Roonlabs Nucleus+ Roon server
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Roonlabs Nucleus+ Roon server


Now Roon has introduced their own server hardware,
prices appear to be rather steep. That might lead to high expectations and web
trolls making nasty remarks. So let’s investigate. The Nucleus was already announced at the High-End
Munich show 2017. Two models came to market: the Nucleus and
the Nucleus Plus. The first is equipped with an Intel Core i3
processor and the second with an Intel Core i7. The i3 version is suited for the average user
that has up to 12,000 albums and about 5 zones. It is able to do limited DSP functions like
EQ, headphone cross-feed and the like. The i7 version is for power users that have
even a larger catalogue, more zones and/or want to do DSP functions like convolution
– used for room correction for instance – or heavier upsampling like PCM to DSD. I was lent a Nucleus Plus – the one with the
Core i7 – by Dutch Distributor Viertron. Both models use the same housing made from
mat grey solid aluminium with cooling ribs on the sides and top. It measures 212 x 157 x 74 mm and the front
holds only a logo. The rear is slightly more crowded with on
the left a recessed power button, the 19 Volts DC socket that needs to be connected to the
supplied switching mode power supply, an HDMI output for if you want to connect to an AV-receiver
– or DAC -over HDMI, a giga network port, two USB3.0 sockets for connecting for instance
an external drive or a USB DAC and a Thunderbolt socket that currently isn’t used. When placed top down, a thick metal plate
can be removed by unscrewing five bolts. The review sample was fitted with a 220 gigabyte
SSD for music storage. Far more storage can be mounted, up to 4 terabyte
SSD’s are available nowadays but they come at 1200 euros. You can also use a traditional harddisk. 9.5 mm thick drives are available up to 2
terabyte and perhaps a 15 mm thick drive might just fit and those are available up to 5 terabyte
at only 175 euros. But check first, I wasn’t able to try whether
it will actually fit. The drive is mounted on a sturdy metal plate
that also contains the PCB holding the SATA connector. When removed, we see a 7th generation Intel
NUC motherboard with the memory cards, under a small cushion the M.2 128 GB SSD that holds
the operating system, Roon Core and database, the SATA port plus power supply for the 2.5
inch drive that is connected to the SATA board as we saw before. We even see two USB ports and the 3.5 mm headphone
socket that on the normal NUC housing are accessible from the front. So it is exactly the same board as in my Intel
NUC 7i7BNH that costed me 600 euros including the 128 GB M.2 SSD and 8 GB of memory. Let me start with the differences between
the Nucleus Plus and my NUC: the Nucleus is passively cooled while my NUC as a – rather
silent – fan for cooling. And the slot for the 2.5 inch drive in my
NUC is limited to 9.5 mm thick drives. But I have access to the front USB’s and
the 3.5 mm headphone jack. At 900 euros you buy the same NUC board plus
memory and M.2 SSD for 900 euros built into for instance the Akasa Plato X housing that
is functionally the same as the nUcleus in that is allows for passive cooling. But whether you buy the original NUC or the
Akasa variant, you have to update the BIOS and install Roon Rock yourself. With the original NUC you often have to mount
the SSD, the hard disk and the memory too. I know, it’s a piece of cake, you will say
and for many it is. But I have been paid several times by people
in the industry to do it for them. So it might be a piece of cake to many, it’s
not to all. And then there are people that have more money
than time and hire a so called custom installer that will do all the work for them, often
including the luxury, several thousands of euros costing remotes. They want top quality and they want that the
quality can be seen on the outside. They are quit willing to pay for that too. Those custom installers need a margin that
is considerable bigger than the computer industry offers them for they have to go to the customer
whenever he – or she – has a problem. That’s something your computershop or webstore
won’t. Furthermore Roonlabs needs funds for developing
the drivers typically needed for custom install. They recently announced drivers for Control4
and Crestron remote control systems and these will only run on the Nucleus servers, not
on the normal NUC’s. The Nucleus works the same as the Intel NUC
running ROCK so for a comprehensive description see ‘Intel NUC Roon Rock Part 3: how to
use it’. But in short it works like this: The Nucleus
needs to be connected to the grid and the web. You then need a storage device for your music. This can be an internal hard disk or SSD,
an external hard disk connected over USB to the Nucleus or a share on the network, like
on a computer or NAS. There your store your music files. The storage in or connected to the Nucleus
is accessible over the network. You also need to connect an ‘endpoint’,
which can be a DAC connected to the Nucleus or a Roon Ready DAC, network renderer or other
Roon Ready device over the network. Then you install a second version of Roon
on a computer, tablet or smartphone. This will only install the control surface
and not the server and will ask for your Roon account information. The Nucleus is automatically detected and
will start indexing and updating the metadata. Depending on the number of tracks and the
speed of your internet connection this can take days but you can already start playing
music. So the Nucleus isn’t a rip-off as has been
shouted by some on the web. It is aimed at the top end of the market where
other rules and other margins apply. It’s like the hydraulic suspension parts
Rolls Royce used in their seventies models (or was it eighties?). If you bought them from Rolls Royce you payed
a lot more than when you bought the same parts from Citroen I am told. But the service level was different too. You can buy the same Mondeo under the Vignale
luxury label and again then you pay the premium price but get better service. By the way, several specialist streaming retailers
also offer audio servers exceeding even the price of the Nucleus Plus and are far less
open on what’s inside. There might be all kinds of reasons for the
higher – I have not researched this – but nevertheless. I think you are quite a bit better off when
you buy either a NUC7i3 – seventh generation NUC running a Core i3 – or NUC7i7, running
the Core i7 processor, depending on your needs. Put it elsewhere in the house so the fan won’t
bother you and use a networked audio interface, a networked DAC that is ROON Ready or a Raspberry
Pi with audio board running Roon Ready software, all depending on your need for quality. And if you have money to burn, you could also
buy a Roon Nucleus for it works just as good and looks a lot better. If you want to know how to prepare a NUC for
Roon Rock – the Roon server software for the NUC – see the link in the top right corner,
at the end of this video or in the show notes. Oh, and just to make sure: the prices I mention
are for the hardware only. The Roon Rock software is free – and is already
installed on the Nucleus – but you do also need the 100 Euro 120 US dollar per month
subscription or the lifetime subscription that comes at 425 euros or 500 US dollars. Got interested in Roon, a link to a complete
playlist lets you learn anything I know now. For future developments you could subscribe
to this channel or follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. If you liked this video, please consider supporting
the channel through Patreon or Paypal. Any financial support is much appreciated
and helps me to do my job even better. The links are in the show notes, just as the
link to a description of my three setups. Help me to help even more people enjoy music
at home by telling your friends on the web about this channel. I am Hans Beekhuyzen, thank you for watching
and see you in the next show or on theHBproject.com. And whatever you do, enjoy the music. Intel NUC Roon Rock Part 3: how to use it:

11 Comments

  • Robert Wielinga

    It would be nice if Roon would support more music services. Tidal is integrated into Roon, but what about Deezer or Qobuz? Would make Roon more acceptable since I have some bad experiences with monopolistic and closed environments. And on topic, of course it is way too expensive as I understand you still need an additional subscription for the software. It makes the Elac Discovery a bargain.

    Statement I found somewhere on the web: “ Roon will release their custom OS free of charge and detail the hardware purchases required do so.” Very nice and good move!

  • Miguel Angel Casellas Argáez

    Hello Hans great review, i was looking at the Akasa Plato X but neither the X or X7D supports the NUC7i7BNH, only the model PASCAL MD which is NEW, the Plato X only supports i3 and i5 and the Plato X7D can support i7 but not the NUC7i7BNH…

  • HistoryAmazigh

    Hi Hans, thanks for the precious information you have been sharing since forever, one of the very insightful channels when it comes to Audio.
    I have 2 questions regarding Roon (apologies in advance for the long comment):
    Q1 : a part from the user experience that you described as second to none,(i haven't used roon yet) in addition to the possibility of transcoding on the go to match the endpoint capabilities, +the cataloguing and tagging super-capabilities of roon, and since the audio reproduction will still depend on the endpoints DAC and capabilities, are there any other advantages to use roon ? (i play music for example using Denon AVR while files are stored on a nas, and i control it from the Android bubble upnp app, not the best aesthetically), i also use Plex which isn't that sleek in terms of visuals, but the main mission (playing music) is fully fulfilled.
    Q2 : knowing the price point of roon, what other alternatives (free/cheaper) that you might recommend for an Audio media center ? (jriver, Amarra, ?)
    Thanks in Advance

  • Cole Barnett

    In your opinion – does a Roon Nucleus connected to the DAC via USB output still require use of USB line conditioning products you have recommended in the past (like sMS 200 Ultra) or does the silent construction of the Nucleus eliminate the jitter and noise issues?
    thank you for your advice

  • David Benson

    Hans, I am considering getting the Roon Nucleus primarily for the ease of setup as you point out in your video. I am using a Cambridge CXNv2, would I get better sound quality using the usb input on the CXN, vs streaming to it?

  • David Benson

    Hans, I just purchased the Roon Nucleus, and I am using Tidal as my music source. I have a Cambridge CXNv2, however the CXNv2 does not support MQA. While the Nucleus does the first unfold, the CXNv2 does nothing more with MQA. I watched your videos on the Mytek Dac + and the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge. If I feed the Nucleus into the Dac + will it give me all of the MQA unfolds from Tidal?

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