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Ruark R2 mk4 review: A beautiful upgrade for your kitchen disco

Latest, fourth-generation music system looks and sounds the part

Alistair Charlton
Thursday 15 December 2022 12:11 GMT
From DAB and FM, to Bluetooth, USB-C and wifi, the R2 connects to almost anything
From DAB and FM, to Bluetooth, USB-C and wifi, the R2 connects to almost anything (The Independent)

Ruark is a British audio company producing speakers that promise to sound as good as they look. Classy, open-pore wood and high-end fabrics feature across a range of music systems that shun smart home tech and voice assistants, instead focusing on audio quality, aesthetics and simplicity.

As well as selling to the general public in all the usual places, Ruak also supplies speakers to a range of luxury hotels. If you’ve stayed at The Newt, The Savoy or Cliveden House, chances are you’ve already used a Ruark system.

Tested here is Ruark’s latest product, called the R2 mk4 (£479, Shop.ruarkaudio.com). Replacing the mk3, this version is slimmer than its predecessors and sits above the company’s entry-level R1 mk4 (£239, Shop.ruarkaudio.com) and below the larger R3 (£649, Amazon.co.uk). It is available in two colours, as all Ruark systems are, in this case light cream and espresso with complementary slatted wooden grilles.

Although it lacks voice control, the Ruark R2 mk4 has wifi for streaming internet radio, as well as music from Spotify Connect (plus Spotify Hi-Fi, once that launches), Amazon Music and Deezer. There’s also a USB-C port on the rear for charging and playing music from a smartphone, an auxiliary input for connecting other audio devices, like an MP3 player (or something like an Amazon Echo dot (£26.99, Amazon.co.uk), and a headphone socket. Lastly, and unusually for a music system in 2022, a telescopic aerial for DAB, DAB+ and FM radio sprouts from the rear.

To find out how we got on with the Ruark R2 mk4, and whether we think it should earn a place in your home, continue reading our review below.

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How we tested

The Ruark R2 mk4 has spent about a month in our apartment. During that time, we’ve used it extensively in the kitchen, bedroom and lounge. It has kept us company with internet radio during the day, brought the tunes to our kitchen disco each evening and provided the backing track to lazy weekends on the sofa. Short of a shower-singalong, we wanted to see if it could keep us entertained almost all day, every day.

Ruark R2 mk4: £479, Ruarkaudio.com

(Ruark Audio)
  • Rating: 4/5
  • Connectivity: Wifi, Bluetooth 5, DAB, FM, USB-C, 3.5mm AUX in and out
  • Controls: Physical buttons and ‘Rotodial’ knob, smartphone app
  • IR remote: Sold separately
  • Battery: No
  • Voice assistant: No
  • Speakers: Dual 75mm drivers
  • Amplifier power: 18W
  • Streaming: Spotify Connect, Deezer, Amazon Music
  • Display: Colour TFT with automatic dimming
  • Alarm: Yes. Once, daily, weekends, weekdays
  • Dimensions: 185mm x 340mm x 150mm
  • Weight: 2.9kg

Design

It feels antiquated to call the Ruark R2 a radio, but that’s primarily what it is. And while the extendable FM aerial feels somewhat redundant in 2022, it is completely hidden when not in use, and shows Ruark is taking a belt-and-braces approach to audio by ensuring everyone can use the R2, regardless of their technical proficiency and preference.

On a similar note, Ruark’s signature Rotodial controller sits on top with simple, clearly-labelled buttons for switching input, adjusting settings and pausing or skipping tracks. The knob rotates to scroll through menus and clicks to select, which mostly works well but takes a bit of getting used to, since it is pressed in the middle and not in the finger-shaped groove as you might expect.

(Alistair Charlton / The Independent)

Once we’d mastered this, we found the Ruark’s menu system quick and easy to navigate. We like how the bonded glass display is small and only shows what’s absolutely necessary, with just the date, time, input source (like a radio station) and wifi signal strength showing when music is playing. The screen brightness automatically adjusts based on ambient lighting, and can display album art instead of text if you prefer. We would like the resolution to be higher, but this is a minor criticism and we’d rather Ruark spent money on sound quality and design rather than pixels.

Aesthetics are of course subjective, but we think the Ruark R2 is a real looker, and looks especially sharp in the light cream colourway of our review sample. The pale wood grille adds a premium feel, while the cream and glossy piano black lends a retro vibe to the speaker. This is a product that cleverly disguises its intelligence and connectivity behind a timeless design.

The R2 mk4 can be used with an infrared remote control, but that’s sold separately (£15, Shop.ruarkaudio.com). This may seem stingy, but we like how Ruark isn’t blindly bundling an accessory that may go entirely unused in many households.

Read more: Best bookshelf speakers that are compact and deliver on sound

Instead, you can use the integrated controls or download the Undok smartphone app, which isn’t made by Ruark and instead works with a wide range of wifi speakers and music systems. Connect the R2 and the app is used to control music, switch between inputs, adjust the volume and turn the speaker on or off. The app can also be used to set a sleep timer, but not an alarm, which is a bit annoying. That can only be done on the Ruark itself.

The app is fine, but a step down in terms of design and functionality compared to the likes of Sonos. We used it sparingly and instead mostly controlled the R2 with its own buttons and dial.

Sound quality

Now to where the R2 shines brightest: sound quality. It really is very good indeed, and genuinely surprised us the first time we fired it up. Pumped out from two forward-facing, 75mm drivers, music is full of detail, the soundstage is wide (with the 3D audio function enabled) and it is plenty loud enough even for large rooms. And, while it can be turned up pretty loud, we really enjoyed using the R2 at lower volumes, especially with the radio quietly keeping us company from across the room while we worked.

(Alistair Charlton / The Independent)

There’s a warmth to the Ruark’s sound that exudes quality, and while the bass and treble can be adjusted, the default setting is all we needed. Right out of the box, the R2 mk4 expertly handled every genre of music we threw at it, from classical to indie, rock ‘n’ roll to jazz.

For when you want to turn things right down there’s a “loudness” mode that can be disabled. This extinguishes much of the bass and creates a sound that’s still impressively clean and detailed, but is unlikely to be heard in the next room.

Music streaming

For us, the R2 has mostly served as an internet-connected radio. We love the old-school simplicity of pressing a power button and music starting; no need to flick through a smartphone app or issue the right command to a voice assistant.

But it also works like most other wifi speakers, so when you want to cue up a Spotify playlist it’s right there in the list of connected devices. There’s no direct support for Apple Music, but you can always stream from iPhone to R2 using Bluetooth, or by plugging into the USB-C port.

(Alistair Charlton / The Independent)

Multiple Ruawk speakers can be gathered into groups through the Undok app, so if you have several in one room, or want music to play from speakers in different rooms at the same time, you can. It isn’t as polished as Sonos’ market-leading audio networking tech, but it’s good to know that a collection of Ruark speakers can be turned into a whole-home sound system.

Tech-savvy readers need to remember the R2 is a speaker but not a smart speaker. There’s no voice assistant and instead the focus is on great sound quality and aesthetics with no baked-in reliance on smartphone connectivity to function. Simply put, it’s a radio for 2022.

Buy now

The verdict: Ruark R2 mk4

There’s a lot to like here. And for those who really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into Ruark products, and the quality sound they produce, the high price is surely justified. The R2 mk4 is a wonderful way to consume music and radio. It’s the sort of speaker that deserves to be on show, perhaps even on a shelf all of its own. It also sounds fantastic and offers a considered sense of simplicity that so-called smart speakers can be guilty of overlooking with undue complexity.

That said, if you are looking for an upmarket smart speaker with all of the connected bells and whistles of a Google Nest (£89.99, Store.google.com) or Amazon Echo (£54.99, Amazon.co.uk) system, this probably isn’t for you. But, while voice control of timers for cooking and an assistant for converting measurements would be super helpful in the kitchen, hooking up an Echo dot to the Ruark is a simple enough fix.

Our only other criticism is how streaming radio occasionally buffered for a couple of seconds. However, we suspect this was more down to wifi signal, as the R2 was sat in the corner of our kitchen, some distance from the router in another room, and next to the signal-blocking metal box better known as a refrigerator.

For consumers who want their favourite radio station a single button press away, and if the Ruark R2 mk4 fits within your budget, then it comes highly recommended.

Buy now

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If you’re looking for a portable speaker instead, check out our guide to the best Bluetooth speakers for every budget.

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