REFERENCE AUDIO – WITHAM ESSEX
BOB’s Review Series - No 39 – HiFi Rose RS150B Network-Attached Pre/DAC
Introduction – HiFi Rose are a South Korean company specialising in network streamers and are relatively new to the UK market, they describe themselves as a HiFi Media Player brand. I guess that to some extent they think of themselves as producing lifestyle products that are easy to use, look great and have above average sound quality thrown in for good measure. The RS150B retails at £3,899 (at the time of writing) and is a full width device with a 14.9” screen and is 430mm wide x 316mm deep and 123mm high and weighs in at 13Kg. They have two other streaming devices in their portfolio, the RS250 is a smaller device with an 8.8” wide screen and the RS 201E is the smallest device and includes a two-channel amplifier for a cost effective one box streaming solution, just add speakers. They plan to launch a similar sized integrated amplifier in May 2022. It comes finished in silver or black.
Technology – The first edition of the RS150 (now referred to as the RS150A) used the AKM AK4499EQ DAC chip but recent worldwide problems with the supply of those chips meant that HiFi Rose decided to reconfigure the RS150 to utilise the more readily available ESS Sabre 9038PRO chips and they called this spec change the RS150B. The specification differences between the RS150A and the RS150B are not that great with both DAC chips having almost identical levels of performance. The biggest change is in the output levels with the A version providing 9.0Vrms in balanced mode and 4.5Vrms unbalance with the B version providing a more common 6.5Vrms and 2.2Vrms respectively. This review is of the RS150B, the A version now being superseded.
The RS150 is a complex device and in the time I had it available for review it was just not possible to explore all its functions, so I only concentrated on its HiFi audio capabilities and didn’t even begin to explore its video, WIFI of Bluetooth options. Nonetheless here are some of its many capabilities:
- It does Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection to your network, but not both together. I tried to set up the Wi-Fi but it wanted to disable the Ethernet before allowing Wi-Fi, so I stuck with Ethernet.
- Supports full MQA Studio up to 192kHz
- Supports Airplay, DNLA, Roon (Roon tested and Roon Ready)
- Casework milled from a solid block of aluminium.
- 14.9” touch screen
- PCM 8kHz to 768kHz – 8 bit to 32 bit
- Native DSD 64 to 512 (*note the issue with fixed volume before trying this)
- Current software version 4.0 was installed
- Inputs include Optical x 1, Coax x 1, Line in RCA x 1, AES/EBU on XLR x 1, HDMI Arc x 1 and USB DAC x 1
- Outputs include Optical x1, Coax x1, Pre-Out on XLR and RCA, 12S x1, 12s RJ45 x 1, AES/EBU on XLR x1 and Video Out on HDMI 2.0 x1
- It can be set to upsample incoming data to 192kHz
- Customisable Settings include Volume for all inputs, inputs on/off, USB in/out, various display options, Clock display when in standby and screen brightness
- Can also play from an attached USB stick or micro-SD card up to 400Gb or from an on-board SSD (not included but can be customer or dealer installed)
- Various customer selectable filter settings
- Pre-Out can be fixed for DAC Mode into another preamp or used as a preamp with output settings from 100mV to 9000mV in 13 selectable settings
- It can stream Ultra HD 4K video via HDMI to an attached screen or TV
- A Bluetooth remote control is provided (it needs pairing on first use)
- WOW – and there is more if you can find the time and effort to look for it
System Components used in this Review:
Preamp: Gryphon Essence Preamp
Power Amplifier: Gryphon Essence Stereo Power Amp
Digital Sources: Innuos Statement Streamer – Meridian 201 CD Transport
DAC: PS Audio Perfect Wave DS DAC
Analogue Sources: Meridian 204 Tuner and Revox B77 MKII Reel to Reel
Streaming Sources: Tidal HiFi and Qobuz Hi-Res – Innuos Statement Hard Drive
Streamer Management: Roon – Innuos Statement acting as Roon Core and Storage
Speakers: Marten Mingus Quintet
Performance – *First a warning, if I am reading the manual right (it’s downloadable online) it only outputs DSD files at full volume so don’t try to play DSD files with the RS150 connected to your power amp when running in preamp mode. If I’m wrong on this point, then I apologise but I didn’t want to risk it, so I stuck with the more common higher bit rate files.
There are many ways in which the RS150 can be used, and I tried the following three ways.
Preamp Mode – Used this way it was feeding my power amp directly and was streaming directly and playing files stored on the Innuos Statement hard drive. This might be how most owners will use the RS150 particularly if they have a home NAS drive with stored music files ready for the RS150 to find. It did indeed sound very good, with a lively and engaging presentation. Used this way it was equally as good as any other similar device at or near this price point, just not quite as good as when used with a decent external preamp where even greater clarity can be extracted from the RS150B. Under most circumstances the difference might not be discernible but in a highly revealing system the onboard preamp/volume control was just a bit more laid back and less resolving, sounding a bit more vailed with less sparkle than when used with an external preamp.
DAC Mode – This was my preferred option where the RS150B was performing as a streamer and DAC only with the pre out volume and all digital outputs disabled and feeding music into my preamp. Used this way the RS150B was acting as a streamer DAC with the Statement used as the server and the RS150B didn’t disappoint, not adding anything unwanted to the sound but not taking away either. The ESS chip is good at resolving detail and the RS150B gave a dynamic sound with a wide and deep soundstage with little loss that only much more expensive DACs can resolve. But all of this is subjective and how you use it in your own system very much depends on what other components you already have and just how much of the RS150B you want to use.
Streamer Only – Connected to my PS Audio DAC via AES/EBU on XLR the RS150 sounded very revealing and accurate. Roon found it immediately and it streamed without any issues. I tried it with USB out into the outboard DAC but preferred the XLR connection which I felt gave it a bit more life and energy. Used this way the RS150B was effectively acting as a Roon endpoint player only where the Statement was the Roon Core and a music storage and server device. An expensive addition if you already have a DAC and a Streamer in your system but arguably worth it just for that amazing 14.9” touchscreen.
Conclusion – In every way the HiFi Rose RS150 is a remarkable device and offers great value for money. With that fantastic screen there’s not much, if any direct competition out there. It has seemingly endless user settings and sound quality a match for anything else at or near its price which at under £4,000 could be considered a bargain. I was mightily impressed and tempted to keep it! Hopefully the matching Power Amp will be a fine companion and I hope to review the pair later this summer. It is easy to use, never faltered and integrated impressively into my system. HiFi Rose appear to have thrown everything at the RS150B and it shows in the ease of use, sound quality and that stunning front panel display.
Now if only I could find out how to get it to make coffee.
Bob – Team Reference Audio