HiFi Rose RS250A
IntroductionI was aware of HiFi Rose as a couple of fellow reviewers have had some of their kit through their hands over the last year or so, and so I was curious.
HiFi Rose are a South Korean company based in Seoul. They are a subsidiary of Citech which was founded in 1954 to manufacture TV sets. A member of ‘Da Management’ was into HiFi and so in 2017, HiFi Rose was born. They have extensive experience designing screen-based systems with touch-based interfaces. It shows.
The HiFi Rose RS250A is the middle streaming DAC in their range, between the HiFi Rose RS201E and the HiFi Rose RS150B. The appended A was forced by the burning down of the AKM factory and the switch to an ESS Sabre chip, not a small undertaking.
The box arrives well-packaged and reassuringly weighty. Removing the RS250A from the black jacket you are presented with a metallic box. I am not talking about Chord level hewed from aluminium, but it is well made. The only element that is a tad less than great is the on/off button’s feel in use; although this complaint does not apply to its functionality, which is flexible and reliable. The features of the streamer include:
- 8.8” wide multi-touch touchscreen
- New ES9028 PRO DAC chip and 100MHz Femto oscillator
- New HiFi Rose Discrete OPAMP-based output stage
- Bespoke Rose OS based on Android
By choosing to review the HiFi Rose RS250A I feel I have taken on an ordeal by fire; there is SO much functionality to test, and a number of ways in which different elements can be tested. The box can even accommodate an up to four terabyte SSD hard drive!
The unit supports a wide range of audio codecs including DSD512 and MQA; the usefulness of which may now be somewhat questionable. From my perspective, the most important news is that the RS250A is Roon Ready.
The HiFi Rose250A comes with a full panoply of filters and upsampling. I confess that I only start diving into these if things are going wrong. I am unconvinced of their broad application and consistency. I, therefore, left the RS250A in its standard settings. I did check the relevant sub-menu which, usefully, allows you to cap the maximum sample rate it outputs. In terms of upsampling you can only set a single frequency rate.
Having scratched my head I decided the ways in which I proposed to eat this particular elephant. In the event, I worked my way through its veritable cornucopia of functionality. I spent the most time listening via my nearfield system where it formed a great synergy that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Test Tracks: The Good, The Bad and the BrightThe tracks were selected to allow:
- Comparison of local and Qobuz sourced versions of the same tracks;
- Comparison of standard and remastered versions of the same track;
- Comparison of older and modern tracks, with their different mastering priorities;
- How problem tracks were presented.
Nearfield System Listening
The source was Roon, primarily Qobuz, with:
- headroom enabled;
- Sample rate NOT enabled;
- Parametric EQ NOT Enabled.
The HiFi Rose RS250A replaced my usual Meridian 210 / Chord Hugo TT. The RS250A identified it was being installed and walked me through a cancelable video briefing; very smooth.
The unit arrives with a cardboard-covered manual which I found to be superfluous. The touch screen allows you to access the world of the Rose Operating System (ROS), and a damned well designed one it is. Having written and overseen a number of application interfaces over the years I am well aware how easy it is to screw them up. No such issues here, at least not now. As with any software there is ALWAYS snagging. HiFi Rose appears to be responsive, including a forum HERE. The HiFi Rose RS250A is a complete delight to use. Things are where you expect them to be and work as you intuit. A remarkable lack of stress. That doesn’t mean that everything works in every circumstance, for instance HiFi Rose does not include upnp functionality and so your software and services will need to work with what IS provided.
At this point I was listening via a pair of Harbeth P3-ESR, kindly loaned by Guildford Audio, but I later switched to the Sound Artist LS3/5a. With my laptop connected to my LAN I set up the RS250A and also connected into the LAN via its RJ45 socket. Roon found the HiFi Rose RS250A and I changed the audio source and continued my listening. My immediate impression was that the Rose RS250A was a tad to the warm side of neutral, this was to prove to be a mistaken deduction. I later swapped in the Sound Artist LS3/5a, the sound quality reflected the strengths and weaknesses of the speaker. The HiFi Rose RS250A is a neutral system.
The following notes were made using the HiFi Rose RS250A via Roon and Qobuz:
As always I ensured that as I moved between setups the volume was consistent, this came in at about a 73db average.
Procol Harem Live in Concert, Procol Harem, Conquistador, Qobuz, 16/44.1
This concert is set in a large natural acoustic. The scene set by the warmup of the Edmonton Orchestra with the audience talking in the background. As Procol Harem comes on stage there are a number of bumps. Via my main system, you can hear that this is due to knocking on an amplified acoustic guitar, this is not resolved in my nearfield system with either set of speakers.
Gary Brooker was front and centre, not truly a part of the acoustic, the orchestra is set back in the sound stage. The balance between the band and the orchestra works well. Brass right and violins left, nicely rendered.
Flowers, The Rolling Stones, Let's spend the night together, Qobuz, 16/44.1
I enjoy this recording, voices sound natural, no overuse of compression. Through the Rose the music is slightly brighter lit than my usual Meridian / Chord. Great rhythm and drum support, although no obvious use of the bass drum; I don’t know if this is a deliberate choice in the playing or mastering of the album, but it is a consistent observation regardless of the DAC. Jagger is well-rendered, as are the backing vocalists. The track propels nicely.
Babette Dorn, Mozart, Don Giovanni - Piano Transcription, Qobuz, 16/44.1
I don’t know who wrote the transcription but I am assuming it was Dorn, and a damned fine job was done. The recording and HiFi Rose RS250A allow you to easily follow both hands. The dynamics are well portrayed.
Josephine Oniyama, Kindred, Act Like You’re in Love, Qobuz, 16/44.1
I LOVE this album and this track is a stand-out. Really good pop music that just bounces along, and the Rose does a fine job of rendering it. The vocals are a tad spitty at the beginning, regardless of the DAC. The HiFi Rose RS250A is not the best I have heard at controlling this, but those systems are rather more expensive. Oniyama’s alto range is well realised.
Slotting my Meridian 210 / Chord Hugo TT takes the music up a step, with more layering and tonal richness and an ability to more easily hear into the recording. But these are more expensive dedicated units, circa three thousand pounds, that have a subset of the abilities of the HiFi Rose RS250A; let us look at some of those facets.
Other HiFi Rose RS250A options are: Headphone listening; An internal SDD HDD can be fitted; An external HDD can be used as a file source; and, the Rose Operating System built on Android has various apps for sources such as Qobuz, Tidal and YouTube.
Plugging in my Quad ERA-1 planar headphones had me reaching for the volume control. In order to get a reasonable volume I had to turn it up to 90/100. In the setup there is a volume setting for each source, however these are all set to -5db and the max setting is 0db. I chose to just turn them all off; although this may well be a useful facility in other contexts.
A further search in the settings found a headphone impedance setting in the Input/Output app in the Analogue Output section. The default setting is 16ohms, the next setting was 32db which I selected; the Quad ERA-1 impedance is actually 20db.
The musical quality was enjoyable and informative, it was useful for casual listening.
I connected an external USB HDD to the HiFi Rose RS250A via the rear USB input. I also fitted a small SDD drive and loaded some of the same music thereon.
As I use an UHD TV as my monitor in my near-field system I was able to connect the unit’s HDMI output. This 4k capable HDMI was able to replicate the units displayed album data on a larger canvas. I attempted to use the YouTube app, but it requires you to have an account and I refuse to extend my online presence beyond what I find to be essential.
I want to emphasise what a joy I found using this system in my near-field system via Roon. Yes, you can display some big VU meters of various hues, but I preferred the default artwork and controls when using it near-field. I found myself automatically reaching for these virtual controls rather than bothering with the Roon interface via the mouse. Other functions, such as mute, worked seamlessly and as advertised. I found no improvement to the sound quality by turning off the RS250A screen and so on it stayed.
Main System Listening
The source was Roon, primarily Qobuz, with:
- headroom enabled;
- Sample rate NOT enabled;
- Parametric EQ Enabled, deals with some minor bass issues.
Now, let me be clear, replacing eleven thousand pounds worth of electronics with two is hardly going to lead to any leap forward in sound quality, unless this is the bargain of the decade; and, sorry it is not.
Only a fool, or the chronically optimistic, would pair the HiFi Rose RS250A with a Naim NAP 300DR and Naim SBLs. There will be other, rather more expensive packages that might work in this context, such as the HiFi Rose RS150B?
However, as your intrepid reporter I did try slotting it in as a package, a streamer and as a DAC. My interest here was how this package could allow you to efficiently undertake an upgrade path while still using the HiFi Rose.
Let’s immediately note that as a package the HiFi Rose RS250A worked as advertised, but this would not be in ANY sense be considered as a balanced system. While it worked its limitations were exposed. That is not to say that it was unlistenable at all, just that detail, dynamics and timbre took a dip.
I set up the HiFi Rose RS250A as a streamer to output from its Coax out. This worked as expected and on replay the VU meters came up. The pairing with the Qutest worked well. There were differences from the dCS Network Bridge, in favour of the latter, but the HiFi Rose performed well. Overall it was somewhat brighter lit.
I now plugged in the Chord M-Scaler. The M-Scaler did its magic, with a focusing, broadening and deepening of the sound field. The differences between the dCS and HiFi Rose RS250A shrank some more.
My last step was to try and use the HiFi Rose RS250A as a DAC, and here I failed to get it running on the end of the M-Scaler. It worked via its Coax input from my Meridian 210, in my near-field system, and with my dCS Network Bridge. From my M-Scaler, set to pass-through, I got no joy; despite good support from Henley Audio. Now this is an unlikely use case, I mention it simply due to it being the only hiccup in the wide and varied testing I put the HiFi Rose RS250A through.
Playing music from directly attached storage locations raised the RS250A game very nicely, and there was a hierarchy with the SDD at the top, beating that of streamed music from my NAS via Roon, then the HiFi Rose Qobuz app and lastly Qobuz via Roon. The usability of using the HiFi Rose RS250A Music app and the front screen is a somewhat less polished experience than that offered via Roon in combination with the RS250A; but the musical experience is undoubtedly improved. Listening to Bryan Adams, Unplugged from the SDD drive resulted in a cleaner, better controlled and faster bass. The other sources resulted in increasing amounts of bass bloom and smeared imaging.
It is in the gap between sources and their replay that I found a difference with more expensive streamers, and here I mean streamers that cost almost as much or more than the HiFi Rose, the quality extracted from remote files gets FAR closer to those that are sourced locally.
I really think this is the ‘secret’ weapon of the HiFi Rose RS250A, the Android based operating system is very well sorted, it does what is required in a manner that I find to be straightforward. Whether this is installing, formatting and making available on the network an SDD, or attaching a USB HDD, the menus are to hand and work.
This is not to say that the system is beyond criticism, what is? For instance having attached a portable USB HDD it was immediately detected and mounted. A dialogue box asked whether I wished to scan it for music, which I did. I had the music loaded in a nest of subdirectories under a directory named CD. The albums were not immediately detected. However, once I went to the directory to play an album the next time I looked all the albums had been found. Further, when I detached and then re-attached the USB HDD the albums were automatically found.
The on-screen Rose RS250A interface is necessarily cramped. It is functional without being a pleasure to use. I tried the Rose Android app on my phone but due to the way I have my home network partitioned I was unable to get it up and running; an issue I doubt many other people will have. I had hoped that HiFi Rose might have a Windows-based application, but they don’t.
ConclusionThe HiFi Rose RS250A is a well-made component that in a suitably balanced system will pay dividends. In such a system you will find that you have a flexible friend with a number of ways in which you can interact with it. This flexibility will mean that it can remain in your system as you upgrade other components.
The Rose OS is a formidable piece of work giving a wealth of options so that the HiFi Rose RS250A can be used as a preamp, with an analogue input, a streamer and/or as a DAC.
Any complaints I have of the HiFi Rose are those of omission. I would like it to also work with upnp and to have a Windows application. These are not minor asks and have implications for ongoing support.
Within the context of my near-field system the RS250A shone as a Roon endpoint, where I enjoyed its musical presentation. It worked well with its Qobuz application, especially when fed with a LAN, and its abilities were further enhanced when fed with a diet of locally sourced files.
Fitting an SDD raised the HiFi Rose RS250A game, at the slight expense of usability. Setting up a share from your PC is straightforward, making music management easy. I just wish there was a Windows application to improve the user experience, or that these files could be exposed in Roon.
If you are looking for a streaming solution that can be used as your system grows and improves then the HiFi Rose RS250A is well worth including in your audition list.