The HiFi Rose RA180, looks bonkers conkers, I love it; the retro look, chunky knobs and lights all over the front, and way too many features to really use properly. It shouldn’t work but it does, it is totally over-engineered but it works a treat. Let’s take a closer look.
This HiFi Rose RA180 is an analogue integrated amplifier with four 200W amplifiers built-in that can, simply, run two channels at 200W, two channels at 400W or 4 channels at 200W each. I think there could be more options than this but I’m definitely including here the link to the webpage it is baffling. Crucially, the RA180 has no DAC or streaming capabilities.
The HiFi Rose RA180 has an industrial retro design that is ‘well featured’. There is an option to run the RA180 as a power amplifier, using a bypass function which is useful for AV solutions. There is the option to run the amplifier in bi-amp mode, effectively setting up an active style arrangement where you allow the amplifier to drive separately the high frequency and low frequency drivers in your speakers separately. You can also run the RA180 simply as a two-channel integrated amplifier and you can also ‘bridge’ two of the amplifiers together, twice, left-right, to drive your speakers with twice the power of the single option.
The four 200W/ch amplifiers in the RA180 are Class AD, a development of Class A to AB to Class D through continuous development. The key driver of these improvements is the use of Gallium Nitride FETs by HiFi Rose as opposed to the more commonly used Silicon FET technology, offering;
a high-speed, perfectly accurate amplification stage with almost no dead time, allowing it to perform far more naturally, like a pure analogue amplifier
The RA180 has no DAC or streaming capabilities. For this, you might prefer to have a ‘matching’ RS150B streaming DAC, linked here. (here at HF&MS we had the brilliant compact HiFi Rose RS250). The RA180 has three RCA inputs, additionally, one phono input, that can be set to MM/MC with a switch at the rear and optimised with phono settings at the front. There is a single balanced XLR to the rear as well; note the RS150B has a balanced output.
Outputs, complicated, are described above using the bewildering 16-speaker binding posts at the rear. There are two sets for an A or B speaker output (not both). There is a subwoofer output at the rear too.
Separately, there is an App, managed by WiFi, to make settings and tone control manageable from your phone or tablet. The App offers no streaming capabilities with this amplifier. There is a very nicely presented remote control that charges with a USB-C connection.
Out of the box, the RA180 is a chunky, weighty box that is well packaged. The brushed aluminium casing is to the fore, with black metal cooling ribs on the sides, there are vents on the top of the unit that has a metal grille over them to protect the internals. The logo on the top of the unit is really classy.
All of the soft-feel metal knobs on the front can be illuminated when activated. The knobs have illuminated slots on them that cast a light on the set amount which is very cool indeed. The centres of the tone controls and balance slider have a click in them to reassure you you’re centred.
There is the most gorgeous, glorious over-engineered, motorised volume control that adjusts the left/right channels through a series of gears that are illuminated. The volume control can be managed with the remote control or the App. In my sample, the gears showing L and R are not quite lined up correctly, which is very frustrating if you’re a bit OCD.
The preamplifier controls, phono controls, HF crossover etc. can be turned on, or off, more importantly, to ensure critical listening can be heightened. Additionally, the lights can be dimmed or turned off completely. There is also an attenuator switch (like a mute button but with very low-level volume) and a sub-sonic selector to moderate the low end.
The remote control is classy and can control the motorised volume and also the motorised source input selector, which is as joyful as the motorised volume control.
The dimensions of the unit are (WxDxH) 430 x 350 x 110 mm and it weighs 16.7 kg, the RA180 is available in silver. It is priced at £5,499.
Initially, I put the HiFi Rose RA180 in my Naim rack in place of my NAP250 with my NAC-N 272 on fixed DIN output into the Line 1 RCA input. So, I’m using the NAC simply as a digital streamer, it is perfectly acceptable, I have an external power supply, and actually, it is very revealing in the HiFi Rose RA180. It helps tremendously that the new Focal/Naim App has improved at warp speed this month, I’m so relieved. I have a nicely worn pair of spiked KEF R700 loudspeakers with Atlas Mavros speaker cable. Again, initially, I’ve been using the RA180 in a straight single integrated amplifier mode (200W/ch) without bi-amping or bridging.
I’m using a Pro-Ject X2 turntable too into the moving coil input of the HiFi Rose RA180 with the MC switch thrown over at the rear and I have the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO for the moving magnet testing.
For the bi-amping solution, I am using one amplifier section for the high frequencies and the other for the low. I’m using the newest Achromatic Atlas Hyper 5.0 speaker cable in place of the Mavros cable. For this, therefore, I needed two matching pairs, kindly loaned by Atlas Cables. There will be a straight review of the Achromatic Atlas Hyper 5.0 speaker cable in November.
The look is great, in the HiFi stack, there is plenty of room for fiddling about. I have not had any issues with overheating even on extended listening. With all the functionality on the front panel, it would have been helpful if the MC/MM switch was on the front, next to the attenuator and dimmer switches.
The motorised volume dial with the remote control is just fantastic, even if there is a slight delay. This is worth most of the cost of this unit on its own and I’ve just ended up cycling the volume because I can.
The RA180 is Class AD, Class D can sometimes be described as being bass-light with a tricky treble. But this is the modern world of South Korean expertise and technological advance and HiFi Rose uses their Gallium Nitride FETs to make an improvement on Class D, calling it AD. So, there is plenty to explore, particularly as I’m coming off a traditional old-school ‘Class B’ flagship in the form of the Naim NAP 250.
I’m running the R700s at this stage in a simple 2-channel mode, which is likely to be the most common and simplest solution for most. I do not get a falloff in the bass, as expected with traditional Class D amplification. It might be a bit lighter than I or the R700s are used to compared to the NAP 250 but that is comparing apples and pears. Of course, if you want it you can turn up the bass in the preamplifier section you can, and this has the desired effect. The treble is nicely controlled with a natural pace on the soundstage. The midrange, for example in the layered Fleet Foxes track Helplessness Blues (Tidal Masters 24-bit, 48kHz) is uncluttered and energetic here. And boy, does this go loud! This is a noisy experience that I can only get to with an empty house.
MC Phono stage
The HiFi Rose is distributed in the UK from the Henley Audio stable. They are also custodians of Pro-Ject here in the UK and I received the new Pro-Ject X2 B turntable with the Ortofon Quintet Red moving coil cartridge. The presentation is a delight, the musicality of the RA180 combined with the X2 is a nice combination. For example, Malcolm McLaren’s Waltz Darling (Vinyl, 1989, released on Epic label) has excellent and pitch-perfect channel separation in the first track, The House of the Blue Danube. The transition from the rich sound orchestration in the classical section to pounding pop is as smooth as you’d want it and the track, indeed the whole album is a reminder of the genius of Malcolm McLaren. There is no reason to think the MM stage will not be at least as good as the MC pick-up.
Bypass as a power amplifier
You can use the RA 180 as a power amplifier if you like (for example with an AV setup) but to me, this defeats the object of having the RA 180 as the motorised volume control is the best bit! I’m kidding, of course. For assessing the bypass functionality, I have set up the RA180, in place of my NAP250 and I’m using the preamplifier stage of the NAC-N 272, so variable DIN out instead of fixed DIN out. You need, in this case, to go into the App to confirm that you do want to Bypass and that you understand you could blow your speakers to bits, particularly with this quoted power!
For me, I am swapping out a trusty, warm, pacey, and dynamic NAP 250 so there is a lot to live up to. But the HiFi Rose has a ton of muscle and the R700s cope admirably.
The RA180 is lively in bypass mode, and the KEF R700s are excited. I have a fraction less bass in the examples I usually use 2049 (from Blade Runner 2049) but the overall effect is very articulate. I have turned off all of the preamplifier options, phono preamplifier and other options so I’m running pure power amplification. As a power amplifier, this RA180 has incredible headroom, it’s loud, I don’t need this volume, but you might. The R700s are getting a proper workout.
In swapping the NAP 250 back the difference is clear with a more mature, comfortable sound in the room. It is also a simpler setup, plug it in and turn it on. Notwithstanding this, in bypass mode, the RA180 offers a big and loud stage, in 2049, the landing phase, near 1’57” is big, deep and thunderous.
Bi-Amping with the KEF R700
I really do have a heightened soundstage with dynamic energy
It must be said that the bi-amping explanation in the manual could have been better and I was apprehensive about switching on the RA180 in bi-amp mode.
Setting up the bi-amping involved a bit of guesswork, but I was able to get a matching pair of Atlas Hyper 5.0 cables very quickly. After that, it was a question of labelling and setting up the cable to the HF and LF terminals in the KEFs. I had to be mindful to throw the bi-amp switch over and disconnect the links to the rear of the speakers, as well as turning on the high pass crossover, but it has all worked well.
The sonic outcome, initially, was less than clear. I definitely needed to run this system in for a good few hours to let the system settle in, maybe the terminals needed to be run in or something? However, after a fair amount of tweaking the tone controls and the HF crossover at the front, and the gain switch associated with it I really do have a heightened soundstage with dynamic energy. It was reminding me of the stunning active project at the beginning of the year, without the miles and miles of cables.
The best way to hear this heightened state is with Helplessness Blues, for example, there are crisper highs and lovely guitars and with Jamie Cullum’s Gran Torino the piano is absolutely fizzing. However, with bass-heavy tracks like Empire State of Mind, I did need to turn the bass down considerably to be able to keep up with it, there’s too much energy and power going into the LF section.
…if money is not part of your decision-making process, you really do need to audition this amplifier, it’s nuts
The bi-amping is hard work and will demand careful setting up but once it gets going it is excellent. On returning to the NAP 250, the simplicity of the Naim is a real joy and serves to re-enforce its quality. The bypass function was certainly keeping up with the NAP easily and was in no way outpaced by it.
I can’t help reflecting that a straight 2-channel one of these priced near £2,000 would be interesting without the bi-amping and bridging options, to keep the costs down. If they can keep the buttons, motorised volume, and other craziness, it could be a winner. Having experienced the pedigree of the Rega, Moon, Cyrus and Exposure offerings recently, I think a simpler one of these would give them a real run for their money, especially with the MC phono stage, if that can be squeezed in. But really that is not the point HiFi Rose is trying to make, I imagine. If money is not part of your decision-making process, you really do need to audition this amplifier, it’s nuts.
Over the top in looks and functionality, this is a fantastic statement from HiFi Rose of what is possible in 2022. If you feel you’re going to use these features, then this is your amplifier but there are more conventional alternatives out there. But, if you get the chance to see this and play with it do so, it is crazy good.
Motorised volume control
Active speakers accessible
Preamplifier controls on or off
MC option and settings
Bi-amping vocal-led tracks
For a simpler 2-channel version
The L & R were lined up on my volume control gears
The MM/MC control was on the front plate with the phono switches