Shootout: Roon versus Plex, Qobuz versus Tidal: Who Won?

After a good bit of up front reading and preparation, a first ever (for me) digital streaming competition took place this weekend at home involving the contenders above. It put many of my preconceived notions about digital streaming these days to the test and was quite the eye opener!

I started with Plex and my personal music library of mostly CD resolution FLAC files. Then I added Roon, Tidal and Qobuz and had it out.

It’s mostly over now. The results were clear.

How did it end? Roon soundly thrashed the spunky upstart Plex. Then Qobuz beat out Tidal mainly based on cost.

Lots to talk about.

Key Findings:

  1. Plex could not match Roon for overall sound quality or overall listener experience.
  2. Sound quality to my ears was a wash between Qobuz and Tidal so Qobuz wins mainly based on cost (and no need for MQA though my streamer delivers full MQA compatibility).

I enjoy and tested all genres of music.

​​​Test system was Cambridge Evo 150 to Ohm Walsh F5 speakers in larger main listening room and to KEF ls50 meta speakers + sub in smaller 12x12 room.


For my set up I found Roon sounds best when I just go straight through with PCM to my DAC via USB.  I tried conversion to DSD and different types of filters but it smooths out the sound- that’s the best way I can describe it.  Straight through PCM sounds crisper, faster, cleaner and that goes for my FLAC files on the streamer’s SSD as well as for streaming all versions of hi res files such as 44.1/24 to 96/24.  (I think I have seen some 128/24 files too). Native DSD files sound fine.

Thing is I don't listen to much of the mainstream neither today's mainstream or past. I listen to obscure artists of today and yesterday. Those will be there in the worst format you can imagine while on YouTube Premium they sound a lot better 


Roon + Qobuz all day ( and night ) long.  Sounds great, giant selection, excellent recommendations ( with Roon Radio ) and lots of info about the artist and albums.  Well worth the money.  Tidal was also good with Roon but couldn’t justify having both services.  If I didn’t have Roon or could only afford Tidal or Qobuz, I probably would have gone with Tidal. Tidal Connect is very good and their user interface and info is just better than Qobuz.

Qobuz and the Sense software over Roon for SQ if you use Innuos gear.  Sense is the Innuos music software and sounds much better than Roon on Innuos servers/streamers.  I am a Roon lifetime member, but Sense is all I use now. 

I did some remote LAN listening testing with Roon Arc.

Results were mixed. When the connection worked the sound was good. That was in the am. In the afternoon Roon arc indicated a weak connection and nothing much would stream. Meanwhile Plexamp worked perfectly as usual the whole time.

So looks like Roon still has work to do for remote streaming. The problem seems to be Roon Arc does not appear to downsample the music to match the bandwidth of a slower remote connection Plex does this well and delivers good sound via headphones at lower res with no problem. Plex is just better designed to deal with lower bandwidth network connections than Roon it seems. But at home, on the local LAN Roon sound quality rules.


Plexamp is also still more versatile when it comes to downloading music files so no network connection is needed. It handles downloads of playlists as well as albums . Roon Arc does not appear to handle download of playlists yet.

I use remote streaming from work quite a bit so looks like I will hold on to both Plex and Roon for now. Plex is inexpensive compared to Roon and still represents a good lower cost option overall or a good complement to Roon for remote streaming .