There are certain times when you test a piece of audio tech and, while you’re impressed with how it sounds, how it's built and pretty much any other criteria one would need to bag a five-star haul, there’s never a time when you wish you had one for yourself. Be it a pair of speakers or some new headphones, your feelings are more of admiration than genuine infatuation.
The flip side of this, of course, is that occasionally something will enter our doors and immediately grab me by the heart, bypassing the rational sinews of the brain and heading straight for the emotional centre. Certain products simply have the “I want one of those" factor, and while I’ve certainly seen it in the realm of headphones (Grado GS3000X and Focal Bathys) and wireless speakers (the Sonos Era 300 and Era 100), two products from a far more niche corner of the market have caught – and kept – my attention this year: the Ruark Audio R410 and the Revo SuperConnect Stereo music systems. They’re both bold, beautiful and brilliant, but they have many of the What Hi-Fi? team, me included, asking the same question: why aren’t there more products like these on the market?
Yes, the world has a place for the excellence of Sonos smart speakers. The Era 100 and Era 300 are both outstanding and you’d bite someone’s hand off to take one home, but neither truly sets my heart aflutter. They’re absolutely superb and the sound they produce is exceptional, yet I have a real soft spot for both the Revo and the Ruark. Why? What makes them so alluring?
Much of it, of course, owes to that immediate reaction they elicit thanks to the way that they’re designed and their enticing visual appeal. The Revo SuperConnect Stereo is a stunning unit, a big, solid block of loveliness that, more than anything, looks like a product that had genuine care taken with its design. The brushed front grille meeting that smooth wooden frame screams vintage class, and you can never go wrong with a large, chunky side dial and some actual physical buttons. Remember those?
The Ruark, though, really takes your breath away. The slatted wooden front with that vertical screen is the perfect melding of the modern and the classic, and from every angle, the R410 seems to look better and better. The cabinet features Ruark’s familiar RotoDial controller, again something that is a pleasure to look at, hold and use, something else that has had some proper thought go into its design. Tactile. It’s so lovely and tactile.
That’s also the big appeal of units such as these, in that when you use them, you’re really using them. Apps and digital controls are all well and lovely, but there can feel like a bit of disconnect between yourself and your device when you’re controlling everything through your phone. What the Revo and the Ruark both give you is a unified, direct experience that forces you to interact with the unit itself. Without getting all overly sentimental and misty-eyed, there’s something so gratifying about that.
As you can tell, these are systems that can be enthused about as design classics as much as performance pieces, things which can be gifted (I recently chipped in to buy a friend a Revo). It’s nice to receive a mass-produced piece of excellence (Sony headphones, step right up), but it’s also nice to get your hands on something that feels like it’s yours and yours alone. The Revo and, especially the Ruark, have that quality in spades.
And the sound. Boy are these things getting good at giving you convincing, room-filling audio. You could, of course, buy a cheaper pair of speakers such as the Dali Oberon 1 and pair them with a similarly priced network streamer and a budget amp, or you could integrate everything and get a radio-cum-streamer-cum-set of speakers and save yourself the hassle. That’s certainly not to say that separates and the joy of building a system are in any way redundant (never!) – as they'll fill a room with stereo sound much more convincingly than most one-box affairs will while setting you down a path to upgrade components as you go.
Rather, it shines a light on just how these integrated systems fill a gap in the market for those who seek a little more convenience without sacrificing sound or style. While often you, more or less, get a sound you'd expect from budget separates, the performance from the best examples of recent all-in-ones belie their physical size and attractive, aesthetic design sensibilities.
If you think there’s a hint of compromise here, or that either of these systems is all smart trousers and no musical mouth, think again. The lean, mean Ruark is agile and crisp, serving up a soundstage that pushes forward with energy and enthusiasm without tipping over into harshness or one-dimensionality. The Revo, meanwhile, is a little more subdued and broad with its style, filling our test rooms (and my kitchen for a time) with the sort of rich, musical sound you don’t always get from a single unit. Even something like the Tivoli Model One Digital Generation 2, which is a What Hi-Fi? Award winner from 2022, has a sound that really surprises you when you consider the diminutive nature of the handsome little thing.
For a time it seemed as though radio was dying a death as streaming took over. Units such as the Revo, Ruark and Tivoli offer nifty solutions, though, in that you’re furnished with FM, DAB and DAB+ alongside the ultra-modern convenience of services such as Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay. You want things to move forward, of course, yet there’s no issue in keeping in touch with tradition. Who wants the humble radio to die out, anyway?
In that sense, integrated units such as these are doing God’s work across multiple strata. Not only are they design classics that you’d be happy owning and staring at long after you’re bored of Sonos’ drab monoliths (relatively speaking), but they’re providing wide-ranging and ultra-modern streaming access to users while also serving up classic radio formats for the more traditionally-minded among us.
While jack-of-all-trades concepts can often feel compromised and caught between stools, there’s not a hint of that with products such as these. If 2024 sees more hit the market, then all I can say is bring it on.
Read our full Revo SuperConnect Stereo review
And our Ruark Audio R410 review
Best hi-fi systems: CD, vinyl and streaming music systems for the home