality, available music sources or ease of use? This is my first post, appreciate your input!
Not easily. PCs, especially in the same room and connected to the audio system generate noise. There are many ways to try to overcome it, like external linear power supplies, dual-headed cables that separate signal from power, etc. All the background processes supporting other stuff your computer does are something to overcome. Low power dedicated devices with more of the parts cost dedicated to what affects audio has generally proven a more cost-effective approach. 
Let alone the UX impact of OS updates messing with music software on PC or Mac. 
Many of us had PC or Mac based rigs and moved away from them as better alternatives became available. the majority of posts on computerlifestyle (formerly computeraudiophile) address many subtopics that apply. Cheers,
Spencer 
@sbank.  +1

Generic PCs do not make good streamers. They just sound good on paper. My streaming systems did not start getting into High quality sound until I got a dedicated streamer. They are highly shielded with quiet power supplies. There are many high quality streamers available. I am very partial to Aurender. They have offerings at many price points with different functions.
I can’t disagree more. An inexpensive fanless windows I5 PC running Fidelizer, Foobar2000 to a USB MHDt Orchid Dac sounds incredible. Using Remote PC (free in Windows) you can control it from your listening chair using a tablet, phone or laptop.

It sounds much better than a Rasberry PI with a Allo digi one interface hat. I haven’t tried the digi one signature and I see no reason to ever go back. It generates no noise and costs under $250.

The Orchid USB driver and Fidelizer match really well together on a dedicated device but Fidelizer takes over the computer and pretty much makes it a single purpose machine.


Post removed 
@ho249,
I don't know if you meant having to buy dedicated equipment, but you can control Roon equipped streamers or Bluesound using the corresponding Windows app.
B
As a wrinkIe, I noticed Cambridge (ROON ready) refurbs at below $1k this weekend.  Thoughts on these?

-Or- a used "bridge" only which allows me to keep my external DAC as primary.  Like an Auralic Aries? Perhaps use their native app to control the streams from my MBPro or iphone, or keep the ROON to control...

Both the Cambridges and Aires are "older" units but...  What say you all?
Aurelic Aries is very good sonically assuming you're using it with their or another high quality linear power supply. Current models are Roon-ready, but if you're getting an older one, it's worth confirming that it's Roon-ready or you'll be stuck with their proprietary software, which is pretty good, but not as engaging as Roon. 

An advantage IMHO of the bridge approach is that you can invest in a NAS based on the size of your library and keep the NAS in a different room allowing you to use standard disk types (e.g. Western Digital Red) instead of having to pay for SS drives(quieter but much more costly). 

Another worthy line of "bridge" devices aka renderers is Sonore, which I am biased towards, and feel offer the most sound quality and flexibility for the cost, along with superb support...especially if purchased from Small Green Computer. Cheers,
Spencer
Thanks a lot, Spencer.  The Sonore/Small Green Computer offerings are a very enticing option! Still need to look into whether the ARIES is ROON ready.   I like the bridge approach as well. 

In the meantime, I jumped on the Cambridge deal to buy me some time to more carefully sort out what I really want/need.

All of you all's info and advice has opened up my eyes to a bunch of possibilities, and a new lens to evaluate with/through!

Ignore the anti-MQA jihadists. It sounds fantastic. I’ve blind tested it--with repeated trials, the proper way--with dozens of tracks. In most cases it sounds equal to or better than Qobuz. People just don’t like it because it’s closed source and technically lossy (it doesn’t lose anything that matters, while preserving some sonic information that is normally lost in conventional PCM). When people talk about FLAC being "lossless", it only refers to the preservation of the PCM data itself. But what really must be preserved is the original sound. MQA does a better job at this.

But haters are gonna hate and they’re going to hear whatever they expect to hear.

ho  the dedicated servvers all sound better

Trial Roon to see if you find it useful - I choose not to use Roon simply because I only stream to 1 system and use Moon's MiND2 app that enables usage of music from the server or multiple services.

Tidal vs Qobuz try them out and test them.  I preferred Tidal and part of the reason was the music selection. 

MQA is a nice capability; I wouldn't make it a critical capability.

Good lucn and enjoy the journey!