Ruark R5 High Fidelity System Review

The Ruark R5 is an all-in-one system that offers plenty of style and an abundance of features

Verdict

The Ruark R5 isn't the most perfect of all-in-one systems – it suffers a few minor operational glitches, with the unit and the app not helping matters – but it's an accomplished performer with a comprehensive feature set, fine sound and attractive looks. There aren't many contenders that tick those same boxes.

Pros

  • Handsome cabinet
  • Full suite of functionality
  • Poised, detailed sound

Cons

  • Bass can sound remote
  • Humdrum control app
  • Very occasionally glitchy in operation

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £999
  • Class AB amplification
  • Phono stage
  • Multiroom ready
  • Numerous streaming options
  • CD drive
  • aptX HD Bluetooth

The Ruark R5 has ambitions to be the perfect all-in-one system, offering a myriad of features, good looks and sound from a single box. Effectively a (much) smaller version of the R7, the R5 can play CDs, stream audio or be used as a sound system for a TV. Plus, it arrives with multiroom functionality − so long as you have Ruark Audio units in the home.

These days, there are no shortage of companies ready to relieve you of a thousand pounds in exchange for a big, good-looking wireless speaker. It’s a trend Naim started, and it’s inspired everyone from Bang & Olufsen to Bowers & Wilkins to do the same.

Considerably less prevalent is a grand’s-worth of big, good-looking, all-in-one device. Which is where Ruark Audio comes in – it reckons that gap in the market is the exact shape to accommodate one of its elegant, nicely finished boxes.

Meet the Ruark R5. It’s the size and shape of a premium wireless speaker – but it’s no one-trick pony; it’s more like a whole string of ponies.

Related: Ruark reveals new R5 all-in-one music system

Design − The Ruark R5 is an impeccably finished piece of hi-fi

Anyone familiar with the Ruark aesthetic will know exactly what’s what when looking at the R5. The company is adept when it comes to cabinetry, and sure enough the R5 is a smoothly curved, impeccably finished slab of walnut veneer (grey lacquer is also available, which looks luxurious in an entirely different way).

The Camira grey fabric covering the drivers and the front panel is equally decorative and opulent, and the OLED display sitting inside it is crisp and bright.

Ruark R5

As an overall design proposition, the R5 combines purpose with indulgence. The materials all look and feel good, from the metallic heatsinks at the rear to the control dial recessed into the top panel.

At 52cm x 30cm deep, the R5 is no shrinking violet – and it isn’t as if Ruark’s design philosophy contrives to make it look any smaller than it actually is. Instead, the R5 draws attention to itself in exactly the right way: by looking like a premium device that someone very discerning might own.

Features − Whether it’s CDs, streaming or multiroom, the Ruark R5 can handle it

For once, “all-in-one” is an entirely valid description. As long as you own (or at least have access to) some music of some description in some format or other, the Ruark is ready to let you hear it.

From looking at it, the Ruark R5’s most obvious feature is its CD drive – the slot-loading mechanism is front and centre. But there are plenty of other ways to get music into (and out of) the Ruark.

Ruark R5

In terms of other physical sources, the R5 has a pair of stereo RCA line-level inputs and a pair of line-level outputs, and inputs for a moving-magnet turntable too. There’s a digital optical input and a USB 2.0; an Ethernet socket completes the picture.

Naturally, Wi-Fi is on the list too, and it brings internet radio connectivity, Spotify Connect, Amazon Music, Deezer and Tidal with it. UPnP functionality features as well, so any music stored on a common network is accessible. DAB and FM radio reception are available, and there’s the provision for DAB+ on the off-chance the format gains some meaningful traction before hell freezes over. Bluetooth comes in the form of the optimal aptX HD variety.

Related: What is aptX and aptX HD?

Ruark R5

Incoming signals (well, the digital ones– which make up the majority) are handled by what Ruark describes as an “audiophile” 32bit/192kHz DAC. From there, digital and analogue information alike is boosted by 90 watts of Class AB amplification (very welcome indeed in a product where one might ordinarily bet the house on Class D) and sent on to the driver array.

There’s a 75mm full-range neodymium driver behind the grille at either end of the fascia, and an offset 130mm long-throw woofer on the bottom of the cabinet.

Like all Ruark’s current range, the R5 is able to join a Ruark-centric multiroom system without too much difficulty at all.

Interface − The Ruark R5 app could use some more polish

All the necessary controls are available on the top of the Ruark R5, and that “dial-within-a-dial” arrangement – Ruark calls it “RotoDial” – is mimicked by the remote control. It pairs very quickly with the unit and, since it uses radio frequencies, it doesn’t require line-of-sight to issue instructions.

Ruark R5

It’s also possible to use the Ruark LINK app (iOS and Android) to control the R5. It’s a pretty basic-looking app, and not what one could truthfully call entirely stable – as with any app, “works the majority of the time” is just another way of saying “will frustrate”. Mind you, a crashy app is no more galling than voice-control that’s hard of hearing. So, in some ways it’s just as well the Ruark goes without any voice-based interface.

Sound quality − Bass integration could be better, but the Ruark R5 is an accomplished performer

Realistically, what are you entitled to expect from a single box that’s absolutely bursting with functionality? Is it fair to expect sound quality on a par with a wireless speaker of a similar cost, when all of the research and development time and money has gone into making the wireless speaker do just one thing really well? I don’t think so. I think context is everything.

And so, in context, the Ruark R5 is – with just a couple of caveats – a pretty accomplished performer. It displays admirable consistency to its sound via any of its digital sources, and in the right circumstances it’s as enjoyable and engrossing a listen as most comparably priced wireless speakers.

Ruark R5

No matter the material (and this test ran the gamut, from FIP via internet radio and BBC 6Music on DAB to Roxy Music’s “Flesh and Blood” on CD, Four Tet’s “Pink” via streaming services, a Blu-ray of Nicholas Roeg’s Performance through the optical input, and a vinyl copy of “The Living Legend” by Baby Huey and the Babysitters), the R5 remains a crisp and reasonably attacking listen.

Related: Best music streaming services

Straight from the box it’s overwhelmingly bassy, but a quick glance at the audio menus reveals that “loudness” is on – and because the woofer is firing straight onto a hard surface from maybe 4cm away, it needs turning off pronto. That doesn’t stop the R5’s bass from sounding just slightly estranged from the rest of the frequency range, but it helps no end in bringing more unity to the presentation.

The soundstage is reasonably broad and well defined, and remains coherent even when music becomes complicated and multi-layered. The R5 handles dynamic shifts pretty well, and prevents Four Tet’s high-end excesses getting, well, excessive. There’s quite pleasing balance from the top of the frequency range down through the mids, where vocalists enjoy plenty of the detail.

Everything snaps along nicely; even though the lower frequencies can sound a little remote, the Ruark’s overall tonality is convincing and (once the “loudness” control is defeated) bass is well controlled. The overall presentation isn’t the most out-and-out exciting you’ll ever hear, but in all honesty its rather judicious approach is preferable to the sort of over-caffeinated enthusiasm this sort of money can buy elsewhere.

Related: Best multiroom speakers

Ruark R5

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the quality of the integrated phono stage. It’s quite often an afterthought, even in systems that don’t have the nap hand of functionality that the Ruark R5 features. But there’s a good dose of the warmth and instinctive integration that makes vinyl such an enduring format.

Shortcomings are far from numerous, but they’re well worth bearing in mind. There’s that slight disconnect between the low frequencies and all the information above them – it can be mitigated by fiddling with the EQ settings. At the end of the day, though, there’s a 13cm woofer firing directly downwards from the cabinet. It’s a logical and justifiable configuration, but it brings its own small problems.

This review sample also needed rebooting a couple of times (there’s a power on/off switch on the rear panel): once when it wouldn’t wake up from “standby” using the RotoDial, and a second time when it alleged it was playing a CD but wasn’t making any sound. These are but two incidents during dozens of hours of testing; nevertheless, it’s two incidents more than is ideal.

Should I buy the Ruark R5?

The reasons to buy a Ruark R5 are pretty obvious, really. For those who want an uncompromised stack of functionality, convenience, a unit that will fit with your interior decor, and for decent sound, the Ruark R5 delivers in spades.

And in all honesty, you’re not spoiled for choice in this area of the market. As I said at the top of this review, if you want to stick to streaming using a wireless speaker then you’ll only really be ticking three of the above four boxes. The Roberts Stream 67 is the closest thing to the R5 (in terms of functionality) that’s worth considering – and it looks, and sounds, like the £600 it costs. Which is another way of saying it doesn’t look, or sound, as good as the R5.

The Ruark R5 isn’t perfect – and its minor operational glitches aren’t ideal either. But as far as being most things, to most people, most of the time, it’s hard to suggest a realistic alternative.

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