HiFi Rose, the audio company that brings audiophile-grade performance to products designed to complement consumers’ lifestyles, is a brand of CITECH. Based in Seoul, South Korea, CITECH was established in 1967 and is overseen by its Representative Director, Daeyoung Kim.
As CITECH’s high-fidelity audio brand, HiFi Rose products feature “audio with a screen,” a reference to the models’ intuitive operation by touchscreen. Among the company’s product selection is a variety of streaming media players and two network streamers: RS 150 high-performance network streamer, and RS 201 professional high-fidelity network streamer, the latter of which is a winner of the Korea Good Design Award.
Design and Features
Designed for both avowed audiophiles and casual yet demanding listeners, the RS201E is an advanced audio/video streaming solution with an integrated two-channel amplifier (50w x 2). The RS201E gives users access to digital audio and video from multiple sources, including USB flash storage and hard drives, media players with digital optical outputs, WiFi, and Ethernet connections. (Roon®-ready certification is pending.)
The rear panel offers analog in/out, optical in/out, HDMI out, USB-C, USB 3.0 Type A, USB 2.0 Type A, Micro SD, Ethernet, and two pairs of speaker terminals which also support 4 ohm speakers. It supports 4k video output from local files, Tidal Master tracks, podcasts, YouTube, and more, which are all controlled from the 8.8″ touch screen or Rose Connect application. The local player supports high-res files up to PCM 32bit-384kHz and DSD 32bit-11.2MHz, and MQA.
This is a pretty slick and unique chassis if you want something that sounds as good as it looks. If you want an all-in-one system that handles every digital format with ease, I can see this being a great consideration. The large touchscreen (which dominates the front of the chassis) is nice because it won’t look outdated over time, with expectations of software updates and more customization. A headphone output is also included if you want to get even more intimate with your music.
Usability and Interface
The on-screen interface is nothing short of spectacular, but before I get into that, I want to make a quick mention of how great the app is as well. To me, a great app is one that feels natural to use, is stable, and looks great. The Rose app has come a long way since I first received my RS201E, and at the time of this review I love it. It’s almost good to a fault, as it reduced my use of the gorgeous screen that consumes almost the entire front section of the streamer. With the app I was able to perform basic control functions such as changing tracks, adjusting volume, sources, and even enable the beautiful VU mode which adds a vintage look to an otherwise modern display.
Navigating and finding content was very easy to use with the app as well. I was able to favorite tracks, add them to playlists, and explore different genres and artists with ease. On many streaming or WIFI-enabled amps, I tend to use Apple Airlay for its simplicity (and because many amps have pretty poor apps). The fact that I preferred to use the Hifi Rose Connect app over my go-to methods showcases just how nice it us to use. It can only get better over time, as my experience has validated, but even in its current state the Connect app is a gem.
The on-screen user interface on the RS201E is stunning for so many reasons. First, it runs an Android back end. The custom interface Hifi Rose created seems to have near-zero impact on performance, so expect fluid and consistent experiences. The processor is a powerful little beast as well, with multiple simultaneous app use and fast navigation producing no stutter or crash issues.
Even though the system runs on Android, app availability is somewhat limited. Qobuz and Tidal are there, and the streamer supports Spotify Connect now thanks to a recent update. RoseTube (their own YouTube player) showcases some recommended content but you can still find your own with search. VLC Player is also installed, as this streamer can play network media files (both video and audio!) on screen and even send 4k video out to any HDMI-attached screen. There is even a SATA expansion bay underneath the chassis, allowing you to store your own media content internally (or rip CDs with their optional CD player). Amazon Music, Apple Music, and a local version of Spotify was not present at the time of this review.
The on-screen interface takes the intuitiveness of the app to another level, making it easy to find and play content very quickly. After doing some updates, my first instinct was to log in to Tidal and play some of my favorite demo tracks. It’s a rewarding experience in the smart-phone age. No longer do you feel restricted by a cumbersome and outdated-feeling remote. The interface is fast, easy to use, and gorgeous. This is easily the biggest selling point of this player.
This part shocked me. I was expecting a beautiful interface because that’s how this streamer was marketed, but I was apprehensive about the sound quality due to the form factor and power supply. The power supply on this streamer is external and looks very similar to that of a laptop charger. The power rating on this amp is 50×2 and I’m happy to report this is 4 ohm stable. With that being said you should be able to pair this with any speaker pair you want (within reason of course). There is also an incredible EQ system built-in for custom sound tuning should you desire to change the output to your liking.
I tried this with several bookshelf speakers and was pleasantly surprised. This includes the impeccable Alta Audio Alyssa’s, and the Bowers and Wilkins 606 S2s. The power limitations are there at high volumes, but in most normal listening conditions it got plenty loud enough. Volume and EQ settings isn’t everything of course, and the true audio performance of this player really began to show as I went from one favorite track to the next. The output is so incredibly clean and precise, you wonder how they pulled this off in such a compact chassis. The pinpoint accurate imaging and processing of the sound made songs sing with such poise and confidence that I didn’t feel like something was missing by not being on a larger amp. The bass notes were robust and full sounding, without being boomy or muddy in any way. The mids were flat and almost untouched, which is great when you have a proper speaker setup. The highs weren’t overly clinical or “happy” sounding, which I found very forgiving for any track I threw at the RS201E. Some amps “wake up” the music a bit which can of course be fun with some songs but also at the risk of ruining others. I feel the RS201E had a great balance of not being sterile, not being too warm, and also not too bright and lively. This perfectly subtle blend of musicality and accuracy let me focus on what was most important, the music!
If I had to explain my thoughts of the RS201E in one word it would be – “surprising”. I’m surprised that a name I admittingly did not know much about prior to seeing the press release in 2020 would come out and produce a product so nice to use it left me wondering why the big brands haven’t done this sooner. I’m surprised that the app worked so well. I’m surprised that such a small chassis with an external power supply can have such incredible sound and control in music output. At a current selling price of $2200, it’s not cheap. I am pleased to say that after using one for so long it is certainly worth this price. Whether using it in an office, listening room, or whatever it may be, the RS201E performs in every facet of what a modern Hi-Fi product should.