Despite plenty of competition from smart speakers, the Ruark R1S makes a compelling case as to why DAB radios can still be a worthy buy in 2023. The lack of some modern trappings are sure to disuade some buyers, but for anyone who appreciates style and impeccable sound quality, the R1S still has a lot to offer.
- Rich and confident sound
- Fashionable design that’s tough to beat
- Also doubles as a portable speaker
- Questionable price against the competition
- No voice assistant
- The screen is a bit dim at certain angles
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity:Stream internet radio stations
- Built-in streaming service modes:Listen to Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music
- Save playlist and station presets:Jump between your favourite channels
As smart speakers continue to grow in popularity, is there any room left for the humble DAB radio? With the Ruark R1S around, the answer is easily yes.
As someone who currently has a handful of Amazon Echo and Google Nest speakers dotted around his flat, and is currently tempted to invest in either the new Apple HomePod 2 or the HomePod Mini, I’m the last person who would throw an old-school radio into the mix.
When given the opportunity to review the new Ruark R1S however, I thought it’d be interesting to take the plunge. After all, the company’s tech has been well received by colleagues past and present, and Ruark’s devices do have the kind of minimalist aesthetic that catches my eye.
So did the Ruark R1S impress me enough to consider swapping out my existing speakers?
- Sleek look with retro fittings
- Small enough to sit on a bedside table
- Input via the control wheel on top
One of the best things the R1S has going for it is its design. Ruark has cleared the first hurdle of making the R1S feel like a stylish piece of kit that someone would want on their desk or bedside table, and feel like it complements their décor.
The wooden panels infuse a timeless look into its design without being too overpowering as to take attention away from the R1S’s surroundings, while the company logo sits proudly above on its own silver panel. It’s all very meticulous and it leaves me wondering what a pair of Ruark headphones or earbuds might look like if the company ever decided to branch out
The only thing I’m not too keen on is the grey colouring on the sides. Of course, not everyone will feel the same way but to my eyes, the grey looks a little mundane, and some navy blue or even a touch of silver might have done the trick a lot better.
On the front the R1S has a 2.5-inch OLED display – the very same one found on the Ruark R1 Mk4. Despite its small appearance, the screen is still large enough to display important information comfortably, such as the time, the app you’re using and the band/track name of the song currently playing, without forcing you to squint.
When looking at the screen head on, the information is bright and easy to read but I have noticed that the viewing angle is quite limited. If you have the R1S placed on a bedside table then I’d recommend making sure that the screen faces you.
On the top you’ll find the device’s main means of interaction – a rotating dial that’s used for controlling the volume and scrolling through menus, while a handful of buttons sit along the exterior. Everything works well here and the buttons feel wonderfully tactile, invoking the memory of using the scroll wheel on the iPod Classic.
- FM, DAB and internet radio stations available
- Pairs well with several streaming services
- Lacks modern trappings like a voice assistant
Because it isn’t just going up against other radios but smart speakers, Ruark has made sure to imbue the R1S with a few modern features to help it keep up.
In addition to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the R1S supports Spotify Connect, Deezer and Amazon Music, and I very much enjoyed being able to see album artwork on the R1S’ display when diving into my playlists.
That does mean there isn’t that much that you can do on the device itself after your streaming accounts are connected. Sure, you can dive straight back into the playlist you were playing, but with Spotify Connect at least, you can’t go around browsing the service’s wares – this is something you’ll have to do on your smartphone.
You do have the ability to save playlists, albums and radio stations in the ‘preset’ menu, but I find this to be a little archaic when I could just pick up my phone and more quickly dive into the exact track I want to listen to.
I can understand that in order to hold on to some of the nostalgia that DAB radios enjoy, the R1S hasn’t fully embraced modernity with its control inputs, but I feel like this could have been remedied somewhat if the R1S included voice assistant functionality from the likes of Alexa or the Google Assistant. It wouldn’t be a perfect solution, but it would certainly give you the chance to leave your phone alone for a minute as you decide what to listen to.
As you might expect, you have the ability to set an alarm on the R1S and have it start playing your favourite radio station at a time of your choosing. It’s worth mentioning that you can only have two different alarms at a time which feels a bit stingy, and you can’t play music from a streaming service as part of the alarm either, which is something you can do on smart alternatives like the Amazon Echo 4th Gen and Google Nest Audio. Given that Ruark is expecting consumers to hand over £299 for the R1S, it would’ve been nice to see a few more feature here.
One area where the R1S excels however is in the realm of podcasts. When you hop over to the ‘podcasts’ section of the UI, you have the ability to dive straight into dozens of the most popular podcasts from all around the world in just a matter of seconds. It’s perfect if you’re on the lookout for something new to listen to but need a bit of inspiration to find your next favourite podcast.
Also working in the R1S’s favour is the fact that it can be used as a portable speaker via the separately sold BackPack 3 pack. Adding an accessory into the mix does add to the already expensive asking price of the R1S, but at least it gives the device more versatility than most speakers, so you can easily bring it with you the next time the weather calls for a picnic.
If you have an existing Hi-Fi set-up, you can bring the R1S into the mix with an AUX in port, and there’s even a USB-C port for charging up any devices on your nightstand.
- Vocals and drums come through brilliantly
- Options to customise the impact of bass and treble
- Can be impressively loud despite its small stature
While the R1S is a bit of a letdown in the features department, the same cannot be said for audio quality. In almost all scenarios, the Ruark R1S sounds fantastic, and it’s clear that the company knows how to get the most sound possible out of such a small device.
In its default state, the R1S emphasises vocals and percussion, which makes it ideal for nodding and singing along whenever one of your favourite tracks pops up on the radio. This also means that podcasts and audio dramas sound phenomenal, with voices coming through with tremendous clarity.
If you prefer to have a little more bass in your playback, or even bring the keys and the strings to the forefront, then you can alter the bass and the treble in the settings menu. With these settings cranked up, bops like Foals’ Wake Me Up come through brilliantly, and the R1S can easily become loud enough to be used as a party speaker when the need calls for it.
Should you buy it?
You want a stylish, great-sounding radio: The Ruark R1S looks great and sounds even better, so if those are the only qualifying factor’s you’re interested in then you’ll love what’s on offer here.
You want a speaker with lots of smart features: without smart home control or a voice assistant, the Ruark R1S does feel like a device from a different time and probably won’t impress on those who are looking to build out their smarthome ecosystem.
At its core, the Ruark R1S does a lot of things right. On the surface, it’s easily one of the nicest looking DAB radios I’ve ever seen and it can easily blend into your home’s existing decor, and when you couple that with the impressive sound quality that brings radio stations, podcasts and music to life, there’s plenty to love.
What holds the R1S back from greatness is its feature-set, or rather, lack thereof. The steep £299.99 asking price might be a bit easier to deal with if the device had Alexa or Google Assistant compatibility, and it’s even missing simple features like the ability to use Spotify tracks as part of your alarm.
For the average person, I’d say that you’re better off saving some money and picking up a more intuitive device with similarly great sound like the HomePod Mini or the Google Nest Audio, both of which can play radio stations just fine. If you’re set on having a dedicated DAB radio however then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option.
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We test every radio we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested over a month
Tested with real world use
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Yes, there is a power-out USB-C port to connect a charging cable from the R1S to your phone.
No, it’s only possible to set your alarm to an internet, DAB or FM radio station.
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