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Rose Mini 2 Review – Reference Standard

Introduction –

If you haven’t read my BR5 MKII review or snooped around the earbud and Chi-fi threads on Head-fi, you may not be familiar with Rose. They are a smaller manufacturer but one that has proven themselves to be quite knowledgeable in audio, producing some genuinely compelling products that easily rival models from more established Western brands. And while the majority of their products pursue a more premium price point, a few such as the Mini 2 I have here today are not only quite affordable but carry much of the same charm as their higher end offerings. With a clean $100 asking price, the Mini 2 occupies a highly competitive price point, but I’m sure their unique design and highly balanced sound will find many fans. Let’s see how the Mini 2 performs.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Chi Kong Hui from Penonaudio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Mini 2 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Accessories –

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The Mini 2 does not have the same lavish packaging as the BR5 MKII or Masya but Rose do include a nice set of accessories nonetheless. The Mini 2 comes within a small box containing a soft pouch and the same Westone vault style case as other Rose earphones.

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And as before, I found the case to be really exceptional, sturdy and well sized for portability, it is one of my favourites. The case contains the earphones themselves along with a bag of ear tips. The Mini 2 comes with medium Klipsch style tips pre-installed. They are a really fantastic ear tip for small nozzled earphones and Rose’s implementation works just as well as the OEM Klipsch tips, providing a super solid seal and great comfort.

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Since the tips are oval in shape, I do recommend rotating them to find the most comfortable orientation. I found that they were most comfortable rotated to around ~45 degrees though some have had more luck with the tips rotated to horizontal. Rose also include some standard foam and silicone tips of various sizes should you want a more conventional fit.

 

Design –

Mini is definitely apt when describing Rose’s affordable in-ear; despite housing two drivers within each earpiece they easily one of the smallest earphone I’ve tested, smaller than even the Klipch X10 and Etymotic ER4. Yet despite their size, the Mini 2’s acrylic build feels very solid and resistant to stress, they also look pretty stunning with none of the clouding that affected the BR5 MKII, the housings are crystal clear revealing the internal components and wiring. Red and blue Rose text also help differentiate between sides and the housings are slightly angled for ergonomics.

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The nozzles are slim and on the longer side, enabling a deeper fit. Of note, the sound tubes are slightly flexible rather than rigid, some have expressed concerns that this could become a potential point of failure but it could be intentional to aid seal in a similar sense to Spinfits or perhaps the acrylic used in the main housing is too brittle to be extruded that thin. I didn’t find them to present any weakness during my testing, I even forcefully flexed the nozzles with no repercussions.

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Comfort is unsurprisingly fantastic, the Mini 2 literally disappears in the ear and produces no hotspots even after hours of listening. They do take a bit of acclimatization due to their more unconventional shape and size though after a few minutes I was able to consistently achieve a strong seal. They are also pretty stable in the ear despite being so small, their over-ear fit and strong seal allowing them to stay put during a quick run. Isolation is as strong as any other sealed earphone apart from more ear-filling monitors such as the Campfire Audio earphones and even Rose’s own BR5 MKII. Noise attenuation is still more than sufficient for public transport and air travel when paired with a set of foam ear tips. Furthermore, wind noise is minimal since they barely protrude from the ear though due to the nature of their design, they still aren’t perfectly suited towards use while sleeping.

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While previous revisions of the Mini 2 had a fixed cable, the new units come with a removable MMCX unit. New units also ship with Rose’s updated silver plated cable, the same included with the wood Masya and BR5 MKII. It is an ergonomically excellent cable that is radically improved over previous designs. The cable looks stunning with a loose braid and transparent sheathing that reveals the lustrous silver conductors beneath. The cable is slightly rubbery but is very supple, easily coiling and untangling after storage.

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Furthermore, the cable isn’t overly microphonic and has zero memory. I’m a huge fan of Rose’s choice of pre-moulded ear guides over memory wire, they are perfectly shaped and really hug the ear, improving fit stability and general comfort. I also appreciate small touches like the continuous y-split and well relieved straight plug that should aid longevity. The plug is also case friendly for use with smartphones though Rose do not offer a configuration with a mic/remote.

 

Sound –

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When it comes to dual armature earphones around this price, many would be quick to point out numerous models featuring the Knowles TWFK setup. And while some implementations sound really fantastic and offer very pleasing value, most of them can come off as quite lean. Rose have instead chosen to go with a custom setup comprising of a Sonion bass driver and a Knowles tweeter. As a result, and despite their small size, the Mini 2 is exceptionally balanced and can sound surprisingly rich with certain material. They are easily one of the most balanced earphones I’ve heard at any price, offering similar levels of evenness to much more expensive earphones from Campfire and Westone. Moreover, they have none of the forwardness that can affect more neutral armature based earphones, making them easier to acclimatize to. That said, balance is not always ideal and more V-shaped competitors from Kinera and TFZ can make the Mini 2 sound quite mellow by comparison. Of course, this all comes down to personal preference, see my more detailed breakdown and comparisons below to see whether the Mini 2 will fit your needs. As always, I did put the Mini 2 through 150hrs of burn-in and experimented with several tips and cables. Rose’s stock cable is very good, better than the budget cables I had on hand and the stock Klipsch style tips provided the most agreeable seal and sound to me. I didn’t note any huge changes with burn-in though the earphones sounded fine to me out of the box.

 

Tonality –

The Mini 2 is a very balanced, almost neutral earphone to my ears, far more so than the Kinera’s and TFZ’s of the world. They remind a lot of the Hifiman RE-400 with a slight bump in low-end warmth, both bass and lower mids, combined with a very coherent midrange and treble response. They are a very well integrated earphone with no notable peaks or troughs and their high-end is notably more linear than the more polite RE-400. I should note that I do prefer a u-shaped sound so the Mini 2 may sound slightly more u-shaped than described and those coming from more sculpted earphones may find the Mini 2 to be mid-forward. It does depend on your reference and preferences though I still persist that it is an incredibly balanced earphone based upon comparison with other earphones I have on hand.

 

Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –

Their small size does come with some downsides and soundstage reproduction is one of them. While they aren’t an explicitly intimate earphone like the ER4 and Klipsch X10, the Mini 2 doesn’t glimpse the scale that larger, vented competitors achieve. Listening to “Who Are You” by The Who and the Mini 2 provided nice width and modest depth but space didn’t radiate beyond the head. However, while space isn’t their forte, it certainly doesn’t hold the rest of the Mini 2’s sound back, there is enough space to enjoy every genre of music and separation is very good on account of their clear, balanced sound. In addition, imaging is sharp and accurate, not quite to the extent of the BR5 MKII, but the Mini 2 is immediately more balanced than earphones like the TFZ King so instrument placement tends to more accurate and consistent among tracks of various mastering quality.

 

Drivability –

With a higher 45ohm impedance and an average sensitivity of 108dB, the Mini 2 is more difficult to drive than most competing models. They required considerably more power than the TFZ, Simgot and Magaosi earphones, even more than the Kineras to reach the same volume. That being said, beyond volume, they aren’t overly source sensitive, certainly far less so than the BR5 MKII and Pinnacle P1. They sounded nice from my HTC 10 with no notable roll-off or outstanding tonal oddities but they did scale nicely when plugged into my Fiio X7 II, gaining some bass depth and texture in addition to a noticeably clearer and more open midrange. I would still consider the Mini 2 to be a relatively easy to drive and they do sound perfectly fine from portable sources but a dedicated source will provide a more balanced, nuanced listen. So while they do require a bit more voltage to achieve higher listening volumes, they are quite hiss and output impedance resistant in return.

 

Bass –

The Mini 2 values punch over slam and balance over engagement though they are an earphone that is very easy to enjoy without an immediate sense of mid-forwardness that can often affect earphones pursuing a more neutral tone. Sub-bass extension is above average for an armature earphone but far from that achieved by the dynamic driver Kinera H3 and TFZ King. They do have a little fullness to these lower notes but rumble is minimal and bass focus ultimately lies around the mid-bass frequencies. They are modestly even throughout their low end with that slight bump in the mid-bass frequencies granting them with some additional snap and punch to drums and bass. In addition, due to their more balanced midrange, the Mini 2 also doesn’t suffer from that sense of over leanness affecting the BR5 MKII and bass sounds very well integrated into the sound as a result.

Bass has a slightly fuller tone and is appreciably faster than dynamic rivals though they aren’t as speedy as BR5 MKII nor is the resolution and definition quite there. Nonetheless, I would still consider the Mini 2 to possess a well resolving bass response that is perceptibly more balanced and defined than competing models, Kinera H3 included. Listening to DNCE’s “Kissing Strangers” and the Mini 2 provided a surprisingly rich bass response though the low-end never stole attention away from higher elements, they sat is almost perfect balance. In addition, bass is super tight and clean though they do lack some slam when listening to electronic. My ultimate comment on bass is that it comes down to preference and the inherent qualities of differing driver technologies. The Mini 2 is very well done for an armature earphone, they never sound anaemic but extension is still limited and they are considerably more conservative than competing models. But what they lose in extension and slam, they make up for with superior tactility, texture and definition and the Mini 2’s style of bass tuning perfectly compliments the rest of their sound.

 

Mids –

Anything midrange related is Rose’s speciality, every Rose product I’ve heard has instantly sounded “correct” to my ear, something I can’t say for a lot of budget earphones which require some adjustment when coming from more premium earphones. And the Mini 2 is no exception, again, they aren’t quite as exquisite as the BR5 MKII, but the midrange produced by these earphones is easily the best I’ve heard around this price. That includes the Magaosi earphones, the TFZ earphones and the Kinera, I even prefer their midrange tuning to considerably more expensive earphones like the Pinnacle P1 and 1More Quad Driver. The Mini 2 is very refined throughout its midrange, they have a consistent sense of natural clarity and tone that produces a really enjoyable listen no matter the genre. They do have a slightly brighter tonal tilt or rather, lower mids sit very slightly behind in the mix, but they never sound forward like the BR5 MKII nor do mids sound scooped. In addition, their midrange is refined and smooth with a slight bump in body imbuing them with some musicality over more explicitly neutral/analytical earphones. Listening to Vance Joy’s “Lay It On Me” and the Mini 2 provided

Listening to Vance Joy’s “Lay It On Me” and the Mini 2 provided great extension to vocals, well-delineated layering and a natural level of crispness to the acoustic guitars. They were neither as aggressive as the Kinera H3 nor were they are laid back as the Simgot EN700 Bass, the Mini 2 struck a brilliant medium with excellent technicality to top it all off. And speaking of quality, the Mini 2 continues to impress with pleasing resolution and definition to midrange elements. They don’t have the most cavernous soundstage and they do still lack the level of layering and resolving power of the BR5 MKII, Pinnacle P1 and Oriveti New Primacy, but the Mini 2 remains one of the most impressive earphones around this price. Detailing is also nice, they are far less aggressive than the spiked H3 and K3 HD but they also sound considerably more refined and actual detail retrieval is almost as good. If I had to comment on a weakness of the Mini 2’s midrange, it would probably be their lack of immediate resolution and space though, in that regard, they are no worse than any other $100 earphone I’ve heard whilst maintaining a tonality advantage.

 

Treble –

While my brighter tastes and uncanny resistance to enhanced treble allow me to enjoy a wide range of Chi-fi iems, a lot of users online have reported numerous issues with overbearing treble. And I can definitely see where they are coming from, the vast majority of Chi-fi earphones around this price have some form of treble spike that makes them quite aggressive, accentuating detail but also tiring after longer listening, especially at higher volumes. Notable perps include the Kinera H3, Magaosi K3 Pro and the TFZ King, it is one of the overarching reasons why I am so fond of the Simgot En700 Bass despite its shortcomings in other areas, since it is one of the few natural earphones around this price. Luckily, I can now add the Mini 2 to that list, upper-midrange to lower treble integration is excellent and treble is pretty darn linear. As such, while the Mini 2 may not be as immediately sparkly and detailed as competing models, every note has more texture and treble is perfectly listenable for longer sessions. The Mini 2 is not a dark, rolled off or smoothed off earphone, treble is perfectly present and well extended, they just aren’t as emphasized as certain competitors.

I definitely prefer this response and it does come with several advantages. Like the K3 HD which really smoothed out the peakiness of Magaosi’s prior models, the Mini 2 sounds very naturally detailed and is generally more resolving of background and micro details. Furthermore, the Mini 2 has very good extension with nice resolution of higher details that more lower treble dominated earphones tend to overshadow. When listening to 2NE1’s “Goodbye”, the Mini 2 provided a very crisp response with a realistic and refined presentation of guitar strums that was more mature than more sculpted earphones like the H3 that tended to get a bit crunchy for lack of better terminology. In addition, high-hats have some real texture and cymbals and strings sound well-bodied and extended. On the flipside, the Mini 2 doesn’t excel with air and more expensive models will quite easily best them on extension and general resolution. With that said, I am very content with both the Mini 2’s tuning and quality, they may lack some bite and energy for those looking for bundles of crispness and shimmer but the Mini 2 is still a very resolving earphone and one that won’t grate on the ear after more extended listening.

 

Comparisons –

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Shure SE215: The SE215 is an important benchmark around this price if due to popularity rather than outright sonic performance. The Shure’s are easily one of the best fitting, most isolating earphones around this price point and above it, the Kinera and TFZ earphones though fine earphones in their own rights, fail to challenge Shure’s on stability or noise attenuation. That being said, the Shure’s are a little long and a little tubby so they aren’t perfectly comfortable like the Mini 2, they trade perfect long term comfort for some additional isolation and stability. Both feature a removable MMCX cable though the cable included with the SE215’s a bit cumbersome due to its length and weight. Sonically, the Shures offer a pleasantly warm, laid-back listen though they lack some technicality and balance when compared to more modern earphones offered at the same price. The Mini 2’s have a much tighter and more balanced bass response while the Shure’s offer considerably more bass fullness at the cost of moderate bloat and a considerable loss of both texture and bass definition. Mids are pretty smooth on the Shure’s and more natural than the King’s and H3’s though upper mids are a pretty distant and have some veil. Similarly, lower mids are quite thick and lacking a little clarity, they are clearly don’t possess the transparency, balance and layering that the Mini 2 is able to produce. Highs tell a similar story, the SE215 has a little extra lower treble which grants guitars and strings with some added clarity and crispness but they do have a notable roll off after that which saps them of the air and detailing of the Mini 2. Otherwise, treble notes are nicely bodied and decently textured, lower treble detailing is commendable and quite natural though they fall off quite notably after that. The Mini 2 is simply cleaner and crisper with much better detail retrieval. The SE215 isn’t a terrible earphone, but there are many alternatives like the Klipsch X10/11/12 that can often be found at the same price, offer a more comfortable fit and pursue the same kind of sound but pull it off a lot better.

Kinera H3 ($99): The H3 is a comfortable and stable earphone with good but not great isolation due to their vented nature. That being said, they can’t best the Mini 2 on fit simply due to their size. Both have excellent removable cables utilizing the MMCX interface. The H3 has a V-shaped sound with somewhat scooped lower mids and quite a moderate amount of treble aggression enhancing their higher level of retrieval. The Mini 2 is considerably leaner within the low-frequency department but also faster and a lot tighter. The H3 has a notable sub and mid-bass emphasis that grants it with a lot of fullness without sacrificing too much bass detail. The H3 has a more natural midrange than the King though the Mini 2 is more realistic yet and quite a bit smoother. Both have similar clarity though the Mini 2 is noticeably more linear throughout their midrange with more consistent vocal tone and placement. The H3 has a treble spike that bothers some but not myself while the Mini 2 pursues a more neutral response.

TFZ King ($99): The King is a nicely constructed earphone whose semi metal build does feel more solid than the acrylic Mini 2. Both were also comfortable to my ear, but the larger King never disappears like the Mini 2. The Mini 2 achieves a deeper fit but isolates similarly due to its smaller housings, the King protrudes a lot from the ear and has some stability issues due to its weight and size. In addition, the King has a very stiff cable that is a far cry from the supple SPC Rose unit. When it comes to sound, the King is another earphone that many complimented on its balance however, the Mini 2 takes this to another level. The King has a noticeably deeper, fuller bass response though the Mini 2 is a bit faster and has an advantage on texturing. The Mini 2 is immediately more natural within their midrange though the King has considerably more space and clearer layering. The King also boasts more clarity with increased resolution at the cost of sounding a bit artificial and over-forward. The King has a very clear treble response with a middle treble boost where the Mini 2 is more neutral and linear. While the King is more aggressive, the Mini 2 retrieves more detail and presents it in a more natural manner. I still stand by my recommendation of the King for clarity lovers but the Mini 2 very much replaces it for balance and neutrality.

Pinnacle P1 ($200): Both earphones are very comfortable, but the P1 lends itself both to over ear and cable down wear. The Pinnacles isolates slightly more on account of their larger, metal housings, they also feel far more solid in the hand. Both have removable MMCX cables and both are excellent. The Pinnacle P1 is more v-shaped with extra midbass fullness and a notably more aggressive treble response. The P1 has more bass texture but lacks the definition and linearity of the Mini 2, both lack some sub-bass extension, the P1 to a lesser extent. Mids are more recessed on the P1, especially lower mids, but clarity and layering are great and resolution is improved over the Mini 2. Treble on the P1 is a bit spiked but still more even than the $100 Chifi iems. As such, they are very detail forward but also retrieve a lot of the smaller nuances that earphones like the King skip over. The Mini 2 is more natural than the P1 and more even in the highs though the P1 still manages to be more detailed and airy. Most notably, the P1 has a very large soundstage that the Mini 2 can’t match which really aids with layering, separation and general immersion though the Mini 2 doesn’t really struggle in those regards. Despite costing half as much, the Mini 2 does actually hold numerous advantages over the P1 simply due to its excellent balance and neutrality. The Mini 2 actually has more deep bass definition, more consistent midrange presence and a more natural treble response though the Pinnacle P1 is a very well-considered v-shaped earphone that is still relatively balanced and has plenty of technicality on top.

New Primacy ($300): The New Primacy is one of my favourite earphones due to its brilliant balance between sonic finesse and ergonomic excellence. While I can’t say they’re more comfortable than the Mini 2, both disappear and can be worn all day without discomfort. Both also provide excellent noise isolation though the New Primacy actually has a lower profile fit that makes it easier to sleep on. And as much as I love the look of the Mini 2, the matte black, all aluminium New Primacy is just as striking to look at and ever more solid. Both have a removable cable and both are a bit rubbery, I personally prefer the Rose cable though the Oriveti unit is transparent enough and has a more pocket-friendly right angle plug. The New Primacy actually sounds quite comparable to the Mini 2, both are very balanced earphones though the New Primacy has a few deviations that imbue it with some extra engagement and they are just as coherent sounding despite their driver setup. Starting from bottom to top, the NP has a more robust bass response though one that is also very well balanced with mids and highs. Sub-bass extension isn’t fabulous, but they are very tight with nice rumble and slam when called for, the New Primacy also has really great bass definition that bests the armature based Mini 2. Mids are also quite similar, both are slightly brighter with a fuller tone to vocals and both are very natural though the New Primacy has slightly more clarity and better resolution/layering. The New Primacy’s upper midrange smoothly feeds into treble like the Mini 2 though the New Primacy has a little bump in the lower treble that makes them more detail forward, balancing out the smoothness where the Mini 2 can sound slightly too laid-back at times. Extension and air are similar on both, neither are particularly outstanding in this regard, but the NP does have noticeably more detail and a more spacious soundstage. The Mini 2 sounds almost like a scaled down New Primacy making the Oriveti a logical upgrade in addition to Rose’s own BR5 MKII that goes for the same price.

BR5 MkII ($300): The BR5 MKII is much larger earphone though one that actually achieves a deeper, more isolating fit. I actually prefer the build on the Mini 2, the BR5 MKII has an area of hollowness behind the drivers in addition to some haze of the transparent elements. Comfort easily goes to the Mini 2 simply on account of their smaller size and more orthodox fit depth. Sonically, both clearly carry the same Rose house sound, both are very balanced, almost neutral with more reserved bass and a focus on midrange elements, specifically upper mids. However, there are some notable differences akin to the difference between the RE-400 and RE-600, the BR5 MKII is slightly more mid-forward and notably brighter. It is also a considerably more aggressive earphone with much more high-frequency energy. The BR5 MKII has a faster bass response with a lot more definition though the Mini 2 has a little extra fullness. Mids are gorgeous on both though the BR5 MKII once again takes the cake with added resolution and considerably more detail. That being said, I actually preferred the more balanced tone of the Mini 2 as opposed to the more forward BR5 MKII. Treble is similar, the BR5 MKII is both more detailed and more detail forward, it also has better extension and air. Soundstage also goes to the BR5 MKII which possesses appreciably more width and outstanding depth. Unsurprisingly, the BR5 MKII is a relatively natural progression of the Mini II with increased technicality throughout though their tuning is subjectively less accessible than the more neutral Mini 2 unlike the New Primacy.

 

Verdict –

The Mini 2 is quite an oddity, they are so supremely balanced in a market that really values more sculpted earphones. As a result, the benchmarks and references around this price become these more popular, more sculpted models which probably explains why the hifiman RE-400 received such varied reviews. To my ear, the Mini 2 is more pleasing than Hifiman’s offering and build quality is miles ahead. They may sound a little bland and mid-forward when coming from more V-shaped competitors, but give them a few days and the Mini 2 will enlighten you with balance and nuance that these models glance over by virtue of flawed design.

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Again, it all comes down to individual preference and reference, for example, some call the SE215 balanced but to me they’re very much on the thicker more laid-back side. I suppose I’ll chuck in individual ear anatomy into the subjectivity of this hobby as well because I could sit here and gush all day about the Mini 2 but ultimately, that is just my take according to my personal preferences. So many question and inquire about the absolute best earphone under $100 when in reality, no clear winner exists. At the very least, Rose has given us another excellent offering around this price range; if you are looking for absolute comfort and acoustic balance with hints of musicality sprinkled in, I can’t think of a better choice than the Mini 2. For those looking for a bit more vibrancy and engagement to their sound, you can see my other reviews, I have covered dozens of in-ears of different forms and flavours.

Verdict – 9.5/10, The Mini 2 may not be the most vibrant, shimmery or thumping earphone out there but there are plenty of models that already satisfy those criteria. Rather, the Mini 2 occupies a vacancy around this price, offering some real neutrality with a taste of additional musicality. Top that off with perfect comfort and an excellent removable cable and the Mini 2 becomes an easy recommendation for lovers of natural clarity and balance and perhaps those that struggle to find a solid fit on conventional IEMs.

The Rose Mini 2 is available from Penonaudio (International) for $109 USD, please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.

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