The R4 Mk3 is the latest incarnation of Ruark’s integrated music system that first launched back in 2008. It packs a CD player, aptX Bluetooth receiver, USB playback and DAB/DAB+/FM radio tuners into a single unit, making it a stylish, convenient music hub.
This third-generation R4 has been re-engineered from the ground up, with completely new components and design tweaks that bring it up to date without straying too far from the original blueprint.
For the company’s 30th anniversary, Ruark has also released a luxurious special edition, the R4-30. It’s all the same internally as the R4 Mk3, but benefits visually from gracefully curved edges that give it some sensual streamlining, as well as a satin titanium lacquer for that curvaceous wooden cabinet, and shimmery silver grilles over the speaker drivers. It’s darn sexy, quite frankly.
The Ruark R4-30 comes with a slight price premium, costing £680. Worth the extra, in my opinion – unless you desperately want the walnut or white finishes for the purposes of matching decor.
The R4’s design is a delightful blend of retro and modern. Its traditional forward-facing layout and chunky dimensions are a refreshing break from all the quirky compact speakers I’ve seen of late, but the curvy cabinet and bold colour scheme will look right at home in contemporary living spaces.
Our Soft Black lacquer sample looks gorgeous, but it also comes in equally alluring Rich Walnut veneer and Soft White lacquer finishes. The outer casing contrasts strikingly with the metal fascia, which is pleasingly uncluttered. The central CD slot and eject button are flanked by two speaker drivers lurking behind black grilles – silver on the R4-30 – while along the bottom you’ll find 3.5mm headphone and analogue input sockets.
The main focal point is the large OLED display, which imparts information in crisp digits and remains perfectly visible when viewed off-centre. Most track names and setup info are displayed in full, but if not it scrolls to reveal the rest. It can be dimmed in the setup menu if it’s too bright.
On top is Ruark’s updated RotoDial, a black jog wheel that adjusts the volume and controls the various menus – on previous R4s this space was taken by a disc-shaped remote that docked in the unit. It’s surrounded by eight buttons that summon setup, preset and source menus.
Build quality is of the highest order. With few seams or joins, the hand-crafted premium bodywork feels like one solid block. It’s rigid and weighty, plus the top buttons are nice and firm – exactly what I’d expect at this price.
On the back you’ll find analogue RCA input and output; an optical digital input to hook up your TV; and a USB port to charge and play music from phones.
The R4-30 also features a beautifully etched plaque to commemorate Ruark's 30 years in the business. Nice touch, although obviously no one's likely to ever see it, being back there.
The CD player handles regular CDs and data CD-Rs containing MP3, AAC, WMA and WAV files, displaying track and artist information when available. The USB port lets you play MP3, AAC and WMA files but sadly not hi-res FLAC or ALAC.
You can currently enjoy DAB and FM radio, but the R4 is also ready for DAB when it comes to the UK. Bluetooth aptX allows for CD-quality streaming from compatible devices.
The R4 kicks out 80W of power, and there’s a 3D enhanced stereo mode to lend extra width to the soundstage. An integrated active subwoofer bolsters low frequencies.
Some people might bemoan the lack of network functionality at this price but the R4 is more of a traditional music centre aimed at technophobes. If you want network streaming check out the Ruark R2, or you could access DLNA or Spotify on your smartphone and stream them via Bluetooth.
The R4 is a pleasure to use, with an overriding sense of simplicity and convenience that technophobes will love. Up close, the RotoDial dial has a pleasant rubberised texture and you can feel each increment as it turns. To select an option just press it down and it responds with a satisfying click.
It’s equally easy to control from the sofa. The compact remote has an ergonomic shape and stripped-down buttonry. The round section at the top houses volume and Bluetooth controls, while menu, source, power and preset keys populate the main body. It’s a little plasticky and the buttons give a cheap click, but on the whole it’s a decent zapper.
Browsing menus on the crisp, bright OLED display is a treat. It shows the artist and track name during Bluetooth playback, or the station and show name when listening to DAB radio.
The setup menu options change depending on the current source, but System and Info options appear each time – the former houses an audio menu where you’ll find bass, treble, loudness, 3D and subwoofer adjustments.
Play some music and you’ll soon understand why the R4 has been around for so long. It’s an assured performer, handling tunes with a high degree of refinement and richness no matter what source you’re playing them from.
Its sonic character is smooth and easy, a real Sunday morning sound. It tickles out tons of detail and has a gorgeous way with vocals, making them sound natural and textured. As jazz chanteuse Lindsey Webster warbles away on Soul Salvation, R4 gives her voice a rich, velvety tone that’s utterly captivating.
That extends to instruments like pianos, strings and guitars too, all of which sound wonderfully clear. Top end elements are crisp and lucid but unlike some systems they’re not over-stressed or unnatural. The ride cymbal and Latin percussion that garnishes This Is Us by Elements of Life give the track a sense of height and space.
There’s plenty of attack and drive when needed though, not to mention outstanding rhythmic ability as the neck-snapping snares and stabbing strings in Galvanise by The Chemical Brothers will testify.
Bass lovers won’t be disappointed – the R4 invests music with solid low-end depth and punch, but doesn’t overdo it like some tabletop systems.
When you play a dance track, the kicks and basslines are tightly integrated and don’t swamp the other instruments or boom distractingly. There’s a pleasing balance across all the frequencies – you can just let it play without having to keep fiddling around with the settings.
When you need it to fill the room, the R4 duly obliges. It delivers a large and spacious stereo image, helped along by the 3D mode that adds extra width and fullness. It’s a big improvement and doesn’t upset the overall balance.
That said, the R4 doesn’t fare well when you push the volume too high, whether 3D is activated or not. The maximum is 31 but at around 23 it starts to lose composure, making the mids and highs sound a little ragged and sibilant. CD playback fares better than Bluetooth but it’s still not ideal.
Thankfully there’s still enough punch and presence in the low 20s to satisfy, but if you’re hoping to give it some welly during a party I’d advise caution.
The R4 Mk3 is a class act in almost every department and easily justifies the asking price – provided you’re not interested in network functionality or streaming services such as Spotify.
Its simple operating system and crisp OLED display makes it a technophobe’s dream, while the construction and design are stunning. You can play music from a wide range of sources too, but it’s the Ruark’s performance that really sells it – powerful, punchy and refined, it makes any source sound great.
It’s not perfect, though. There’s no support for Hi-Res Audio via USB and it doesn’t like being pushed to high volumes.
That’s a shame, but ultimately doesn’t alter the fact that the R4 Mk3 is a tremendous all-rounder that brings a much-needed sense of simplicity back to the music systems market. I'd probably also bump the rating an extra half-star for the R4-30, just for sheer classiness.
With luxury build quality, simple operation and sparkling sound quality the Ruark R4 Mk3/R4-30 is a top-drawer all-in-one music player – as long as you go steady with the volume dial.