Researching an "affordable Roon server/streamer, and my choice...

I learned a lot while researching (ie, torturing myself) for this project, researching an "affordable" Roon server/streamer. I DO NOT want to run the Roon Core on a computer. Obviously there are many other choices like Auralic, Lumin etc and I’ve read reviews until my eyes bled. Oh, to have more money!

Items 1-6 are what I considered and eliminated. Obviously if you have $3000-10,000 to spend, there are other choices. Your mileage may vary. I really wanted something made in the USA or EU, not China (though I would bend that rule for a Denafrips DAC, maybe). If I had super big bucks, some of the DAC/preamps/streamers that have Roon server capability built in look amazing, like SimAudio Moon, but they are *really* expensive, and still require a Roon server. I decided I want to spend more money on an amp upgrade by spending less on the Roon server/streamer, so I set a budget of around $1500. Don’t need/want anything with an onboard DAC.

  1. Bluesound Node 2i: Many owners are reporting hardware and software problems and frustrations. I wanted both a Roon core and endpoint, and it isn’t.
  2. I originally thought I’d get an Aurender N100 until I decided I want Roon, which it doesn’t do. Then I read about problems with Aurenders after power losses and other issues. Nope. Nice units, especially the one for $6k with ripper.
  3. Then I settled on the Innuos Zen III, but it’s made in Portugal and they don’t have a US service facility. In addition, in reading the fine print they don’t guarantee that with the Zen you can run it well as both a core and streamer, and it only has an i3 processor, which some claim isn’t powerful enough. They don’t offer an SSD drive until the Zenith, which is $4k+. It’s out.
  4. Roon Nucleus -- Meh. i3 processor, expensive for what it is, just a server box.
  5. Salk Streamplayer -- Looks nice, has an i5 processor, and the maker is very nice on the phone. Only available in the mid-level with an HDD drive, and I wanted SSD. No internal ripper drive either. So no.

  6. >> The one I would likely buy if I had >2x the money to spend: Wyred4Sound’s MS music server (well reviewed by Darko ). One box solution, runs as core/streamer, has great connection options incl SPDIF, USB, and I2S and my preamp/DAC has I2S. Built-in ripper. Runs Squeezebox and UPnP apps. REALLY nice unit, but $3k with 2tb SSD. Could but don’t want to spend $3500k to $4500! Darn it. EJ Sarmento, the designer, was super helpful discussing it, and I regret not giving him the order. Next time.

  7. THE ONE: Small Green Computer Sonictransporter with 2tb onboard SSD and a Microrendu streamer (the UltraRendu is more and maybe I should have done that?). About $1500, a great value I think. No, not a one box solution but that’s okay, and not really a compromise except for that. Has an i5 processor, comparable to the Roon Nucleus+ which is 2x the price. Should work great with Roon using DSP if I want to. No onboard ripper drive, but just plug a CD reader in and works the same. MOST bang for the buck that I have found, so I hope I am happy with it. The proprietor Andrew Gillis was very helpful and patient with me as I decided.
I will update after testing it.

I learned this:  Running Roon DSP on a core server/streamer definitely doesn’t work with an i3 or slower processor.

"One quick correction: the Innuos does not use an i3. Their CPU is much slower. It’s this board:

With a Pentium N4200.

They don’t hide the fact that it doesn’t run Roon well. This from their site.

"If you plan to use DSP on Roon heavily, we suggest to install Roon as scenario 3, using the innuOS server as a Roon player only and using a powerful PC (Windows/Mac) as the Roon Core server."
They are telling you to run the Core on another machine (like a sonicTransporter)!!
Check out this CPU comparison. N4200 is less than half the speed of an i3!

Good choice!  I have the Sonicorbiter I5 and both micro and ultra Rendus, and am very happy with it for a couple of years now.  Hope you enjoy it.

Glad to hear it. Don't mean to insult Zen owners! I was also concerned about warranty service. I have read many say the Innuos units sound excellent.
A cheap computer  and an opticalRendu I think is the best bang for the buck. Analog noise cannot travel on fibre optical wire. Run the ROON Core on the cheap computer (i5+) and get a network hub with fibre optical.

Hookup the opticalRendu to the network switch at one end and the other end to the USB input of your DAC. Done.

Your thoughts on using a SonicTransporter music server also does the same thing but you have the option of using it with fibre optical.

This is more money than I would pay to setup ROON Core. That is why a cheap computer is my choice.

Using fibre optical, you eliminate the analog noise getting into your DAC. In the future I expect more DACs to be like the LUMIN X1 which has a fibre optical input. However, since no one else does we have to use convert fibre to something like USB.
I am using the SonicTransporter i5 and an OpticalRendu Lite for Roon. Really love the combo. The OpticalRendu is much better than the MicroRendu and really gives a much lower noise floor. Both can be had for under $1850. 
I didn't really look at the optical Rendu , because I figured I'd need some sort of an optical converter box coming out of my modem and ethernet switch. Would I?
Buy the OpticalRendu bundle. It comes with everything you need - power supply and the converter. Works with regular router or switch. The price I quoted above includes the bundle. BTW, the Lite version only works with Roon but they have a regular version for more $. 
The opticalRendu Light is also what I am looking to get. I keep spending money on other audio gear but it is on the to do list. My microRendu will suffice for the short term.
Metrum Baby Alambre. $490 delivered.
Allo USBridge Signature. Depends on PS. <$500.
SGC didn't work for me and they couldn't get it to work. Waste of time trying

Hi - Which Innuos, and are you running it as a combined Roon Core server + streamer? That was my goal, rather than having a separate Core and streamer/endpoint (and def don't want Core on a computer).

I compromised, because while I could run the SGC box as core/streamer (like a Nucleus) I will combine it with the Rendu as the streamer for better signal.

I have a Zen Mk3.
Roon core is on the Innuos and Roon client on a laptop. I play local files (ripped CDs and downloaded files) and I stream Tidal and Qobuz (although Tidal will likely go away at the end of the trial).
Tidal and Qobuz are integrated in Roon, so I fire up Roon on the laptop and all 3 libraries (local, Tidal, Qobuz) are there for me to choose from. This is probably something everyone here knows but I'm just getting started in this whole streaming thing so I'm still pretty amazed by all of it.
Innuos Zen 3 works fine as both Roon server and Roon endpoint as long as you don’t want to do a lot of digital processing or upsampling.  I’m listening to mine right now, and it sounds great.  One limitation is that its only outputs are USB and Ethernet, so if you want any kind of SPDIF out you need a converter and an extra cable.  I use the Matrix converter and I2S into a PS Audio Directstream DAC and am very happy with the result.  
I was worried about the spinning Hard drive, too, but I really think you would be hard pressed to hear a difference unless your listening position is right next to your server (like a foot or so).
BTW I was ready to spring for the Zenith, but the nice fellow at Tweek Geek convinced me that the Zen was too close in sound quality to make the extra $$ worth it.

Glad it's working for you! I trust that Innuos machines sound good. My DAC/preamp has I2S and that was a reason why I almost got the Wyred4Sound. I'm about $15k short of the dough I "need" for my ideal system. First world problems. 
@patrickdowns ..
I compromised, because while I could run the SGC box as core/streamer (like a Nucleus) I will combine it with the Rendu as the streamer for better signal.

Why do you think an SGC core and Rendu streamer is a compromise? I listened to the Innuous Zen III, although admittedly not in my system, before buying the rendu, and I don't think the Sonore stuff is lacking in any way, at least when compared to Zen III. 

The only compromise is that I really wanted a one box solution. I’m glad to hear this!
I don’t think the Sonore stuff is lacking in any way, at least when compared to Zen III.

UPDATE: Finally got my SGC server and SonoreRendu streamer set up. It was very easy to do. It sounds excellent. I am SO excited to finally have Roon + Tidal, and start ripping my CDs to the server.

I put the Sonictransporter server on the computer desk in the corner of my listening room on the opposite wall from the hi-fi rack and speakers, because my router/ethernet is there and I don’t have to run an ethernet cable halfway around the room. Plugged it into the router and fired it up. Hooked up the Rendu streamer to the nice linear power supply (both are in the hi-fi rack), into the network via ethernet, and plugged it into my DAC/preamp with a good Audioquest USB cable.

Logged in to SGC’s website to do the setup via the network (Roon is preloaded on the server) and to download other apps to server. Took 10 minutes. I’d already set up my Roon trial account, which was a mistake because the SGC comes with a 60-day free Roon code but I can’t use it with the Roon 14-day trial. SO--wait to create your Roon account after you get everything hooked up to use the 60-day code. Doh!

I bought a 10" Kindle Fire tablet to use as a remote for Roon. Don’t want to use laptop or phone. On Roon forums rich guys will tell you to get an iPad Pro because it works in portrait mode, but a $1000 for a tablet to use as a remote? Nope! The Fire tablet was $150 and works fine so far.

THE SOUND: It sounds great! I don’t have other server/streamers to compare it to like the Roon Nucleus, the Wyred, Innuos etc but to me it’s excellent and a bargain. Roon unfolds the first fold of MQA so Tidal Masters are coming through at 48/96 ... better than Redbook. Non-MQA tracks sound great too ... as good as my Rega Apollo playing CDs.

I am very pleased with Small Green Computer and their product (it’s only been a day, of course, but I hope for excellent reliability). I still like in a way a one box solution in the rack, like the Wyred 4 Sound Server, but it would have been $1500 more and I’d rather put that towards the monoblocks I am saving for. Maybe I will upgrade from the MicroRendu to the UltraRendu at some point. Maybe. Or the OpticalRendu.

If you want a server to pair with your Roon endpoint streamer like a Lumin etc, I think the SGC Sonictransporter  is a much better choice than the Roon Nucleus---faster processor and smaller footprint for less money.

Andrew Gillis at SGC is great to deal with, and very patient. I recommend them.
I been a run’n the SGC Sonnic Transport with The Roons for several months. It’s purdy solid setup with a Bryston BDP Pi endpoint. I still dont think it sounds as good as running the MM and MPD music service on the Pi directly (basically taking the roon & ST out of the loop) but its close enough. If you get a chance fire up a Qobuz trial and compare it with Tidal and let us know what you think.

I have the SGC i7 Sonic Transporter with 10 TB SSD and a ripper, combined with the  Sonore Signature Rendu SE.  The combo sounds GREAT! Support has been excellent.  The sound got a little better when I converted the Rendu to optical.
I have had an SGC i5 sonictransporter since Dec 2016 and continue to be extremely happy with it.  My music files are on a spinning hard drive connected to i5 via usb3.  I run Squeezeserver which comes pre-loaded on the i5 along with Roon and other options.

In 2017 I added a microrendu...which feeds and iFi nano iOne dac.

The sound has been excellent, big improvements each time amazing me like I have found new life in all my old music.  

The i5 has run with only a few minor interruptions over the last 4 years...twice i had some issues when I waited too long to upgrade the software (years lol) and once a drive failed.

No issues at all with microrendu.

Support has always been excellent, even when the problem was arguably me.  This is key for systems like this and guys like

I am addicted to this system!  Any down time is very stressful!! 

Really happy with the i5 and micorendu system...hoping to experiment with Roon in the near future.

@patrickdowns when you said 
 Running Roon DSP on a core server/streamer definitely doesn’t work with an i3 or slower processor.
Isn't the Roon server an i3 based unit? 
Just trying to understand things because I'm deciding to either get the SGC or Roon dedicated unit myself.

The reason I opted for the SGC was the i5 processor, which I’d read works better with large libraries and using multiple zones. An i5 Nucleus is ~$2400 iirc, which is 3X the price of my SGC i5 box. The standard Nucleus in an i3 (or was at the time) and still more than my SGC.

I liked the Wyred4Sound streamer with built-in ripper but to upgrade to the one with an SSD drive and i5 would have been about $3200! I would love to audition one (or an Innuos) and see if it sounds better than my SGC+microrendu, but I am betting that it’s not better enough to justify the $2000, if it’s even better at all. I am a value-driven buyer! I do like the Wyred box for one reason: it has an I2S connection and so does my Audio Alchemy DAC/preamp, but I am okay with using the USB connection instead with my SGC.

Caveat: I don’t have much of hands-on experience with all the choices out there, so I mostly know what I read in reviews. Based on how good my SGC+microrendu sounds, I can’t imagine spending $10-20,000 like some of these most expensive streamers cost. My system isn’t of that caliber overall to justify it.