HiFi Rose RS150B Streaming DAC Review
This is a review summary written by Terry Ellis May 2022.
For my video full review please see my YouTube channel link here
HiFi Rose are a Korean manufacturer who have made a real impact on the world HiFi scene with their music streaming DACs. I think they have been extremely clever releasing a genuine stand out product such as the RS150, that stands out because of the huge screen on the front. It is the first time we have really seen anything like this, and it is very ‘future-fi’, to steal a phrase from John Darko. The screen is a very lovely design touch. However, I have been really impressed with the RS150 but had the screen off for ninety percent of the review. Hopefully, that starts to give an insight as to how innovative this component is, so much so I think the HiFi Rose is the one to beat, not for any individual specific reason, but for its overall offering. There really is a lot of bells and whistles here that all make sense when you put the machine to use
Ten Reasons Why
This review is going to be a little different, it is going to be ten reasons to buy a HiFi Rose RS150.
I need to start with a quick clarification. I have the RS150 ‘B’ model; The ‘B’ reflecting a more recent revision which features an ESS Sabre 9038 Pro DAC chip rather than the previous AKM DAC chip. The change is due to the silicon chip shortage that has effected many industries, but I have been told that both versions are supposed to sound the same, with the only real difference being the output voltage. I cannot confirm this, so please just take this information on board for the rest of this review. Now to move on to my reasoning.
Number 1 – This must be sound quality, because priced at £3,899 there is a huge amount of competition from lower priced rivals that punch above their price point, such as the Auralic Altair G1 I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. However, straight away you can hear that the RS150B offers more. The sound it produces is bigger, full of energy, and it has an immediacy to it that makes you feel like there is less between you and the music happening in front of you. Timing is superb, and there are a lot of micro-details resolved within music which is presented in a nicely balanced way. I am not always the biggest fan of ESS Sabre chip DACs because they can sound a little too overly organised and technically precise for my personal taste. To some extent the Rose does sound like that, but not enough to lose a sense of rounded musicality. I do feel the Rose has a younger person type of sound – very lively, energetic, and upfront, which works great for my current favourite album called Good by Soom T. The big reggae beats, hard hitting percussion and the energy of the music really come through.
There are several different DAC filter modes you can choose between. However, in my system I found that everything except ‘minimum phase fast roll-off’ sounded too energetic and lively, just too much of a good thing for me. Overall. I have been enjoying the sound quality of the RS150b for its clarity, soundstage, nice tonality, good solid bass and sense of musical scale and occasion. For me it ticks the sound quality box in bold.
Number 2 – Ease of use. Thanks to that big 14.1 inch touchscreen, I found it extremely easy to log into my Qobuz account and have music playing within minutes of powering on. I also really like what are called the input and output settings. This appeals to me because a simple set of input and output controls can be made cool by displaying them graphically. It is a simple thing, but it makes a difference. It was easy to get music playing, but to get full functionality you need to set up a free HiFi Rose account. You can do this via the front touch screen, or via the free HiFi Rose app. On my iPad Pro this is fantastic to use, and I found it quite easy to learn. This takes me straight in to Number 3.
Number 3 – The HiFi Rose app. This is visually satisfying and is a gratifying app to use, with the main buttons always accessible at the bottom, such as accessing settings, opening Qobuz, internet radio, podcasts and more. I like the way a play queue is built and how you can access it by pulling out the section to the right. The play queue can be made up of music from any source, but you can quickly organise the list by selecting just the Qobuz music, for example. The app is really fast in operation and was mostly excellent, but I did find a few odd bugs. One annoyance is where, if you select the album art to pull up a detailed playing page, it gets in the way of you accessing other features. There is still room for improvement but, overall, the app is as good as any manufacturer created app I have used, and a lot better than many others.
Number 4 – RoseTube. This is the HiFi Rose edition of YouTube. The difference is that with RoseTube it is all music and there are no adverts. This means that you can build a genuine music play queue or playlist of YouTube music and listen to it without interruption. You might ask why you would want to, as YouTube is compressed. Well, it is also free and there is a lot of it, including live concerts all available for free, and the sound quality is surprisingly very decent, depending on the content quality, especially my own channel, of course! Listening to some older Snoop Dog songs, they sounded pretty dated, but pretty good still. It is also really useful for new music discovery. A cool gimmick feature is that if the music has a video, the video plays on the front screen. Unfortunately, with the screen ratio being so wide, the picture is very small in the middle, and I couldn’t really see it from twelve feet away, which is why I described it as a gimmick, but hold this thought for later.
Number 5 – Flexibility. The easiest way to connect to the Rose is via the home network wired or wireless and you can do pretty much everything with this as you would expect. However, you also have a multitude of different digital inputs, including USB, Balanced AES, Optical coax, and HDMI ARC. For output you have both single ended and balanced analogue from the internal DAC for connecting to your amplifier. In addition to this you also have a multitude of different digital outputs, including I2S, for connecting to an external DAC which allows for future proofing of your digital upgradtitis. The internal DAC is MQA full decoder compatible for those who want that, and the Rose is Roon ready. You can also add a HiFi Rose CD ROM drive to play CDs and rip them to an internal hard drive, you can install, thus extending the Rose to music and video server duties. To me that is offering something for everyone today and many tomorrows, something I really appreciate.
Number 6 – HDMI. There are two HDMI connections, so you could take an HDMI ARC feed from your TV and use your HiFi system for the TV sound. What is more likely is that you will use RoseTube and send the music videos picture to your TV for watching on a big screen, with the sound coming from your Hifi – all with no adverts. Alternatively, you can just see the music-playing album art and other information. This is not new or a standout feature. Apple tv boxes do this and give you the music lyrics for a fraction of the cost, but it is a novelty feature for a high end HiFi music streamer. It is a feature I can see a lot of Rose owners using and enjoying. You also have options to select the correct HDMI resolution for your display, or just use the HDMI output for everything including sound.
Number 7- Upsampling. This is also nothing new but, upsampling is not all created equal. I do not often use it with similar products because it often just accentuates details but, with the Rose using the internal DAC, I tried all the different options and upsampling to 176.4khz seemed to be the sweet spot because the sound lost nothing, but gained in solidity and fullness. I was happy with that and kept it set like this to listen to everything.
Number 8 – Bluetooth and WiFi. Only if you want to use them, the Rose comes with a USB dongle for both WiFi and bluetooth. Initially I was a little put off by this because it was not built into the unit. However, I soon realised I didn’t want to use it anyway, and so having big aerials sticking out of the back would not benefit me. The only downside to this is that the included remote control is Bluetooth based and not infrared. Most users may want to install the dongle – but not me, I didn’t need it.
Number 9 – Aesthetics. I really like the look of the RS150. The screen on the front is visually very striking but, that aside, viewed from all around the unit is very easy on eye. The all-aluminium chassis feels quality, even if not massively heavy. All the connections feel sturdy, and the Rose feels like a well-built product befitting the price tag. On the inside, looking at some published images, I like the fact that there is a linear power supply being used and all custom PCBs.
And that leads me nicely onto Number 10 – The Screen. I saved this deliberately until last but it is without a doubt a standout feature that I really like it. It looks cool and can be very useful, and useable. It is certainly much nicer than plain old boring black and white, or black and green, or similar screens we see across much of the competition. The Rose screen makes a positive impression on your emotional ‘pride of ownership’. However, like I said at the start of this review I used the Rose ninety percent of the time with the screen turned off, simply because I felt it sounded better with it off. Not night and day better, not pick it out every time in a blind test better but, subjectively, with the screen off, the sound was a little more rounded and less edgy. I do think you would need a very good HiFi system in a good room to notice this, and you can always turn off the screen and still send the image via HDMI to your TV and so your covered both ways.
Very Little Downside
I want to throw in one more as a bonus, but before I do so, what about any negatives? Touch screens attract fingerprints, and I do not like my HiFi to have more fingerprints than necessary! The lively sound profile might not be for everyone. You could always add a different DAC, but I feel you are paying for the Rose internal DAC and so at least initially, I think its important you love its overall sound and if you prefer a more laid back, warmer sound, then the Cary Audio dms700, I reviewed last year, may suit you better. Yes, it costs a lot more, but it shows that there can be a different way to do it.
One More and Conclusion
Coming back to the hinted at Number 11. Being able to listen to some music intermixed with watching some music videos, all without any interruption, with excellent sound quality, all controlled really easily within the one app, adds another dimension to music listening and that dimension is FUN! Yes, you could go all serious with the Rose and be a critical listener grump, which is my normal demeanour, but some days it is not about serious critical listening, it is just about listening to have a good time and the Rose does that aspect better than any other streaming DAC I have reviewed to date. When you roll everything up into one package, I think other offerings will better the Rose in individual areas but, as a total package, it is a very well thought out, well developed, diverse product that is offering a great many features and a lot of flexibility, and that is what I think makes it the one to beat.
It is much, much more than a music streamer with a big screen as a gimmick.
It is much, much more than a music streamer with a big screen as a gimmick.
A Special Performer Award is Pursuit Perfect Systems highest accolade and is in recognition of exceptional product performance regardless of price
For the full specification of the RS150b see the website here