Ruark Audio is a relatively small entity in the audio world but it has created some cracking audio products, including the R1 tabletop radio. Now the British company offers a pair of Bluetooth speakers known as the MR1. I decided to investigate whether these small but well-formed sound boxes are worth their asking price.
Ruark MR1 review: Small on size, big on performance?
Ruark Audio has opted for a plain, confident design for the MR1 Bluetooth speakers. Simplicity is definitely a big part of the ethos and the Ruark MR1s look all the better for it.
Sound is provided by a 20mm ‘treated textile dome tweeter’ that uses a neodymium magnet system and a 75mm ‘long throw’ woofer below. A downward-facing port at the bottom of the speaker helps with the lows.
The speakers are encased in 17cm tall hand-crafted wooden enclosures, which come in a gloss black, soft white or the rich walnut (pictured). The rich walnut looks fantastic and is my pick of the bunch, but I doubt you will be disappointed with whichever you choose.
The combined weight of the Ruark MR1 speakers is 3kg so you really get the impression these speakers are very well built. Virtually everything feels sturdy and solid down to the rubbery feet and metal back panel.
Taking off the mesh grille is relatively easy, as there are four plastic stumps in each corner that slide into a rubber hole (ooo er). At the bottom of the speaker is a Ruark Audio badge in metal. No complaints here.
On top of the speaker is an out-of-place plastic button for turning the speakers on and adjusting the volume. The volume button feels cheap and rotates with an unsatisfying click. A smooth, weighty twist would’ve suited the premium styling and build quality.
Another problem with the volume button is the lack of indication of volume unless at maximum (you get a flashing waring). A simple line on the volume knob would’ve sufficed. At least the LED indicator nearby is better thought out, turning orange when the speaker is on and blue when Bluetooth is enabled.
Both speakers are connected using a 1.5m long wire. On a desk or TV stand the length is perfectly adequate. You can talk to Ruark Audio if you have a more elaborate setup in mind as they can supply longer stretches of cable. The speakers are said to work best from at least 60cm apart so give them a bit of space to breathe.
A 10m Bluetooth range is promised although this will vary depending on various factors. I noticed the signal would start to cut out about six metres away with a wall partially blocking the line of sight. Not a negative, just worth pointing out if your house has above average room sizes.
Continuing the theme of simplicity is the basic feature list. At the back are connections for a subwoofer and AUX in so you can use a 3.5mm cable to attach a device like a smartphone or tablet with a wired connection.
There’s also an input level (Low and Hi) to improve sound quality at low volumes, AC connection for proving power and a connection for linking the two speakers. A small remote allows you to control the MR1 Bluetooth speakers remotely. A battery is supplied and installed so no messing about when you first open the box.
Ease of use
A lack of buttons and an easy-to-read manual make the MR1 speakers a doddle to setup and go. All I had to do was enable Bluetooth on my Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone, find the Ruark Audio MR1 speakers in the list and connect. That’s it – there’s no weird procedure or password to make life difficult.
A press of the Bluetooth button is all you need to do to enter the device pairing mode, which makes streaming music on one device and then another a painless experience. Bluetooth 3.0 devices and above are supported.
If your device supports aptX you can expect better sound quality. The Nokia Lumia 1020 doesn’t support aptX but I was still extremely impressed. I’d guess clarity would be marginally better.
The remote is a cinch to use so you can be sat on the sofa while adjusting the volume or turning them on or off. You can also swap between connection types in case you want to go from wireless to wired streaming without getting up.
You can buy a rechargable battery ‘BackPack’ if you fancy taking the MR1s out and about. Rather than use an internal battery, which Ruark said would’ve messed with ‘valuable speaker capacity’, the BackPack sits neatly on the back. It costs around £50, depending on your preferred retailer, and provides hours of juice.
Other Bluetooth speakers on the market such as the Pure Jongo S3 and Sonos Play 1 are capable of giving you a ‘multi-room’ experience whereas the Ruark MR1 speakers are limited to one device and two speakers at a time. Not a gripe, more of a point to bear in mind if you plan to expand at a later date.
Anyone who says size matters has never listened to the Ruark MR1 Bluetooth speakers (and was probably talking about something else entirely). These tiny boxes of sound sound better than some speakers twice their size.
An internal linear Class A-B stereo amplifier with a 20 watts nominal output does a simply marvellous job of pushing out a powerful sound that kicks out hefty mids and punchy bass. Honestly, you soon forget these are tiny speakers as the sound can fill a good-sized room and then some.
Clarity is impressive, too, and has a certain warmth to it. The detail is good enough without coming across as tinny, shrill and disjointed, which is a common problem with smaller speakers.
Bass is particularly impressive for a small set of speakers, with the MR1s able to go pretty low and with confidence. Obviously house-shaking bass fans will want to hook up a subwoofer. Everyone else will be more than happy. These speakers are, after all, designed to produce a high quality sound, not drown everything out with the lows.
Before I hooked up the Ruark MR1 Bluetooth speakers I was worried they would be all talk and little action. I’m happy to say I was very wrong. The MR1s sound brilliant. Very little, if anything, comes close in the desktop speaker market.
There is, of course, a sizable catch. The MR1 Bluetooth speakers cost £300, which is a high price point in the small speaker market. But I would say the money is well spent, especially when you start to look into alternatives such as larger speakers and an accompanying amplifier.
Ruark Audio really has come up trumps if all you want is to stream music from a Bluetooth device. The little MR1s produce an extremely likable sound that will impress you time and time again. Cheaper alternatives are available, granted, but offer only a portion of the performance. Worth every penny, if you ask me.
Threat level: Deadly
£299.95, John Lewis