Seeing as it is Easter and spring has finally sprung, we thought what better products to write about this week than Ruark Audio. Their ‘serious small audio’ products are fantastic for this time of year, whether you are heading to a park with a R1 radio, cooking an Easter feast in your kitchen with an R2i stereo or just relaxing on your days off with some of your favourite CD’s on the R7 Radiogram.
Ruark products walk all over almost all their closest rivals, but what sets them apart from the others?
One word, Sound. I often say that when it comes to products like these, nobody can beat Ruark soundwise. They are cleverly sat at the top of the affordable end of the market. In the last couple of years, Ruark have won award after award and have popping up all over the place (even Sherlock Holmes has one). Ruark products are fun, super stylish and sound great.
At Adair Acoustic, we love having Ruarks in the showroom, especially being in the Clerkenwell design quarter people tend to gravitate to them as they walk in. This is a brand that is really starting to grow and rightfully so. Even the big department stores are stocking Ruark Audio; this has its good sides and bad sides I must admit.
Like many people in the hi-fi world I like to pop into other hi-fi and electronics shops to check out the ranges on offer and to see how they are displayed, what deals they are doing and things like that. I am sure I’m not the only one.
I am used to not getting the greatest amount of help from the larger electronics or department stores but my recent trip to John Lewis’ flagship Oxford Street store took the biscuit. I was perusing around in their audio department when I spotted the Ruark R7, being a big fan of Ruark, I was interested to see whether they did the full range or just the R7. I could only see the one model in front of me. It was on its own on the floor looking much larger than their regular clock radios.
The first person I saw with a John Lewis badge was standing on his own and avoiding eye contact, because of that and the fact that he was young and big, I thought he might be a security guard, so I asked him if he was security. ‘No, how can I help you’ he said, ‘Are you a sales assistant for the audio department?’ I enquired, ‘Yes’ he replied simply. Now feeling sure I was talking to the best qualified person in the store I asked if they had the Ruark R4i system, describing its size and shape and pointing out that it would be the smaller brother of the R7 that was just there. He saw where I was pointing and still showed no recognition of the brand Ruark. So without taking a step towards where I was pointing he suggested I look around a bit more and if I didn’t see what I was looking for I could always try looking online as the web stock profile is larger than in store.
Obviously I didn’t want to order one online, but as he seemed so uncertain about the R4i, I assumed that they in fact did not sell any other models and I decided I would go. I turned to find the door and you would not believe what I saw in the corner of the department. An entire Ruark POS stand featuring every model in all different colours.
It seems a real shame to have such great products in shops that don’t even know that they are selling them, let alone any features or information that the customer is probably interested in.
But enough about that, let’s look at Ruark as a brand and what makes them tick. As I am sure a lot of you would know, If I was writing this blog in 2005 it would be a completely different article.
From 1985 Ruark have been manufacturing full-size hi-fi quality loudspeakers. The company built up a big reputation and continued to make speakers until founder Alan O’Rourke became disenchanted by the turmoil in the hi-fi industry in the late 90s / early 00s and felt he had to change the direction of the company.
Producing the last speakers in 2005, the CL series, the company put loudspeaker design on standby and Alan saw a gap in the market, in that DAB radio was becoming increasingly popular but there was not a real high-quality option available. So it started.
The next year Ruark (which briefly changed its name to Vita Audio, before reversing the decision to avoid confusion) released their first DAB radio, the R1 tabletop. When you consider that the company had 20 years experience in loudspeakers, it was definitely a brave move to completely change markets like they did. This clearly shows how much Alan believed in his product, something that was probably cemented further when (in it’s first year of release) the Telegraph described the R1 as the ‘Aston Martin of DAB radios’.
Over the 8 years since the introduction of the R1, Ruark have slowely built their range up into what it is today, adding features and improving sound quality as they go. From the addition of the iPod dock on the R2i, an added CD player and sub woofer on the R4i and the addition of the networking and Bluetooth capabilities of the R7 Radiogram. It is a range that has real quality product for everyone and all budgets.
As I mentioned the R1 was the first of the ‘new’ Ruark Audio products, mainly it was designed because Alan O’Rourke really wanted a DAB radio himself, but was unable find one that would reach his high standards sound wise.
Like the entire Ruark range, the R1 Mk2 is beautifully designed; you can really picture it sitting on the bedside table in one of those amazing houses you see in the Sunday supplements.
It is more than just a clock radio, the R1 features an auxiliary input, meaning you can easily plug in your ipod or smartphone and get really decent sound out of it. It is probably worth mentioning here the Musical Fidelity V90-Blu, which would work perfectly for any of the Ruark products, it is a Bluetooth receiver that can be plugged into the aux input allowing to to send music to your Ruark devices wirelessly and with great ease.
You can also take the R1 out and about, by connected the Ruark ‘BackPack’ rechargeable power pack, the R1 can be used without the mains supply.
The next step in the Ruark chain, the R2i, now features stereo drive units and an ipod dock. Like the R1 it still features the alarm and DAB/DAB+/FM features so it is perfect for bedroom or kitchen listening.
There are a few more nice little extras that have been added for this model, firstly the front panels features both a headphone output and a line input but what is more handy are the 2 sets of RCA inputs on the back of the R2i, meaning you can hook it up to your TV, DVD, BluRay, CD players or pretty much any other source.
The sound you get from the R2i, is very pleasing for its size indeed. You do not get serious power, but you get enough. The real selling point to the sound though is the sound-stage and imagery. It is extremely good at separating the instruments and portraying that to the listener. For a stereo the size of the R2i, it is very impressive that it can give the width that it does.
This is a real versatile and impressive little stereo system.
Again, another step up and some further added features (have you noticed a trend yet?). Most noticeably the R4i features an inbuilt CD player and a USB input on the front, but what you won’t notice at first glance is the sonic improvements on this model. Lift the R4i up and you will see the built in subwoofer in the base of the unit. As you might expect this adds a great deal of depth and life to the sound.
I said that the R2i had enough power but wasn’t quite a knockout puncher, that is definitely not the case with the R4i, it can really fill a room with its full sound. You can turn this system up very loud without getting a distortion on the highs. It’s quite remarkable really. That is just playing an mp3, when you stick a CD into the R4i the sound is drastically improved once more (as you would probably imagine).
My personal favourite added touch of this model is the detachable ‘RotoDial’ controller. Though it may look the same as the ‘RotoDial’ on the R2i, upon closer inspection you find that you can take it out and it becomes a beautifully crafted IR remote. When demoing this product to customers, taking the remote out of its housing never fails to impress.
I recently bought my daughter an R4i for Christmas. I chose the R4 for my little 5 Year old, as she loves music and being not yet very skilled at reading, so all the “streaming” style solutions are no good to her.
I didn’t want to go down the Fisher Price route as she’d quickly outgrow that. I’d tried the cheaper £100 CD clock radio things before, buying a ‘Pure’ model for my Nephew a few years back , it always sounded hopeless, and soon broke. No, I wanted to get something that would last a number of years and give her great pleasure to listen to her CD story books as well as help develop her music tastes. I chose the R4 based mainly on the fact it has a CD player. When we set it up for her on Christmas Day I was amazed how good it sounded. She loves her stereo.
We recently had a lady come in to the showroom, and I showed her (and played her) the R4i. She could not believe the sound quality. She had spent around £1000 on a B&O dock/radio recently and she told me after one song, that the R4i wiped the floor with it. These are the types of comments that we receive all the time from people trying out Ruark’s products.
Just when you might have thought the range was getting a little predictable, you come to the MR1 Bluetooth speakers. These recent winners of the What HiFi? Best Desktop Speakers Award, are super easy to use, and can connect to anything with Blutooth, using AptX CSR; the best Blutooth technology around, meaning you can get CD quality wirelessly.
Much like the R1 radio, you can connect the Ruark ‘BackPack’ battery to take them out and about.
It is becoming ever-clear to me that Blutooth is likely to be a huge deal in the audio world in the next coming years (if not already) and it is good to Ruark being an early adopter of this and showing the world that in fact you can get very good sound out of it if done correctly.
Now to the big boy, the R7 is the new Ruark reference system. When you think of radiograms, you think of those old cabinets that people had in their house with a record player and a radio inside them. To the unsuspecting eye, it is just a piece of furniture and not a piece of hi-fi. This is what Ruark have reinvented with the R7. This is a hi-fi system and a gorgeous piece of furniture in one. It’s the type of design that makes you want to plonk it in the centre of your room and decorate the rest of the room from there. This is something which many hi-fi enthusiasts are very conscious of these days. Sounding good and looking good.
Although the R7 is initially intended to stand on its own retro looking legs as a centrepiece to the room, it is also a versatile piece of kit as it can just as easily have the legs removed and sit under a television or on a sideboard.
Feature-wise the R7 has pretty much the lot. It’s got everything the R4i has, plus blutooth connectivity, you can play from a network drive, it’s got optical and coaxial digital inputs, internet radio, adjustable bass and treble and a larger display on the front. Basically it’s got a lot!
The R7 is the new pinnacle of affordable hi-fi.
In summery, I would say that Ruark are a company that took a huge gamble by reinventing themselves at a difficult time in Hi-Fi, but in doing so have become the reference point of an emerging market. If you are looking for something outside your current hi-fi (perhaps in a different room) or you are looking to downscale your bulky hi-fi components into one smaller all-in-one system which still sounds great, Ruark’s range will have you covered.
Oh, and they make brilliant Easter presents!
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