British firm Ruark created the Ruark MR1 speakers as an entry point for those who want better sounding music, but aren't prepared to dish out lots of cash. Have they achieved that goal, or can you achieve the same for less?
The Ruark MR1 are two cute dumpy little speakers that are cased - at least in our case - in a walnut finish with soft black fabric speakers grilles. The speakers are available in two other designs: black or white, but we prefer the walnut wood finish. It gives the design a visual warmth and kind of exclusivity which moves them away from looking just like any other black or white speaker.
Aside from the finish, the speaker is minimalist in its design. Of the two speakers the right one features an on/off volume knob on the top and all the connecting ports are tucked away at the rear. You can remove the front grilles, for those who like to watch the speaker cones in action, or leave them covered.
Around the back you get the power socket, a wired connector to the other speaker in the pair, a connection to an optional subwoofer and a switch to control the input level (hi or low).
Getting your music to play is achieved in one of two ways: either through a wired 3.5mm input socket or using a Bluetooth device. It's AptX Bluetooth for a decent connection and a long press of the volume knob of the MR1 activates the search to pair with a source device.
There is also a small remote in the box that provides basic functions like volume and mute, although it's fair to say that the buttons are tough to push and the experience doesn't match the soft touch of the volume knob built-in to the right speaker.
Looks are one thing, but what about sound? The good news is the Ruark MR1s are very good. Very good indeed.
In our first test we connected them to our MacBook Air with a 3.5mm headphone cable (provided in the box) and listened to a range of songs to see how they performed. Whether it is the high notes of Justin Timberlake in pop ballad Cry Me A River or the more bass driven tones of the Inception soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, the speakers performed very well delivering a rich audio experience.
The next test was running them from the same MacBook Air but via Bluetooth. The results are just as good, although we did notice a reduction in volume. That's not that much of an issue as you can simply turn the speakers up a little bit to compensate and there is enough room within the performance before distortion becomes a problem. The speakers even managed to cope with tracks like Himuro Yoshiteru's Knock Knock, although the lack of a dedicated subwoofer is apparent.
We also found that bass performance was improved when the speakers where placed against a wall, and sat around 60cms apart with you positioned as the third point in a triangle formation - which is perfect at a computer desk.
To see what the Ruark MR1s were like in a tougher environment, we also placed them in an open ballroom and tried to fill it by providing music for around 60 people at a party. Connected to an iPhone 5 we played various iTunes downloads and played more pop-flavoured artists such as Katy Perry and Calvin Harris. The speakers coped well filling the large room, especially as they were merely perched on a coffee table, and the feedback we got from the crowd was good.
So whether you have a small or large space to fill, the Ruarks are up to the job regardless of where you plan to place them.
The Ruark MR1 are a great little pair of speakers that deliver big sound. They're even portable: you can get an optional battery pack (not tested) which gives you the ability to ditch the power cable.
Although the bass isn't subwoofer huge, there is the necessary connection to add an optional one should you want. And even without one, for the most part you can get away with it.
In terms of competition you'll achieve a similar sound from a pair of Sonos Play:1 speakers, but as those are priced at £169 each the Ruark undercuts the price point and delivers a different aesthetic. However, there's not the more complex mesh network multi-room streaming service capability, which sees Sonos is a step ahead in that regard.
Whether wired or via Bluetooth we've been pumping out quality music in numerous locations via the Ruark MR1 speakers. They look good and sound good, so if you're after something simple but effective then the home grown Brit brand is certainly one to pop on your options list.