While I write these words, the ultra-classy Ruark Audio R4-30 in my office is tuned to BBC Radio 3, where the French National Orchestra’s 2017 performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique is playing; and it couldn’t feel more appropriate. If the R4-30 was a person, it would have a title, own a large amount of sweeping countryside, and regularly be invited to garden parties held by the Royal family.
The unit you see here is a 30th Anniversary model, which has a gorgeous satin titanium finish metal body with a polished front panel, but it also comes in black, white, or a highly appropriate walnut — exactly what you want for your mansion. Just because playing anything too raucous on it feels a little uncouth doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with modern audio technology, or able to let its hair down when the situation calls for it.
This is a music center in the classic sense of the phrase. Joining the radio is a front-loading CD player, which in these days of online streaming music services can feel positively quaint. Plus, the R4-30 also has aptX Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, and both optical and Line In connections for a multitude of musical sources to play through its speakers.
Still listen to CDs?
Tuned to Radio 3’s Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) signal, the R4 sounds wonderful. Natural, warm, and with enough detail isolating each orchestral section, it’s a relaxing listen. It could continue playing all day, and the tightly controlled sound would never become bothersome or irritating. The DAB data scrolls across an OLED screen on the front of the R4. I’m sitting off to the unit’s side, at almost 90 degrees, and can read it perfectly, such is the viewing angle and brightness.
The front-loading CD player is really where the action is. It’s also a welcome addition for some of us who still buy music on them, rather than simply ripping them onto a computer and listening to digital files. The slim slot gobbles up your CD rather noisily, but the drive is silent once the disc is spinning. We fed it Aya Uchida’s Blooming! album, giving it a mix of bright pop songs, ballads, and a few bassier dance songs to handle. Scandal’s Yellow album added a rock element.
The ported enclosure keeps the bass tight, with a very pleasant thump that’s quite unexpected.
Packed full of detail, and incredibly easy to listen to, the R4-30 is exactly the music center you’d want in your house. It strikes an excellent balance between functionality, versatility, style, and beautiful sonic arrangement. Genuinely, it’s a system you’ll want to just leave playing music, and only adjusting the source or volume, depending on whether you’re relaxing, or if you’re in the mood for an impromptu party.
The R4-30’s happy to go loud, although things do get a little messy when you reach upper volume levels; but as we said, this isn’t a boisterous crank-it-up-until-it-distorts system. It’s more subtle than that, and sounds best when treated with respect. Any concerns the R4 doesn’t put out much bass should be driven from your mind. The ported enclosure keeps the bass tight, with a very pleasant thump that’s quite unexpected.
Long-winded control system
Ruark has stayed very quiet about the speaker system inside the R4, saying only that there are two drivers on the front, an active subwoofer inside the enclosure — there are two downward firing ports underneath — and a total of 80 watts power output from a Class A-B amplifier designed in-house.
You’ve got manual control over the bass and treble, plus there’s a loudness boost, and a 3D mode that increases the stereo separation. It’s likely to be controversial, because there’s more detail in the sound without it activated, but with it on, the R4 does a better job of filling a room with sound. In our tests, setting bass and treble at zero, loudness on, and 3D off brought out the best in the R4.
Shifting away from the CD, the R4-30 connected easily to an iPhone and an Android phone, and, for the latter, the aptX technology made streaming music sound just as sweet as the CDs. A USB port on the rear will play various audio files from a stick or a connected device, plus there’s a set of analog inputs (a turntable perhaps?) and an optical cable port to connect it to a television.
The Ruark R4 is controlled by a dial and a set of buttons on the top of the machine, which the company calls the RotoDial. It’s fine, but long-winded in its operation — it takes an entirely unnecessary ten button presses to toggle the Loudness feature, for example — especially if you’re used to wireless music systems controlled by a smartphone app. The remote control supplied isn’t much better. It’s plastic and a bit cheap feeling, and repeats the same operation as the RotoDial, just from the comfort of your armchair. There are a few handy little features though, such as a dual alarm with a snooze feature, and a chance to turn off the bright OLED screen, which shows the date and time when the unit’s powered down.
Beautifully made, classy to look at, and sweet to hear, you will have to dedicate quite a bit of space to enjoy the R4-30. It’s definitely too big for a bedside table — it’s 45cm wide and 25 deep — but fitted neatly on top of a drawer unit for us. It’s also a heavy beast at just shy of 15 pounds.
We imagine the R4 is an interior designer’s dream. It has a degree of retro chic, comes in modern and classic finishes, but doesn’t skimp on the sound.
If you’re splashing out on an interior designer, you probably won’t blink at the 680 British pound (that’s about $850) price tag. Everyone else will though, especially when more user-friendly wireless systems provide similarly great sound for less money, if you have no need for a CD player.
- Play music from just about any source
- Natural, sweet sound
- Classy design
- Long-winded menu control