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Harman Buys Roon, But Why?

by January 29, 2024
Harman Buys Roon

Harman Buys Roon

Everything You Want to Know about the Roon Music Player

In a somewhat surprising turn of events last November, 2023, Harman announced that the multibillion-dollar company — itself a wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics since 2017 — acquired Roon, the relatively small music server software company. Since its launch nearly nine years ago, the Roon platform has become the music management, discovery, and streaming solution of choice for hundreds of thousands of audiophiles. The benefits are many, but the subscription-based service is not inexpensive — you can choose to pay $15 per month, $150 per year, or a one-time fee of $830 for a lifetime subscription. And you must provide a network-attached server of some kind — this can be a small computer like an Intel NUC or a Mac Mini, or a dedicated server device like Roon’s own Nucleus hardware — to run the Roon Core software. So why are so many audiophiles willing to cough up the cash and deal with the hassle of installing yet another network-attached device? Some can’t live without Roon’s industry-leading user interface. Others love the way Roon integrates their own music collections with the streaming catalogs of Tidal and/or Qobuz, making it easier than ever to discover new music. The biggest appeal for me is the ability to use a single, superbly-designed app to control music on such a wide variety of audiophile-quality devices. You could have a Cambridge Audio streamer in the office, an NAD integrated amp in the living room, a StormAudio processor in your dedicated home theater, and a pair of KEF wireless speakers in the bedroom, and enjoy a seamless music-listening experience all over your house without ever leaving the Roon app, which enriches the music-listening experience with album art, liner notes, artist biographies, reviews, photos, lyrics, tour dates, and cross-linked credits for performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, and composers.

 Roon on Devices

It's All About Automotive

Although over 1,000 audio products are certified to play nice with Roon, one of the platform’s major selling points is its compatibility with almost any audio device. Even devices that aren’t certified as “Roon Ready” can usually work with the Roon app via Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast, for example. Sonos speakers can also receive audio directly from Roon. But compatibility won’t get you very far unless people enjoy using your product, and it’s in this area that Roon really shines. There’s simply no other platform that can match Roon in terms of design, user interface sophistication, and overall user experience. Here we come to one possible reason for Harman’s interest. One of Harman’s most significant areas of focus is in connected technologies for automotive markets, and these days, operating a car is as much a software experience as it is a hardware experience. (Harman still makes high-end consumer audio products under brands like Arcam, JBL, and Mark Levinson, but the big bucks are in automotive and enterprise markets. You didn’t think Samsung sank billions into Harman for its home audio division, did you?) Roon’s expertise designing rich and intuitive user interfaces could easily help Harman’s bottom line in the long run, but for now, Roon will continue to operate as a standalone business, with its existing team still in place.

Our team is ecstatic to join Harman, a visionary company that has been leading the audio industry forward for decades. By combining forces with Harman, Roon gains the incredible scale, resources, and reach of a global technology leader, while maintaining our independence to invest in the business’s growth and future. We look forward to continuing to bring our advanced data management, SaaS expertise, and consumer engagement capabilities to our broad ecosystem of partners, as we join forces with Harman to deliver even greater audio experiences to our customers.

— Enno Vandermeer, CEO of Roon

Roon’s faithful fanbase needn’t worry; Harman says that all Roon operations “will stay in place and continue to be dedicated to serving and growing Roon’s community of device partners and customers, under a joint mission to deliver engaging and personalized audio experiences across a universe of products and platforms.” Meanwhile, Harman has committed to growing Roon’s open device ecosystem, which already includes more than 160 other audio brands. This aligns with Harman’s “work with all” business strategy, according to the company. Harman also says that Roon’s dedication to its loyal community and its exceptional UI/UX design expertise “will continue to expand and flourish with the acquisition.”

At Harman we take great pride in our ability to create exceptional audio experiences for our partners and consumers around the world. The team at Roon shares our passion in bringing exceptional sound and connectivity to music lovers as they browse, discover, and listen at home and on the go. We are looking forward to welcoming Roon, whose impressive talent will join the Harman family and bolster our already robust engineering capabilities.         

— Dave Rogers, President, Lifestyle Division, Harman

How Does Roon Benefit?

So, what’s in it for Roon? With its roots in the old Meridian Sooloos music server system, Roon has always been a high-end solution delivering a superior experience to a relatively small number of customers — at least compared to companies like Spotify, with hundreds of millions of users. Besides the obvious influx of cash, Roon will now enjoy Harman’s vast resources, and new opportunities to deliver at a scale that is an order of magnitude greater than anything the Roon team had achieved in the past. Roon’s business follows the SaaS (Software as a Service) model, which has proved hugely successful for large companies like Amazon and Apple. Both tech giants now make large portions of their profits from subscription-based services, such as Amazon Web Services, Amazon Prime Video, iCloud, Apple Music, and so on. With Harman’s support, Roon could become a bigger player. So far, Roon only incorporates streaming from Tidal and Qobuz — both audiophile favorites with relatively small subscriber numbers compared to the Big Three: Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. Roon users would surely love to have more streaming options, especially now that most streaming services offer lossless and/or high-res audio. But the Big Three never had reason to play ball with Roon. Why go through the hassle of letting a third-party app incorporate your service — potentially losing control in the process — for a few hundred thousand audiophiles? When viewed from their perspective, Roon has always been a tiny niche market. But if Roon develops the software for millions of Harman-branded car infotainment systems used by major car manufacturers, it might be a different story.

Roon Labs founder and CEO, Enno Vandermeer, had the following to say in a post on Roon’s enthusiastic community forum:

In 2015, our tiny team of Sooloos/Meridian veterans created a one-page website that teased a new way to browse, discover, and listen to music. In nearly nine incredible years since, we’ve introduced ten successive versions of Roon, built the world’s broadest ecosystem of compatible audio products, and attracted a community of the world’s most dedicated music and audio enthusiasts. We’ve built a fantastic team to make it all happen, and among Roon users, we now count a “who’s who” of music and audio professionals of every stripe. The thing is, we want to do more. Today, we’re announcing that we’ve found a partner committed to helping us amplify what we do: Roon has joined the family of brands owned by Harman International. As a business unit within one of the largest and longest-lived companies in the audio industry, we’ll work alongside companies as dedicated to the enjoyment of music as we are, who design and manufacture everything from microphones to car audio systems to lighting for live performance. Harman shares our vision that unique and engaging ways of browsing, discovering, and collecting music – along with a commitment to the best possible sound quality on the largest ecosystem of devices from all manufacturers – is the future for all music enthusiasts.

— Enno Vandermeer

Vandermeer was unusually candid in disclosing the struggles that Roon has faced as a relatively small and young company. “Startups with passionate founding teams fail every day,” he said. “Succeeding… is a constant quest to balance serving the needs of customers with keeping the lights on and bringing on talented people to augment the team. Achieving that balance – particularly without external funding – takes vision, nerves, and a deep reservoir of reckless optimism.” So for Vandermeer, the benefit to going through with the acquisition was simply gaining the ability to focus on the company’s vision without the “frayed nerves” that go hand-in-hand with running a small business on your own dime. Roon will continue “exactly as it is,” according to Vandermeer. Crucially, Vandermeer added that “the familiar faces from our team will be right here as always.”

Roon on iPad

It’s certainly good news that Roon’s core team will remain with the company, and I think many Roon subscribers will be reassured that the service will continue “exactly as it is,” but I have to wonder what changes might occur down the line. Will Roon reduce its prices or add new features in order to attract more users? Perhaps that’s thinking too small. Will your next electric car run on a Roon-branded software platform controlled by a Samsung touch screen? We can already buy cars with audio systems made by JBL, Revel, and Mark Levinson, so who’s to say that Roon isn’t destined for the open road? What do you think Harman has in store for Roon? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.


About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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