I was first tipped off about HiFi Rose by a friend in the industry. Soon after, I contacted Jon Derda at US distributor MoFi, and had an RS250 on the way to me in Minneapolis. After receiving the unit, Jon eagerly jumped on the phone with me to go over the product and give me a run-through. The product was new to me, but certainly not new to Jon. He knew it very well, anticipated my questions, and also had a direct line to the company in Korea, if necessary. I felt I was in good hands, as opposed to being sent a unit and doing more work and understanding the product better than those selling it. Jon also assured me that version 4 of the HiFi Rose software was coming soon, and that it was a nice upgrade over previous versions. The upgrade arrived about a week ago, and I've been using the RS250 heavily ever since.
The HiFi Rose RS250 is a jack of all trades. It's billed as a "Complete HiFi Network Streamer." A partial list of features includes support for Qobuz, Tidal, Bugs, RoseTube (YouTube with most YouTube branding hidden and no commercials), internet radio, podcasts, Roon Ready, Spotify Connect, CD playback/ripping, UPnP server/renderer, USB audio input and output, PCM through 32/768, DSD through DSD512, internal SATA hard drive, 8.8" touchscreen, and an iOS/Android app for control.
Given the touchscreen and video capability, I decided to place the RS250 on my desktop, connected to a Schiit Audio Vidar amp and Wilson Audio TuneTot loudspeakers. If I put the RS250 in my main audio system I'd never use the touchscreen or see the videos, because it would be too far away from my listening position and I can't take advantage of the HDMI video output without a television. On my desk, I interacted with the unit all the time and could see the videos playing on the front panel.
After extended use and listening, I consider the HiFi Rose RS250 as a nice effort with good sound. From a pessimist's perspective, it's a streamer strapped to an Android mobile phone. Looking at it as an optimist, it's a good sounding streamer with a few features not found in most HiFi products (YouTube playback built-in, 4K video output, social media style HiFi Rose friends).
Let's start with the parts of the RS250 that I really like. I loved having a physical volume knob a few inches form my keyboard. I could push it in quickly to mute the unit, or easily spin the knob for some extra juice during my favorite tracks. I unexpectedly really liked the YouTube features, but not how most people will probably guess. The touchscreen is pretty small and not the best for watching a video, especially when I have an Apple Pro Display XDR right above the RS250. However, I loved the ability to find obscure performances from my favorite bands and listen to them through my system. These releases are never going to make it to streaming services and most of them sound pretty bad, but it's the music that really matters.
Note: Here is a link to a quick video I shot, of the RS250 playing a video. Yes, sounds funny I know, but it gives viewers an idea what video looks like on the touchscreen. I removed the audio because YouTube is no fun when using copyrighted audio.
It's nearly impossible for me to think of another HiFi product that integrates YouTube directly into the iOS/Android application. Manufacturers need to stop thinking about the quality of the source, and focus on making whatever source we have sound as good as if possible can. Bravo HiFi Rose.
I also liked the RS250's full Roon Ready implementation. I could control the volume with the knob or within Roon and both the unit and the app would stay in sync. The display while using Roon was really nice as well. It's what we've all come to expect from Roon Ready. It just works. Keep in mind that this is only while using Roon over the RS250 network/WiFi interface. Connecting via USB and using Roon is a completely different experience.
I also liked the sound through the RS250. It's a single ended only unit with a single chip ESS ES9038 Q2M implementation. I prefer balanced XLR connections over single ended RCA connections, if for no other reason than rejection of common-mode noise, but the RS250 didn't suffer from any issues due to the RCA connections.
Whether listening through Roon via Ethernet, Audirvana Studio via USB, JPLAY's new UPnP app, or the built-in YouTube app, I enjoyed the sound of the RS250. It won't set any records for the ultimate in delicacy, seductive midrange, or delineated bottom end with texture, but it's a solid performer. As I type this, I'm listening to Pearl Jam's MTV Unplugged album. The acoustic guitars and Eddie Vedder's baritone sound really good through the RS250, Schiit Vidar, and Wilson TuneTots. It's an engaging system capable of bringing quite a bit of music enjoyment to almost any listener.
No product is perfect and no product can please everybody. Anybody telling you otherwise, is trying to fool you. The part of the RS250 that really falls short of my expectations is the user interface. Both the iOS interface and the local touchscreen interface are wonky. This brings me back to the mobile phone aspect of the RS250 Android implementation. Just because it's possible to implement an Android feature, doesn't mean it should be implemented. For example, I seriously doubt showing the weather information on the RS250 is helping anyone. If anything, it's an annoyance because it isn't possible to select any city for a forecast. The closest city I could select was Chicago. I love Chicago, but couldn't care less that it's sunny there, while it's six degrees and snowing outside my window.
The feature that HiFi Rose calls RoseFM is an excursive in skeuomorphism that looks better than it actually is. The analog looking "FM" dial looks neat, but similar to the weather functionality, isn't as useful as an FM radio. It's really an internet radio with a limited number of cities from which to select, for listening to stations. The between channel noise is a nice touch, but one quickly notices it's just an MP3 of repeated noise that plays between every channel. Right now the location selected on the RS250 says USA - ELY. Call me crazy, but I'm guessing this isn't Ely, Minnesota, population 3,460 (counting all the wildlife on a good day). Hitting the scan button on the dial, took me from WFMT in Chicago to KIIS in Los Angeles. Perhaps USA - ELY is a radio's greatest hits.
Closer to home, many of us use Tidal and/or Qobuz more than internet radio. I prefer Qobuz, and figured I'd try it from within the HiFi Rose iOS app. I know many people who don't want to pay Roon or Audirvana for a yearly subscription only to listen to Qobuz, so testing with "free" built-in implementations is always a good thing.
The screen I use 90% of the time within Qobuz, whether I'm browsing through Aurender, Roon, Audrivana, or the Qobuz native application, is one that shows albums I've "favorited." I love browsing these albums in the order I added them to my favorites, and selecting which ones to play. It's just how I listen much of the time. In the HiFi Rose iOS app for iPad, I browsed to Qobuz > My Collection > Favorite > Releases > View All. The app is limited to displaying only the last twenty albums I marked as a favorite. This is a showstopper for me. The iOS app for iPhone and the Android apps don't have this issue.
Note: HiFi Rose was able to duplicate the issue at the time of publishing this article. I'm sure it will be fixed soon and will update this article when the fix is released.
Moving back to the Qobuz home page within the Rose app, I see a section titled, "Tidal Playlist on Rose." Yes, within the Qobuz app, it's labeled Tidal playlists. Clicking just below that, to the new release section, I see that is also limited to twenty albums.
The Tidal implementation in the HiFi Rose app doesn't have the twenty album limitation, but I couldn't find anyway to few the albums in anything other than list mode. I like to see the album art larger than a thumbnail when scrolling through. This wasn't possible in the Tidal section, but was the only view in the Qobuz section. This is one of the reasons I said the HiFi Rose RS250 as a nice effort with good sound. It's not a polished product in the way that those from Aurender and Lumin are polished products.
For the most part, I found the features such as clock, video (not to be confused with RoseTube), RosePodcast, Radio, RoseFM, etc... more interesting to look at initially than useful in the long run. The recommendations in the RoseHome section weren't my taste, and I can live with that. If a product tried to please me, it would likely lose far more customers. However, this is where the global audience will be detrimental to such a feature. The first playlist on the "Rose recommended list" is Jazz vocalists. OK, I could get into that. The second playlist was written in Korean, but did use a Telarc album cover as the photo. I have trouble pleasing two people in my household when I control the music on road trips. I can't imagine the difficultly in recommending playlists for a global audience.
Note: I was unable to play any of these playlists by using the touchscreen on the unit. Switching to the iOS app, I was able to play the playlists and noticed something outside of the box. The third playlist contained high quality YouTube performances. It's nice to see a company mix all available sources in playlists. There's no reason to stay old school and ignore a huge source of fantastic music. Nice work HiFi Rose.
Last, I'll mention another item that makes me think the RS250 needs some fine tuning. While browsing around the settings, I stumbled upon a full blown Android interface. I have no clue how I got there, but in front of me on the touchscreen were icons for Contacts, Explorer, settings, etc... Here are a couple images from the experience. While this has nothing to do with the sound quality of the unit or the main functionality of the user interface, it just makes me think HiFi Rose has an upward trajectory with room for improvement.
The HiFi Rose RS250 is a jack of all trades that leans toward HiFi. The unit sounds good and will likely please most listeners using any of its numerous sources. I enjoyed Tidal, Qobuz, and YouTube audio through the RS250. Kudos to HiFi Rose for taking content from wherever it is and in whatever quality it is, and making it sound as good as it can.
On the flip side, the RS250 isn't nearly as polished as some of its competition from the likes of Aurender, Lumin, and Auralic. The user interface is more like a mobile phone, with endless and unneeded features, as opposed to a HiFi component. Call me a curmudgeon, but I just don't need social media built into my HiFi. At a high level, I like the idea of HiFi friends and sharing playlists, but I'm not sold on it yet. Perhaps there will be a better implementation down the road that'll change my mind.
Speaking of down the road, much of the HiFi Rose RS250 is controlled by software. As such, it's all upgradable as the company sees fit. This means improvements are fairly easy to deliver. A talented team of dedicated people could really take the RS250 up a couple levels via software updates. I see a bright future for HiFi Rose and a future to which I'll eagerly be paying attention.
It's a good effort.
Some HiFi Rose RS250 Screenshots
- Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender N20, CAPS 20
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil LiM, Meitner Audio MA3, Denafrips Terminator II
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers, Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated 1.0
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2, Wilson Audio TuneTot
- Headphones: RAAL-requisite SR1a
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, Aurender Conductor, HQPDcontrol v4 (iOS) (Android), JPLAY for iOS
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro (M1)
- Playback Software: Roon, HQPlayer
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40'), AudioQuest Robin Hood SILVER (ZERO)
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream.
My RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones using a convolution filter created my Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The blue trace is the raw measurement and green is the corrected response. Here we bring down the two peaks above the green curve, in addition to smoothing out the response.
Here is an article all about the headphone filter - Taking the SR1a to Another Level