I went to a carol concert at the Royal Albert Hall just before Christmas. We were sitting almost next to the King’s College Choir, and I was struck not only by the glorious music and great spirit of the occasion, but also by the fact that, for all the high-end hifi equipment I get to listen to, recorded sound still has a way to go to replicate the real thing. I closed my eyes and tried to recall if any sound system I have heard could be mistaken for a live performance; the answer was no, not really. The difference to me is in the spatial quality of live sound; it was easy to detect that the orchestra’s cymbalist, who was perhaps 30m from me, was in a different spot from the triangle player right next to him. At best, stereo achieves only a good illusion of this.
I was still pondering when I tried out these updated desktop speakers from Ruark, a new version of the MR1s I reviewed three years ago (then bought, they were so impressive). The Essex-based company has since tweaked several aspects. One is aesthetic: the new grey, British-sourced tweedy fabric is understatedly fetching – no small thing in a product designed to be in front of you all day. Another is that the control knob is much better than on the original, with coloured LEDs to clearly indicate the input source. The MR1 Mk2’s Bluetooth connection is also flawless (not the case before). There is never any vagueness or hesitation; as I turn on my MacBook with Bluetooth activated, it connects immediately and plays through the speakers. The best improvement, however, is the sound. It was exceptionally good on the originals, especially in the critical matter of spatial illusion. But various points in the chain – from the improved crossover circuitry to the powerful 20-watt linear Class AB amplifiers feeding 75mm neodymium woofers and 20mm tweeters – have been enhanced. Even the thicker fabric, Ruark says, plays its part in adding quality.
I estimate that the MR1 Mk2s are 5 to 10 per cent better than the Mk1s. And with my eyes closed, playing a high-quality recording of King’s College Choir on Tidal, the experience is awfully similar to the live version. This is as good as whole-room setups costing 20 times as much, which for a desktop system is astonishing. Also good for a small room or to use with a TV.