Many devices can add streaming to a music system. Few devices are as versatile and as attention-grabbing as HiFi Rose streamers. Their new RS250A not only plays music in many ways, but it can also even handle 4K video.
The Korean brand HiFi Rose has managed to get a lot of attention in a short period. Nowadays, their devices regularly appear at hi-fi shows and shopping events. Especially their streamers or network players. Why? In the first place, because of the significant preference that HiFi Rose has for big touchscreens on their devices. That makes them very suitable as eye candy during demonstrations. Instead of the usual small displays that show album covers that you cannot see from a listening chair, the HiFi Rose devices always manage to make it a visual feast. The company now produces much more than just streamers, such as the unique steampunk RA180 amplifier or the beautiful RS301 designer table radio.
With the compact RS250A we’re looking at here, the young team behind HiFi Rose returns to its roots and offers an update to one of its first products. One of the big differences between this RS250A and the older RS250 from 2021 is the new DAC section. What remains the same is the proprietary software and interface based on Android.
The $2,499 RS250A remains a premium streamer, targeting music lovers who want to complement their audio system with a versatile device that does more than just ‘stream’. Its ability to run apps and play video makes it rather a universal media player.
|What||Streamer built-in with DAC|
|Streaming||Rose HIFI-app, AirPlay, Spotify Connect, DLNA, Bluetooth, Roon|
|Inputs||optical, USB class B, USB, optical, coaxial, cinch, Ethernet, WiFi|
|Outputs||cinch, coaxial, optical, USB audio-out, HDMI|
|Extra’s||4K60 video playback, large 8.8-inch screen, optional internal SSD|
|Dimensions||27,8 x 23,1 x 8,3 cm|
A cinema screen
Little has been done about the appearance of the RS250A. It remains a relatively compact device with beautifully finished housing made of anodized aluminum and a lot of appearances. Whether you choose the silver or black version, you get a modern and refined device. The cooling fin-like sides, among other things, give it something streamlined and chic.
But let’s be honest: those design details may escape your attention. It’s hard not to take your eyes off the front of the RS250A – especially the colorful 8.8-inch display that takes up almost all of the front panel. We do not know the exact screen ratio of the display, but it is more than 21:9, we think. A very wide screen and therefore not that high, so the RS250A remains only 8 cm high. This makes it possible to park it on furniture in front of a television screen. It, therefore, also looks different from audio devices that use a more rectangular screen, such as you find with (older) smartphones. The resolution is also unknown to us, but even up close, everything remains razor-sharp. No savings have been made on this part.
The front is, therefore, the screen, or almost. This mirrors the trend for smartphones to have any screen edges hardly. Still, a few physical buttons have been retained to the right of the screen. You will find a headphone output under an on/off key and a volume knob.
With the HiFi Rose streamer, you get an elegant metal remote. It is not too big and is especially useful when listening. To change settings, you have to go past the screen on the RS250A. The remote works with Bluetooth, which means that it also works if you don’t have a line of sight on the streamer. Usually, we would now say that you can safely put this device out of sight in a cupboard. But we don’t think you buy HiFi Rose for that. This is a showpiece.
Streamer, DAC of digitale hub
Although the RS250A is positioned as a streamer, it can play a different role. Thanks to a series of digital inputs, you can, for example, send external sources via the DAC in the HiFi Rose. You can also connect an analog source, although it will be digitized.
For example, we connected a Project CD Box RS2 T CD transport and played music CDs. At such a moment, you can show digital VU meters on the screen of the HiFi Rose, which appear very analog and lifelike from a distance of two or three meters. A gimmick? Maybe, but one that will put a smile on many people’s lips. This is possibly a good summary of what makes HiFi Rose unique.
Equally typical of the brand is that you can not just show VU meters but also choose from different styles (including, with a big wink, a blue mode called McIntosh Style). Among other things, a jazz disc by Gauthier Toux Trio was discussed, an album that we ripped and listened to while streaming. There was no difference between the two media, which indicates that you do not lose quality when using external sources such as a CD player.
You will find many USB ports on the back: three of them, each with a different role to play. You can plug USB storage into one port so that the RS250A can play music files (and serve as a music server on the network). Another option is to build an SSD into the player itself.
A second USB port is a digital audio output that you can route to another DAC, while the USB Class B input is for connecting a digital network transport or a PC to the RS250A. As if that weren’t enough choice, you can connect a CD drive to one of those ports to play or rip music CDs to attached storage. In terms of outputs, you can choose from analog cinch or digital options.
The significant differences between the RS250 and RS250A are all on the inside. Starting with the DA conversion. The new model handles this with an ESS ES9028 Pro, an eight-channel chip used here as a stereo solution. Previously it was an ES9038 Q2M, a higher chip intended for mobile devices. The DAC chip is, of course, only part of the display chain. The clock that controls the DA conversion and the analog output section has also been tinkered with. The result is that the RS250A performs better in terms of signal-to-noise ratio, among other things. Together with the updates that have surfaced in recent years, the new HiFi Rose streamer, therefore, comes across as a more mature product.
Even Apple Music
More audio devices support streaming services and play their music files. But how HiFi Rose approaches it is pretty unique. The manufacturer was inspired by smartphones and tablets to create an interface where you can install apps. These apps are, for example, streaming services such as Tidal or Qobuz. A surprising one to see popping up in the list is Apple Music, perhaps because Apple is one of the few to make its mobile Android app available as a separate APK. This way, HiFi Rose can easily make a version for their devices.
Most apps are already installed on the device, but you can find a handful more in the RoseStore icon. The underlying software may be Android, but this is a slimmed-down version without the Google GMS layer. So you can’t just install Android apps; only official HiFI Rose apps work on this device.
Playing via streaming services is very lovely on the RS250A, partly because you get playlists and information beautifully presented. The HiFi Rose does well to play your music files, partly because it supports many formats. Our test handled virtually all stereo test files, including DSD512 and PCM formats up to 768 kHz, without any problem. This part of the interface did feel a bit cluttered, a feeling we sometimes had with the Rose HiFi app. That app is complete and allows you to remotely control almost any app on the RS250A. That is precisely why it comes across as busy, perhaps because you cannot hide unnecessary things in the app. That would be a helpful addition.
Playing music does not necessarily have to be done via the apps on the RS250A or the Rose HiFi app. You can ignore the built-in apps. After all, the device supports AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, while Bluetooth is also present. The HiFi Rose streamer is fully Roon Ready.
When playing music via, say, Qobuz or Roon, you get album art and meta information beautifully presented on the screen. There is nothing comparable – it is also the exact opposite of the minimalism of, say, Lumin.
A proprietary interface
The interface of the RS250A is adapted to the widescreen and does not resemble a classic Android menu system as you know it from the smartphone. Options and apps appear in one row as large icons, and you can scroll through the range by swiping left or right on the screen. The main screen is kept simple, and it works smoothly. A good tip is to disable unnecessary apps so that the list of shortcuts becomes shorter and more relevant. Hiding the unnecessary apps makes the user experience a lot quieter. We ourselves found this option very useful because HiFi Rose provides a number of apps that we found less interesting. Like one that conjures up a virtualized radio on the screen of your tablet. Not very useful, we thought, because there is also another radio app that is much easier to use. If you open an app like Qobuz,
If you dive deeper into the settings, it can get a bit text-centric. You will quickly discover another side of this HiFi Rose: the extensive controls, both in terms of presentation and audio. You will find a lot of things that you will not quickly discover on another streamer. The downside is that this part of the menu is much more extensive than with other devices.
We used to be one of the first to start with HiFi Rose, partly in the context of an EISA evaluation. Then the interface was plagued with poorly translated English and no local language option. Importer Network Media Systems has now taken care of this, and the entire interface does speak Dutch. Many people can probably make do with English, French, or German, but it is nice that attention is paid to the Dutch-speaking market. Mainly because you will find some more unusual options on this device.
How important is the screen?
The main reason to buy a HiFi Rose is its large screen. But how important is it? On the one hand, such a large screen is excessive at certain times. Especially the touch aspect of it. It is often more convenient to adjust something or select music via the accompanying app than to get out of your chair and go to the screen.
But it is still pleasant for several things. This way, you can fully control the HiFi Rose without reaching for an app, even when it comes to things like entering an artist’s name in a search box. You can also operate some functions very efficiently via the touchscreen, such as the handsome retro equalizer.
The large screen is used effectively when playing music. Whether you stream via Roon or an app on the HiFi Rose, you will see music information and album cover beautifully presented here. Or you choose those VU meters.
Yes, also a video player
The RS250A is a music streamer. But thanks to the HDMI output and the ability to install apps, you can quickly turn it into a video source. You don’t have to do anything about this, because the necessary software is already present. HiFi Rose simply implements the open-source player VLC; you only have to indicate in the settings that you want to use this. In any case, VLC is a great choice because this app plays almost all video formats and also supports things like subtitles.
We ran some video test files on the RS250A, including some we ‘found’ on the internet. Even with large 4K files played from a NAS, the player could largely handle it without any problems, without displaying any stutters. Only one with an H.265 encoding makes it a bit difficult for the streamer in the form of green stripes in the image.
HiFi Rose also provides its own YouTube app that can display music-related videos. Like a few other apps, you must indicate your country, and you will receive an adapted offer. But we did not find the Netherlands or Belgium among the options, but we did find them in the country selection for radio stations. The ability to play Tidal videos is interesting.
What you can’t: install streaming services like Netflix or bring the sound from the TV to the RS250A via HDMI. After all, it is not an HDMI-eARC port. You can, however, connect the TV to the HiFi Rose with an optical cable to still play the TV sound via your music system. Incidentally, the more expensive RS150A does have an HDMI-ARC port (and an even larger screen).
Typical of the brand is that you also get an extra option here: if you use the RS250A purely as a digital player, you can send the sound via the HDMI output. This is useful if you work with an AV receiver. A unique option is that you can indicate that audio files with a specific format (such as Dolby Digital) are sent to the receiver untouched.
DAC in the spotlight
We connected the RS250A to a Primare set we had been testing for some time. Because we mainly want to zoom in on the performance of the HiFi Rose streamer, including its DAC, we lay an analog cinch cable to the Primare PRE35. This controls the Primare A35.8, which provides music in bridge mode and with bi-wiring Canton Reference 7 K speakers. That is eight Ncore modules for two speakers, we will not be short of power.
We play ‘Azel’ by Bombino, the Tuareg master guitarist. Like with Tinarawen, you immediately recognize the unique, deviating tuned electric guitar sound and riffs that could only come from a Sahara country; this album is enriched with jazz influences from elsewhere. It is incredibly restless and fast that guitar playing, and we are especially curious about how the RS250A handles it. Towards the end of ‘Jaguar,’ it comes out strongly. The guitar notes follow each other faster and faster – a metal guitarist would still find it challenging – but the RS250A presents them discreetly and precisely defined. We do not detect a huge amount of coloring or additions on the part of the HiFi Rose. The DA conversion seems to be correct and reasonably transparent. A ‘Light for Attracting Attention’ by Radiohead spin-off The Smile and the live recordings on ‘Skald’ by the Norwegian dark folk band Wardruna also present the HiFi Rose authentically and cleanly. Especially with the atmospheric tracks of Wardruna, we got a convincing live performance, with sufficient spatial information and a lot of texture in the voices that brought traditional chants. You do feel involved.
We could easily use the RS250A as a digital streamer for the AKM-DAC in the Primare PRE35. Simply connect a USB cable and then point to the external DAC via the app (or screen) in the graphical overview of inputs/outputs. At that moment, you bypass the DA converter in the HiFi Rose. Quite interesting to do because the DAC in the Primare sounds slightly different from the one built into the RS250A. A bit warmer, maybe a little less transparent than the HiFi Rose, we get the impression when we played the sometimes corny ‘Iconic’ by the German violin player David Garrett.
The accompanying app and the software deserve some polishing so that you can quickly discover the many possibilities of the RS250A. “Less is more” seems like good advice for HiFi Rose in this case. But that is also the main criticism we can have of this device. And isn’t it a deal breaker because the user-friendliness isn’t bad now? But it can be better.
Most importantly, this HiFI Rose offers something unique. And we’re not just talking about the big screen. It can seduce many excellent features you rarely find elsewhere. Having your music presented this way while listening is also very nice. The RS250A invites you to keep playing music.
Moreover, HiFi Rose has not only built a device that tries to lure you with a large screen and many streaming options. The broad connectivity and good DAC make this more than an everyday streamer. In short, you can go in many directions with this device. That makes the RS250A particularly future-oriented. You can now use it as a total solution, but later, for example, when purchasing a better DAC, continue to use it as a pure streamer. A real all-rounder.
- Much more than a regular streamer
- Extensive streaming options
- Comprehensive support for music formats, good support for video files
- Large, colorful screen with a wide viewing angle
- First DAC
- The app could be tighter
- Sometimes overwhelming in terms of choices and options
- A few translations here and there