This Rose Has No Thorn!

A Rose With No Thorn

We home-test HiFi Rose's digital magic

Hifi Rose with PrimaLuna AmpsBrandon's system with the HiFi Rose RS150 streaming DAC that he fed with the new RS130 streamer.

Following the huge success of its streaming DACs, HiFi Rose offers a dedicated streamer.

Like many people, Brandon Riley wasn't expecting a big change when he switched to a standalone streamer over the one inside his streaming DAC. After all, until you've actually changed power cords, digital cables, and digital sources in your own system, it's hard to believe these things can make a difference. Especially with the prevalent attitude on the internet about even trying these upgrades being "I don't need to be hit by a car to know it hurts."

This argument utterly ignores that being hit by a car is a rudimentary Newtonian system vastly less complex than the psychoacoustics of listening to your audio system. There's a lot more going on here than just "bits are bits."

Brandon is our support tech and a keen hi-fi enthusiast with a special interest in cutting-edge digital streaming and more traditional audio designs (tube amps and Tannoy speakers). He balances a curious and open mind with healthy skepticism. His current system features the HiFi Rose RS150 streaming DAC into a PrimaLuna EVO 200 Pre, PrimaLuna Dialogue Power, and Tannoy Turnberry speakers.

So when he took the new streaming-only HiFi Rose RS130 home, he directly compared the benefits of a separate streamer with its own power supply and chassis over one that shares space and resources with a DAC.

Once he got it warmed up, the first thing that struck Brandon was that the RS130 "dug a lot deeper" with way more authority on the bass. He noted that "there was a certain way that it pressurized the room that made me just want to turn the music up. There's something addictive about how punchy it is but is still smooth."

He also noted a clearly wider soundstage and that the instrumentation had more refinement. This is a common experience with upgrading the digital front end: as the noise floor drops and jitter is reduced, the relationships between notes become clearer, and since you are hearing more decay and attack and microdetails, you get more of a sense of the natural flow of the music. (These are the ineffable details that on some audio forums are called "plankton.")

HiFi Rose RS130 - Front

HiFi Rose RS130 - Back

The front and rear of the RS130. HiFi Rose's touchscreen and feature set are legendary and now available to people who have standalone DACs. In addition to clear, well-laid-out rear panels (and big photos of them!) HiFi Rose can display the layout on the front screen, making connections so much easier.

While Brandon was surprised and pleased that the streamer upgrade sounded like a proper component upgrade, it's also the design that has drawn him to HiFi Rose.

Some people like to have a screen, and others turn it off even if their source has one. Brandon found that the large, high-res touchscreen of the HiFi Rose made it a useful centerpiece of his living room. His wife likes to interact with it directly rather than fire up an app on a phone or tablet. Having access to Tidal playlists right there makes the system more communal when people are over. Also, it's at social events that he appreciates HiFi Rose's HDMI out, which lets it display the current track's cover art on the television, making it a great conversation centerpiece.

When he's not interacting with the system, Brandon finds the clock, calendar, and weather display (shown in the photo at the top) useful. It's a small thing, but it better integrates the system into his home and lifestyle. And if he's in the mood for some "getting hit by a car" tweaking, the RS130 offers fiber optic Ethernet and has clock inputs if he wants to bypass the internal, already highly optimized, OXCO clock.

We have the HiFi Rose RS130 in stock in silver, with the black units landing soon. Please contact our digital specialists to see if the RS130 is a good fit for your system.

 Shop HiFi Rose RS130
HiFi Rose RS130 Network Transport

New Video: Kevin Reviews the JBL 4349

No, vintage horn speakers are not automatically better than modern versions.

Classic and vintage horn-loaded speakers have cult followings, but for the most part, the appeal is more nostalgia than performance. A modern-day horn-loaded speaker is backed by a level of refinement in design and material choice that simply would not have been affordable in the "good old days."

Upscale Audio toured the Harman facility earlier this month. One of the stops was the workspace of Larry Brown, principal mechanical engineer, who led us through the design process for a pair of JBL speakers.

That computer modeling has revolutionized this area was expected, but we were interested to hear the influence of rapid prototyping, made possible with 3D printing. Larry led us through the modeling process and then showed us a couple of 3D-printed horn prototypes he had with him.

With powerful computer modeling, why is prototyping still so important? Simply, computer models are not the real world. Virtual test signals are not complex music signals. Simulated cone and horn materials are different from actual materials in the real world, where there is so much variation in manufacturing consistency, temperature, humidity, and so on.

So, prototypes are very much a part of the JBL design process, and once printed, these are installed in test speakers and taken to the adjoining anechoic chamber, where their dispersion, linearity, and other characteristics are carefully tested over a range of frequencies. They are also used in music listening tests, and both measurement numbers and auditory opinions are fed back into the next iteration of the design.

The result is the complex shape you see in the speaker next to Kevin in the photo above, with refinements of curvature that would have been unaffordable before rapid prototyping. Consider that even prototype tooling costs $40,000 to $50,000.

We are living in, as Kevin has said in his videos, a true golden age of audio, in which you have affordable audio products backed by what would have once been hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars of R&D.

Watch the video and take a closer look at one of these modern JBLs through Kevin's eyes. The JBL 4349 makes a compelling argument for you to forget those once-wonderful speakers and own a highly optimized horn-loaded design from this century.

Top Sales and Deals!

Here are the noteworthy sales and offers we have going right now. Note: there are further terms and conditions; this is just a summary. To get all the details, contact our sales crew on website chat, via email (, or call 909-931-9686.

LAST DAYS! Until August 31 JBL L100 on sale.

Until September 4 Wharfedale Linton stands are included with the purchase of the speakers.

Until September 4: JBL L82 on sale.

Until September 21: Arcam summer sale. 20% and more off the SA10, SA20, SA30, and PA410.

Until September 30: Balanced Audio Technology is offering a full original retail price trade-in on your old stereo electronics for any new BAT product.

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