Roon Demystified Enno Vandermeer

Sidebar: A Conversation With Enno Vandermeer, Founder And Chief Executive Officer Of Roon Labs

Enno Vandermeer has spent the last 22 years developing music playback management systems for music aficionados. As a co-founder and the chief executive officer of Roon Labs, which employs 60 people spread over four continents, Vandermeer oversees the development of the Roon music streaming app. In audiophile circles, Roon seems to be everywhere and is used by consumers, retailers, and manufacturers, as well as by recording producers and engineers. We caught up with Vandermeer at New York City's Classic Car Club Manhattan, a great place to discuss music and technology while surrounded by incredible cars and motorcycles.

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S&V: How did you get involved in developing music playback management systems?

EV: In the 1990s, I started an indie record label and a software company, so I had a foot in each of these worlds—music and technology. I had a huge CD collection, but only kept a handful of discs "on deck" near the stereo. Around the time that iTunes appeared and CD ripping became easier to do, I wanted to experiment with ways of managing a large digital music library. It seemed to me that it wasn't just a question of the "plumbing"—how to store the music and play it back—but the experience of browsing. The more music you have access to, the harder it becomes to choose what to listen to.

S&V: What was the first music product you developed?

EV: My friend Danny Dulai had been working on a software application that would let him play music files on different devices around his apartment. I shared my ideas about a metadata-driven user interface and we collaborated on a product we called Sooloos, which we eventually brought to market in 2006. It was a multi- component hardware system, with storage units and streamers and a huge 17-inch touchscreen for the interface. Sooloos was really embraced by the audiophile community, and even won overall Product of the Year from Stereophile magazine in 2008. Meridian Audio acquired Sooloos at the end of that year, and we continued developing it as part of Meridian before eventually developing music apps for Hewlett Packard.

S&V: How did Roon Labs come about?

EV: By 2015, the world had changed from the Sooloos days, notably in that the smartphone had become ubiquitous and music streaming services were growing quickly. We set out to create the ultimate enthusiast's music player, but entirely in software. Our idea was that this new product should run on the hardware you already have and be compatible with the audio equipment you use.

S&V: Did you encounter any difficulties in persuading manufacturers to get behind Roon?

EV: After years in the audio industry, we knew that we couldn't launch this new product under an audio brand like Meridian; we had to be independent and agnostic. Before anyone had even heard the name "Roon" we were out talking to audio manufacturers about this world-class music player that was going to be designed to work with their gear. Many companies were enthusiastic from the outset, but some (particularly larger brands) had reservations about whether it was worth their time and energy to work with us. The tipping point came maybe three years later, when we were approached by a major brand working on a new flagship product; they had been told by their dealer network that being Roon Ready was a requirement for entry into the market!

S&V: Was there pushback from the music streaming services given that Roon takes the user outside of those services' ecosystems?

EV: Some of the streaming services were very eager to integrate into Roon. Early on, Tidal was pushing us to launch the product, even before we were fully ready to do so. When Qobuz entered the U.S. market, they made the decision to launch with Roon integration. Some of the more mainstream services declined to work with us for the very reason that you've identified: they want to keep users within their walled garden.

S&V: What new features or developments can we expect from Roon in the future?

EV: Roon has historically been focused on listening in the home, and probably our most-requested feature is a way to use Roon on the go. That's a direction we'll be going very soon. Beyond that, we're interested in pursuing more integrations—with streaming services, with metadata sources, and with audio manufacturers—so Roon will work better for more people around the world.

S&V: What about the addition of video functionality to Roon?

EV: We did a beta version of Sooloos that had movies and it was a very cool, although that feature was removed from the final product because we couldn't obtain licensing rights to video content. Never say never, but it's hard to see video coming to Roon for now.

S&V: Do you see downloaded music files decreasing in importance as streaming continues to gain market share?

EV: Sales of downloads are definitely trending downwards, but for some listeners, ownership is still important. These individuals value the ability to precisely choose which version and format of a recording they want, as well as the security that the recording can never disappear due to an upstream rights issue.

S&V: The Classic Car Club of Manhattan is a cool place for an interview. Do you have a special connection to the venue?

EV: The club's founders and I go way back, and I always visit when I'm in town. In fact, the club's old location contained a Sooloos system.

COMMENTS
trynberg's picture

No reason to buy a Nucleus when you can put together your own NUC-based system for a few hundred dollars and run Room's ROCK operating system...

Enzo 99's picture

Roon is just the most fantastic software for the music lover.....until it's not.
They don't a have any technical support (at least the emails go unanswered), instead your routed to the community forum, it's like technical facetweets. And if after a software upgrade(?) bricks your system, not only can't you get support but they wont refund you. Ask me how I know.
If you want to avoid the angst, I'd recommend a hardware based player with local support. And something that your region consumer laws have influence.

Bennard's picture

Ever tried to contact Roon-support? If you do, you will discover that's somewhat different than you suggest. If you have a serious problem (and even if you've a less serious one), you'll receive adequate response and support. No problems in that regard. And updates that brick your system is a bit overdone. Best practice is to backup your database before performing any update. Haven't had any serious problems with any update in the last 7 years. So no severe risks in updating your roon server software. All your persumed issues are quite a bit overblown.

Stosh's picture

The only reason I want something like Roon is to easily organize and stream music from my PC to my bedroom, where I have a decent stereo system set up around my TV, with a Roon-friendly amp. I really don't care about all the other bells and whistles; the biographies, discographies, concert dates, etc. I don't find anything compelling about those features. So, for the cost just to stream music, it just wasn't worth it for me. I wish they would offer a more scaled-down version of it, without all those useless (to me) features, at a lower price. Then I might hop on. But I'm not paying 10 bucks a month, or the lifetime fee, just for the limited features I would use.

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