The MR1 Bluetooth speaker system is out to prove that you don’t have to settle for second-class sound quality just because you’re streaming music from your phone. It’s designed for use with a variety of sources, including phones, TVs and PCs. But no matter what you play, Ruark sets out to make it sound as good as possible.
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New for 2016 is a limited edition in partnership with DJ and music producer Martin Buttrich, with the redesign involving the DJ’s branding down the side of either a soft black or soft white finish. The Ruark Audio x Martin Buttrich version of the MR1 come at a slight premium, costing £319.
The MR1 comprises two compact speakers, each measuring 170mm high by 130mm wide, with all the electronics and amplification housed in the active right speaker – signals are sent to the left speaker through the supplied coaxial cable.
The hand-crafted wooden cabinets are styled with panache, most of which comes from the gorgeous Rich Walnut veneer – although they’re available in more modern-looking White and Black finishes too. Rounded edges give them a funky "lifestyle" look that should appeal to the Apple generation, while also keeping fans of old-school hi-fi gear on side.
Build quality is excellent – not only are the cabinets rigid and weighty, but they’re also adorned with high-quality fittings such as the metal rear panel and sturdy rubber feet underneath. The drivers are covered by a black cloth grille that slots securely into plug fixings.
The MR1’s size is a big part of its appeal. The speakers are small enough to be placed either side of a PC monitor without seeming imposing, plus you can put them on a shelf or sideboard without the need for a reshuffle. They’re the epitome of living-room-friendly.
On top of the right speaker is a volume dial that also acts as a power and source-selection button – just hold it down to switch between inputs, and a small light tells you which is selected (orange for line input, blue for Bluetooth). The rubberised dial moves smoothly and you can feel the increments as you turn it.
On the back is an output for the left speaker, a 3.5mm subwoofer output, a 3.5mm line input and a switch that attenuates the input signal from high-level devices such as TVs and Blu-ray players to prevent distortion.
The MR1 features Bluetooth with aptX, which means you can enjoy CD-quality sound from compatible devices – a feature that fits nicely with the MR1’s hi-fi ethos.
Each speaker boasts a long-throw 75mm woofer with a neodymium magnet system, which costs more than traditional ferrite systems. However, its greater magnetic concentration allows for better driver control.
Meanwhile a 20mm treated textile dome tweeter fires out high frequencies, also using a neodymium magnet. The system favours a linear 20W Class A-B stereo amplifier over the Class D amps used by most systems of this type.
Elsewhere, an Auto Standby function shuts the system down after a period of inactivity, and when connected to a TV it will wake up or sleep when you turn the TV on or off.
Setup is simple and streamlined. Just run the cable between speakers and plug it in. Job done. Bluetooth setup is equally simple. Switch to Bluetooth mode, start pairing and find "Ruark MR1" on your device. I didn’t have any trouble pairing any devices.
You can quite happily control the system using the tactile control dial, but there’s also a slim credit-card style remote in the box for sofa-bound operation. I don’t usually like these off-the-peg remotes with their fiddly blister buttons and unergonomic shape, but with only six buttons to grapple with it’s not so bad. The buttons include standby, volume up and down, Bluetooth, line-in and mute.
Start playing your favourite tunes via Bluetooth and the MR1’s hi-fi quality shines through immediately. Unlike some desktop speakers that reveal only a fraction of what music has to offer, the Ruark gives you a full-fat listening experience.
Impressive detail reproduction lends texture to vocals and a feeling of lightness in the cymbals and percussion. Turn up the volume and the top-end stays calm and composed, stopping short of the hardness that blights lesser systems. The system has a decent set of pipes too, delivering a loud, potent sound that belies the speakers’ dinky dimensions.
Voices are full-bodied and detailed, making them sound intimate and realistic. Piano-led ballad "Pride" by Tahirah Memory sounds beautiful thanks to the MR1’s ability to convey all the texture and emotion in the singer’s soulful voice.
Such subtlety is backed up by dazzling dynamics and attack. Play "It Feels So Good" by Afro Elements and the MR1 drives the track forward with crisp snares and tight, nimble bass. There’s wonderful weight and depth in the bass notes, but the sound never feels bogged down or muddy. The jazzy brass lines punch through the mix and the vocalists don’t have to compete for space. The MR1 organises everything beautifully.
Switch over to the line input and the music sounds slightly fuller and beefier – but essentially, you get the same well-balanced, detailed and energetic performance. This caps off a very assured performance from a brand that goes up in my estimation with every system I review.
With its delicious design, foolproof operation and sophisticated performance, it’s almost impossible not to recommend the MR1. It isn't quite in the same league as the remarkable Monitor Audio AirStream S150 – particularly since it costs half as much as the Ruark – but it’s certainly in the same ball park.
It delivers a full-range hi-fi listening experience from speakers so compact they’ll barely make a dent in your desktop space, while the top-class build quality provides more justification for that hefty price tag. The only negative is the small, fiddly remote, and when that’s all you have to moan about then you know you’re onto a winner.
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A stylish, well-made and great-sounding Bluetooth system that brings a bit of hi-fi finesse to the wireless world.