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? 
tobes: with Roon alone (no HQP), I prefer regular redbook (no upsampling). DSD upscaling with Roon alone does not sound as good (clarity suffers though music gets 'softer'). PCM upsampling with Roon alone makes music 'thinner'.

For my set-up, HQP is a different beast altogether. Other than upgrading from $3.5k speakers to $12k speakers, this has been the biggest step-up in SQ in my system. And for only $270!!

@reg19, I agree that Roon upsampling loses a bit of clarity (bass seems more effected) compared to no upsampling - though images can sound sharpened somewhat in terms of focus. 
I've had a hot and cold attitude to HQP PCM upsampling. I've found in the past it offered more solid imagery and focus with better depth discrimination and a very 'organised' sound. However it could sound curiously 'clamped' dynamically sometimes, maybe lacking some air and sense of spaciousness.
In the past I've emphatically preferred HQP PCM upsampling by some margin to Roon alone, but this has changed for me with 1.8.
I'm running the latest HQP version for macOS arm64 processor. Roon on the other hand has to run through the background Rosetta emulator on M1 Macs, so maybe further improvements are possible when the code is updated to run natively on the arm64.  

My biggest improvement per $'s spent would have to be room treatment. A speaker can only perform as well as their setup and room allows, its fundamental but too often overlooked IMO.
After writing the above I went back and had another listen to HQPlayer using my preferred settings of poly-sinc-long-lp, PCM upsampling only.
The focus and transient clarity was simply excellent and very addictive - I listened for hours last night and found it completely musically engaging.

Bottom line is while Roon's SQ has improved with 1.8, HQP still offers something extra. 
My biggest improvement per $’s spent would have to be room treatment. A speaker can only perform as well as their setup and room allows, its fundamental but too often overlooked IMO.
I couldn’t agree more on the effect of room treatment (mostly bass below 200Hz). I have digital room correction by Linn. However my Selekt DSM is only capable of applying room correction when PCM is played, when DSD is chosen no digital room correction is possible.
This hurts as even converted/upsampled PCM to DSD sounds better on my system.
Does anybody of you have a digital room correction which works with DSD playback?

No, Absolutely not. HQPlayer is miles and miles and miles ahead. No comparison.
Upsample all PCM to DSD  with sinc-m, and DSD7 256+fs
and set resolution to 48k 512 if your DAC supports it. It sounds incredible. 
Even DSD's running in DirectSDM sound leagues ahead of Roon.