I haven’t been in technology long enough to be able to bore people about when Microsoft and Apple were cheeky startups, but I do remember Ruark when it was an outlier Essex loudspeaker maker that started producing table radios under the name Vita Audio.
Now look at it. Its elegant, half-timbered products have been described as the Aston Martin of radio; they grace the rooms of the Savoy as well as the kitchens, bedrooms and dens of smart homes all over the world. Ruark may sound like a quantum particle or a frog’s mating call, but it is derived from the name of the co-founder, the late Brian O’Rourke. His son, Alan, now runs the company, but the influence of O’Rourke senior – a furniture maker who produced radio and TV cabinets in the 1950s and 1960s – remains centre stage. Ruark does wood, as well as audio, beautifully. A couple of years ago I enthused about its R7, a modern stereo in the form of a 1960s, G-Plan-style radiogram, which duly became a design classic.
This is the R4 Mk3, a slimmed-down comprehensive update of the 2008 R4 music centre. In its sleek walnut finish (although the black and white versions look great too) it’s ideal for anywhere in the house – short of a ballroom, perhaps. It has Bluetooth aptX for easy streaming from all the usual devices, as well as audio and optical wired inputs (in fact, the optical feature makes it a great TV soundbase, which it isn’t really designed as). But I was particularly delighted to see the CD slot. There are still times when you just want to stick in a CD and go about your business rather than get involved in all the complication of the supposedly more convenient streaming.
Improving an already excellent product can stretch the imagination, but the Mk3 has some great new features, such as a small but well-shaped remote that gives a clear blue signal when it successfully contacts the mothership; this may seem a small thing, but it’s very satisfying in practice.
And the sound? The big, downward-firing speaker and the air hole alongside it are a declaration that this machine is designed to make a big sound, but it’s one that is never thick or heavy. Vocals remain light and clear despite the big bass.