The light show. Hitting the right-most button illuminated with the global 'on' symbol has it blink a few times before a fat relay clicks and the power button extinguishes. Should we have backlighting set to 2—1 is dim, 0 off—and the tone controls active, this is what we see: from-the-seat illumination of our selected input, VU meter and tone control lights, volume setting light and even tone control indicators. What's more, the latter don't just have a short lit stave inset. There are tiny pin pricks at their shaft ends which bathe the sun-dial sections in reflected lumens for a subtle glow. It's a fully finessed spectacle of sheer class. Should we prefer more subdued so black-out, 0 cuts all of it to look unplugged. More thoughtfulness? In mute only the VU meters blink. In black-out mode they still do, just at far reduced lumens. Even the remote's LED lights up white to confirm a command input and show when the coin battery is expired. The only thing I could have done without is the gold/black 'Hi-Res Audio' sticker on the top plate above the power switch. Playing MP3 even 16/44.1 files isn't hi-res. For that we need beyond CD-quality material. We provide that. It's not built in. Then what's the sticker doing there? I know, hair splitting. It's what bald reviewers do.

In no time did I also see the sonic lights. They said that implementation rules. Though Hifi Rose run GaNFet transistors in a fast-switching output stage, the RA280 clearly did not sound like those other amps I showed earlier. It reminded me more of S.P.E.C. in fact. That requires unpacking. First, identifying 800kHz-working gallium nitride as though it was a rare badge of honour, membership card for an exclusive club or performance guarantee of particular sonics is as futile as claiming that all Sabre DACs sound alike. Such beliefs are dim-witted and bereft of actual experience. Also, who has heard all Sabre DACs? Back on GaNFet class D. Recalling the sonic profile of very expensive implementations from years ago, it was clear right off. Our Korean designers pursue a very different tuning. That's the word du jour. Tuning. Whatever tech gets thrown at oscilloscopes, it's still the ears of an R&D team and its control panel which set a sonic goal to then meet it. That goal is informed by listening culture, global market exposure, taste and sensibilities. It bends tech to its will, not the other way 'round.

It's how we curate hifis, too. We (should) have a sonic ideal to follow. Then whatever meets it wins. The exact tech facilitator is secondary.  It's how I can still remember my first GaNFets. Though of very different tech, they closely resembled my preferred wide-bandwidth class AB sound of first Crayon CFA-1.2, then LinnenberG Liszt monos, then Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos and EX-M7 stereo plus Bakoon then Enleum on the desktop. These class D specimens were too similar to but far costlier than what I had already so returned to their makers. Had I met them first with the requisite spare change, things could have ended differently. Which segues onto my desktop. Here Enleum's AMP-23R represents my sound at a modest 25wpc. It's ideal for extreme nearfield SPL, not so much my bigger speakers. It's why the petite Korean is my office driver. Instantly the Hifi Rose altered the sound emerging from my Acelec Model 1 two-way rear-ported aluminators. Now tonality was richer and earthier, bass more prominent, physicality stronger, density thicker. If your mind somehow associated 800kHz switching with treble explicitness even though the best of us don't hear beyond 20kHz, you'd need to erase that error message. Ditto for anything bright, forward, thin or nervy. The RA280's tuning stayed away from the bright neon lights of the metropolis. It moved me more into the country where as the sun sets, things get darker. There's no artificial light across the outdoor scenery other than what our home adds. It makes for less explicit sound. It feels more settled. Particularly across the heartland of the midrange it creates attractive chewiness more about presence and body than micro detail and spatial cues. If that makes antiquated class D expectations seem lost in translation… quite! Tuning. That's always deliberate, never accidental. Hifi Rose tuned the RA280 for a chunkier tonality. It's why I had flashed on S.P.E.C. Their promo materials actually talk of pursuing classic tube/horn sound with their TI-based implementation of pulse-density modulation. Really, class D is a blank canvas upon which designers can leave very individual signatures.

For triangulation I replaced the RA280 with another Korean champ, Simon Lee's AIO. The former April Music engineer now under his own SAG flag calls his ideal sound soft power or "how things used to sound". Simon is unafraid to admit to nostalgia for the era of pure analogue so he voices his kit accordingly. He's also friendly with Mark Levinson whom he admires for his exceptional circuit-tuning skills. Whilst Simon's class AB Mosfet All-In-One—top-loading CD receiver with MM/MC, USB, BT and headfi—was even wetter so dimensionally DSD not PCM if you've done those comparisons, the slightly drier Hifi Rose fell into the same general category. Soft power, not transient-explicit sharpness. Time for my big system.