Ruark MR1 Bluetooth Speaker System Review

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by Mark Hodgkinson Mar 4, 2014 at 4:48 PM

  • Hi-Fi review

    9

    Best Buy
    Ruark MR1 Bluetooth Speaker System Review
    SRP: £299.00

    What is the Ruark MR1?

    It’s a strange phenomenon that in this age of ‘lifestyle audio’ products, most of the Bluetooth speakers available tend to be solitary affairs.

    Music has very long since been a medium transmitted in two channels, at the very least, yet the term Bluetooth speaker is synonymous with compact, portable products with little to no claims on being HiFi. Not that we have anything against convenience or the ability to have decent sounds on the move, just that some would appreciate the handiness of Bluetooth married to proper stereo output.
    The times they are a changin’, however, and we’re seeing an increasing number of announcements for Bluetooth-enabled stereo pairs and we welcome each and every one. Having just reviewed the impressive Philips E2 system, we’re very keen to find out what a specialist loudspeaker manufacturer, such as Ruark, can achieve with a similar brief. It’s time to hook up the MR1s and find out.

    Ruark MR1 Design & Connections

    The Ruark MR1’s come in a choice of finishes – Walnut, Black or White. We have the latter in front of us and, if they’re a reliable guide to the other two, we can testify that they are beautifully finished in wood and nicely lacquered. The speakers are very compact, at no more than 17.5cms tall, 14.5cms deep and just under 13cms wide but are possessed of a reassuring mass, not that they could justifiably be described as heavy. Both speakers rest on four conical, rubberised feet to prevent vibrations and to provide a little breathing space.
    Ruark MR1 Ruark MR1 Design & Connections
    Ruark MR1 Ruark MR1 Design & Connections

    The Right speaker is where most of the action takes place as it has the connections and a control button/knob placed in a circular, metal enclosure which has a cut-out for the LED indicator light. At the rear of the Right speaker there’s a 3.5mm line-in connection and a 3.5mm out for hooking up an active subwoofer. Also at the rear are an input level selection switch and the output to the left speaker. At the front, and concealed by the fine black mesh material covering the drivers, is the infra-red sensor. The grilles are detachable so if you like your speakers in the buff – as we do – your desires can be satisfied

    It could use more connection options

    Ruark MR1 Setup & Operation

    Since there’s only the two connections to choose between, it’s not going to take an AV guru to get the MR1 into meaningful action. The speakers will most likely be paired with mobile music sources or a PC and if you’re going with the latter, we’d recommend using a dedicated Bluetooth dongle rather than relying on the, often feeble, transmitters built into a laptop. There is no special Bluetooth pairing process, just select that input – either with a long press of the speaker-mounted button or by using the remote until the indicator light illuminates – you guessed it - blue.

    Said remote is a very wee affair so you’ll need to keep it in a safe place and we generally found ourselves going via the tactile, knob route to command, not that the controller doesn’t work – we just like the feel of rubber! Aside from the input selection buttons, the remote also has volume keys plus mute and power buttons and runs from a CR2025 battery.
    Ruark MR1 Ruark MR1 Setup & Operation
    Ruark MR1 Ruark MR1 Setup & Operation

    Whilst we said above that a phone, tablet or PC is the most likely source for the MR1s, the 3.5mm input means you could hook them up to almost anything. As well as the ‘expected’ sources, we had them happily running off two TVs, one from the headphone output using a straight 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable and the other from the stereo outputs using a RCA to 3.5mm cable. The supplied loop-through cable connecting the two speakers is 1.5m in length, so should fit around most TVs but a lengthier after-market cable should be easy to come by. Ruark recommends a minimum distance of 60cm between the speakers to ensure good stereo separation, and we’d concur with that.

    The knob is pleasingly rubberised

    Ruark MR1 Features

    If you ain’t got aptX Bluetooth compatibility, you ain’t nothing in this market anymore and the RM1s don’t disappoint, so CD-like streaming quality is possible with your less compressed files. Bluetooth range is quoted at around 10 metres, which is definitely best case and any obstructing walls will diminish that somewhat.

    The MR1s automatically sense when connected equipment is switched on, whether line-in or Bluetooth, which is certainly convenient, and they will switch into standby if there has been no signal detected for a period of 10 minutes. You can disable that energy-saving feature, should you wish, by selecting line-in mode and holding down the corresponding button on the remote for around 5 seconds.

    Ruark MR1

    To make the MR1s into a truly portable proposition, Ruark offers the R1 BackPack battery pack, which clips on to the back of the right speaker and offers ‘hours of use’ from its rechargeable cell. The power cable from the MR1’s is fully compatible with the BackPack and although we weren’t sent one to test, we applaud the idea and at under £50, it isn’t going to break the bank.

    Ruark MR1 Sound Quality

    Give us a moment to go and fetch the thesaurus... There’s only so many ways one can say sublime for, all things considered, the Ruark MR1s deserve such lofty praise. Forget their size, ignore the fact they can be pigeon-holed as a lifestyle audio product and simply revel in the fact that they sound delicious. So much so that you’ll be you counting down the minutes until you can crank them up to unsociable levels again.

    It’s perhaps the level of detail that is most noteworthy. The MR1s simply let you hear notes and sounds that other competing speakers don’t. Granted there aren’t many active Bluetooth stereo pairs on the market but the Ruark’s almost make that fact redundant. OK, we, of course, welcome competition but whoever tries to take these on has some task on their hands to match the transparency and cohesiveness of the MR1’s. More to the point, they will need to hit a sub £300 price point – it will be no mean feat!

    We used them, primarily, as desktop speakers to stream Spotify and Google Music at 320Kbps to test out their aptX credentials and were not once left thinking we should have opted for the CD versions. It was apparent from the opening bass notes in Julie London’s Cry Me a River that these speakers can go where very few of this size are capable of, without fluffing the low notes and yet retaining virtually every last reverberation. Perhaps even more testing is the bass synth intro to John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts, which the Ruark’s made simply electrifying. In a very good way!

    Ruark MR1

    For something a little more delicate we turned to Eva Cassidy and At Last with its soulful refrain beautifully preserved and the sense of the speakers meeting perfectly in the middle simply joyful. We’ve yet to dare the same artist's rendition of Over the Rainbow – nobody wants to see a grown man weep, let alone read about it.

    Audio is near transparent, deep and invloving

    They’re very versatile beasts, too, no doubt as a result of their almost monitor-like qualities. Ultramagnetic MCs anyone? You couldn’t fail to be impressed with the solar plexus shaking abilities of the MR1s as they tear through Critical Beatdown and you’d have to be virtually soulless not to have your head banging in appreciation by the end of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. They ‘do’ dance to and Strings of Life almost caused us an unexpected Aceeeeeeeed flashback.

    In short, they do everything with such sure-footedness and composure that you’ll be looking at the spec sheet in disbelief. The low end drivers are less than 3-inches in diameter and the tweeters are less than 1-inch but they sound so much more than that.

    They work very effectively for TV and Movies as well. We had a long overdue watch of Drive during the MR1’s time here and the captivating synth driven soundtrack was superbly delivered whilst effects and dialogue were carried with a true sense of locality and no little clarity. Stick these babies either side of your telly and you’ll be duly wowed, although the lack of height would mean you'd ideally want them on stands to bring them level with the middle of the screen.

    We’ve probably gone on long enough now but, suffice to say, the Ruark MR1’s had us delving in to the deepest recesses of our music collection far beyond the point where we needed to test them any further. They simply compel you to listen.

    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Great build quality
    • aptX Bluetooth capability
    • Onboard amplification
    • Sound is gorgeous

    Cons

    • Could use more inputs
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 1
    You had this Total 0

    Ruark MR1 Bluetooth Speaker System Review

    The Ruark MR1 speaker package is incredibly compact and gorgeously finished in high-lacquer fashion. Colour choices of white, black and walnut await the buyer and they’ll be well served by each. If we have one minor gripe with the Ruarks, a lack of connectivity options would be it. You have a 3.5mm line-in plus aptX capable Bluetooth and nothing more. Since the MR1 is primarily marketed as a desktop speaker, that’s probably sufficient for most but a couple of digital audio inputs wouldn’t do any harm.

    This active pair can be so much more than just something to listen to in the background whilst you’re beavering away on your computer, however. They merit inclusion in your AV setup for both music and TV listening if your budget is £300, or thereabouts, for both amplification and speakers. In fact, on the evidence of the last 12 months, we’re hard pressed to think how you could spend such a sum more wisely.

    The MR1 has a sense of transparency very unusual in this level of the market and composure far beyond what the spec sheet suggests. The bijou drivers work in superb harmony to reveal almost every last drop of detail, throughout the ranges, and they’re also capable of giving you a not-so-playful punch to the tummy that you really wouldn’t have been expecting – particularly from within seven feet, or so.

    To say we were impressed by the Ruark MR1 speaker package would be understatement in the extreme but since we’ve just run out of complimentary adjectives, perhaps a Best Buy Award will duly underscore our admiration.


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £299.00

    The Rundown

    Sound Quality

    9

    Build Quality

    8

    Value For Money

    9

    Verdict

    9

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