The temptation of anything aesthetically appealing is to be swayed to make a judgement based on that .There has been loads of stunningly beautiful hifi over the years where the sound somehow doesn’t live up to the looks. There has also been the proverbial dogs dinner that have sounded sublime. Most hardened veterans of the hobby will of course like both but will settle for sound first. So enter stage left comes Hifi Rose hailing from South Korea . A relatively new brand to the shores of Blighty but determined to make a splash and take a chunk of the very competitive streamer market .There is a lot of hype on fora , magazines and an ever increasing amount of YouTube video regarding this product so shall we begin.
The nice guys at Henley Audio supplied the demo unit and gave me an option of a call over the phone pre start up or go from cold .I chose the go from cold. Out of the box you are greeted by a relatively small sturdy aluminium unit( 278 x 202 x 76 mm) which is neat and tidy at the back . There is no balanced out which is a slight nit pick from me but with the size of the unit that would be a big ask. All that fades away when you fire the unit up and are greeted by an 8.8 inch TFT LCD & Capacitive Touch Screen . Tis a thing of beauty and very intuitive . It also means you can actually see what’s playing from the listening position. Before you know it you are in menu’s and sub menu’s and having a proper nose. Set up to playing music was about 10 mins and I am no techie .The quick start leaflet was missing so YouTube to the rescue and the remote which is bluetooth was connected as well .
At this juncture I just let it play ,in fact almost ignoring it for a week as I wanted to evaluate the sound and not the looks . Being a Roon Core user and the Rose RS 250 being Roon Ready meant that the vast majority of the review was done via the Roon interface and DSP engine . Now in Roon and the Rose there are many many settings you can configure but in the end it was the the default settings I preferred. The Rose supports these music services, Qobuz, TIDAL, Bugs, Rose Tube, Rose Podcast, Internet Radio. It also supports these streaming services ,Bluetooth A2DP Sink, Airplay, DLNA, Roon Ready, Spotify Connect. The Rose Connect, iOS/Android app to me still needs a bit of work to match the ease of use of the units display. The Rose RS 250 supported audio codec is all you will ever need .
PCM: 8kHz~768kHz (8/16/24/32bit per Sample)
Native DSD: DSD64(2.8MHz)/DSD128(5.6MHz)/DSD256(11.2MHz)/ DSD512(22.4MHz)
It will play more formats that I knew there were and also with Rose Tube you can output 4K images to a monitor so a visual and audio treat is to be had. There is internal storage facility by purchasing a SATA3.0 SSD with up to 4TB of storage. This is relatively cheap these days . Externally you can connect via USB 3 to a drive with up to 10TB of storage .
So shall we cut to the chase?
The wifi signal in my listening room is shocking so all of this review was conducted with an ethernet connection . Ancillary equipment was Kharma Ceramique 2.3 CE loudspeakers. Amplification was by an ASR Emitter II Exclusive version Blue with additional battery power supply. The amplifier was run in direct mode so no other audio signals were running apart from the Hifi Rose RS 250. In Roon I set the DSP so the original recording was upsampled by 4 and played as 32 bit . This to me gave the best results to my ears but as always you are all free to tinker to your hearts content .
So is it easy to review this streamer/ Dac ? In a nutshell no. You tell yourself evaluate , make notes , no go back listen again but you find yourself putting the pen down ( ok iPad ed ) and smiling .Put the feet up and recline into the listening chair , cheeky glass of red and get yourself settled in for the night . Am I smitten? Yes I am.
First up is a favourite of mine for reviewing. Tori Amos Little Earthquakes 2015 remaster . I have played this album many times and on some systems there is a sense of sharpness that just edges too far . The production is on the cusp and incisive . From the opening track of Crucify till 56 minutes later when Little Earthquakes finishes the streamer never put a foot wrong .The sparse vocal on Me and Gun is totally haunting. The top edge of this album is there but the Rose manages to just stay on the right side without ever getting strident . What does all this subjective prose mean? I will tell you .You can listen for hours on end with no listener fatigue and I have .
The problem with streaming is its so accessible that you can tap into tunes as soon as they pop into your head almost immediately you are there , so there is a tendency to run amok and play this and that. Self restraint is needed and you must stick to your chosen playlist. So out come the big hitters and up next is Jeff Buckley and Grace. Suffice to say this is in my top three albums of all time . This a rollercoaster of an emotions in musical form . From the eerie opening of Mojo Pin to the fade out of Dream Brother this album has it all of course aided and abetted by Jeff’s versions of Hallelujah and Corpus Christi Carol. You might think that the album is all mids and treble but the RS 250 pulls everything from the performance and the bass lines are solid and dare I say it organic. Its lucid in its portrayal accompanied by Jeff’s soaring vocals . I have never felt red book cd really got this album compared to the vinyl but that has been addressed here . So my interest is peaked in this product and when we get that feeling we start genre hunting . It’s a bit like can I catch it out .
Cool jazz is up next ,Miles and Kind of Blue. Trumpet and Sax don’t lend themselves easily to the digital medium in my opinion but after 6 minutes and 12 seconds into All Blues I may have to the change my mind . The interplay is palpable and organic .The music is fleshed out in-front of you. If there was a final track of the evening to be played then Kind of Blue finishing on Flamenco Sketches has got to be it. The portrayal here is stunning . I am mightily impressed by the RS 250 at this stage . Minor quibble again here ed. I think the branding could be better than just using letters and numbers . Maybe some mystic name but hey ho I digress.
I now head to a guilty pleasure album . So its by Velvet Revolver and Contraband . One of those break up groups which is essentially Guns N Roses disgruntled members . I remember when I first bought this and played it on my then current cd spinner but now long gone Wadia 861 that the music was broken . Almost unlistenable at high volumes . Well what a pleasant surprise .There is meat on the bones . At this stage I am beginning to realise the the RS 250 is a bit of a class act at playing bass lines through what can only be termed messy guitar orientated music .Before you make assumptions here let me state that a bad ,compressed and distorted recording will still be all those things . This streamer is not a panacea for the albums that make you gnash your teeth.
So we come to another playlist favourite to assess. The wonderful Talk talk and the Colour of Spring. The opening of Happiness is Easy is solid with the drums centre stage pumping in the holographic soundstage . As the track builds nothing is lost and there is it again the bass underpinning the music but never taking centre stage. The rhythm section on this album is so important as it allows the rest of the music to search and explore different textures and avenues but always finding its way back home to those bass and drums. I am beginning think that at £1949 there is a bit of bargain to be had here .I might add that these albums were played multiple times just to make sure I was convinced of what I was hearing.The soundstage often stretching well outside of the speakers and very three dimensional. The RS 250 is now really showing me what it can do. It’s powerful and yet delicate where it needs to be. The music is coherent , not dissected in its portrayal but if you want to follow an instrument you can. The Colour of Spring ends with all 8 minutes plus of Time it’s Time and the accompaniment of the Ambrosia Choir. The RS 250 handles this with aplomb. Ok I’m thinking let’s try some more Talk Talk and its on to Spirit of Eden . This is album where there can be some digital nastiness , even on vinyl it catches some systems out. Again the RS 250 takes you to the very edge but never tips over into harsh and unlistenable. The soundstage if important to you is vast yet somehow intimate. My listening position is very much geared towards me in the sweet spot and all instruments and vocals had their place . Two tracks into the album and this streamer is doing its usual where you stop critical listening and just enjoy.
Time for a change of tempo and style . So over the next few days this streamer plays Stevie Ray Vaughan , Led Zeppelin , The Rolling Stones and never sounds stressed and again just takes it all in its stride. Now you might be thinking that the generic house sound is safe but its not in fact far from it but how its walks that fine line is the key to its musicality. To say this streamer is a jack of all trades would be an insult as it’s far better than that. From whatever I threw at it the presentation was solid and assured with a frequent splash of jaw dropping and if it did put a foot wrong it was the recording and not the streamer.
Using an iPad or tablet would be my preferred method of communication from the listening chair to the Rose rather than using my middle aged knees and crouching before the unit but I’m sure the younger ones amongst you will cope . Moving away from the Roon and using Qobuz direct via the onscreen Icon presented no issues though I felt the greater DSP of Roon enhanced the presentation. This really is a tight call though and I played Roger Waters Amused to Death at 24/192 direct from Qobuz . This is a well recorded album that sounds good on most systems but there is so much micro detail here never mind the dynamics that resolution is the key. From the opening track The Ballad of Bill Hubbard where Jeff Beck’s guitar sings amongst snippets of American shopping channels until Alf Razzel feels like he is speaking into my left ear. Goosebumps. By the time we get to the title track Amused to Death I’m sold on this streamer.
The linear power supply was a concern in such a small unit but that proved unfounded and I have know idea what a Femto clock does but whatever it is its jolly good. Ok I know what it does really . The units screen is very responsive and impressive in clarity even from 10 feet away but does require a deftness of touch which with practice becomes easier and easier . I could even scroll accurately after two weeks.
I don’t subscribe to Tidal so can’t comment on the RS 250 abilities with MQA tracks but I will have a friendly bet it handles them just as easily. I feel in terms of what else it offers I have not really scratched the surface but internet radio is comprehensively covered and also it can just be used as a standalone streamer with an additional Dac but I can’t really see the point in that when the in built Dac is no slouch. The positives for me are . It works seamlessly with Roon as it should. I never had any dropouts in 3 weeks of use. Yes three weeks. I streamed 32 bit /784 kHZ with no issues whatsoever via Roon. It just copes no fuss . Rose do a CD and Ripper in one for £349 which you can play and store to the internal SSD making it somewhat future proof . So you can have your physical media and cake at the same time . The Dac being used is an ES9038 Q2M(ESS) X 1 (Single Stereo Design) and its brilliant. The only real negative for me was the remote which covers all the bases but reminds me a bit of an Amazon Firestick. Apart from that there is nothing and I mean nothing. If you don’t want multiple boxes then this Roon Ready Streamer/Dac could just be what you are looking for. Its groundbreaking use of a dedicated android operating system developed in house and not bought off the shelf for a fast buck is a result . If you are in the market you need to demo this now .
Big thanks to Simon at Henley Audio and the team .
PS. Keep them peeled the big brother the RS 150 B will be landing soon for another review .
Oh and a big thanks to our reviewer in chief George for getting us up the pecking order so that interesting products are coming to the wam for review .
Duvet ( Danny )