Ruark Audio is a company better known for its bedside digital audio broadcast (DAB) radios, but with the R2 Mk3 the company is embracing the world of internet-connected streaming services.
It’s a great pairing, surprisingly. Ruark has always managed to do great things when it comes to getting the most out of music over DAB, and its Ruark Audio R4, which we reviewed last year, showed what the company was capable of when it came to CD audio.
The R2 follows the same design cues as the R4, but it sheds the latter’s CD drive and adds Spotify connect support which, in addition to its AM, FM, DAB, Internet Radio, Bluetooth aptX and USB playback, means that it’s a very well connected speaker indeed.
Pairing all this functionality with Ruark’s excellent design chops makes the speaker a joy to use, but while it makes a great radio, it stops short of offering a complete streaming package.
The Ruark Audio R2 is a great-looking speaker, especially if you opt for the walnut finish. On the front is a nice clear display which is flanked by the speakers two 3.5-inch drive units.
There are also not one but two headphone sockets as well as a power button on the front of the machine.
But it’s on the top of the box where the real magic happens. Here you’ll find Ruark’s signature control wheel, which is frankly a joy to use.
This control wheel consists of a series of buttons arranged around a central volume knob. The volume control has a satisfying click to it as you turn it, and feels lovely and responsive.
Since it’s this volume control that you use to scroll through menus, it’s a good thing that it’s so well made. Its clickiness means that it’s easy to land on the menu item that you need without overshooting like you can do with some volume controls.
Thankfully you don’t have to spend too much time scrolling through menus, since the R2 is good at working out what you want to listen to. Selecting a source (be in DAB or internet radio) automatically returns you to the last station played, and it’s easy to set presets – a far better alternative to scrolling through hundreds of internet radio stations.
Ruark also includes a remote if you want to perform simple functions like muting the speaker from across the room or pause a song on Spotify, but ultimately the size of the speaker’s screen means that we found ourselves walking up to the speaker to control it directly most of the time.
Finally, the R2 is also capable of being linked together with other units to create a multi-room sound setup.
The speaker sounds absolutely great … once you get it working.
Its radio functionality was easy enough to set up, but we found Spotify Connect to be a little flakey on the speaker. While testing it on our home Wi-Fi network, a message would occasionally display on the screen stating that the speaker was waiting for someone to press ‘play’ on the Spotify app, despite this already having been done.
The problem was resolved by uninstalling and reinstalling the Spotify app on the phone itself, but the problem persisted for other users in the house who hadn’t been through the troubleshooting process.
The fact that similar problems were not experienced when playing from internet radio stations seemed to suggest that this was a problem specifically with the Spotify functionality itself, rather than the internet connection.
Regardless, the level of sound quality playing over Spotify Connect when we did get it to finally work was excellent.
We started our listening session with Drumbones by Adam Betts. The single from the drummer’s debut solo album has exactly the heft you want to test the crispness of a speaker, and the Ruark Audio R2’s 20W of power output delivered in spades.
The bass was lovely, tight and punchy, and provided a surprisingly easy listen for a song that errs on the intense side.
Switching to the song Los Angeles of Blink 182’s California gave the speaker a chance to show off the sheer width of its soundstage and the quality of the separation it offered between its instruments.
This song, more than any other we listened to, revealed how directional the speaker’s sound is. This is the case for almost all speakers, but you definitely want to make sure the R2 is pointed directly towards where you’re going to be doing your listening if you want to be able to hear more of the mids and trebles.
Position the speaker correctly and you’ll be rewarded with a fantastically crisp sound from this end of the frequency spectrum as a listen to Lite’s Contra shows – point it in the wrong direction and be prepared for the worst.
Switching to internet radio shows just how dependent the quality of internet radio is on the stream itself. The sound quality on the talk-station BBC Radio 4 was solid and clear, but switching to the more music-orientated BBC Radio 6 revealed a disappointing lack of musical depth brought about by the lower quality bitrates used in the BBC’s internet radio broadcasts.
Weirdly, considering the notoriously low bitrates used by the UK’s DAB signals, DAB on the R2 actually provided a marginally better sound than the internet radio signals.
Switching between the DAB and internet radio streams of BBC Radio 6, the DAB stream seemed to have more punch and sounded a lot more open.
The Ruark Audio R2 sounds great, whether you’re listening to Spotify, Internet Radio, Bluetooth, or DAB. Sound is rich and full-bodied, and does a good job at filling a room.
Ruark’s control dial makes a return with the R2 and it’s better than ever. Its minimalism means that it looks great, but it’s smartly designed in a way that makes it easy to get to what you need.
Spotify Connect was flaky on our home network, but after we went through the troubleshooting steps of re-installing the app it then connected quickly and easily every time.
Really the only issue we have with the speaker is that it could be connected to more things. Google Cast support would be a great means of playing from streaming services other than Spotify (like Tidal or Google Play Music for example), and AirPlay support would be a boon for non-aptX supported Apple devices.
The Ruark Audio R2 is simply a great streaming speaker. It has a rich and engaging sound, and controlling it is a snap. It hits a few hiccups on the way to becoming the only streaming audio device you’ll ever need (see: Spotify Connect issues and lack of AirPlay support), but by and large the Ruark Audio R2 Mk3 is a fantastic-sounding speaker that’s well worth its £399 sticker price.
All that said, if you listen to a lot of different streaming services outside of Spotify you’ll have less luck than those who do, especially if you’re stuck with a non-aptX Bluetooth-enabled device.