The amp is housed in the right-hand speaker cabinet, which has a large volume control knob on top. The amp is powered by an external brick, eliminating a source of noise creeping into the signal path. Ruark also offers an optional battery--the BackPack--should you want to take the speakers onto the patio or even on the road.
One of the MR1's many terrific features is that it will automatically switch to a low-power sleep mode if no audio signal is detected after 10 minutes. The speakers resume to full power when an audio signal is once again present, which is handy if you're using the speakers with a TV. A thin plastic remote control can power the speakers on and off, mute and control the volume, and switch between line-in and Bluetooth. You can also tap the volume control to switch modes.
I auditioned the MR1 with a desktop PC running the Roon music server, first using the PC's analog audio output (based on the old familiar Realtek chipset), and then with Creative's Sound Blaster X7 external DAC in the signal path. I used tracks from some of my favorite CDs that I ripped and encoded in 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC. I also listened to a live 2007 recording of the London Symphony Orchestra performing Mozart's Requiem. That one came from Bowers & Wilkins' Society of Sound service, and it was encoded in 24-bit/48kHz FLAC.
Tower of Power sounded fantastic through these speakers and the PC's native audio, presenting every detail of Bruce Conte's nimble guitar work on "Squib Cakes" without burying David Garibaldi's intricate drum work or Rocco Prestia's phenomenal bass fingering. You could hear every cymbal strike, every bass-drum kick, every pluck of the string. And when the horn section layers in, and then Chester Thompson's keyboards as the song hits its climatic finish, you can still hear every facet of each instrument's contribution.
Moving up a few years to Steely Dan's "Jack of Speed," from their 2000 album Two Against Nature, the MR1 knocked me out with its bass response. As I mentioned earlier, you can add a powered subwoofer to the pair if you really feel the need, but I think only the most bass-hungry listeners will consider it. These speakers deliver more low-end at any volume level than many 2.1-channel systems I've heard.
The MR1 sounded even better when connected to the Sound Blaster X7, since that component was handling the digital-to-analog conversion completely outside the noisy environment of my PC's case. But now you're almost doubling the price of your listening station (the X7 itself fetches $400). It's a great piece of gear in its own right, and it adds one thing the MR1 lacks--a headphone jack--but it also has a redundant amp and Bluetooth circuitry. You'd probably want to consider a simpler DAC to pair with the MR1, if you decide you need one at all.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.