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Ruark Audio R4i review

‘Serious Small Audio’ is the tagline that accompanies all Ruark Audio products, and it’s something that the British company prides itself on. The R4i is the largest product in the company’s portfolio, but those three words still apply.

Being at the top of the range, the R4i has pretty much everything you’d expect to find in an all-in-one music system; a CD player, USB, iPod dock, AUX in, DAB/DAB+/FM radio and of course, inbuilt speakers. The R4i is not your average iPod dock or DAB radio and features a stylish, modern design and promises a majestic sound, which is reflected in the £549 price tag.

With the R4i you get the choice of three finishes; Rich Walnut, Midnight Black and Dream White. The latter two have a glossy finish whereas the Rich Walnut – which is the version we’ve been using – has a more understated veneer finish to it.

Design

The R4i is designed to be a room feature. It’s not meant to be portable – in fact, you may need a second pair of hands to lift it out of its box as it’s pretty hefty. We were impressed to get that feel of a well-built product the moment we got it out of the box, and that continued throughout our experience with it.

Rectangular in shape, the R4i has two silver legs that prop it up by about 2cms, which is ample room to allow the down-facing sub underneath to boom out the tunes without being muffled. The legs don’t run all the way to the front edge of the system, so from most angles it appears to be floating just off the surface it’s sat on, which we loved.

On the front you have a silver fascia with two front facing speakers covered with contrasting black grilles. Between these you have a small LCD display, slot loading CD drive, USB port, two 3.5mm headphone jacks and a chrome power button. We felt the power button could do with being a little more solid and a little less wobbly, but that’s something that will only bother the biggest of nit-pickers (like this guy).

 

On top you have the 30 pin iPod dock, which of course has since been superseded by Apple’s new Lightning dock. Thankfully Ruark have developed a very nifty looking adapter and platform so that you can use the iPhone 5 and 5th generation iPod Touch with the R4i. Docking is solid and there’s plenty of room around the dock to accommodate all sorts of iDevices, which is much nicer than having to fiddle with adapters.

 

Just in front of the dock sits a conversation starter; the RotoDial controller. This UFO-like remote docks into the top of the device and pops out to be used remotely, offering a large central dial for volume and a host of buttons surrounding that to operate the R4i with. We love the idea of the remote, and its shape fits in the palm nicely, with a soft touch finish to the buttons and dial making it very comfortable and easy to use. One gripe we did have with the controller related to the volume dial – we would have much preferred a constantly rotating dial to make it quicker and easier to increase the volume rather than the old telephone-style system where you rotate to a certain point, return to centre and rotate again. Again we’re being picky and overall the RotoDial controller is unique, innovative and well designed.

Sound

You’ve got a wealth of ways in which to deliver music to the R4i, and all result in the same incredible sound quality. Whether you slide a CD in, dock your iPhone or listen to DAB radio, the R4i delivers a quality of sound that’ll make you understand the price tag. All-in-one music systems tend to do too many things at once, forgetting that sound quality is the most important thing, but that’s exactly where the R4i shines.

If you enjoy acoustic or vocal music then you’re in for a real treat. This system oozes clarity and a beautiful tone that makes vocals shine, with an impressive amount of detail. We decided to pop Frank Ocean – Channel Orange­ into the slot-loading CD player, sit back on a bean bag and dive in, and we didn’t move until the end of the album, such was the captivating sound quality. Vocals really shine through the mix, with backing vocals and subtle effects still well balanced and easily picked out, whereas on other systems they can be lost under too much bass.

In terms of bass, the R4i has just the right amount. The downward firing sub provides a punchy bass that doesn’t interfere, yet helps the system to really fill a room. It’s easy to fill the entire ground floor of a small house or an apartment with sound, and that’s without the need to put the volume up to full. We did notice the mix got a little loose when at the higher end of the volume scale, but in reality you won’t ever need to go that loud – this thing comfortably pumps out quality sound that’ll easily fill your room.

Two sets of audio in jacks on the back of the device allow you to connect it to a TV and use as a soundbar of sorts, which is especially useful these days as TVs get thinner and their inbuilt speakers get tinnier. As with the other inputs, sound quality is equally impressive.

Conclusion

Quite simply, the R4i from Ruark Audio is the best all in one system we’ve had the pleasure of enjoying, offering an excellent and well detailed sound and a design that screams quality. With its classy design and small form we can see it finding a home in the kitchen or conservatory, offering crisp quality DAB radio by day and offering the same great quality in the evening when you slide in a CD or dock your iPhone/iPod.

If audio systems confuse you then going for an all-in-one is a great option as the format gives you a number of ways to listen and everything is housed in one easy to operate unit – no messy cables and one remote. The R4i embodies the idea of an all-in-one and does it with aplomb.

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