There are three words that spring to mind on initial impressions when listening to the Hifi Rose RS150(B). Focus, transparency and finesse. Those initial impressions are still correct over a lengthy review period.
After having the baby brother of this unit, the RS250 in my listening room for an extended review my interest was more than piqued concerning the current top of the range and elder sibling the RS150(B). First of all, thanks to Simon and Jack at Henley Audio for quickly getting a demo unit to me and then just leaving me alone to have fun and listen.
Why is it called the RS150(B)? Well, the original used a AK4499EQ chip but this was no longer available due to a fire at the AKM factory in 2020. Hifi Rose have chosen wisely with its replacement using the highly regarded ESS SABRE ES9038PRO. All other aspects of the original RS150 design remain unchanged, and the sonic signature is the same as originally intended.
Anyway, click on the relevant links to RS150 VS RS150(B) in the review if you want to delve further. Where the RS250 could be described as dainty in appearance due to a svelte footprint the RS150(B) is a full width design. Dimensions are 430(W) x 316(D) x 123(H). The unit weighs 13 kilos and then there is the 14.9-inch-Wide HD IPS Touch Screen LCD. My unit was black and this gave it a chance for the screen to almost disappear in standby mode from a distance.
The unit is milled from a single piece of aluminum and considering it has a screen it’s relatively resonance free from the good old fashioned knuckle test on the side and top. The top plate has the lovely Hifi Rose engraved emblem in case you don’t want to hide it in the rack. Why would you. It’s very unassuming but classy looking till you fire it up and the even more gorgeous display finally reveals its purpose. The back panel has some additions compared to the RS250. See pic.
I think its best you look at the technical specs here (Technical data) but if anyone thinks of outputs and inputs, in fact full proof connectivity including audio and video codecs then I can’t see how it can be beat. I used Roon Core and its own DSP for the best results. As I said for connectivity look at these options. SPDIF, COAX x 1, Pre-OUT (Balanced x 1, Unbalanced x 1), I2S-DVI x 1, I2S-RJ45 x 1, AES/EBU x 1. The audio codec supports up to 32 bit /784 kHz and native DSD 512. It can also output 4K videos via Rose Tube to a UHD screen
I can no longer find any excuses for putting off this review. God knows I have tried as once it is done the unit goes back. Hence my slovenly attitude. I don’t just like this streamer/dac/pre. I love it. At this point before I proceed, I better share my perspective on reviewing kit. I am first and foremost a subjectivist. To me the overriding factor is how it sounds. I will generally not swoon at well-designed innards (sorry bods) and certainly any assessment from me will be with my ears. They have served me well over the years and are better than any graph which I won’t understand.
So, let’s begin. The unit costs £3899. Twice the price of the RS250. Now we all know hifi is not linear in terms of costs and improvements. Those who want to gnash their teeth at that carry on but that is life. “Yeah but it’s so unfair Dan “Them’s the breaks”. If all you can afford is the RS250 then buy it with confidence. If your purse strings allow you to look at the RS150B well follow me because I believe it to be worth it. Up and out of the box it took me 15 minutes to start playing due to a firmware upgrade. I left it all on the default settings. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are enabled via a dongle. I connected via Ethernet and left the remote alone and used the Rose app on my iPad and iPhone. I ran it balanced to the ASR Emitter II Version Blue amplifier and the speakers used are my trusty Kharma Ceramique 2.3. Cabling always sparks debate so I will leave that out but they were suitably well made. I had a hard drive connected externally with Flac’s . Though If I did purchase this streamer, I would use an SSD and fit it internally through the in-built storage facility. This is a really nice touch.
First up Roger Waters and Amused to Death was put to the audio sword. I was so lucky literally to have this unit a week after the RS250 was retuned to the distributor so the Rose house sound was fresh in my mind. What’s the first thing I notice is more like a camera analogy. A better lens adds more focus, more clarity and images are more developed. Transport that to sound and yes, the sound was more focused. Sounds were clearer and held their place immaculately in the soundstage. Actually, the soundstage felt slightly more stretched and taller. The dreaded word transparency enters the fray. Transparency can actually rob music of it soul where it becomes dissected and sterile while still hearing everything. This is where to me the one facet above all else the RS150(B) excels in is finesse. It gives you pretty much everything but adds just enough warmth to the proceedings. A deft touch maybe another way of putting it. Yes, you can listen for long periods without fatigue and I did. The Ballard of Bill Hubbard opens the album. The low-level detail is incredible. All enveloping. Jeff Beck’s guitar work splits the music and draws you in. They feel like rapiers slicing through the aural landscape in front of me. Shutting your eyes focuses the senses and you are there right in mix. The aural bombardment of this album is what makes it one of my favourites. “Late home Tonight” the birdsong at the start is clearer. Wow. The differences between this and the RS250 are not night and day but they are there and it’s the cumulative effect of all these small improvements that make the whole more addictive. I resist the temptation to forward to certain tracks. This streamer / dac /pre makes you play albums in their entirety. No bad thing in my book. The final three tracks of this album, Three Wishes, It’s a Miracle and Amused to Death are to me Rogers’ crowning moment. I have heard the dialogue at the opening of Three Wishes sound muffled or faint but not here. She is whispering in my ear. The RS150(B) meanwhile is teasing with the rumbling baseline and vocals all the time preparing for Becks next salvos. Intoxicating stuff. There is no let up and I don’t want there to be. It’s a Miracle begins and Rogers scowling monologue is there with bile and pathos hand in hand. There is air and depth to the proceedings with the gentle throb of the bass keeping time. I wish I could describe better what I am hearing but it’s hard when things are so right. A lot easier to describe when things are wrong. Amused to Death the final track is a masterclass is pulling all the threads from the album onto one track. The attention to detail of the recording needs a similar conduit to be appreciated and the RS 150B is no slouch in this respect. I feel a little bit emotionally drained to be honest and that’s the job of music to cover all of how we are feeling and good kit elevates that process.
There were many late-night sessions in the weeks that follow. The usual suspects were played. Tori Amos, Jeff Buckley, Talk Talk and Floyd. The results were consistent. The presentation was slightly elevated in every department compared to the RS250 and as a result just better.
I decided to return to one of my favourite artists David Sylvian for the purpose of this review. Brilliant Trees was David’s first solo release following the breakup of Japan. It’s the first time David stretches his wings and is about as far removed from Tin Drum which some consider to be Japan’s crowning glory. The album is an eclectic mix of funk, jazz and ambient. From the opening track Pulling Punches to the final ambient track of Brilliant Trees RS 150(B) handles all the genre’s thrown at it. I made reference in the review of the RS250 how easy it is to follow bass lines and it is even more evident of the RS150(B). Returning to the final track of this album Brilliant Trees and all 8 minutes and 39 seconds of it. The portrayal was so natural and it captured John Hassell’s woozy trumpet. My current listening room (rented accommodation) is a bit limited so the fact the RS150(B) did a very good job of making me feel like the speakers disappeared is plaudits enough in my book. As I have previously said I’m a sucker for a soundstage that draws you in and envelops you and no more so than on this final track. I stayed up well past my bedtime of more than few occasions. Thank God I don’t have early starts in my current job.
Every story and for that matter a review must have a start, middle and an end. So, you can guess where we are now. The conclusions I have drawn from the RS150(B) are as follows. Do not be deceived or put off the scent of how good this product is because of some the gimmicky stuff that comes attached. That would be a big mistake. For me the fact it is Roon Ready was a big plus and I preferred using RS150(B) via Roon’s DSP engine. You can stream 32-bit 784 kHz to the Rose like shelling peas. Qobuz is no slouch via the Rose app I might add but I just feel Roon makes this product something very special. The unit can be upgraded via firmware releases making it rather future proof and for a product just under a smidge under £4000 is very reassuring. It has internet radio, all the major streaming services apart from Amazon HD but there are rumours this may become a reality. Don’t hold your breath on that one. I played Flac’s from an attached drive with no glitches and unit responds very quickly to these changes. I still think the app needs a bit of work and fine tuning but from a company that wanted to enter the fray three years ago I would say progress has been quick and Rose appear to be a company not wanting to rest on its laurels. The ability also to output 4K to a UHD screen is a big bonus and one I would definitely utilise if I owned this via Rose Tube. I have seen some reviews say they find the touch screen not as smooth as they would like. I can only say with practice it gets easier and I have no such quibbles. The remote is the same as the RS250 and rather functional but not great to look at but why would you use it when all the functionality is on the app for tablet and smart phone.
So would I buy one. I am certainly considering it. Vinyl is my primary source but is a fragile medium as is the equipment when maybe a glass or two has been drunk. So, a switch to streaming makes sense on those occasions. Like most music lovers I want something half decent. My current steamer / dac is a quarter of the price of the RS150(B) and when back in it was very evident why. The RS150(B) is first and foremost a natural and very detailed player with no sense of fatigue. For me it errs slightly on the soft side of presentation and that suits me just fine. Go listen or get one on demo but as the reputation grows, I wouldn’t wait too long.
HIFI ROSE RS150( B) £3899
Danny aka Hifi Duvet .