Rose BR5 MKII Review – Chi-fi In Full Bloom

Sound –

The BR5 MKII is Rose’s flagship balanced armature earphone featuring a whopping 5 balanced armatures per earpiece. That’s easily one of the highest driver counts I’ve seen around this price if not the highest though, of course, raw driver count doesn’t always produce a more agreeable experience. And looking through the transparent housings, the user can see the 5 drivers inside, 2 mid drivers, 2 tweeters and 1 huge bass driver. Interestingly, my BR5 MKII had a 26ohm resistor on the bass driver, I’m assuming orders straight from Rose may be able to be tailored through changing this component or removing it altogether, I would personally opt for a smaller resistance. Rose promise that each of those components is of excellent quality; the BR5 MKII utilizes drivers from some really renowned in-ears, featuring the same midrange driver as the $1400 FitEar 334 and the same tweeter driver of the JH24 to name a few. So with 5 quality drivers, the rest of the BR5’s performance comes down to housing design, dampening and, to an extent, the included cable.  I was honestly concerned about Rose’s ability to weave these varied components into a coherent package, let’s see how the BR5 MKII performs as a single unit.

 

Cable and Burn-in –

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I put the BR5 MKII through around 150hrs of burn-in to little effect, perhaps bass presence slightly increased though this could also be due to adjustment of my own ears to the BR5’s leaner sound. The BR5 MKII is noticeably sensitive to cable swapping, my unit actually didn’t come with the stock cable, so I spent some time swapping cables around while Penon shipped me the official Rose cable. I found the BR5 MKII to sound best when fed from a quality silver plated cables; the Ourart Ti7 upgrade cable and Campfire Audio Litz cables both provided excellent resolution and low-end balance, the ALO cable also improved sub-bass extension to the extent of producing some real slam on certain tracks. The BR5 MKII also sounded nice from the Plussound Exo Series Copper though that cable didn’t produce the bass depth I was looking for even if the added midrange body and cleaner soundstage were very welcome. That being said, buyers shouldn’t feel that they are being limited by the stock cable which was perhaps even cleaner sounding than the SPC Ourart cable but the Rose did suffer when fed from a generic copper cable from Aliexpress (even though the listing specified SPC, I very much doubt it).

 

Drivability –

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With a sensitivity of 115dB and a conservative 15ohm impedance, the BR5 MKII is very easy to drive, more efficient than the New Primacy and Cardas A8 but slightly less efficient than the Campfire Jupiter which has a similar impedance and sensitivity rating. They are also surprisingly consistent among sources, picking up far less hiss than the Jupiter and New Primacy despite their sensitivity. I can’t comment on why this is so, but they do sound noticeably different from devices with a higher output impedance. For instance, from my HTC 10, the BR5 MKII actually sounded slightly warmer with increased sub-bass extension when compared to my Mojo and X7 II. That being said, users will still want to feed the BR5 MKII from a nice source, due to their excellent resolution and detailing, the Rose earphones scale very well, gaining more bass texture, more vocal clarity and notably improved soundstage space when moving up from my HTC 10 and iPod Touch to my X7 II. As such, buyers wanting a bit more low-end might want to consider impedance adaptors combined with a high resolution dedicated source. Ultimately, the BR5 MKII is a very efficient earphone that avoids being too sensitive towards hiss, they sound very nice from a decent smartphone or MP3 player and only improve with higher quality dedicated sources.

 

Tonality –

Not only is the BR5 MKII a balanced in-ear, it’s also a very neutral one with Hifiman-like accuracy. They even make the Oriveti New Primacy sound bassy yet alone more dynamic offerings like the Cardas A8, achieving a similar level of balance to the considerably more price prohibitive Audiofly AF1120 with a little more high-end zing to boot. For my tastes, I would classify them as a brighter, sightly upper mid-forward earphone; bass takes more of a backseat and treble is clear but doesn’t steal the show. But don’t let that description scare you off, because it’s how the sound works as a whole rather than its individual components that grants it strength and the BR5 MKII is ultimately a very cohesive package characterised by a super clean midrange and generally fantastic resolution.

 

Soundstage, imaging and Separation –

The BR5 MKII is quite a spacious earphone, they possess notably strong depth and nice width that has plenty of reach but never sounds explicitly out of the head. Listening to Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” and the BR5 MKII didn’t quite expand like the Cardas A8 but came surprisingly close to the vented New Primacy in width with noticeably more depth, surprising given that it’s the most mid-forward of the bunch. Imaging is a strong point of the BR5 MKII and accuracy is among the best earphones I’ve heard around the price. Their excellent resolution and speed made them just as precise as the Oriveti New Primacy if not slightly more so; placement is sharp and atmospheric effects are airy, directional cues are swift with minimal smearing. When listening to Jonathan Richman’s “Egyptian Reggae”, elements were well placed, the main and backing guitars were clearly separated and drums and bass avoided any muddling. The BR5 MKII still doesn’t match more expensive earphones like the 64Audio U3 and Campfire Jupiter in terms of space or imaging precision due to inferior resolution and micro-detailing, but they do hold a notable lead over most other $300 earphones I’ve heard, even armature sets like the SE535 and W30 don’t match the BR5’s speedy tones. Separation is very good but isn’t outstanding, the BR5 clearly delineates between instruments, even during complex passages, but they lack that sense of space and isolation around each element that higher priced in-ears achieve. Still, the soundstage prevents their mid-forward tones from becoming overbearing in a similar fashion to the RE-600S.

 

Bass –

Bass takes more of a backseat in the presentation with a very neutral tuning though they never come across as explicitly anaemic and quality is stunning. On that note, while I do prefer a more u-shaped tone in general, I can appreciate the balanced tones of the New Primacy and the mid-forward RE-600S. That being said, even the RE-600S has a some extra sub-bass while the hybrid driver New Primacy and dynamic Cardas A8 both far outstrip the BR5 in terms of low-end rumble and slam. The BR5 MKII has a noticeable lack of sub-bass, even deep bass is just passable with notable roll-off to the lowest of lows that saps rock and electronic of a lot of impact. But that’s not to say that the BR5 MKII has no bass at all, deep bass has some body and mid-bass has a nudge of emphasis that grants low notes with some extra fullness. In addition, bass is very linear above that roll-off and the BR5 maintains just enough low-end body and warmth to satisfy instruments such as drums and acoustic guitar. So, for the most part, bass is perfectly present, they have adequate extension and a nice sense of mid-bass fullness. Bass can sound nicely punchy they just never sound deep like more extended armature or dynamic/hybrid driver earphones; even when listening to songs such as Calvin Harris’ “Feels”, the BR5 MKII has no real slam or impact though bass still sounded full, clear and textured.

As one would expect, any bloat or muddiness is non-existent yet male vocals have nice body when called for and bass frequently surprises me with its punchiness. Texturing is also fabulous but they lack the extension to resolve much within the lowest registers. When listening to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”, the BR5 MKII provided a lightning fast bass response that was significantly tighter than the New Primacy and Cardas A8 but also one that was lacking the sub-bass snap of those rivals. Mid-bass remained punchy and was just as textured and dynamic as the New Primacy but clearer with improved definition. By contrast, the Cardas A8 provided the most textured response though its thicker response took a step back in outright bass resolution. The BR5 MKII’s bass response is probably its weakest aspect, not because of its conservative tuning, but due to its lack of extension and power. While bass is super clear and tight, the Rose still lacks the deep-bass presence to grant some genres with accurate timbre and body, limiting versatility. As an added note, I did try some equalisation to achieve a little extra low-end presence, but no matter what software adjustment I applied, the BR5 MKII seems incapable of reproducing the lowest frequencies.

 

Mids –

The midrange on the BR5 MKII easily steals the show in terms of both focus and quality. They carry a brighter tone with lifted upper mids and a more neutral lower midrange that is very coherent with the mid and upper bass response. Despite this, mids come across as clean and surprisingly natural on behalf of some fine tuning but users accustomed to darker earphones will definitely require some acclimatization. Starting with lower mids and the Rose impresses with a similar presentation to the Oriveti New Primacy; both are slightly clearer, full-bodied sounding earphones though the BR5 MKII is sweeter while the New Primacy is smoother. Both are also similarly strong in terms of resolution, the BR5 MKII layers slightly better while the New Primacy has a bit more definition to foreground elements though neither sound as fluid as the higher priced Campfire’s and 64Audio earphones. The Cardas A8 pursues an inherently different sound than both earphones, it has the most spacious midrange by far in addition to the most body. But while the BR5 and New Primacy can’t match its organic tone and exceptional sense of body, they are both clearer and more balanced. However, whilst lower mids will be a question of taste, female vocal aficionados will definitely want to look into the BR5 MKII; to my ears, the Rose has the best balance between presence, body and quality, their tuning is much more refined than their price would suggest. First and foremost, I get pretty touchy about clarity, because clarity often comes with a loss of body resulting in an unnatural sound. But the BR5 MKII is just right, they are clearer than the New Primacy and considerably clearer than the Cardas A8 while retaining a lot of body, granting vocals with a very realistic tone even with the thinner mastering of Asian albums.

Upper mids are the BR5’s trump card, they are quite forward and can dominate the mix on some tracks, especially electric guitar, but luckily, the quality of the BR5’s upper midrange is truly exquisite with superb layering and smoothness free of sibilance or grain; the BR5 flourishes with piano, strings, female vocals and acoustic guitar. Arianna’s “Komm Susser Todd” best illustrated the BR5 MKII’s strengths; vocals were super clear with excellent resolution and strings were very textured and appropriately positioned, avoiding over-forwardness. The New Primacy was almost as clear but lacked the depth of the BR5, sounding less natural. Despite not having the clearest tuning, the A8 actually provided a really nice rendition with immediate vocals that were smooth, layered and defined if lacking the resolution of the BR5’s. And onto detailing, the BR5 continues to impress with nice retrieval and a slightly more aggressive presentation though the New Primacy has a more refined presentation overall. The New Primacy also retrieves slightly more information within their upper midrange but the transition into their treble is overly smooth whereas the BR5 has a more aggressive lower treble that makes them the immediately more nuanced earphone but also one that reveals more faults in the source material. As such, the BR5 MKII has a lot of bite to its midrange where the New Primacy and A8 tend to smooth these regions off in favour of more musicality and long-term listenability. If you’re looking for a darker, more organic earphone, the A8 is a fantastic choice whereas the BR5 MKII is more suited towards vocals and critical listening but comes across as slightly too forward in extended listening. I still maintain my love for the New Primacy which lies roughly in-between; it isn’t as nuanced as the BR5 nor as clear and revealing but does find the best compromise between detail and fatigue (or lack thereof).

 

Highs –

But really it’s within the upper registers that the BR5 MKII will start winning fans, rewarding listeners with a very nice treble response that is also quite refined. Starting with tuning, lower treble is on the more aggressive side while middle and upper treble are smoother and less immediately crisp. This is where the BR5 makes the greatest departure from the Oriveti New Primacy which carries a more polite treble response that clearly lacks the sparkle, detail and air of the BR5 MKII. Extension is very good, not Campfire Jupiter good, but better than the Oriveti and RE600S with some nice texturing and body to high-hats. In addition, they are probably the most detailed earphone I’ve heard around this price, besting the Westone W30 and New Primacy in terms of both detail retrieval and presentation; guitar strums and cymbals, in particular, had great nuance and body. But despite landing more on the resolving end of the spectrum, the BR5 still clearly lacks the nuance of more expensive in-ears, the Campfire Audio Nova and Dunu DK-3001 for instance, are both more resolving than Rose’s earphone despite being less aggressive; they have notably more body and resolution to higher elements. However, it’s the smoother response of the Rose that lends it better towards longer listening sessions, while its forward midrange may tire, treble never builds pressure like more middle treble focussed earphones.

And to expand more on the quality aspect, treble resolution and clarity are both excellent as is texture. Cymbals tend to sound slightly tizzy but are otherwise very raw and lifelike. They still don’t detail as well as the 64Audio U3 and Dunu DK-3001 but on many tracks they get scarily close. Nirvana’s “Lithium” provided apt demonstration of the BR5 MKII’s performance, the cymbals in the opening were very well textured if not quite as extended and airy as the much more expensive U3 or as textured as the Dunu. Eric Claptons “Old Love” was similarly flattered with more attack to each guitar strum than the New Primacy combined with increased micro-detail retrieval to higher elements. If I have a main complaint with the treble response of the BR5 MKII, it’s that treble isn’t perfectly linear so resolution of really high detail isn’t fantastic and some texturing is lost to more refined earphones, most notable when listening to string instruments. Otherwise, the BR5 MKII is a very airy, mostly clean and incredibly detailed earphone that manages to keep up with more expensive models in many scenarios. They also aren’t a particularly fatiguing or treble forward earphone nor is any sibilance immediately present, treble is exquisite.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Ryan Soo

Ryan Soo

Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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