Since Roon Labs launched its eponymous app Roon in March of 2015 at the Munich High End show, I've been thinking of ways to streamline it in my system and optimize its performance. And yes, once in a while I listen to the Roon team's great advice, which usually involves them telling me they've done all the homework and I should just do X, Y, and Z. Roon Labs has an amazing team of people with varied backgrounds and enough technical skills to run circles around 99.9% of HiFi companies. It's quite refreshing to exchange emails with the team because I almost always learn something during the exchange.
I've had several conversations with the Roon Labs team over the years about the best way to run Roon, given my requirements. The team wisely starts most conversations by telling me I'm an edge case. An edge case is much better than a head case or a nut case, so I'll take that for what it's worth. I understand my predicament and don't expect any special treatment from the team or any custom solutions to my self-created problems. I get it. At the end of our conversations, the proposed solution is usually to get a Nucleus, hang a USB drive off of it, and call it a day.
I respect the suggested solution, and it's one I've installed in quite a few systems around the world. However, I sometimes have a problem following the rules, listening to authority, and going with the flow. Thus, for my latest attempt at perfecting my Roon installation I got in touch with QNAP and had them send a TVS-872XT NAS. I have other reasons for going the QNAP route as well. I didn't try it just to be difficult :~)
It helps to understand my requirements and where I'm coming from, before digging into the QNAP details. If one's requirements are vastly different, then this article can be disregarded, unless an escape from the real world is desired. In that case, please read on. Readers may pick up something they can use now or at some point in the future.
I like to tweak and eke out every last ounce of performance from the things I understand. Software, storage, and networking are in my wheelhouse and I love to dig in. Amps, speakers, preamps, not so much. I'm also a huge fan of music. It works magic on my mind and has been immensely important to me since I high-speed dubbed my brother's Houses of the Holy cassette to place in my first Walkman back in second grade (1983). Also note, that's the year I borrowed his vinyl copy of Pink Floyd's The Wall, to play for my second grade class. It was a seminal moment in my education when the class heard "Hey teachers, leave those kids alone," while my friends and I looked at the "funny" album jacket in the back of the class. Anyway, I have a lot of music in my collection because I absolutely love it and can't live without it.
In addition to having a large library, I want solutions that are streamlined as much as possible. This is why I don't prefer the Nucleus with a huge USB drive hanging off the back. Such a solution works wonders for many people, it's just not my thing. I like the QNAP because it's the Roon core, music storage (with possible redundancy), and Roon database backup (on separate internal drive). Installing the Roon app on a QNAP NAS is as easy as clicking the install button in the App Center via the NAS management interface.
I also struggle with Roon's lack of support for the latest interface types on external drives connected to the Nucleus or Roon ROCK. USB-C / Thunderbolt external drives are everywhere, but Intel hasn't delivered stable drivers that can be used on Roon OS devices. It isn't the speed of this interface that's needed, but it's the lack of availability of things like external USB 3 drive housings that support RAID and the fact that I usually repurpose tech devices at some point in the future. A USB-C / Thunderbolt drive purchased now will give me many more years of repurposing than a USB 3 drive I'd have to purchase to work with a Roon OS device.
It should go without saying that I require any solution to be very fast while browsing through the Roon app or while doing any type of file copy to/from the device.
I also use convolution filters for room correction with roughly 65,000 taps. Any solution for Roon must be able to handle DSP without issue.
Here are my music library details. This isn't about having the "biggest" collection or trying to prove something. There's always someone, somewhere with a bigger collection and more of everything. I'm just providing details of my collection so people can gauge the efficacy of my review with respect to their collections and requirements.
Albums in Roon library 21,571
Qobuz & Tidal albums 1,677
Local albums 19,894
Tracks in Roon 324,348
Tracks in Qobuz & Tidal 25,495
Local tracks 298,853
Music stored on the QNAP
Roon Database Backup
I talked to the team at QNAP about my project to streamline and optimize Roon for my entire library, and told them I also needed a semi-powerful NAS because of my desire to use digital signal processing on the Roon core. Soon after, a QNAP TVS-872XT arrived on my doorstep. The people at QNAP have been very helpful and understanding during this entire process. Especially because I've had this unit for several months and should've posted this review months ago. However, becoming an unwilling homeschool second grade teacher to an unwilling second grade student put a huge damper on things over the last few months.
The TVS-872XT has terrific specs for a NAS that's to be used as a Roon core. The CPU is an Intel Core i5-8400T running at 1.7 GHz with six cores. It has 16 GB of memory and a 10 Gigabit Ethernet port in addition to the dual 1 Gb ports. The NAS also features 8 "traditional" drive bays that support 3.5/2.5 inch spinning or solid state drives and two M.2 solid state drive slots accessible after opening the chassis.
Over the years QNAP has expanded the features and capabilities of its NAS devices greatly. There are tons of other features on the TVS-872XT that may never be needed by an audiophile, but it's lovely to know the features are available if needed. This NAS is also plenty powerful for users to install virtual machines or Docker containers for other audio experimentation. I installed a few things over the last couple months while testing items such as ConvoFS, the convolving system for digital room correction that operates at the storage level but doesn't alter original files, and a JRiver Docker container. There is also a plentiful list of available apps for QNAP devices that can help one send audio around one's house. I installed MinimServer for UPnP/DLNA while testing an Auralic Altair G1. QNAP NAS devices are very flexible and will handle almost anything an audiophile can throw at them.
I setup the QNAP TVS-872XT with three Seagate 6 TB drives (ST6000VN0033), one Samsung 500 GB 970 EVO M.2 NVME drive, and one Samsung 250 GB 960 EVO M.2 NVME drive. I used this drive configuration because I had the drives already and I knew they'd work well and wouldn't hurt performance.
I used the three Seagate drives in a static RAID 0 volume (16.14 TB usable space). RAID 0 has no redundancy and I wouldn't recommend doing it this way unless one has the time to manually recover from a drive failure. Ideally I would've had more drives on hand to use a RAID 5 setup with additional storage headroom. Such a setup would enable me to replace a failed drive without turning the QNAP off and without re-copying 10 TB of music back to the NAS. A single drive failure in a RAID 5 group isn't an issue for audiophiles because no data is lost and the data that was on the failed dive is rebuilt automatically in the QNAP once the drive is replaced.
On the 500 GB Samsung 970 EVO M.2 drive I installed only the Roon application. This drive contains the Roon database that's fairly important to house on a fast solid state drive.
The 250 GB M.2 drive contains only the automatic backups of the Roon database. These two M.2 drives operate separately, so any failure of one has no effect on the other. A failure of the entire NAS through a lightning strike may be an issue in that both drives containing the Roon database could be wiped out, but this risk can be minimized by either using the built-in Dropbox database backup or copying it to an external drive that isn't always plugged in.
Real World Performance
The Roon software is excellent. The QNAP hardware is excellent. The bottom line performance of Roon with a large library on the QNAP ranges from maddeningly poor to excellent. Fortunately, after many months of experimenting with this setup, I believe I've found a way to make it run excellent 100% of the time. As you'll see, it's probably the most basic, non-technical, first level Helpdesk way to solve problems, but it works.
Note: The Roon team is currently working with QNAP to resolve the issues I ran into during this review.
The Good - I like simplicity, so I installed Roon directly on the QNAP. I've used NAS drives in the past with the Roon core on a separate device, but the overall user experience isn't nearly as good. The biggest drawback to that method is that Roon doesn't immediately recognizing new music added to the local NAS. It can take either a manual scan of the NAS or a scheduled rescan. With Roon installed on the NAS, on its own M.2 solid state drive, and the music sitting on a RAID array of spinning disks, new music was displayed in Roon within seconds of adding it over my network. Of course new music from Qobuz or Tidal is added instantly no matter the configuration.
I love having Roon on a single box rather than placing a Nucleus or Roon ROCK on my network to act as the core. It's one less box to power, update, and think about.
The QNAP TVS-872XT has more than enough power to run Roon and fairly heavy digital signal processing without breaking a sweat. I use FIR convolution filters for room correction often, and experiment with all the Roon DSP settings as needed. These can get CPU intensive and cause delays in playback on less powerful machines. The Intel Core i5 in the QNAP TVS-872XT is all one needs. For example, I can't discern a difference, with respect to time between clicking play and hearing the music, whether I have convolution enabled or disabled. I currently use a 65,000 tap filter, but I've used filters 3 and 4 times that large, and still never noticed a difference in Roon's speed while running on the QNAP.
Another thing that's more related to QNAP than Roon is the QNAP's ability to back itself up to another NAS or numerous online services. Back in the day when Amazon offered unlimited storage for less than $100 per year, things were terrific. I just logged into my Amazon account via the QNAP interface and configured it to backup everything to the cloud. Now that Amazon is much more expensive, I just backup my 10 TB locally. Either way, the QNAP can automate almost anything an audiophile would want with respect to backing up.
My everyday user experience with Roon on the QNAP, when everything was behaving, was really nice. Searching a large library can be taxing and take time on hardware that isn't up to the task. The QNAP was very snappy during searches. Searching is usually the number one thing that bothers me when a piece of hardware isn't up to snuff. When I search for Pearl Jam, I want results in a reasonable amount of time. I don't expect instant results, but I expect results long before I lose interest in playing music and start checking text messages.
Here is a video of me navigating my library and doing the things I would do on a normal day in Roon. As you can see it's pretty quick given that I pull up Pearl Jam in a search and browse all my PJ albums.
The Bad - Until very recently Roon's performance on the QNAP TVS-872XT was hit and miss. At times it was excellent and at other times it was unusable. By unusable, I mean searches taking several minutes and a minute between clicking play and the music actually coming out of my speakers. Activity like this would send me on a wild goose chase trying to find how I may be causing the problem with my own network or other devices. I always look at myself first in these situations because I run a different network than most audiophiles. The Roon team frequently suggests using "dumb" switches etc... but I have a complete Ubiquiti UniFi managed network with fiber between the switches and to some Roon Ready endpoints. Throughout all of the issues I could never track down a network problem of my own when this Roon strangeness occurred. It's still possible the problem is somewhere on my network, but I just couldn't find it here.
The solution to the aforementioned issues was almost always restarting the Roon app on the QNAP. 90% of the time Roon would come back up and all would be right in my audio world. The problem is that restarting Roon takes 4 minutes on the QNAP TVS-872XT. Start your stop watch just before you want to listen to some music after a rough day, and sit there for four minutes before you start listening. It's a first world chronometric marathon of a problem, but a problem nonetheless.
The second part to this problem was that it happened sporadically. I could never figure out a pattern to what was happening. I started looking into the QNAP Resource Monitor when tings with Roon went awry and I noticed very high CPU usage at the same time by the RoonAppliance process. The RAM utilization would climb over 6 GB as well, but that wasn't indicative of a problem.
In early May I started rebooting the QNAP TVS-872XT weekly through it's absolutely simple Power Schedule feature. This seemed to resolve the issue for the most part, but not 100%. I lived with it like this for a few weeks before I said heck with it and switched to the shotgun approach. I then scheduled a daily reboot of the QNAP at 5:00 in the morning. This enabled me to start fresh every day with a fully functioning system.
Here is an example of before and after rebooting. The first image shows Roon using 42.82% of the CPU and 6.5 GB of memory. Trying to navigate my music collection with resource utilization like this was a nonstarter. In the second image you can see Roon using 0.75% CPU and 5.1 GB of memory after restarting the NAS. At that point everything in Roon worked wonderfully.
The Solution - Once I switched to the daily reboot regimen, Roon on the QNAP TVS-872XT was fantastic. It was very fast and never had any issues such as the one minute pause between clicking play and the tracks actually being inserted into the queue.
For reference, here are videos of the Roon application restarting on the QNAP TVS-872XT and restarting the entire QNAP TVS-872XT. Readers can see the timeline of what's happening during the reboot and how long it takes when one has a library of 21,571 albums / 324,348 tracks.
Using Roon on the QNAP TVS-872XT is now excellent. Searching a large local library and two streaming services is more than acceptably fast. I can be an impatient person when it comes to technology. I have no problems with the speed of Roon on the QNAP TVS-872XT. I love that I've removed the old Roon ROCK NUC that functioned as my Roon core. It's an extra box about which I no longer care. Readers new to the NAS concept should also know that the The QNAP sits in my basement, near my network stack and furnace. There is no need to have it anywhere near one's listening space.
Given the added flexibility of the QNAP platform and the hardware headroom of the TVS-872XT, I believe it's a very solid device on which to base a Roon installation. In fact the TVS-872XT is a great foundational piece for all audiophiles who have a large library of local music. I recommend using the dual M.2 solid state drive configuration to hold the Roon database and backup as I did, but I don't recommend going the RAID 0 route. Get enough disks to hold the entire local library, with headroom, and use a simple RAID 5 array. Other configurations can be argued and debated until we're all blue in the face, and many others will likely work well. If you want a proven solution, one that I use every day, go with my recommendation. Now worries either way though.
- QNAP TVS-872XT 16GB (TVS-872XT-i5-16G) (~$2,099) Purchase Link *
- Seagate Ironwolf Drives ($59.99+) Purchase Link *
- Samsung 970 EVO M.2 NVME drives ($99.99+) Purchase Link *
- Roon Labs
* Using our links gives us a tiny kickback and doesn't cost you anything. We're experimenting with this, so please no phone calls, letters, or telegrams just yet.
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