HiFi Rose RA180 integrated amplifier Page 2

I tried to employ the app but ran into problems. It's incompatible with Google network extenders, which don't allow you to manually choose between 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands; the RA180 manual makes it clear that it doesn't support dual-band or 5GHz connections. I was able to connect my iPhone 13 Pro and the amplifier to the same network, but only sometimes and only briefly. Even after I installed a new router, which allowed separate connection of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, I continued to experience such issues. Finally, after reinstalling the app, I was able to make the connection, but the only controls that functioned were volume, mute, and input selection. Hopefully these issues will be addressed by a future app update.

In any case, these issues didn't affect playback. For my audition, I played a mix of streaming tracks, LPs, and CDs. For digital, I used a Roon Ready MBL N31 DAC/CD player. The RA180's phono preamp worked well with the 0.7mV Clearaudio Talisman V2 MC cartridge loaded up on Clearaudio's DC Performance Wood turntable. I also tried a MoFi Electronics UltraDeck turntable with a 3.5mV UltraTracker MM cartridge. That worked fine, too.

Out of the gate and at its best, I was struck by the RA180's speed, detail, and clarity. There was a heightened intensity to the sound. Listening was fun and exciting.

With the MBL 120s
I began by hooking up the MBL 120 loudspeakers, my current reference—largeish three-way standmount speakers with the German manufacturer's Radialstrahler omnidirectional tweeter and midrange and bass from two side-firing woofers. The 120s are not biwirable, so I ran the RA180 in BTL mode for maximum power.

I cued up A Delicate Motor's "Do for Self," from Fellover My Own (CD SBR2-035), which could be described loosely as experimental chamber pop. A lone kalimba—African thumb piano—opens and closes the track and continues less noticeably throughout. Its presence remained more noticeable than usual in the middle of the track. Images were realistic, natural in scale. The presentation felt grounded. Textures were tactile. On "Fall Out," a spinning bicycle tire sounded exactly like what it was, its soft clicks easy to hear for what they were, to soothing effect. Adam Petersen's vocals were ethereal, floating slightly left of center. Vocal timbre seemed natural. (I've heard them live.) Soundstaging was good, and the system got out of the way: The 120s disappeared.

The RA180's knack for detail retrieval magnified playing-style nuance. On that kalimba, I could hear the varying force of Petersen's thumb attacks on the instrument's flattened nails. On guitarist Fausto Mesolella's Live ad Alcatraz (LP Fonè Jazz 062), the finer actions of his fingers could be heard—loud-to-soft plucking or strumming, the subtle squeaks of strained strings. His guitar body's resonant humming, aided by a loop pedal at times, sustained longer. This limited-edition LP, pressed in Italy in a "one-stage" process, is pleasing: an intimate set, well-recorded and pressed.


On tracks from Tori Amos's Under the Pink, a half-speed remaster from Abbey Road Studios (LP, Atlantic, R1-82567), the exaggerated breathiness of her vocal delivery and the dynamic nuances of her piano playing stood out. The varying force she applied to the Bösendorfer's keys was more noticeable than usual on "Icicle." Leading-edge transients struck lightning-fast, followed by floating sustains and lingering decay. Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor sings backing vocals on "Past the Mission," a track on Amos's record that, according to the liner notes, was recorded at Sharon Tate's former mansion, in contrast to the album's other tracks, which were recorded at a haçienda in Taos, New Mexico. Amos's and Reznor's voices blended well yet remained distinct—each seeming to come from a real person. It was easy to hear that this track was recorded in a different space than the others.


I pulled out Gorillaz's Demon Days (2 LP, Warner Parlophone 1902954423681) and spun "Dare," which features vocals by Shawn Ryder of Happy Mondays. Via the RA180, the rhythm's steady repetition took on a special sense of continuity, making it easier to get lost in these grooves. But, exposed by the 120s, the recording lacked body and warmth. It was time to try the RA120's tone controls.

I increased the bass and dialed down the treble—about a sixth of a turn each. Bass was muscular and tight, as if the system were caffeinated, "amped up" yet controlled, not frenetic. "Dirty Harry" and other cuts felt fast and fun. I was tempted to turn it up to nightclub levels and add a sub, but I didn't. I had the sense that I was using only a small fraction of the RA180's horsepower, as though I were driving a high-end sportscar at the speed limit—maybe only in second gear.

With the phono input, the gain was such that with my MC cartridge I was limited to the first fifth or so of the volume knob; any higher and the music was too loud. I detected some noise with the MC phono input that wasn't present with digital playback, but it was too low in level to be a problem: I usually only heard it when I put my ear near the speaker. I missed having the gain and loading controls found on many other phono preamps.

The RA180/MBL setup, with the RA180's channels bridged, fared best on analog (unamplified or minimally amplified) music. On electric pop/rock, electronica, EDM, etc., the 120s sounded less like themselves. Familiar mixes sometimes showed more separation of the various parts. At times the presentation seemed less cohesive.

Surprisingly, when I left bridged mode, using only two amplification channels, things sounded right again—still revealing but with the usual body and more familiar, realistic tonal balance.

I wanted to try the RA180's biamping function. I don't have supertweeters, but John Atkinson sent me the three-way, floorstanding Triangle Antal 40th Anniversary Edition speakers recently reviewed by Robert Schryer ($4700/pair), which he (JA) had been measuring. The Triangles have two sets of loudspeaker terminals: The upper terminals feed the midrange driver and tweeter (and the crossover that connects them) while the lower terminal feeds the woofers. Unfortunately, shipping damage rendered one speaker inoperable, so I had to wait for a new pair, which delayed publication of this review.

The new pair installed, it was time for some classical music. It had been a while since I had listened to the Diabolus in Musica: Accardo interpreta Paganini compilation with Salvatore Accardo on violin (2LP, DG 477 6492). Accardo is backed by London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Dutoit. On "La Risata del Diavolo" and into "La Campanella Rondo," a tiny chime rings out, clear as, well, a bell, from the right channel. The orchestra's downbeat entrance was dramatic, quick, and as startle-in-your-seat sudden as I've heard them. Accardo's impossibly fast and fluid arpeggios soared.

Lately I've been listening to a violinist of a different ilk, Andrew Bird. Like Tori Amos, Bird cut his teeth in the classical world, starting Suzuki training at age 5. I've been enjoying Bird's latest album, Inside Problems (which I'm preparing to review for AnalogPlanet) on vinyl and 24/96 download (LP, 24/96 WAV, Loma Vista LVR 02591). Regardless of format, the presentation was smooth, natural, liquid. Bass lines were clean, easy to follow. Recording-venue acoustics cues, such as slight echo on "Atomized," were easy to hear—more so than usual. Bird's voice showed unusual hints of dryness; his whistling was clear and sweet. Pizzicati had palpable string tension. Heightened detail helped reproduce the violin's body and texture: the resin on the strings, the action of the bow across them. Tone seemed neutral, sweet not shrill, clean without artifice.


Leading-edge transients lent liveliness to the raucous, hilarious "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" from LCD Soundsystem's self-titled album (LP, DFA 2138). I noticed bouncy bass lines and assertive (but not aggressive) punch. An agogo bell clanged when struck. The system delivered all this track's crunchy energy but stayed in control.


On Sketches of Spain (SACD, Esoteric ESSS 90157), arranged and conducted by Gil Evans, Miles Davis's fluegelhorn on "Concierto de Aranjuez" and "Saeta" rang with tonal purity. Its brassy body imaged in 3D.

It would be interesting to experiment with the RA180's active crossover, but that wasn't possible, since the crossover's high-pass filtering function bottoms out at 600Hz while the woofer-to-midrange crossover on the Antals occurs at a much-lower 185Hz (footnote 4).


What affect did biamping have? It seemed to improve body, dimensionality, and integrity—the sense of soundfield integration. Each element occupied its own space, yet it was all part of the same sonic field. Also, biamping tightened up the bass on some recordings, presumably because there was less current demand on the channel serving the bass, as on tracks from Billie Eilish's debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (24/44.1 MQA, Interscope/Tidal). Elsewhere, hyperdetailed bits were tamed, as was some cymbal tizz on El Vy's title track from Return to the Moon that I don't normally hear. Some sibilance on other material smoothed out.

I decided to try the RA180's subwoofer-out connection. I paired a Pioneer SW-8 active sub with the Antals to extend the low end, crossing over at 55Hz and then 70Hz (footnote 5). After careful adjustment of the subwoofer level, I heard more deep bass of course, with decent integration. On Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy," from When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, the bellowing synth drop dipped deeper and cleaner.

The HiFi Rose RA180 is big on speed, energy, clarity, and detail. You get plenty of power in a single chassis. Although it is HiFi Rose's most expensive product to date, it offers a lot for its $6995 MSRP—neither entry-level nor crazy money by hi-fi standards. The best sound and quietest backgrounds I heard was while biamping and playing back hi-rez digital. With vinyl playback, surface noise was sometimes more noticeable.


Perhaps the GaN transistors' decreased "dead time" helped music's sense of smoothness and continuity. Maybe their speed aided quick and sharp transient attacks and overall dynamics. It's hard to say, but I do know I enjoyed my time with HiFi Rose's RA180 flagship. At times it felt hyper-responsive. Its heightened detail lent an exciting intensity to most material.

Except perhaps for this impression of heightened detail, the RA180 remained mostly neutral in its tonal balance. If anything, it ran slightly cool rather than warm. Once in a while, the RA180 verged on leaning a little too far to light, clean, and shiny, like a new penny. Yet, in any kind of music—delicate classical, hard funk, crystalline electronica, all the other stuff I played—the RA180 maintained its cool sense of control.

Audiophiles who appreciate a unique visual and functional design and fast, clear, detailed sound—especially those with biampable speakers (or, even more, who use supertweeters)—should give the HiFi Rose RA180 a long look and listen.

Footnote 4: On the Triangle Antal 40th Anniversary speakers, the bottom terminals feed the woofer while the top terminals connect to the midrange and tweeter.—Jim Austin

Footnote 5: These figures are approximate, since the dial doesn't show precise steps.

HiFi Rose
US distributor: MoFi Distribution
1881 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Chicago, IL 60660
(312) 841-4087

Jack L's picture


Indeed. I still recall my gourmet friend who goes for international foods on his offshore business trips, told me:

"Japanese cuisines are for the look (artistic-like display on the plate), Chinese food is for the taste & western cuisines are for the smell."

Yes, many auido fans like to "listen" with their eyes first. But not for me, in any audio shows, if the music does not sound right before I walk in the demo room, I don't even both to walk in at all.

If the music comes out from the demo room sounds OK, then I would walk in & sit down & listen for a few minutes. If it sounds really nice, then I would start to ask questions.

Otherwsie, I would just say thanks & walk out without further questions. That's it!

Likewise, for any audio studios ! Sound always comes first before I bother the look & price.

I design/built/upgraded audio rig at home looks like cheap crap, yet I love spend numberless hours of my leisure time there to enjoy the music masters re-performance there.

Listening with my own ears is believing

Jack L

JRT's picture

Normal human brain function, in dealing with various cognitive dissonance, can place visual perception ahead of hearing perception, where visual perception can change hearing perception.

The McGurk effect provides example of some of this.


As for the subject matter of this review, I would not want the gimmickry and whimsical aesthetics of this thing, as it reminds me too much of the old Rube Goldberg cartoons. I would rather have something far less integrated with cleaner functional aesthetics and better performance.

Jack L's picture


OK. You don't have to throw me the book !

It's common sense for any mature music lovers, like yours truly.
That's why I use my ears only for gauging any audios to minimize "McGurk effect" & the likes.

It also has brought in the huge controversail audio blind tests.

Music is for my ears for my enjoyment gauging on live performance. I don't give a rat's ass to whoever saying whatever else.

Listening with my own ears to the music is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture


JHL's picture

...when needing erudition on (snort)


normal human brain function

which I assure you I do all the damn time, is to hunt up the initials JRT in a comment thread.

LOL. The very pretense.

You even summarize like a drone, jeenyus, as if Normal Human Brain Function could appreciate art. Or "better performance". I have zero doubt now but that it'd McGurk both. Is that the term I want? McGurk?

"Self-delusion"? For years I watched gasbags vomit on normal human engagement in music and the technical arts and applied sciences, but now? Not so much.

Long-time listener's picture

Research has also shown that people with "normal brain function" can overcome biases when they are made aware of them. If we choose to consciously reject visual influence and concentrate on what we hear instead, we can do so. It's not a big problem for intelligent people.

Indydan's picture

Hey Jack, crapping with your own butt is believing...

Jack L's picture


Indydan's picture

Hey Jack, where you at? Your wife is looking for you...

Jack L's picture


Julie Mullins's picture

Yes, many audio fans like to "listen" with their eyes first. But not for me, in any audio shows, if the music does not sound right before I walk in the demo room, I don't even both to walk in at all.

If the music comes out from the demo room sounds OK, then I would walk in & sit down & listen for a few minutes.

In general, I generally don't tend to enter rooms where the sound from outside doesn't capture my interest—unless something really captures my eyes (or I'm required to for an assignment).

Also, when I listen at home I usually close my eyes, especially for critical listening. So at that point, the aesthetics become irrelevant. BUT I prefer and enjoy having components that appeal to my visual/aesthetic sense as well; I'm living with them in my space and would simply rather have something attractive around.

Jack L's picture


Why not? Just like stylish furniture - lifestyle. Nobody can challenge it.

But my point is: sound always comes before the exterior design of the product. For yours truly, it is the sound dicates me to choose the right one for my budget & exterior design is only the bonus which is always welcome.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Archimago's picture

Hmmm. I appreciate the mechanics. The VU meters look nice. Strong nods to the '70s vintage esthetics, but obviously more "flowery".

IMO, this is clearly overdone; reminds me of the overwrought CGI effects in some Asian (primarily Chinese) movies which lack finesse. Much of it just screams "appearance for appearance sake" which I guess is OK if one has an affinity to it and truly "love" that look.

I fear that this kind of look will not age well though. I would suggest to HiFi Rose that "less is more". Aim for elegance rather than risk looking tacky as they're doing right now with this (again, IMO).

It would be interesting to see in a poll if the general audio-loving public likes this front panel!

Archimago's picture

Figured I'd poll the folks over on Steve Hoffman Forums here:

Feel free to share your opinion!

Jack L's picture


Is such polling necessary ?????

Any audio designers want to put their personality signature on the front panel designs. This is its value & presitige & should not be challenged.

Anybody ever ever challenged of the beauty of Mona Lisa ?

Come on, get real !

Jack L

Archimago's picture

Since when was this device some kind of "fine art" where one is supposed to respect the creative integrity of the design team?

Of course the appearance can be questioned! When you look at that thing, does it look like form follows function? Or maybe just a little too much flight of fancy?

It's consumer electronics. Consumers have an opinion and in fact the final say as to whether they care for it. Nothing wrong with having a poll on it and in fact, I hope the design team made sure to engage some consumer market research to make sure this targeted the intended audience.

Jack L's picture


Mona Lisa is a priceless historic fine art which has been open for appreciation to the public at large in Palace of Versailles near Paris. I still recall my wife & I got to line up for an hour or so to to get a view of the small painting from a fence-off distance of some 15 ft !!!!

Any commercial design is still some art - applied art. It may not suit everybody who always gets its own preference & like.

Like coffee, many love black & yet many love double (milk)/double (sugar) instead. So do we need to get a poll on it?

Jack L

windansea's picture

Looks like an airline cockpit to me. I would have loved this as a child. But now I think it has too much surplusage and all I want is a power switch and volume knob.

But the active crossover and biamping option sound awesome to me. I love that idea. I've wanted to biamp my time windows with active crossovers but the expense and hassle have exceeded my limits. This all-in-one option could be perfect for me.

Julie Mullins's picture

There is a lot going on there: It's packed with knobs and switches. It does make kind of an "extreme" statement, but that's part of what makes it unique.

bhkat's picture

Front panel looks like the guy who designs Nagra equipment took some magic mushrooms before designing the front panel.

MontyM's picture

Hi Julie. The RA180 was set up in one of the rooms of my local HiFi store when I visited a couple weeks ago. I agree that the look and feel of the thing is great; a conversation starter for sure, if nothing else. Sonically, not my cup of tea, but visually it definitely stood out from the other integrated amps in its price range. I generally prefer a form follows function design aesthetic, but I certainly appreciate a bit of whimsy now and again. Thanks for the review.

Julie Mullins's picture

I generally prefer a form follows function design aesthetic, but I certainly appreciate a bit of whimsy now and again.

Although it is functional in its form: Almost everything is right there on the front panel. And I agree that a bit of whimsy in a hobby/industry that sometimes takes itself too seriously is a positive thing!

Electrophone's picture

I had the opportunity to manually operate the RA-180's interesting volume control mechanism at the local dealer and am disappointed that the process is not as refined as expected. The gears don't run as smoothly as expected at this price point, leaving the impression of under-engineering.

PeterG's picture

A fun description of a cool visual design, but the central question is left unanswered--how does the amp sound compared to competition? This is especially important when reviewing a Class D where conventional wisdom is that although they are more efficient/economical, they still cannot match A or AB for the serious listener

Julie Mullins's picture

Thanks for commenting, PeterG. In part because this differs from a "typical" Class D amp in that it's built around more modern Gallium Nitride (GaN) transistors rather than silicon ones, I decided to talk about those sonic differences (and benefits) rather than focusing on direct comparisons or doing a "shoot-out." Also, I've only heard a few other GaN-based amps, such as the Technics SU-G700M2 integrated amp (and only briefly, at a show or two) that use GaN transistors—something I'd mentioned in an earlier draft of this review (that didn't appear in the final version).

windansea's picture

keep writing these excellent reviews-- they are a breath of fresh air with zero snootiness and plenty of relevant observations for those of us considering whether to purchase the reviewed product.

Julie Mullins's picture

I appreciate your kind words. More to come...

PeterG's picture

Thanks, Julie. I guess we differ on the definition of competition. I am agnostic wrt architecture--I do not really care too much if an amp is A, AB, D, tubes, SS....But I care A LOT about an amp compares to other amps in its general price range. (BTW, I think we had a similar exchange on the marble(?) speakers you reviewed a few months ago) Rock on!

Julie Mullins's picture

You make a fair comment. I'm also "agnostic" in the sense that I don't have a strong bias (pun intended) for or against tube amps or various solid-state types or topologies. Because I don't have a wide array of amps on-hand (just a few), I'd be going mostly from memory.
It's another good reason for me to keep visiting dealers, attending audio shows, checking out friends' systems, etc. to hear as much new and different gear as possible and keep staying up-to-date.
(BTW, those other speakers I reviewed that you mentioned were made of granite, made by Acora Acoustics.)

Glotz's picture

The review, of course.

Will you or another reviewer report on the Mytek Empire Monoblocks? GaN-based amplifiers are very intriguing...

mns3dhm's picture

This is a component that, should a friend buy one and ask if I'd like to listen, I'd be 'shit yeah!'. I would probably wind-up annoying said friend by asking them to run through its myriad of setup and operational options. Kinda the opposite of straight wire with gain. Thanks for the review.

Jack L's picture


Agreed ! Who needs thousands of watts for decent music let alone the musicality of Class-Ds ? I don't & would never !!

FYI, my humble dirt-cheap home-brew zero local/global NFB class-A SET delivering only 5W per channel working hand-in-hand with 3 x100W active subwoofers (L, R, L+R) can deliver 103db(C) SPL musicality nooo sweat !

Be smartly ahead of the game !

Listening to class-A SET is believing

Jack L

barfle's picture

Like others, I’m reminded of a Nagra deck. Lots of meters and buttons and knobs, and I certainly appreciate design, but it might be a bit much and might not age well. But very, very groovy.

barfle's picture

Like others, I’m reminded of a Nagra deck. Lots of meters and buttons and knobs, and I certainly appreciate design, but it might be a bit much and might not age well. But very, very groovy.

barfle's picture

Like others, I’m reminded of a Nagra deck. Lots of meters and buttons and knobs, and I certainly appreciate design, but it might be a bit much and might not age well. But very, very groovy.

SocProf's picture

I just got the latest Recommended Components issue. I'm surprised that the RA 180 was given a Class B rating and not a Class A rating. I assumed it would be a step up from my much cheaper Marantz Model 30, which earned a Class A rating. What are its shortcomings?

Also, I wonder if the bi-amping function is better suited for a 2-way bookshelf (where the tweeter gets its own binding post) than a 3-way floorstander (where the tweeter is grouped with the midrange driver). The high pass filter might actually be able to accomplish something useful for the former--protecting the tweeter from anything other than high frequency signals.

steve59's picture

The looks say swiss watch quality, the feel of the controls says, built to a price.

Markedly's picture

Visually, the amp reminds me a little of the Simpson's episode where Homer designs his perfect car.