It would be crass of us to suggest that the Ruark R4 Mk 3 is an example of the company releasing the same things over and over. We would never do that.
But we do appreciate consistency, and we can’t help noticing some commendable constants that have accompanied the last few Ruark products entering our test rooms: design and audio quality.
Take the Ruark R1 Mk3 and R2 Mk3, for example. Both got the full five stars last year, with the latter going on to win our 2015 Award for Best All-In-One System.
Each review dedicated a considerable amount of words on two central themes, namely that it’s nice, and it sounds lovely.
So it stands to reason that we have certain expectations of the Ruark R4 Mk3, big brother to the R1 and R2. Bigger, of course, does not always mean better. So let’s proceed to the first question: is it a nice thing?
MORE: Ruark R2 Mk3 review
Both retro and modern, the Ruark R4 wouldn’t look out of place in Frank and Claire Underwood’s guestroom. There it would sit on a chest or some such, because it’s too big for a bedside table.
This is the largest of Ruark’s desktop systems – any larger and you’re looking at the table-sized R7.
We really like the ‘rich walnut’ enclosure with its rounded edges. You can get it in soft black or white lacquer instead, but that just makes the unit look considerably less interesting in our opinion.
On top, Ruark’s ‘RotoDial’ makes a return. That’s fancy speak for a volume knob surrounded by the essential buttons, which is neat.
We note that it is no longer removable for use as a remote control, as it was on the Ruark R4i. Now you get a dedicated IR remote, which works just as well, although its tacky plastic is at odds with the lush build of the main unit.
The display, meanwhile, is a good one. It’s an OLED screen and it has no problems clearly announcing your source, track and time information, even from across the room or at an angle.
Let’s talk about sources. Front and centre is a slot-loaded drive for CDs. You also get a 3.5mm input at the front, next to a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The back features two pairs of phono connectors (one in, one out), as well as a digital optical input and a USB port. You can play MP3, WMA and AAC files off a memory stick.
If you want to go wireless, you’ve got the choice of aptX Bluetooth or radio in either FM, DAB or DAB+ varieties. No internet radio, though – in fact, you don’t get internet at all.
The Ruark R4 Mk3 is an offline-only affair, which means none of the streaming skills of the R2 Mk3. If you want Spotify, you’ll have to cue that up on your phone as a workaround.
MORE: Spotify review
But does it sound good? Yes it does, as long as you turn off some of the modes and settings that seem to be activated by default. Loudness Mode, for instance, exaggerates the top and bottom, and should only ever be used for a party.
Then there’s ‘3D enhanced stereo’, which aims to widen your soundfield. It does that, but at cost to the subtlety of the sound.
It’s unnecessary, because the sound is wide enough on its own. The two 9cm drive units and downfiring 13cm woofer need no assistance where scale is concerned.
Volume isn’t a concern, either. The Ruark goes loud and there are 31 increments, for some reason. We never felt the need to go past 25, which is just as well, as there the sound begins to lose composure, hardening up at the top.
Stick within sensible levels (23-24 is loud enough for most situations) and what you get is very competent.
The bassline is warm and welcoming. The top end is pleasingly crisp. The midrange is clear and direct, with solid voices that make their intention known even when the rest of the band goes a bit spare.
There is plenty of subtle detail. Strings, whether plucked or hammered, maintain their appropriate tension. The Ruark is eloquent enough to dig out the indignation and resignation in Leonard Cohen’s most recent rasp and rumble.
That bass driver is not afraid to get down and dirty as necessary to deliver the menace of test-favourite Massive Attack. It’s a matter of quality over quantity, however. The bass is well defined.
We never feel there is too much of it, or that it overpowers the rest. Natural authority – that’s what we’re dealing with.
What really impresses is the Ruark’s precision in rhythm. It succeeds in conveying the pace of a track, tensing up or chilling out where needed according to the appropriate mood. Put it all together and you have an engaging, compelling listen.
That said, we could do with the greater agility and snap of the Ruark R2 Mk3, which makes for a livelier presentation. In effect, the R4 Mk3 trades a little verve for power and dynamism.
There is much to like about the Ruark R4 Mk3. It’s a good looking and talented device, and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
However, the price makes us pause. At the time of writing, it cost £250 more than its smaller sibling the R2 Mk3, but does not provide a proportionate leap in performance or features.
Still, if you’re after a fine all-in-one system and you have the budget, this ought to be high on your list.
See all our Ruark reviews