HIFI ROSE RS350 premium media player
+ Pleasant, punchy sound from a lightweight appliance, with good detail and dynamics; bright LCD touch screen interface; YouTube, streaming Internet radio, Airplay, DLNA and USB file streaming support.
– No Roon, Spotify Connect, Chromecast or Tidal Connect; annoying volume buttons, with no quick way to adjust volume except though the buttons; some interface quirks with volume, source switching.
A guide to the ratings
HIFI Rose is a relatively new Korean entrant to the streaming market, making a splash with some of its very premium streaming DAC offerings such as the RS150 which are very well appointed, with metal and glass finishes, and featuring high-end DACs and no-compromise implementations. The company has since branched out to all-in-one systems such as the RS201E (a just-add-speakers streaming amp) and now the RS350, which is a single box with integrated speakers and amplification. This product launches itself into a space which is rapidly becoming more crowded with similar products.
On the surface of it – it’s an Android-based device with a nice sharp five-inch touchscreen on the front which forms the main part of the control, though you have touch buttons for mute, volume up and down and power. On board, there is an Airplay client which you can point an Apple Device to stream audio to.
There are also interactive apps for Tidal, RoseTube (a YouTube Client), podcast, Internet radio, local file and DLNA player. The unit can also be paired by Bluetooth 4.1 to play audio directly from a phone, tablet or PC. The unit I got was a white one, which looks reasonably handsome and would be at home in a living room or kitchen, with a smartly-finished grille design flanking the screen. The longer feet in the front tilt the unit up a little to make it easier to use on a table top.
The internals consist of 20-watt-per-channel amplification mated to a three-way speaker design, with 20mm tweeters, 63mm midrange driver and bass passive radiators – two ports on the rear are where the bass output comes from. In terms of ports, the rear of the unit has a DC power input from the supplied switching power brick, a USB-A port to connect a hard disk for music files, and a microSD slot for a flash memory for music files. There is a micro USB port for service, a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as little hole to insert a paperclip end to reset the unit.
Setting up is easy enough for anyone who is used to a mobile phone type of touch interface, and putting in your WiFi credentials gets you going, with only the credentials for Tidal, or logging into your DLNA servers on your network. Alternatively, you can also download the ROSE Connect App for iOS or Android to remotely control the unit – which is much easier than standing and pecking on the screen!
I tested this as a consumer audio unit, not looking out explicitly for the hallmarks of an “audiophile” device. It sat next to my office sofa as a speaker for incidental music playback via Airplay or bluetooth as well as from Tidal principally. I tested the DLNA functionality briefly, as well as playing music off USB/microSD, but this was not how I used it for the most part.
I also did some listening to the headphone port using a pair of Grado Hemp headphones to round out the testing.
Off the bat, I started with some listening on Tidal, pulling up my common test tracks to get an initial idea of the sound signature. As a desktop speaker, the little Rose punches above its weight, with a good sense of clarity and resolution, though understandably bass weight is ultimately limited. In a nearfield situation though, this is rarely a high issue but do not expect this unit to fill a large room easily. Though it does have two channels, there isn’t really any extraordinary real stereo imaging or width to the sound coming from a smallish box, but it does sound reasonably “spacious”.
With my favourite jazz tracks, the unit sounded cohesive and rhythm/timing was fair, with more than adequate air and cymbal texture. The internal speaker system is impressive in a near field, where the lack of volume or a real low end is not a big issue. Of particular note, acoustic music recorded simply was portrayed very well – most of Rudy Van Gelder’s simple recordings from the late 1950s and early 1960s sounded clear and dynamic through the Rose.
The headphone output was also very good – auditioning though the Grados, the playback of the same tracks showed that the internal DACs are well sorted and can resolve the Tidal tracks well. The Grados are not difficult to drive, but they can show how well the DAC and headphone amp are engineered. It’s a pity that the headphone output is on the rear.
In use, the touchscreen interface can be a bit fiddly, though using the ROSE Connect app really helps, and there are some quirks with the volume levels from source to source as well as slightly inconsistent placement of transport controls on the screen, which makes for a less than perfect user experience. I hope this can be fixed by Rose over time, but the app is a lot easier to use. There is also a bundled IR remote, but the utility is limited at best.
I also tried the DLNA and file playback, which work reasonably well, but I guess I am spoilt by the likes of Tidal and Spotify which places all this music and more at your fingertips, with metadata, links and recommendations.
Airplay and Bluetooth also worked well, though Airplay is only v1, so this cannot be multi-roomed with Airplay 2 and the Bluetooth exacts a small fidelity penalty, though this isn’t very audible through the internal speakers for the most part.
I did miss having Roon and Tidal/Spotify connect on the unit – these are often the easiest way to get music up and running on a streaming speaker.
I have to admit that I am a little lost as to how this product fits into the current landscape. On one end, there are very competent and fun Bluetooth speakers which fit the casual use genre, from the likes of JBL and Ultimate Ears, which are excellent products in that context. On the other end, there are multi-room streaming speakers which also have found their space from SONOS, Bluesound or even from more established hi-fi brands such as Naim.
Hence, a tabletop mains speaker which is operated principally through the touchscreen, with missing Spotify Connect or Tidal Connect functionality, there is a limited set of use cases. But the Rose does sound good in the context of a close-quarters streaming speaker with a great display.
So it’s a very qualified recommendation – it sounds good when used within a specific context, but when you need portability, or multi-room capabilities or the ability to fill a larger room, there are alternatives which you should investigate.
Sources: Tidal, DLNA server on QNAP NAS, Airplay from iPhone 13 Pro, Bluetooth 4.1 from a Google Pixel 6 Pro. Grado Hemp Headphones.