Having been introduced to HiFi Rose for the first time last year through its attractively unique and versatile RS201E streaming system, we aren’t surprised that its first-ever integrated amplifier is one of the most interesting looking on the market.
The RA180 is the Korean brand’s first (and for now only) dedicated amplifier product, following the launch of its network streamers and systems, an accompanying CD ripper, and all-in-one wireless speakers. And in line with our fledgling experience of HiFi Rose kit, it too looks like a product that deserves to be seen as much as heard.
HiFi Rose – an audio division of Citech, a Korean IT software company that manufactures and markets, among other things, interactive retail kiosks – has said previously that its identity is 'audio with screen'. The RA180 does not have a screen display as such, and yet it cannot be accused of not providing an informative front panel.
As the eyebrow-raising imagery shows, the RA180 is jam-packed with rotary dials and VU-meters, flick switches and toggle ones. And is that a slider switch we see there too? “Oh they don’t make them like they used to these days,” we admittedly have found ourselves saying at times while faced with a component's predominantly control-less facade. Well, it appears they do (sometimes, anyway). HiFi Rose is trying to preserve the tactility of hi-fi, and honestly, we’re here for it.
Fans of ‘physical’ hi-fi such as this will be relieved to know these controls actually do something. HiFi Rose hasn’t shied away from customisation here, allowing owners to tweak everything from bass and treble tone (the flat frequency response can be adjusted at 100Hz and 10kHz, respectively, with ±15dB gain) to the MM/MC-compatible phono stage’s EQ filters (allowing vinyl records to be played back with the tonal balance they were originally produced with). There’s a balance control slider for setting the signal split between both channels, as well as a bypass mode that directly connects a source (hooked up to the line three input) to the power amp stage without going through the RA180’s pre-amplifier.
Once you find yourself able to drag your attention away from the fascinating facade, you’ll see what connections accompany the aforementioned phono input on the back panel. There’s one balanced and three unbalanced RCA inputs, a subwoofer output, a trigger connection and, to accommodate two different sets of stereo speakers, eight pairs of speaker terminals.
Arguably one of the most interesting features of the RA180 isn’t obvious from looking at its high-purity aluminium exterior, though – its Class AD amplification. HiFi Rose claims this unique amplification technology utilises the high efficiency and high output that Class D provides while resolving its problems (namely poorer sound quality compared to Class AB designs due to digital circuitry limitations). How? Through the use of “innovative new materials”, apparently.
The RA180’s Class AD amplifier uses Gallium Nitride FETs as opposed to more common Silicon field-effect transistor technology, resulting in a “high-speed, perfectly accurate amplification stage” that allows it to perform “far more naturally, like a pure analogue amplifier”.
HiFi Rose says the RA180’s technologies and connectivity are all able to perform optimally thanks to the new power supply design, which it continues to say employs Silicon Carbide FET technology, with its high voltage support and heat resistance, to efficiently provide high output with low heat generation. Power delivery fluctuations, meanwhile, are handled by a 2.5kW class PFC circuit and oversized capacitors.
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on here. And at this stage, we can only hope this eccentric design delivers a performance as captivating as its aesthetic.
The HiFi Rose RA180 is available in the UK and Australia from May and costs a cool £5499 / AU$9299.
Read our HiFi Rose RS201E review
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