Has Roon’s native engine caught up to HQPlayer?

So I have been a Roon user since about 2017 having purchased the lifetime license which was then $500.00, glad I did. The shear flexibility and fact that I no longer had to bother with maintaining an iTunes library that PureMusic “wrapped” was, well, music to my ears. I didn’t buy into Roon at first because for all it’s slick features and convenience, it’s core audio engine simply couldn’t compete with PureMusic (which I much preferred over Amarra and Audirvana). I haven’t tried the latest version of PM so I have no clue how it sounds at this point in time. I do recall that the sonics for PM would change from version to version and I recall reverting several times to previous versions because I was unhappy with changes I perceived in the sonics of subsequent versions.

Enter HQPlayer. After installing, tuning and finagling with the HQPlayer software I found it to be the best sounding audio engine I had yet to experience. Team that with the fact that Roon, could divert its audio stream directly to HQPlayer and it was game over. Two weeks spent tuning the filter and I had a glorious sound coming from my digital rig (Mac mini with Uptone Audio linear power board and analog fan-kit internally replacing the nasty cheap stock smps along with the JS2 outboard linear supply, iFi iUSB 3, (2) iFi Gemini 3 usb cables, an iFi iPurifier3 and (2) iSilencers (1 is a “+” the other is the first gen) all feeding my AMR DP 777se. In fact a fellow audiophile buddy heard it and duplicated the setup excepting the dac as he used his existing gear (gotta reign it in somewhere :). I even took pics of my HQPlayer setup parameters so he could dupe them.

The setup has produced some of the best digital music I’ve yet to encounter and yes, although I’m big into analog, tape and records, I have had digital only listening sessions on weekend nights which have lasted for six hours with zero bits of “digital-fatigue” that I so often read about as it relates to others experience with digital.
 I presented the previous information to show that I am as thorough and demanding for my digital as I am for my analog such as aligning my cartridges with the SMARTractor and AnalogMagik software and far more than I’ll mention.

Just last eve as I was reading about the Fern & Roby Tredegar TT and thinking of getting into more audiophile trouble :) when I came upon an award announcement form 12/19 for Roon 1.7. It mentioned the improved sonics in areas where I thought Roon’s core audio engine lacked, namely being a bit thin and sterile sounding hence my use of HQPlayer as the audio engine. I thought, well, yes I have installed several upgrades to Roon lately maybe I should do a comparison of Roon’s native engine to HQPlayer. 
The results shocked me.

The Roon guys must have been listening because I found through many back and forths, including the Lp and 45’s in cases where I also own the vinyl, that the sound quality has gone up tremendously! My dac does not play DSD but with HQPlayer I can convert my DSD files to 176.4khz and it would outperform my iFi iDSD PRO (which is a stellar do everything dac) playing them back natively. The AMR, big brother to the iDSD PRO costs more than twice its little brother but I was still a little surprised the DP777se edged it out when playing converted DSD as the PRO playing native DSD sounds awesome.
 I compared HQPlayer converting DSD files to 176.4khz and then allowing Roon to natively convert the same file to 176.4khz and to my shock Roon edged it out. I did this over multiple albums.

Next was PCM playback (Red Book), things were closer here with HQPlayer initially seeming to still hold an edge. Something strange occurred at one point. With all the switching back and forth (zones in Roon talk) my USB receiver on my dac hung-up and the dac required a power down and up sequence (super rare). Upon powering up again, I noticed that HQPlayer sounded it’s same glorious self but Roon now sounded better. Roon (Red Book) now sounded more natural and little less dry, dryness I hadn’t perceived with HQPlayer prior to all of this back and forth. 
Long story short (yeah yeah, I know too late) I think the Roon Core Audio engine has grown up and can stand on its own. I am glad about this because with HQPlayer if I wanted to hear DSD in its best presentation I had to go in and change the sampling to 176.4khz, which meant everything plays at 176.4 kHz. In my case I don’t want that because the DP 777 se has two dacs, a ladder dac for classic RB which sounds better to me than the Delta Sigma dac playing RB. The Delta Sigma dac sounds fantastic on hi-res PCM. Now that Roon can be used natively it does all the switching for me automatically playing everything back at native resolution (excepting that DSD is converted to 176.4khz (desired behavior) as my dac does not play DSD natively).

If one owns a dac which can handle native DSD, you won’t be faced with the specifics of my dilemma when running HQPlayer because you can tell it to play dop (DSD over PCM) when it encounters DSD files and even though the PCM sampling rate my be set to whatever (192khz) you would still not have to settle for one size fits all between PCM and DSD. You are still forced to convert all PCM to the selected sample rate and I never loved that aspect of HQPlayer.

whew!!! And I’ve heard people say analog is too much work :)

After all that, has anyone else found Roon’s playback to have exceeded HQPlayer at this point? 
I can definitely understand that as the dac and indeed the whole system comes into play. In my system it just so happens that the improvements to Roon combined with the overall qualities of my system lean towards Roon’s audio engine.
A resounding no.

HQPlayer sounds way better than Roon. Whether you upsample or not. Especially if you upsample (Roon upsampling is of not good quality at all).

I have the RME ADI-2 DAC FS. I get the best SQ when I ‘enable DSD Direct’ on my DAC (so it bypasses all interior upsampling / filtering) and use HQPlayer to convert from PCM to DSD256 using the ASDM7EC modulator and ‘poly-sinc-ext2’ filter.

19 posts
02-19-2021 11:06am
A resounding no.
HQPlayer sounds way better than Roon.
I've been a fan of HQPlayer with Roon, though only using it for PCM upsampling using the 'poly-sinc-long-lp' filter mostly.
After updating to Roon 1.8 I'm finding Roon's SQ to be better than I recall - a bit different to HQP, I may prefer it. I definitely like the snappier response to play/skipping tracks etc.
Roon SQ has leapfrogged Audirvana IMO also. 
Been listening the last few days without HQPlayer and finding I don't miss it. 
FWIW, I'm running Roon on an M1 Mac Mini with 16GB of ram.
robes: For upconversion from PCM to DSD (highly recommended if you have a Delta Sigma type DAC), the choice of modulator makes a bigger difference than choice of filter in HQP. Can your rig run EC Modulators (like ASDM7EC) without the music stuttering?

Also, if you have a Chord FPGA-type DAC, HQP has a few filters (like the million taps sinc-M or even sinc-S / sinc-L)  that do the same stuff that the $4k M-Scaler does.
I know a lot of people swear by DSD upscaling.
I tried it with a few (inexpensive) dacs that supported up to DSD256 but it did nothing for me compared to PCM. Maybe better dacs with more powerful PC would have been different, but I haven't got much interest in that path. I'm interested in getting close to what was recorded, for better or worse, not creating a stylised sound.

At present with Roon 1,8 I'm sending native PCM rates to my dac with no upscaling at all. It sounds great, very direct with very little sense of artifice or veiling.