Several times in our recent Awards issue, we noted that when it comes to wireless and desktop speakers, products from established hi-fi companies routinely outperform those from brands which have built their businesses on computer accessories. Tech wizardry is all very well, but it counts for little if a product can’t generate good music.
Ruark Audio certainly has the history. A British speaker manufacturer of renown, its products remain designed and engineered in the UK. These wireless MR1s aren’t a sudden shrink from floorstander to miniature desktop monitor — Ruark has in recent years come to specialise in what it calls “serious small audio”, and the MR1 takes many of its design cues from the company’s successful R1 radio and its larger one-box R2i and R4i stereo systems; indeed the MR1s can act as extensions for either of those.
But they are more than capable in their own right. They are indeed compact — 17.5cm high including their feet, 13cm wide and 14cm deep including their grilles, which can be removed, just like on a full-sized speaker. Each has a 20mm treated-textile dome tweeter with neodymium magnet system and a “long throw” 75mm bass driver, driven by 20W of Class-AB internal amplification within the righthand unit; the enclosure is ported at the bottom. We reviewed a pair in walnut finish, though the soft black and white finishes look particularly attractive.
The MR1s offer two inputs — an auxiliary analogue minijack (with a useful attentuation switch), and Bluetooth. The Bluetooth spec includes the superior aptX codec, capable of “near-CD” quality if your Bluetooth device supports it (which currently means Android devices, notably from HTC and Samsung; a list of aptX devices is here: bit.ly/aptxphones). Otherwise Apple devices will most likely stream to the Ruarks at 256k AAC, and other Android devices at 128k SBC. We used an iPod touch and iPad 2 for most of our Bluetooth listening — with great results. Pairing was easy and intuitive using the top rotary/push knob on the top of the right speaker — hold to start pairing, tap (or use the mini remote control) to switch inputs. Status is indicated by a colour-changing LED in front of the top knob.
Their hi-fi heritage is borne out in their musical performance, which is a league above run-of-the-mill desktop speakers. The flow of music belies their size, as does their particular ability to deliver impressive dynamics for units so small, managing to drive a dominant rhythm line while still clearly rendering the detail of instruments providing melody and colour. They have hi-fi qualities of cleanness and clarity (at their maximum via the direct minijack connection), and plenty of level while maintaining low distortion levels. We have heard bigger and deeper sound from speakers at this price — notably the Aktimate Micro with Bluetooth and the Accent Digital Muse, against which the Ruarks sound smaller and just a tad boxy. But both those competitors are significantly larger units, massively so in the case of the Accent.
So if it’s capable compact speakers you’re after, the attractions of the MR1s are many. They’re easy to use, a breeze for Bluetooth, and deliver impressive levels of musical sound for their size. You can even option in a battery pack to make the MR1s truly wireless (except the cable linking the two) and completely portable. Smart stuff, then, with plenty of hi-fi wisdom backing things up at the music end.