Enter Elac Discovery network streamer which has Roon essentials 1.3. Agreed it's not the full fledged Roon system as the name suggests but it's not exactly a stripped down ROON either. It does almost everything a full package of Roon can do within its capabilities.
The Elac Discovery is a very minimalistic looking machine with its chassis made out of aluminium and has a very solid feel to it. The front has nothing but just one LED which blinks when there is no network connection or something is amiss. The rear has a connector to power up the machine with a supplied wall wart, an optical and coaxial digital out, USB input to connect a thumb drive or a portable hard disk, Ethernet port and two analogue outs which can be used to connect directly to a power amp or powered speakers. Essentially, it can be used as a DAC with a preamp and also a network streamer connected to your external DAC. It can play different tracks to all the three zones i.e. digital out, analogue output 1 and analogue output 2. Note: you can only run one instance of Roon on your network at a time so you cannot run Roon Server/Core on another device in addition to running Roon Essentials on the Discovery. It can also read a shared network drive or folder on any other pc connected to the same home network the discovery is connected to. I won't be getting into details of how roon works and difference between roon essentials and full fledged roon package. Everything is controlled by a Roon Essentials remote app which can be used from a mobile phone or a tablet. A tablet is always preferred as roon has optimised the working of the app for a tablet. So it is a different experience to browse through the whole music catalogue by a tablet. Inside Discovery resides a Quad Core ARM9 Processor running at up to 1.2Ghz, 512MB of storage for the OS, 8GB of flash memory for meta data storage, and Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC’s (24-Bit/192kHz) with Burr Brown op-amps. There are two linear power supplies, one for each set of analog outputs. One is notified on the Roon Essentials remote app whenever there is an update for the main Roon Essentials and one just needs to press YES and rest is taken care of. Roon is always improving its eco system so that's an added plus point It does not support DSD playback but Elac is almost ready with higher end streamer in the discovery series which would support DSD playback. Roon Essentials can only catalogue a maximum of 30000 tracks but that should not be a big worry for most users. It is most likely that Roon would increase the limit with its next major room essentials update as it did earlier increase the limit from 15000 to 30000 tracks, which to be honest is a LOT OF MUSIC!
To get the Elac Discovery going, one simply has to hook the network connection through a ethernet cable, connect an output of your choice and power. Download the Roon Essentials app on to your hand held device, post which just advise where the music is located, login to Tidal (if you have a subscription to Tidal) and which output to play through. Essentially it takes less than 10 minutes for you to get the Elac Discovery going and is very hassle free.
My System Details:
Power amplifier - Odyssey stratos extreme ++ Pre amplifier - DIY Salas hotrodded B1 (based on pass design B1 pre design) DAC - Burson conductor Speakers - Nibanna Dvee Computer transport - HP Pentium quad core laptop with Audiophile Linux OS and running Roon Core with Uptone Regen Reclocking USB audio stream Music Server - AMD based desktop running Roon Server
The Elac Discovery can provide two different sound signatures depending on whether the analogue out or digital outs are used. The final sound from digital outs will be obviously majorly influenced by the external DAC used but surprisingly I could find hardly any difference between coaxial out of the Elac Discovery feeding my Burson Conductor DAC and a laptop running roon feeding my DAC via USB. The laptop runs fully optimised audiophile Linux as OS and has an Uptone Audio USB Regen Reclocking USB signal connected to my DAC. I did listen to varied kinds of music in lossless Flac and WAV formats ranging from well recorded bollywood soundtracks to typical demo material for audio shows and some chesky records music. The Music sounds rich and warm. There's also a nice weight to the sound and drive that keeps an engaging listening atmosphere. The analogue outs won't have the ultimate resolution of a high end DAC but still the sound signatures is enjoyable and sort of forgiving with any kind of playback. Don't get me wrong, it's no way lo-fi but just that it lacks the ultimate resolution and is more leaning towards a forgiving sound probably helping to be good for all kind of playback methods including internet radio stations which the discovery can play from.
Anybody using any kind of computer device as transport to play digital files or any streaming service would be aware about ROON, which is a playback software by Room audio labs. Add to it a network streamer which has lifetime of Roon embedded into it at no extra cost (don't have to pay extra for Roon subscription) is what makes the Elac Discovery a very interesting product. With all its capabilities Elac has put into the Discovery it makes for a good product to be had in most audio setups except for the very high end setups which would be having a media server costing three or four times the price of the Elac Discovery. The only downside being the retail price being on the higher side for someone to consider it just as a network streamer. Keeping the pricing aside the Elac Discovery is a very well thought out product with an added bonus of a lifetime of Roon services included.