It would be reductive to call the Ruark Audio R2 Mk4 just a radio. Yes, it primarily functions as an excellent radio with FM/DAB/DAB+ tuners, internet radio and alarms all part and parcel of the product. And it looks like a radio, albeit a very luxuriously designed one.
But like many modern radios from Roberts, Revo and Tivoli Audio, it can do so much more. From wireless streaming via Bluetooth and supported music apps to physical wired connections, the Ruark R2 Mk4 is very much a modern music system that can compete against any premium wireless speaker.
With its rather hefty price tag of £479, you’d hope it feels, sounds and overall performs better than you’d expect “just a radio” to do, as well. Happily, it does.
Build & design
Ruark has a long history of blending modern and retro designs to deliver some of the most visually appealing products we’ve come across, and the R2 Mk4 is no exception. It’s had a significant redesign since its predecessor, the five-star R2 Mk3, which we reviewed back in 2015 (also an Award-winner that year), and we’re big fans of the new look.
We called the last model “gorgeous”; the new R2 Mk4 is even more elegant and elevated. So much of the Ruark R2’s appeal lies in its stylish, sleek design that exemplifies the modern-retro trend so prevalent across hi-fi products today. The R2 would look at home in any space: the home office, on a kitchen counter, bedside table, on a shelf – you could even have it as the main audio system in your house. The R2 Mk4 is about 20 per cent slimmer than its predecessor too, meaning it can fit better on most shelves or bookcases. Whatever surface you place it on, the rubber feet under the unit will keep both the radio and surface protected.
The sturdy cabinet is made for sound quality as well as beauty. The damped polymer cabinet is acoustically tuned and comes in two finishes: the light cream lacquer of our review unit, or a darker espresso version, with ash or walnut grilles respectively. The rounded edges of the cabinet, the new handcrafted slatted wood grille on the front, the bonded glass display – all are made to a very high quality.
Tuners FM radio
Digital radio DAB/DAB+
Internet radio? Yes
Bluetooth? Yes (5.2)
Remote included? No
Dimensions (hwd) 18.5 x 34 x 15cm
The glass display spans the width of the cabinet, but the actual TFT colour screen for showing the time, source, station/track/artist information is restricted to a small corner on the left-hand side. We wish that display was bigger (there’s a lot of empty real estate on the glass screen). However, it is wonderfully crisp and clear, and the text is easy to read even from across the room. While a rival radio system like the superb Revo SuperConnect Stereo (£489) has a larger display screen, in comparison the text is more crammed in and harder to read from a distance.
The R2 is powered by 18 watts of Class A/B amplification, with two 75mm of Ruark’s own NS+ (NeutralSound+) full-range drivers for stereo sound. There are two small bass ports on the underside of the unit. No matter what surface we place the R2 on, there is enough space for the downward-firing ports to operate without feeling restricted or cramped.
There are numerous ways to control the R2 Mk4. First and foremost is Ruark’s customary RotoDial controller that sits on top of the unit. It’s a wonderfully tactile and responsive dial that lets you intuitively select sources, control playback, adjust volume in pleasing increments and access the R2’s settings.
If you prefer controlling your radio system using a smartphone screen, you have the choice of two third-party apps: Undok and Oktiv. Both work well, with Oktiv the slicker of the two. Saving and accessing presets for each radio option is marginally easier through the apps than the control dial. And finally, there’s a slim, basic remote control that you can buy for an optional fee of £14.99 – to be honest, we never felt the need for it.
Overall, we find ourselves using the RotoDial controller the most. It’s a tactile, practical experience that’s sorely missing from many wireless speakers these days, and we ended up enjoying the R2 radio even more simply by physically interacting with it regularly.
We’d recommend connecting the R2 to your home’s wi-fi immediately after you’ve taken it out of the box. This not only gives you access to thousands of global internet radio stations at your fingertips (from Absolute Radio to Seattle’s KEXP) but will make it easy to stream from your music streaming services.
The R2 has built-in support for Spotify Connect, Amazon Music and Deezer. Those with Apple Music or Tidal can use the R2’s Bluetooth input instead. There’s no AirPlay 2 or hi-res support, however – two features that, while not crucial, would’ve been nice to see included in the R2.
Of course, Ruark hasn’t forgotten its roots when it comes to radio. FM and DAB/DAB+ tuners come as standard, and you can save eight presets for each. The signal strength naturally depends on your proximity to a transmitter; we lucked out with a very strong reception from a local FM station, and the radio quality was wonderfully solid, clean and detailed. Even if you end up solely using the R2 as a bedside radio, you can spend hours just listening to the radio and nothing else.
That’s not all, of course, as Ruark caters to physical connections alongside the wireless ones. There’s a 3.5mm aux line input for connecting external audio sources and a 3.5mm headphone jack for plugging in your favourite pair of wired cans. Additionally, a USB-C port (replacing the old Mk3’s USB-A) can be used to play stored audio files on a flash drive, but only up to MP3 quality. More usefully, the USB-C port can charge up your smartphone or other portable devices like an Astell & Kern hi-res music player. Handy.
If you aren’t charmed by the Ruark R2 Mk4’s looks and feature set so far, you will be once you start playing music on it. Whether it’s radio, Bluetooth streams or podcasts, it sounds hugely enjoyable.
The R2 has that naturally rich, weighty and expressive sound signature that we’ve come to know and love from Ruark’s previous products. Radio stations come through clear and punchy, and the R2 has a full-bodied approach that makes even the lower-quality digital stations pleasant to listen to.
It’s a likeable presentation from the get-go. Play better quality stations or stream songs from your favourite music app, and you’ll get solidity, detail and dynamic expression in spades. Yes, the R2 is a shade on the warm side of neutral, but never so far as to colour the natural tone and feeling of the songs we play, regardless of genre.
The bassline in Massive Attack’s Paradise Circus gives a great impression of depth, and keeps the song’s momentum driving along with an excellent sense of timing. There’s plenty of texture and snap to the bassline’s rhythm too; there are nuances here where plenty of rival products of a similar type would present it as a one-note, shapeless sound.
Underneath that genial, likeable manner is an impressive amount of sonic prowess for a product of this type. There are no harsh edges to that smooth treble; there is ample headroom for higher notes to soar as well. For what is a fairly compact unit, the sound that emanates from the R2 Mk4 is surprisingly big and spacious, and it can reach decently loud volumes without getting too strained or losing composure. Even more importantly, the musical cohesion of a song remains intact and a compelling listen even at lower volumes.
Voices in particular thrive through the R2. This is obviously an important aspect for talk radio and podcasts, and the R2’s natural warmth and textural depth lend so much life through the midrange. There’s so much detail here. From Nick Cave’s sombre, gravelly tones to Run The Jewels’ punchy, snappy rapping; from Agnes Obel’s ethereal singing to PJ Harvey’s snarling, grunge-tinged vocals – the Ruark delivers levels of subtlety that you can sink into.
The midrange sits ever-so-slightly forward in the presentation, especially compared to a rival unit like the Revo SuperConnect Stereo at similar money. The Revo offers a bigger, more roomy character, but it’s slightly reserved and understated compared with the Ruark’s more lively and rhythmically capable sound. We like both units, but it’s the Ruark that sounds more musically interesting and gets our feet tapping more.
If you’re after a high-quality music system that looks great, is lovely to use and sounds wonderful, the Ruark R2 Mk4 should be at the top of your wishlist. It’s the kind of product that could – and should – be considered alongside any budget hi-fi separates as a more lifestyle (but still very hi-fi-sounding) alternative. It may seem pricey for a radio system, but the Ruark offers so much more and it has the musical prowess to justify its price tag. If you’re able to afford it, the R2 Mk4 deserves a place in your home.
- Sound 5
- Features 4
- Build 5
Read our review of the Revo SuperConnect Stereo
Also consider the Tivoli Model One Digital Generation 2