There’s an elephant in the listening room. It’s called Sonos. In very short order, Sonos went from being the purveyor of one of the first streaming products on the market (alongside the late, lamented Squeezebox), to becoming more or less the only audio system for the digital generation. For good reason: it’s pretty good. The audio industry’s reaction to this, once it got over the initial ‘bury head in sand’ reaction, was to make its own audiophile versions; these typically offer higher-resolution, more audio-grade engineering values, and suitably lofty price tags. However, what’s needed today is something between these two poles.
What’s needed is Simple Audio.
Started a few years ago by a small group of ex-Linn engineers, Simple Audio works to create a product line that offers several obvious upgrades on the basic Sonos concept, while not making a product that puts it beyond reach of all but the wealthy or the audio-obsessed. And yet, for all that, it isn’t just made in Sonos’ image; this is a cogent and cleverly directed product line in and of itself.
The core to the Simple Audio concept is the recently revamped Roomplayer, whether in standalone guise with built-in stereo amplifier for £699, or as an add-on source component to an existing system, saving £100 in the process. The new Roomplayer+ provides some additional processing power and a few tricks learned along the journey.
Most notably, Simple Audio listened to its customers. It now has a true multi-user, multi-library, multi-input, and multi-room capability. This means it will populate (and depopulate) the main menu if an additional scanned library is introduced or removed, as in if it’s on a laptop that is no longer in the system. It has integration with Deezer, WIMP and TuneIn Radio (depending on country), it can now support music stored on a NAS drive without need for a file serving computer, and is a full 24-bit, 192 kHz capable system. And it all comes in a box about the size of a new Mac Mini. Only black.
This is a fairly significant change from the ‘almost’ product first shown by Simple Audio in 2012. Then, the company was tiny, more than a little bit underfunded, and this mostly showed in the state of the software at launch. Now, with a large computer memory company providing the financial muscle, Simple Audio gets to realise its potential. However, owners of previous models will miss on the additional processing power of the Roomplayer+. Specifically, older Roomplayer systems don’t offer 24/192 replay, fully synchronised music playback, or direct NAS support. All of these combined make previous series of Roomplayer incompatible with Roomplayer+ devices. As such, Simple Audio is currently offering a kind of scrappage scheme, allowing users of Roomplayer and Roomplayer II to trade up to Roomplayer+ for £100 per device.
How it works is fairly straightforward. Connect a Roomplayer+ into your audio system (or if using the built-in amps, connect up a pair of speakers). Now wire it into your network, remembering to press the ‘pairing’ button at the side (more on this later). Then download the control software to a PC or Mac on that network. Let the program run through all the music on your network, populating a browser window on the computer. At this point, if you have an iPad or iPhone, download the app that replicates the music browser. If you don’t have a tablet, get a tablet. The Roomplayer+ can work from the computer alone, but in most cases it’s a severely hobbled way of using the system. Simple Audio, like Naim, Cyrus, Linn, and even Sonos all seem designed to work with something like an iPad to such an extent, it’s difficult to imagine driving one without Apple’s disruptive technology at your fingers. An Android app is also available now.
I received a pair of Roomplayer+ amps, so I place one master unit in the living room, and a slave in a bedroom! I didn’t even need to wire in the second model, they work over a robust Ethernet over power (EoP) network architecture. This might cause apoplexy in the power-obsessed audio fraternity, but as long as you don’t try to isolate your Roomplayers behind power conditioners, this is a stable connection. It didn’t seem sonically deleterious to the sound of the audio system, either. I am reasonably confident that the no-amp version is sufficiently similar to make them functionally identical, just one has a 50W Class D amp inside, and the other doesn’t. If anything, the ampless model might sound a little better, through not having a Class D module to snuggle up against, but it’s also very much gilding the lily at this level.
I swapped my Naim UnitiServe into my general use network and let Roomplayer synchronise this, plus an iTunes library on my desktop computer, when set with just the one Roomplayer, then added a second, synchronising a second iTunes library from a laptop. There were a number of similar tracks copied on all three libraries, and I felt this a good test of its sync performance and speed. It synched the lot and consolidation was pretty good too (Naim’s somewhat non-standard metatdata architecture did cause a few more repeated albums than expected, but there were no ‘ghost’ albums and no orphaned tracks). It was also reasonably fast at synchronisation, but synching tens of thousands of tracks is never going to be over in seconds.
Once synched, the sound quality is pretty much as you’d expect; somewhere between Sonos and the audiophile-priced brands. I would say it’s more in keeping with the ‘high-end without the high price’ model, rather than an ‘overstuffed Sonos’ concept. Roomplayer+ is clean, articulate, slightly laid-back, and slightly dry in presentation. I’d put this a fair way ahead of the forward and fatiguing sound that’s commonly associated with entry-point streaming, though. Roomplayer+ doesn’t make a sound strong on creating a huge soundstage, or filigree detail, but it is one intently focused on the music. In particular, I found the strong, taut bass, neat dynamic range and that overarching sense of tidiness to the sound made for an extremely enjoyable listening experience. The amp module is OK too, but I’d hesitate to use it to replace a room full of good amplifiers without some serious auditioning. That being said, you might be surprised at how good a 50W Class D amp can sound.
Where the Roomplayer+ works very well is managing to balance the demands of modern music lovers with those of the traditional audiophile. It sounds extremely good playing high-resolution files, and makes a good fist of playing MP3 files, and everything in between. Again, this reflects the player’s middle-ground stance; where some minimise the difference between file formats, and others only sound good with uncompressed 16/44.1 and beyond, the Roomplayer+ is more pragmatic, and treats each without emphasis. Yes, you will hear the difference between good and mediocre files and yes, you’ll want the best if possible, but those long Deezer sessions need not be marred by the system showing up the limitations of less-than-ideal file formats.
There are still a few minor hiccups. The software requires you to set up master and subordinate Roomplayers (hence the paring requirement when first used), but is still somewhat ‘modal’ in operation. My advice? Set up one Roomplayer, one user, and one library to begin with, scan that library slowly and carefully, and ensure everything is all in good order before repeating any of those tasks, and when it does come to repeating things, do them in the same order. Also, consider the initial scan of a new library as an overnight process if you have a lot of tracks to synchronise. A software fix to allow rescanning of a NAS drive is coming, too. Then, remember you are scanning your entire network and if there are files in relatively obscure audio formats, these can still cause some slowdowns even after synchronisation. However, the good thing about the Roomplayer software is it’s probably a better file manager than you are.
If there’s one thing to take from this review, it is that the Roomplayer+ represents Simple Audio reborn. There were legitimate concerns and stumbling blocks over Roomplayer when it was first seen; people wished the company well, but couldn’t work with the product as it stood. Those days are gone; to risk repeating myself, this is a cogent, fully realised system in its own right, and not one standing in the shadow of Sonos or Linn. It’s carving out its own niche, sonically and financially. The hardware is well made, the software is sophisticated and clever, and it makes a lot of sense. What’s not to like?
- Type: Ethernet streamer with optional amplifier.
- Analogue Inputs: one unbalanced (via RCA jacks) at rear panel, one 3.5mm jack on front panel.
- Digital Inputs: Ethernet 10/100 RJ45 connector, Ethernet over Power through IEC input
- DAC Resolution/Supported Digital Formats: MP3/AAC (lossy), FLAC/ALAC (lossless) up to 24/192, WAV/AIFF (uncompressed) up to 24/192
- Analogue Outputs: one fixed-level stereo tape output (via RCA jacks), one subwoofer output, one 3.5mm headphone jack.
- Digital Outputs: One coaxial S/PDIF (via RCA jack), one TOSLink.
- Optional Amplifier power: 50W per channel (Class D module).
- Distortion (THD + Noise): 0.01%@-10dBV
- User Interface: Software for Mac/PC, Android, iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app.
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 50 x 200 x 200mm
- Weight: 1.2kg
- Price: £599 (£699 with amp)
Manufacturer: Simple Audio
Tel: +44(0)141 331 0845
Back to reviews https://hifiplus.com/reviews