The HiFi Rose RA180 Integrated Amplifier Review.

The HiFi Rose RA180 Integrated Amplifier Review.

By Steve Huff

My Full Video Review of the HiFi Rose RA180

It’s 11pm and as I sit and listen to this HiFi Rose RA180 Integrated Amp in darkness I am going to tell you one spoiler up front, right now. This is among the best low volume late night solid state listening amps I have heard. For this task alone it bests the Pass Labs XA 60.8 and XP-22 pre amp I have here.

At low level listening the sound is quite full, detailed and very expansive. In fact, while I fell for the looks of the amp when it was announced, I fell for it more so after I reviewed the companies excellent 150b streamer and DAC. Truth be told, I expected to dislike this piece as it uses Class D amplification.

What’s wrong with Class D amps? Well, nothing really. It would probably sound snobby of me to say that in the past I have never fell in love with a Class D amp, but it’s true. I haven’t.

To me, all of the class D amps I have heard in the past have had a sound about them that was just a touch off. A sheen, a dry treble, and in some cases a fatiguing flat sound. Sometimes they sounded dull and overly smooth without excitement. I have yet to hear a Class D amp that I would own (will the Rose be any different)? Maybe it is because I have not heard them all, and I know there are great ones out there. Maybe it is because I grew up with Class A and Class A/B amps and am used to that sound.

Maybe the HiFi Rose is one of the greats as this is an all new Class D that Rose has dubbed “Class AD”. The flavor of Class A/B with the efficiency and speed of D. Hmmm. If this is true it could be a great compromise between power hungry heat producing Class A amps and energy efficient cool running Class D amps.

Thanks to The Music Room (tmraudio.com) I have been able to bring this integrated amp into my space for a while to give it a go and I now get to tell you guys all about it. You can check out the Music Room HERE. If not for them I would not be able to review this piece, so I want to give them a big shout out for this! Thanks TMR!

The HiFi Rose RA180 is Very Unique. One of a Kind. 

The HiFi Rose company out of South Korea is creating some pretty cool products for all of us music lovers out in the world. Their 150b DAC is rather amazing for the price. It looks, sounds and is built like a true high end audio piece (it is). It doesn’t cost $10-$20k, rather it is $5k. Well worth it for what it brings to the table. I reviewed that piece here on this website, you can read it and see the video HERE.

I was so close to buying and keeping that 150b but in the end I spent more money on a DCS Lina Streamer and DAC. The DCS doesn’t look nearly as cool or impressive as the Rose but I paid that extra for the small improvement in sound as us audio lovers do sometimes. I still have a few other DACs on hand I cycle in from time to time that I enjoy as well.

With the 150b being so nice I was excited to test the RA180. The RA180 is an integrated amp like no other I have seen before. In looks or features. 

The style is a mix of Nagra (which is good), Steampunk (which is a personal taste thing) and what looks like a bit of future tech thrown in. I happen to love the looks as it reminds me of some old vintage pieces from the past, in a weird strange vintage modern kind of way. It’s all silver look is stunning and the build is top notch as well. I mean, top notch.

This amp is full of dials, switches and meters and each one feels solid. Each switch clicks with authority when you switch it. Nothing feels loose or sloppy. In fact, this amp feels just as nice as any of the Nagra pieces I have had here in function.

The volume dial is big and connected to a few gears that give it that steampunk look. I have never seen anything like it, and it is indeed cool looking on my cabinet. There is a phono stage that is customizable and allows us to use either MM or MC cartridges. There are dials to tweak the sound of the phono section as well, and it works amazingly well. Want to try different curves, feel free!

You can also set it to the RIAA standard but I enjoyed tweaking this as the vinyl played. It was very effective.

I recently talked of the great phono stage inside of the Naim Supernait 3, but this one is also very good for a built in. Of course you can do better by paying thousands for an external phono preamp but for most of us, the internal will do just fine.

There is even a crossover adjustment and a bass and treble tone control on the RA180. All of this can be defeated (how I listened and preferred it) or if you need some extra oomph or high end you can adjust to your liking. I will say the bass and treble controls work really well and can do wonders for thin or dull recordings. This is very reactive set of controls, and a little twist of the dials go a long way.

The 180 also has the ability to bi-amp your speakers with one amp powering the bass and one the treble. You can run this amp in 200 watt per channel mode or flick a switch to go into 400 watt per channel mode. How cool is that?

At the 200 WPC setting the power was absolutely insane with my Fleetwood Devilles and the Buchardt S400’s I still had on hand during my evaluation. It drove these with ease, with power to spare and with dynamics and transparency that was quite stunning.

This amp looks like a Swiss army knife and it actually is! I love that all of the controls can be turned off for purists or turned on for the those who like to tweak, one switch at a time.

During my testing I listened to this amp with my Deville SQ speakers, Buchardt S400 MKII speakers and even my Klipsch Heresy IV’s and LaScala AL5’s which are not usually fond of big power Class D. I also added a budget Fluance turntable to the mix.

I truly was expecting to be disappointed in the sound, and I was all ready to write about that Class D sheen and flatness I have discovered before with these digitally amplified amplifiers. I was even considering not reviewing this piece at all but as time went on it started to grab a hold on me.

Before I get to the sound, let me say that this also comes with a small aluminum remote. It’s not a big slab of metal like some other gear ships with but rather a very lightweight remote that is thin and small to medium in size. In the box is your manual, power cable and the amp itself.

On to the Listening. 

Again, let me state up front that I do not believe I have ever heard a better low level late night listening amplifier. I could keep the volume low yet the sound was full, had a big soundstage and had weight to the music in the deeper regions of the bass.

I started out with the Fleetwood Deville SQ then listened with the Buchardt and Klipsch.

It does not match the Naim Supernait 3 I have on hand when it comes to that density, drum kick clarity and punch but it is not supposed to, This RA180 offers up a different kind of sound. The bass is extraordinary with the RA180 while the treble is more extended that I am used to. This means we get a very wide soundstage and more transparency.

I will admit though. I did not love this amp for the first week I had it here. It sounded a bit too smooth and while it had a large scale presence, there was something that was not right about the sound. After some tweaking I realized it was the speaker cables I was using. This amp was not a good match with my Cardas Clear Reflection cables. These are cables that  add some warmth and bass to the upper mids and this was not the best synergy with the Rose. The highs were forward in the soundstage but rolled off and this made the amp sound a touch dull.

When I switched to my old trusty Nordost Blue Heaven Leif cables everything opened up and that dullness and overly smooth sound was gone. Phew, I am glad it was not the amp!

With the Blue Heaven cables the RA180’s sound is wide open, transparent and at the same time pretty smooth with a bit of a recessed, but very nice and transparent midrange. What I mean by that is that when you sit and listen, it may sound more like you are in the 10th row rather than the 1st. It’s a super wide rather beautiful presentation and one that grew on me more and more as I listened.

With the Deville’s this amp is a superb match. It brings up a very 3D spacious sound with tremendous bass quality and quantity. Smooth is the word here and the Deville’s warm nature really love what the RA180 feeds it. I would have never guessed this would be the case.

With the Buchardt speakers there was a touch of dryness in the mids but overall a similar theme. Spacious, great bass, and some 3D stuff going on. So far so good.

With the Klipsch the amp was a little forward up top. I will say if you have Klipsch you should try out a nice S.E.T. amp. The Heresy IV and LaScala thrive with some 300B or 45 tube amps. I would not choose the Rose for Klipsch.

I am used to the Pass Labs Class A sound which is rich, deep and with a warm leaning midrange and sort of relaxed presentation. The pass is transparent as well but not like the Rose RA180. The pass has a beautiful suck you into the performance kind of sound. It’s gorgeous but sometimes it can lack excitement and dynamics.

The Rose has more authority and low end slam vs the Pass. The top end of the Pass is more sparkly and while the Rose is more forward sounding, the treble itself is not bright or sparkly. It’s for sure got some of that Class D flavor of sound but it also has a sort of quasi Class A flavor as well.

HiFi Rose claims that they fixed the issues with Class D amp sound due to the GaN FETs used. This is new (ish) tech for Class D and the way some of the new Class D amps today are made. I must say, this is so much better than the Class D of the past.

The RA180 is not sterile nor analytical or dry in any way. While it is not ultra present and juicy sounding, more smooth actually, it sounds rather beautiful once you get used to the sound signature. It’s very different from most Class A and Class A/B amps, but it has an equally “suck you into the music” vibe about it.

In addition to being rather amazing for low volume listening, this amp is also wonderful for Piano rich like the Naim I just reviewed. I rarely listen to piano works but man, I sat and listened to a whole entire album one night because it sounded so right. Piano is tough to reproduce in a system as some systems can sound too thin to bring the weight of the keys. Some can sound too bloated obscuring the detail. Some blend all the sounds together and the result is a boring presentation.

The Rose was up there with the Naim for Piano.

After extended listening I started to realize that this amp is indeed one that took time to grow on me. It is also one that sounds much better after being powered on for 30 minutes or so. When it is cold it sounds like that old Class D. A bit thin and forward sounding. After 30-40 minutes it warms up and opens up with some nice layering going on as well.

I had to drop my pre-conceived notions about it being Class D as that didn’t matter at all. Here I was listening to an amp that was affordable to power and run, an amp that stayed cool and didn’t heat my room and an amp that would for sure be a conversation starter for its design and looks.

When I heard the expansive soundstage that was superbly transparent with imaging that was natural and beautiful I no longer cared what class of amp this was. It sounded right for almost all music I played through it. While other amps do some things better, the Rose RA180 sounds really nice and has all of the features one could ask for.

I will say that this amp will pair very well with speakers that lean a bit warm, like my Devilles. This amp has a forward (but not bright) energy in the treble that may be too much with speakers that are overly energetic in the upper end of the audio spectrum. With my Deville’s I also love the Enleum AMP 23R that also had a lit up treble. It awoke the speakers when I wanted that energy and sparkle.

When I wanted that big full velvet hug holographic sound I hooked up the Pass Labs XA 60.8’s. If I want all out intimate magic I hook up a Dennis Had Inspire 300Bv.

With the HiFi Rose RA18o the sound is different from all of those amps I just mentioned. It is almost like a mix of all of them in some ways but it has its own thing going on. Keep in mind this amp is not thin sounding at all. The bass is just right here (and very powerful) and keeps the sound fleshed out nicely. The mid-range and voices are also well done though a touch recessed compared to the Pass Labs Class A amps.

There is no amp in the world that is perfect just as “The Best” doesn’t exist in audio. It’s all personal preference. There can be a “best” but only a “best” for each individual. There is no “best’ for all. There are also compromises in audio that usually have to be made to get the sound you are looking for in your system.

With the Pass amps that compromise is heat and energy cost to be able to get that sound they deliver. With the Enleum AMP 23R it is the fact that it only has two RCA inputs. With my 300B S.E.T. one must use sensitive speakers.

With the Rose…well, I have not found anything that is a real compromise and that is just stunning to me.

I mean, if I had to nitpick I could say it only has one XLR input, so that could be a negative for some of you. I could say the looks for those who are not into the style. I could say the price which is $7k but there are other integrated amps that cost more and do not offer as much as this one does.

What I can not say is that the Class D amp in this thing is a compromise as it sounds absolutely glorious within my system.

I did not even mention yet that this amp is also airy and very 3 dimensional. It really does deliver a true high end sound in my room and while it is not as luscious and large as the Pass Labs sound it has its own charms that the Pass doesn’t. It has more clarity, more snap, more drive and is a touch more transparent.

It does this without sounding bright or etched in any way. It never sounds flat or dull. In fact this amp that I expected to dislike due to it being Class D has just earned a notch in my top ten integrated amps of all time. I would place this at #3 under the Pass INT250 and Luxman 590 AXII. Crazy to say that but this is a truly remarkable sounding amplifier.

It also offers up quite a bit for the money spent. EQ, Phono for MC or MM, Adjustable Crossover, the ability to bi-amp your speakers, the option to use 200WPC or 400WPC mode and the build is also quite nice inside and out.

Listening to Agnes Obel at night brought on the goosebumps. Listening. to the song “Familiar” was truly spectacular with the layers, imaging and body of the music. Whatever I cued up via Tidal, Qobuz or Spotify did nit disappoint. There was a feeling of effortless power and while this amp is not a master of body and kick, it is a master of the expansive 3D soundstage and ethereal vibe (if you have a setup for critical listening).

I love this amp that I expected to hate. Go figure : )

You can read more about this amp at The Music Room. 

 

4 Comments

  1. I really like the photo with your finger or thumb on the black dial. 3D effect. The looks remind me of what Garcia would say about the Dead’s music. “It’s like licorice, you are going to love it or hate it”. I don’t really learn enough from your reviews. Sorta this sorta that no decent review of the phono section, which might be ok if it was a lesser amp with just MM. I like the look, which maybe is more appealing to the European or Asian market.

  2. The sound is one thing, the build quality is another, but stylish this thing isn’t. It looks like the designer tried much too hard to make it look ‘retro’ by using a mishmash of contrived shapes and features all of which create an ugly assemblage of hexagons, circles, gears etc. It really doesn’t need all of that, the VU meters alone are enough to create the retro touch. At the other extreme of course you’ve got Naim which is perhaps too spartan, but of the two I think I could live with that design better than this. At the end of the day you are listening to it not looking at it, but still, if you are paying this much money you want something that looks good too.

  3. Wow that’s a heck of a lot of money for a Class D amp. The looks are “fun” but I wonder how they’ll age? The overall form factor is retro too. Why all the ventilation for a Class D? I’d have put vents along the top of the side panels only. No worries about spills then. PS you really need a proofreader.

  4. Hey Steve, nice review on an interesting piece of gear. I love the look of the Rose except for that oddly detailed black volume dial with the odd pattern in it. i think that would have looked better being a solid dial in the same finish as the other dials. Interesting what you say about the sound of the Rose and it’s class D amplification. It does seem that class D is catching up and a big improvement over what it used to be.

    I have had an NAD M33 for the last year and that piece is either widely lauded for it’s pristine sound or criticized as being too analytical…never seems to be anyone in the middle. Personally I find it is just very revealing…great tracks are rewarded and poor source material is revealed for what it is. I would be interested in hearing this Rose next to the M33 and see how they compare. Anyway, great stuff as always.

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