HiFi Rose RS150 Streaming DAC Review Page 2

The RS150 comes with a non-backlit plastic remote control that works well and feels sturdy enough. Since it operates by Bluetooth, it can control the RS150 without a line of sight. While many of the RS150's functions will likely be controlled via a phone or tablet, the inclusion of a more aesthetically inspired remote would have been nice.

What's not included in the RS150's feature package? There's no amplifier, headphone output, room correction, or balanced analog inputs. And Bluetooth connectivity is only one-way. I don't fault the RS150 too much for omitting these things, however, since the many features that the RS150 does provide are all very useful.

Setup
Removing the RS150 from its box revealed a gorgeous, tank-like machine. Powering it up caused a tutorial to appear on the touchscreen, which is the largest and most ravishing that I've encountered on an A/V component. Doubtless due to the RS150's considerable computer processing power, the touchscreen functions with exceptional fluidity and a high level of responsiveness.

Using the RS150 as a DAC, preamplifier, and music streamer, I connected it to a pair of System Audio SA Saxo 5 powered speakers via a pair of RCA cables. I next connected an Ethernet cable, inserted the included Wi-Fi/Bluetooth dongle, paired the Bluetooth remote control, and selected my language and time zone, updated the unit's firmware, and entered my network password and Tidal and Qobuz credentials using the touchscreen controls.

My next step was to connect a USB storage drive containing music files. I also tried to download the RoseConnect app to my seven-year-old iPad Mini 2 running iOS12 but discovered that the app only works on iPads running iOS 13 and later. (HiFi Rose has a basic app called RoseWare that works with older devices, but I didn't use it, opting instead to control the RS150 with my iPhone.) For video, I ran a cable between the RS150's HDMI port and the one on my LG OLED TV, and also used the set's HDMI ARC port to route TV sound back to the RS150.

322hifirose.2

I mostly used the RS150 with its digital audio filter set to Apodizing Fast Roll-off and the signal upsampling option turned off. Upsampling the signal did increase perceived detail, but I found that the Native setting provided the most natural sound. (Bear in mind that digital setting choices are highly dependent on personal preference and the sonic characteristics of the amp and speakers used.)

Performance
The RS150 leaned toward a rich, weighty, and layered sound, reminding me more of Simaudio's Moon 280D ($3,000) than Linn's Majik DSM ($3,835), two stream-capable components I tested in the April/May and August/September 2021 issues, respectively. Soundstage size was larger than I've experienced with most streaming DACs, while images were clearly delineated and horizontally layered.

For reasons of order and context, I don't typically listen to classical compilation albums. Nonetheless, I started with Beethoven's iconic "Fifth Symphony, 1st Movement," from Evening Classical Chill Out with Beethoven, Mozart, & Greig (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Tidal). The presentation was elegant and natural, with violins sounding full and sweet, and oboes powerful and expressive. Although not as pinpoint in its presentation of images as the Majik DSM, the RS150 clearly placed the symphony's string sections on the stage's left portion and within that area ordered high-frequency instruments like violins and lower-pitched ones like violas from left to right, with woodwinds placed accurately in-between.

On many tracks, the RS150's sound was not only flattering, but positively forgiving. Take "Can't We Be Friends," from another compilation, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong Collection (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Qobuz). This track suffers from a lack of transparency, strident trumpet and piano notes, and sibilants on Armstrong's vocals. The RS150 moderated the last two of these shortcomings and managed to do so without dulling voices.

322hifirose.ins

The RS150's accommodating sonic balance was especially welcome with 1970s rock. Playing "Magic Bus," from The Who's Live at Leeds (24-bit/48kHz FLAC, Qobuz), it smoothed some of the electric guitar peaks that are especially apparent at high volumes with that track. And on "Sound Chaser," from Yes' Relayer (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Tidal), the RS150 took a bit of the edge off a bright and otherwise sonically challenged recording.

The RS150's sound didn't want for detail. On "Magic Bus," it adroitly reproduced guitar riff echoes as they bounced off the venue's left wall. And on the opening low-frequency volleys of Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird Suite" (24-bit/176.4kHz WAV), it was able to easily parse the timbres of the percussion, woodwind, and string instruments. Furthermore, the orchestral volleys sounded clean and were followed by finely textured percussive decays.

The above praise does not mean that the RS150 served up the proverbial free lunch. On "Magic Bus," it produced electric guitar riffs with slightly less energy and dynamism than I've heard with some other network players. And on "Let's Go (extended mix)," from Deadmau5's W:/2016ALBUM/ (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC), the electronic pulses and bass beats sounded a bit polite and laid-back.

Checking out music videos from the RoseTube app on my TV, I found the picture quality to be stunning, and the same held for higher-quality regular YouTube videos streamed via the RS150. Audio received from the TV through the RS150's HDMI ARC port also sounded fine, though again, the quality varied with the specific video.

322hifirose.3

Moving to the RS150's touchscreen, static album art displayed while streaming from Tidal and Qobuz looked fantastic and covered virtually the entire 14.9 inches of screen real estate. Videos were displayed on a smaller square at the screen's center and high-quality ones looked fantastic. Most of the time, though, I set the RS150 to display one of the VU meter choices.

As a complex and fairly new product, the RS150 wasn't without bugs. For example, several of the Rose apps intermittently failed to work based on an apparent inability to connect with the company's server. However, after I notified HiFi Rose of the issue, an automatic firmware update was released that solved things. Other updates released during my evaluation period improved the RS150's already excellent menu system and added content to the Rose apps.

Conclusion
Most streaming DACs at the RS150's price point, and even above, don't provide anywhere near its mix of features, performance, aesthetics and build quality, and operational flexibility. It's also easy to listen to—a quality I find to be very important in a network music player. HiFi Rose could charge substantially more for the RS150 and I'd still give it a cracking review.

COMPANY INFO
HiFi Rose
MoFi Distribution (U.S. and Canadian distributor)
(312) 738-5025
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
John_Werner's picture

You can stream everything in very good audio quality for so much less that I do not get where these units are so expensive. Must be for a much larger profit margin and a slightly better build. Not really worth that. My pick is the Cocktail Audio N25 which in The US is largely ignored.

trynberg's picture

As an Android-based device, isn't this limited by Android's audio limitations, such as all 44.1 kHz material being resampled to 48 kHz?

As someone who doesn't at all get the use case for one of these boxes, I'll (mostly) avoid commenting on the perceived value of $5k for something like this. Eesh.

X