Ruark is the latest high-end speaker manufacturer to apply its advanced design prowess to the mass market. The company is targeting the high end of the market to be sure, but $500 is a reasonable price to pay for speakers of this quality. They managed to outshine the similarly priced MM-1 speakers that Bowers & Wilkins introduced five years ago, even though they lack USB audio support, and they offer one feature those speakers don't: Bluetooth.
USB audio support gives you the opportunity to bypass your computer's noisy circuitry and keep the audio signal in the digital domain, by sending it over a USB cable to a DAC inside the speaker. The Ruark has only a 3.5mm analog audio input and relies on your computer to perform the conversion. You can overcome that shortcoming by using an outboard DAC, or you can use Bluetooth to send audio from your source to the speaker. Both alternatives impinge on the MR1's price/performance ratio--on the price side of that equation if you don't already have an outboard DAC, and on the performance side if you resort to the convenience of Bluetooth.
Let's take a look at the rest of the MR1's feature set before discussing its audio performance in detail. Given the rounded corners on the cabinets, you might think they were fabricated from ABS plastic. They're actually made from 1/4-inch MDF, a wood product valued for its density, uniformity, and audio neutrality. The corners are made from solid walnut and the cabinets are internally braced to render them more rigid. You can choose between a black or white soft-touch lacquer finish or a dark walnut veneer. One-inch bass reflex ports in the bottom of each cabinet make significant contributions to the system's bass response (rubber feet create about a 5/8-of-an-inch gap between the cabinet and the desktop).
Remove the cloth grills and you'll find 75mm polypropylene/paper woofers and 20mm silk dome tweeters. Both drivers feature neodymium magnets, a superior alternative to ferrite, and the cabinets are fully shielded (just in case you're planning to place them next to a CRT). A Ruark spokesperson told me these are not off-the-shelf components, that they were designed and manufactured specifically for this system. The speakers are driven by a 20-watt linear Class A-B amplifier.
Ruark doesn't specify if its amp produces 20 watts in total or 20 watts per channel, but it really doesn't matter. The amp delivers plenty of volume--more than enough to fill my 247-square-foot home theater with sound that would stand up to a noisy party. On this score, Ruark's speakers blew the B&Ws right out of the water (B&W puts four 18-watt Class D amps inside the MM-1). The MR1 also has a line-level subwoofer output if you want more thump, but I didn't find that to be necessary.
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