Ruark MR1 MkII: Sound
We said the original Ruark MR1s were the closest any desktop wireless speaker had come to sounding like proper hi-fi, and that’s equally true of the new Ruark MR1 MkII version.
In fact, it’s even more so now, thanks to a clearer, more insightful and open sound than their predecessors. The new MR1s are wonderfully musical. The amount of subtlety conveyed is even greater than before, delivering rich detail and fluid dynamics on a whole new level.
There’s plenty of space between instruments in the airy soundstage, giving songs an expansive feel that makes the KEF Eggs sound rather congested in comparison. The Ruarks breathe new life into whatever music you play through them.
The dominant bassline in SBTRKT’s Wildfire is taut, packs a punch and you can hear its deep, squelchy textures. The Ruark MR1 MkIIs are agile and authoritative. They time well, too; the magnificent pomp of David Bowie’s Magic Dance blares through the speakers with plenty of energy and sparkle.
Voices in particular sound lovely. Bella Hardy’s The Driving of the Deer is delivered with the kind of effortless drive and insight we’d expect from decent hi-fi speakers. There’s a solidity underpinning the rich, warm midrange, and the elegance with which her lilting, nimble vocals are delivered is simply gorgeous.
The Ruark MR1 MkIIs sound lush and smooth while also being articulate. They convey the mood of songs faithfully, too – an impressive feat for wireless speakers.
Elliott Smith’s soft, whispered singing on Angeles will pull at your heartstrings, every nuance of his voice and the tactility of his guitar strumming laid bare through.
Although the hand-crafted, rounded wooden cabinets are the same size and shape as those on the original MR1, gone are the black and white paint finishes. There’s now the option of Soft Grey lacquer – which is rather subtle yet sumptuous – and, of course, Ruark’s trademark Rich Walnut veneer.
The pair I tested were of the latter, and impeccably finished, but you can check out the Soft Grey option on Ruark’s site. They’re smaller than you might imagine from photos – each speaker’s a little smaller than Ruark’s R1 radio – but they feel solid, classy and perfectly in keeping with the company’s retro-modern design ethos.
The removable grilles of the original MR1 have been ditched in favour of fixed grey fabric ones that look, frankly, stunning. Ruark claims to have tested a ton of different materials, but settled on this UK-made fabric for its combination of minimal sound colouration and maximum chic. My kind of combo.
The controller on the top of the master speaker has received an upgrade too, with three LEDs to indicate status and audio source. Pressing down the knob turns the system on, and then each subsequent press cycles through the sources: a blue LED for Bluetooth (obviously); green for the analogue aux in; and orange for the optical input. A long hold turns the speakers off, while revolving the knob raises or lowers the volume.
Behind the stylish new grilles are the same 75mm woofer and 20mm textile dome tweeter with neodymium magnets as used in the first MR1, although changes have been made to the crossover. The class AB amplification has also been upgraded, but still pumps out around 20W.
Around the back of the right-hand speaker – the master, or control, unit – is the power socket, a 3.5mm line input, S/PDIF optical input, coaxial subwoofer output, and a 3.5mm output for the 2m braided cable that connects to the left-hand slave speaker.
Obviously, the Ruark MR1 MkII still have Bluetooth aptX for CD-quality music streaming, but that new optical input means the Mk2 can be hooked up digitally to most modern TVs to improve sound, rather than using a soundbar or soundbase. Perfect for anyone complaining about the mumbling in SS-GB.
The Ruark MR1 MkII don’t have to be tied to a TV or gathering dust on a desk, though, as Ruark has provided a solution for setting them free. The optional BackPack II battery pack (£60) can be bolted onto the rear of the master speaker to make these beauties completely portable with up to 12 hours of battery life. No more tinny phone speakers soundtracking your summer barbecues – Lionel Richie’s “Back To Front” deserves proper volume, eh?
There’s no need to carry both speakers around, either – you can disconnect the slave unit and just use the BackPack-equipped master as a portable mono speaker. Very neat indeed.
The remote control is Ruark’s familiar little plastic unit, useful for when you’re not using a mobile device as a source (and hence controlling volume through your music app of choice). It’s cuter than the nasty little credit card remotes that seem to come with so many audio products these days, but it still has blister buttons and isn’t going to set the design world alight.
The Ruark MR1 MkIIs are lovely to listen to, but their stylish retro looks are a huge part of the charm too.
The handcrafted wooden cabinets are beautifully made, the speakers are good to use, and they’re just the size to fit onto a bookshelf, TV stand or desk.
Ruark has been wise to keep its characteristic look, but it doesn’t rest on its laurels. Where possible, the design has been streamlined.
The most obvious update is the grey fabric covering the grilles – both for aesthetic and acoustic reasons. The cable connecting the left and right speakers is now slimmer and covered in braided fabric.
Less obvious, but far more useful, is the addition of an optical input that can support hi-res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz – a big update, and one that surpasses the KEF Eggs’ 24-bit/96kHz limit.
It also means you can use the new Ruark MR1 MkIIs as TV speakers.
The optical input joins a 3.5mm auxiliary input and a subwoofer output at the back of the main unit (ie. the right speaker, which houses all amplification and connections).
Ruark continues to apply hi-fi speaker principles with the MkIIs. From tuned crossovers to the use of A/B amplification – everything is aimed at delivering the best possible sound quality.
The cabinets (in rich walnut or a new soft grey finish) each house a 20mm tweeter and 75mm mid/bass, with small bass ports underneath each unit.
The rotary dial that sits on top of the main unit has been further refined. It’s nicer to use, turns smoothly and allows you to switch between inputs.
You no longer have to press down and hold to activate the Bluetooth pairing mode, either. The MR1s automatically start searching for a Bluetooth connection when switched to that source, so they’re quicker to play your music.
These little things make all the difference. Even the LEDs for each source (blue for Bluetooth, orange for aux, green for optical) have been subdued so they’re not too piercing in darkened rooms.
While you’re most probably going to be controlling playback and volume through your smartphone or laptop (or TV remote), you do get a tiny, slim remote in the box with basic functions like switching inputs. We wish this were classier in feel.
Other features include a smarter auto standby mode, an optional battery pack to make the MR1s portable, and the ability to use the main right speaker as a single mono speaker.
It’s a well catered features list, although we wouldn’t mind seeing a USB input in a future version.