My Quest for an Easy-to-Use Music Server: Roon Sucks for Classical Music Lovers

This treatise describes my quest for a music server for storing my 2,000 CDs and 50 HD downloads and my reasoning for purchasing 3beez’s Wax Box 4SE server.

With the naive notion that I could purchase some inexpensive hardware, a NUC and a NAS, I spent weeks searching for music management software. I started with the venerable JRiver Media Center (JRMC). The software is powerful, inexpensive ($50), and a complete solution for ripping, tagging, organizing, backing up files, correcting room aberrations, etc. Installation of the trial software on my MacBook Pro was easy as was the migration of my iTunes library to JRMC. The software was even more complicated than iTunes and the UI was visually unappealing – like a clunky Excel spreadsheet. JRMC’s redundant metadata and cluttered UI made it impossible to discriminate multiple versions in my library. For example, finding my recording of Herbert von Karajan conducting Edith Mathis and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra playing Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 felt like a guessing game. I suppose that there may be a way to remove redundant text, but I couldn’t figure it out. I also couldn’t figure out how to combine multiple CDs (e.g. Pink Floyd’s 2 CD set of The Wall) into a single album. I want software with a simple, intuitive UI that I can master quickly. I don’t want to waste my listening time posting questions to a community forum. I decided not to purchase JRMC when my 30-day free trial expired.

Reviewers are unanimous in their praise of Roon software’s metadata, cataloging capabilities, and sound quality. Their single complaint with Roon is the price ($119/year or $499/lifetime). Based on the glowing reviews from top audiophile reviewers, I had the idea that Roon would allow me to effortlessly catalog my library, even my obscure classical music recordings, and offer me easy access to enhanced metadata. After reading various blog posts by citizen audiophiles (WhatsBestForum, ComputerAudiophile Forum, Audio Science Review and at 3beez), it was obvious that Roon has more problems than just its price and that the audiophile press is overhyping Roon’s features.

Roon isn’t a “game changer” for me. Here’s my list of what’s wrong with Roon.

  1. Roon is a temporary solution. Roon’s license agreement states that you are not permitted to save Roon’s enhanced metadata to your catalog. When you quit your subscription you lose Roon’s enhanced metadata and also the cataloging scheme Roon set up for your library.
  2. Roon doesn’t have software for ripping and tagging CDs. You need third party software (e.g., dbPoweramp and MP3Tag or SongKong) to rip your CDs before Roon can apply its cataloging and metadata features.
  3. Roon sucks for classical music. At first blush, Roon’s UI looks great – much simpler and cleaner than JRMC. It’s not until you try to survey your collection with Roon that you realize Roon’s metadata is a problem: a) Roon’s metadata isn’t always useful and the information takes up a lot of screen space. I don’t need to read useless information like: “Beethoven is considered to be a great composer”. Moreover, I don’t want Roon to show me the same useless information every time I select a Beethoven recording. It’s unfortunate that you can’t choose which metadata Roon displays for you. Roon’s “credits” provide the information I seek (conductor, soloist, orchestra), but I have to select the album first before I can view the credits. If I am searching for a particular version of a work, I have to select a recording, examine the credits, and then back out over and over until I find the right recording. I want to be able to find and play my music with minimal effort and no guesswork.
  4. Roon’s metadata is incomplete and riddled with errors. The Roon forum has many examples. I found that Roon used two transliterations when tagging my “Tchaikovsky” recordings. The spelling inconsistencies are a problem for string searches. And Roon, like iTunes, doesn’t understand articles. I want to file recordings by “The Beatles” and “The Doors” under “B” and “D” not under “The”.
  5. Roon may wreak havoc with your metadata. Unless you instruct Roon to preserve your metadata, Roon will overwrite your metadata with Rovi’s metadata when you import your library to Roon.
  6. Roon accepts custom metadata begrudgingly. I was able to delete Gustav Mahler’s “credit” as “performer” but it was a tedious process. I couldn’t figure out how to enter diacritics for Dvořák from my keyboard but maybe there is a way to do it.
  7. Roon isn’t a good value for me. Most of the metadata Roon provides is available to me for free on the Internet (e.g., wikipedia.org, discogs.com, and lyrics.com). I don’t want to pay annually for features I don’t need: parametric EQ, upsampling, etc. I’d rather spend my money on new music or a new DAC.

After ruling out both JRMC and Roon I read about the Wax Box system. I contacted 3beez’s Jefferey Barish and arranged for an interactive tour of the product (using a remote desktop viewer). I was impressed but not sold: $6,000 is a big purchase for me. I was initially miffed that Barish wouldn’t sell me just the Wax software, but he explained his “value proposition”. Barish has done a huge amount of work to integrate his custom hardware and patented software to provide optimum sound quality (e.g., idling the spinning hard drives during playback and 3beez’s custom digital interface) and ease of use (e.g., automatic backups and updates).

After the demo with Barish, I spent an hour at the 3beez website, watching tutorials and browsing the user manual. I was very impressed. The website is filled with useful information and tips and the praise from customers about Barish’s technical support is unanimous. I still had a few questions, so I sent off email to Barish. He responded promptly and thoroughly. Barish reassured me that if I wasn’t delighted with the features and sound quality I could return the Wax Box within 30 days for a refund. The money-back guarantee and lifetime technical support clinched the deal for me.

The Wax Box has exceeded my expectations. My Wax Box arrived with 10 of my CDs already ripped to the drive. Installation of the Wax Box in my audio system was simple. I was listening to my music within 30 minutes. The sound quality with my PS Audio Direct Stream Jr. DAC is fantastic. On day two, I watched the videos about ripping at the 3beez website and started ripping my CD collection.

The Wax software makes it easy to rip CDs and to customize the metadata to your liking. Most of my CDs (esp. my pop recordings) require very little effort to rip. I load the CD into the optical disk drive and start the ripping process. Within a few seconds, Wax downloads metadata from two Internet databases. In most cases, Wax fills the metadata fields automatically. When the metadata that it downloads contains an error (“Mozzart”, for example), correcting the error is easy. Adding metadata (like the leads of an opera) is easy because Wax provides a place to put it. If I have to provide the name of the composer or the orchestra, Wax minimizes typing with an autocomplete feature. For example, I type “Dv” for the composer and Wax offers the full name Antonín Dvořák complete with diacritics.

A final standout feature of Wax is the built-in Wikipedia browser. It provides more useful commentary than Roon provides and you don’t have to pay any subscription fees to use it

I’m delighted with Wax. If you value simplicity and great sound quality and you want complete control over your catalog and metadata, there’s no better system than 3beez’s Wax Box.