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Ruark MR1 review: The best active speaker system around?

The Good

  • Fantastic sound quality
  • Great build quality
  • Look the part

The Bad

  • You pay a premium for a premium sound

The Ruark MR1 Active Speaker system has been with us since 2013. Recombu Tech gave it another listen to see if the class-leading sound-makers still have what it takes to compete.

Bluetooth speakers are incredibly convenient when it comes to music listening because more and more people store music on a smartphone and the way we consume music has changed dramatically. On-demand streaming is now the norm, while trips to HMV are little more than nostalgia inducers.

No wonder, then, the Bluetooth speaker market is a big one and one that attracts swathes of buyers who care little about sound quality. And if you did, a lifetime of Beats Audio would mean you probably have no idea how music is supposed to sound.

As such, gimmicks such as LED lighting and style end up being the headline act and sound quality takes a backseat. Bright blue headphones with the right logo on will sell better than something from a respected audio brand such as Audio Technica, Grado and Sennheiser.

Luckily there are speakers out there that combine today’s convenience with old-school HiFi audio quality for people that care. One example is the Ruark MR1 Active Speaker system, which comes from a company with a background in high-end audio so, in theory, you should be in good hands.

But at £299.99 they certainly have a big price – the question, then, is whether they have a big sound to match? Are these walnut beauties the best desktop speakers money can buy?

What is the Ruark MR1 Active Speaker system?

The Ruark MR1 offering harkens back to the old HiFi days where you had two speakers, an amp and at least one other separate to play music – be that a record, radio or CD. The two speakers are connected by a cable but to save space the amp is internal.

On the top of the right speaker is a volume control (used also to turn the speakers on and off) and an attenuation switch on the back for when connected to high-powered devices such as a television. An LED on the volume button changes blue when Bluetooth is enabled.

All you have to do is plug them into the mains, connect your source and off you go. The Ruark MR1s act as a full-blown speaker system, you just have to supply the music to play.

What are the connection options?

Bluetooth is one way to stream tunes from a smartphone and only keen audio enthusiasts will complain about a loss in quality as the superior APTx audio codec is supported. Simply enable Bluetooth on your phone, hit the Bluetooth button on the Ruark MR1 remote and then pair them up.

You can also use a 3.5mm phono cable for a wired connection, improving sound quality and making life even simpler, but it does mean having your phone, tablet or MP3 player within reach of the right speaker.

A subwoofer can be connected if you so desire, on the odd chance you want significantly more bass. Said subwoofer needs to be active, as in, it has an in-built amp to make its own sound.

How good is the Ruark MR1 speaker sound quality?

Songs are played with a sort of energetic warmth that punches far harder than seems possible from such small speaker housings. Bass is present without seeming contrived or overpowering, while the mids and treble shine brightly without being tinny and thin in their soundstage.

There is something so enticing about how they sound. Detail is plentiful but never too intricate that it puts off those who are used to boomy Beats Audio headphones. No matter the genre, the MR1 speakers make you want to listen to them for hours on end.

Honestly, you can close your eyes and imagine a much larger speaker at work, such is the potent sound that can reach high levels without distortion. They are by no means powerful enough for a really big room, but you would be surprised what the MR1s can do, especially when placed near a wall for added bass.

It all depends on the quality of the MP3 you use (minimum 192 bit-rate), of course, and the smartphone streaming the music will also have an impact, but you can achieve a really top-notch HiFi sound if the source is right. Far beyond what most single-speaker systems can muster, anyway.

Out of about ten speakers we have tested in recent months, only two speakers competed in the sound quality department and one was JBL’s Pulse 2, which is a brilliant performer for the size, fantastically portable and has a useful illumination function for outdoor listening at night.

The second was Eclipse’s TD-M1 speaker set, which offers a nearly as impressive sound as the Ruark MR1 speakers but lack the same finesse and cost upwards of £1,000. At that sort of money, you can buy some seriously talented audio gear if you have the space to accommodate it.

What if I hate wires or want to take the MR1s away with me?

You can buy a battery pack for the MR1s to remove the reliance on the mains, but you still have to lug two speakers around instead of one for the full effect and they are rather heavy (blame the lovely wood). Still, their portable size means it would be possible.

The R1 BackPack, as it is known because it also works with the R1 radio system, provides up to 16 hours of playback. We have never tested it so are unable to comment on real-world battery longevity, but we can at least tell you it costs £49.95 and, if bought from John Lewis, has a two-year guarantee.

So what is bad about the Ruark MR1 speakers?

At £300, they are quite the purchase for most people and, though we love the traditional styling of the walnut cubes (also available in black or white), some may want something less reserved.

We dislike the slightly cheap feel to the plastic volume knob on top, which clicks as it is twisted as opposed to a smooth action. With such lovely walnut on show, it seems a shame Ruark cut a corner here. It is also impossible to see what the volume level is set to.

Meanwhile the remote control is suitably uncomplicated like the speakers themselves but feels a bit cheap and has an uninspiring look about it. More of a shame than a deal-breaker.

A little bit more length for the 150cm connecting speaker cable would be good, too, as certain room configurations can be a pain to accommodate (one speaker either side of a king sized bed, for instance). But that is a very niche problem, admittedly, and other cables are available from Ruark.

Would you buy them, then?

Absolutely. For such small speakers, the sound is incredibly big and incredibly pleasing, while the build quality is excellent where it counts. £300 is a lot of money but you get a proper audio system that is a joy to listen to. A few quibbles here and there do little to detract from that.

If you want speakers that offer modern-day functionality such as Bluetooth, love traditional styling and need them to be pint-sized, the Ruark MR1 Active Speaker system is for you.


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