Most of us do not need a product such as the Roon Nucleus music server but if you own a library of high-quality music and need something to deliver and/or store this music to you while maintaining quality then a music server such as the Roon Nucleus is in your future.

What is it?

The Roon Nucleus is designed by Roon to manage all your music whether it’s on hard drives, a NAS or via streaming content, allowing you to play it on supported audio devices around your home.  I never knew I needed a Roon Nucleus, until I used one.

Roon originally started as a company that made music server software and the Nucleus is their hardware designed specifically to run this software (you don’t need a Nucleus to run Roon software though).  Now they offer an all-in-one plug-and-play solution for those who have no wish to build their own music server.

The Nucleus has no moving parts and in Australia comes with a single storage 1TB hard drive.  It offers a great central location to access all your music in an easy-to-use setup.  

The Roon Nucleus is not an overly attractive piece of hardware but it measures just 26.67cm x 6.35cm x 26.67cm meaning it can fit in a myriad of places.  For the sake of this review, I placed it underneath my desk because it was close to the Ethernet port and a power socket – for the best experience you should use a wired connection although with the speeds of Wi-Fi ever increasing that is less relevant these days.

There is nothing anywhere on the box except the rear panel which houses the two USB Type-A ports, the two HDMI outputs, the Gigabit Ethernet port, the power port and a power button.  Simple.  

Inside you have an internal storage bay where you can install your own hard drive – a 2.5” SATA SSD or HDD. Addicted to Audio sell the Roon Nucleus with a 1TB hard drive already installed but you can upgrade that if you wish (up to 4TB SSD). The Roon Nucleus is powered by an Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM but all the magic happens in the software.

The Nucleus was able to push the Roon software while delivering my music to multiple audio devices without a single issue of sluggishness or slowing down.  There were no latency issues, and the sound quality was fantastic at all times.

So why buy a Roon Nucleus?  To be able to access all your music in a single location using a device that will output the audio in the best possible way so that there is minimal loss in quality.  The Roon Nucleus provides a network-attached computer to run your Roon software.  

Through this networking the Roon software will find new hi-fi devices that are connected to your system and network and allow you to add them as an audio output.  Roon supports six simultaneous audio zones allowing multiple users to be connected to the Roon, playing different audio if required, at a single time.  You can also group devices to all the audio to play the same in multiple zones at one time.

Setting it up was a breeze with a single plug it in, install the app on your smartphone (or PC/Mac), log into your Roon account and you are good to go.  If you don’t already have a Roon account you will have to create one – it is not free although the Roon Nucleus arrives with a 12-month subscription included.   There is also a three-month Qobuz trial subscription in the box but that seems to apply to new accounts only (make a new account just to use it?).

Once you are logged in the software will ask you to choose your Roon Core – the Nucleus in this case, then set up your audio devices.  It will show you a list of the supported audio devices on your network and yes, it does support Apple Airplay and Chromecast if needed.

There are specific Roon-Ready audio sources such as the Dynaudio Focus 10 speakers I was sent to trial the Nucleus on.  These offer a Wi-Fi direct connection to the Roon hardware using Roon’s software audio protocol. There is also support for Chromecast, Airplay and more.

Then you add your networked audio sources, such as a networked PC or, in my case, a NAS.  Roon also supports streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz so you can log into them and control their playback from the Roon app as well.

If you wish to drop music from one networked source to the Nucleus the best way to do it was using good old-fashioned drag and drop on my PC.  Open the Roon software there, open the folder where the music is (my networked NAS and also local PC folder both worked fine) and drag the file(s) onto the Roon software window.  The Roon software will then stick the music is the correct folder and find all the details of the music.  Too easy.

That’s the best way to think of the Nucleus.  An effortless way to access all your music from a single location.  It makes what could be complicated and messy simple and clean.

Playing music using the Roon Nucleus is super simple.  Find the music you want to listen to whether it be local, streamed or from one of Roon’s Live Radio stations, select an audio zone (output speaker or DAC that is Roon-ready such as the Astell&Kern SE300) and press play.  If you want to play it in another zone just group the two zones.  If you want to play a different song in a different audio zone repeat the above steps but with the different audio zone.

The Roon Nucleus is the audio server I never knew I needed.  

So how does it sound?

I had the Nucleus attached to my network using a Cat6 cable but most of the speakers were wireless speakers.  There was an option to also choose my networked Shield or Sony TV but they would just play through their default speakers – wireless Sonos speakers.

The Nucleus does not include its own DAC so you may be limited, and true audiophiles will run their audio through a DAC of some sort before consuming it.  The Nucleus did not seem to affect the sound quality negatively either with the music coming out how it was meant to.

If you have decent speakers, and if you do you will no doubt have some form of a quality DAC, then the Nucleus will be able to deliver the music without any interference or change in audio quality.

Why should you buy one?

Not everyone wants nor needs something like a Roon Nucleus. But if you have a lot of music on your network at home along with subscriptions to either or both of Tidal or Qobuz and have a love for audiophile high-quality music then this might be for you.

The Roon Nucleus replaces the requirement of having to search more than one location for music from various locations. Not only does the Roon Nucleus aggregate all the sources in a single location and library but it can also send that music to various audio zones throughout your home. You can play multiple zones at once, with even different music in different zones or group zones to sync the music between them.

The Roon Nucleus allows you access to every piece of music you own or and quite possibly everything you subscribe to and deliver it to the audio source of your choosing. Those of us who subscribe to music sources that do not provide high quality streaming are out of luck incorporating that into the Roon but if someone is going to be buying and using a Roon they will be a serious audiophile who only wants the high-quality music that services such as Tidal and Qobuz provide.

In the end, the Roon Nucleus is the media server I never realised I needed. I was able to access all my high-quality music from a single aggregated library. Only people serious about the quality of their music will be looking to purchase a Nucleus (or have a need for one) due to the inhibitive price. Now if only the CFO would agree on adding one as a budget line item.

The Roon Labs Nucleus 1TB Music Server is available now at Addicted to Audio RRP: $2,599.