HiFi Rose RA280 Integrated Amplifier

hfnoutstandingMore sober than the 'steampunk' styled RA180, and more powerful too, the new RA280 takes HiFi Rose's GaN FET-based Class D architecture into the audiophile zone

HiFi Rose delighted, and in some cases flabbergasted, hi-fi enthusiasts with its RA180 [HFN Jul '22], an amplifier that looked like it had just escaped from the pages of Gibson-Sterling's steampunk classic The Difference Engine. Boasting lots of knobs and dials on the outside, and novel GaN FETs in its Class D power amp on the inside, it was undeniably 'something else'. It was quite an unexpected product from the Seoul-based brand too, as up to that point HiFi Rose was principally known for streamers and DACs with very large touchscreens [HFN Jun '21 and Mar '22].

A cheaper version of the £5499 RA180? That would be the condensed description of the new RA280, retailing at £2999. Smaller and with less controls to fiddle with, would be the somewhat longer version. But is that all there is to it? The higher power rating suggests otherwise...

Polished Punk
There's no denying the RA280 is distinctive. At any other moment it would be an outlier in terms of industrial design, were it not for the RA180. So the RA280 is less outspoken than its bigger brother, without totally denying the steampunk aesthetic that got all those tongues wagging.

It retains the latter's excellent build quality with the fine machining of its front fascia especially notable. The matt aluminium and steel housing, weighing in at 9.5kg and complete with regressed cooling elements and an embossed logo on top, makes for a striking whole. If you're looking for something with a bit more 'character' than understated competitors like the Hegel H190 [HFN Jan '18] or Moon's 240i, then look no further.

Of course, the RA280's front panel is necessarily a lot cleaner than the RA180's because it has a far tidier and focused feature set. The illuminated (but small, and dimmable) VU meters beloved by many are carried over but the four-channel/bridged two-channel operation, the crossover feature and hugely flexible phono EQ options are all dropped, along with the various knobs and sliders that supported them. This ensures the RA280 is not only a more straightforward proposition but also a more 'real-life' two-channel amplifier. Vinyl lovers are still catered to, of course, but the phono stage is now MM-only.


Multi-voltage switchmode PSU with PFC [right] supports line and MM phono stage [top left] plus separate L/R Class D modules [lower centre, on heatsinks]. Note large inductors in output filter network [top centre]

Get On Up
Some might bemoan the absence of the 'clockwork mechanism' volume control of the RA180, but the illuminated volume knob on the RA280 is still nicely done and looks the part. It's motorised, moving smoothly when controlled by the included aluminium remote handset. However, when you want to change to one of the five analogue inputs, including the MM phono and balanced XLR line stage, you'll have to get out of your chair and flick the hefty input selector on the left of the fascia.

Getting physical is also a must to use the RA280's tone controls. Their role in the signal path is optional as they can be bypassed, but when enabled allow for up to ±15dB of adjustment at both ~100Hz and ~10kHz, the selected value indicated by a small beam of light reflecting off the graduated bass and treble scales.

HiFi Rose is one of the brands that has enthusiastically embraced GaN FET devices in place of MOSFETs in the final switching output stage of its Class D amplifiers. The performance of these new transistors allows for a reduced 'dead time' in this application, all of which feeds into HiFi Rose's creative brandishing of the moniker 'Class AD'. The amplifier circuit remains Class D, of course, although its application of GaN (Gallium Nitride) semiconductors (first used in the novel blue LEDs of the 1990s) is gaining ground in audiophile circles [HFN Aug '21].

Having put that issue to rest, what's not up for discussion is the RA280's potency, certainly considering its price. As PM's Lab Report reveals, it has a lot of power on tap, delivered by two separate amplifier modules centrally situated on a clean PCB layout, next to a shielded, in-house-designed switch mode power supply with custom power factor correction to further boost efficiency.

sqnote Airs And Graces
Heeding PM's remark that more than casual regard should be paid to the RA280's speaker pairing, I wanted to try out a few more combinations than usual. Starting with my trusty Focal Sopra No2s [HFN Sep '15], I hooked up an iFi Audio NEO Stream 'transport' [HFN Mar '23] and T+A DAC 200 [HFN May '22] to the RA280's balanced inputs. The far costlier Sopra loudspeakers not being an obvious match for an amp in this price range, I swapped them out for DALI Rubicon 2s and KEF R3s [the original versions, not the Metas – see HFN Dec '18] later on. While each speaker brought its own tuning to the table, HiFi Rose's amp always impressed with good separation and detailed, airy stereo imaging.

Citech Co., Ltd
South Korea
Supplied by: Henley Audio Ltd, UK
01235 511166