Who kicked whom up the backside? What was it that inspired British speaker builders -- or at least one of 'em -- to stop being boring? My earlier dealings with Ruark are virtually non-existent, but I had wedged the company unceremoniously in the mental cubby-hole reserved for about 80 percent of British box-makers. I had presupposed a long, non-illustrious future for the brand, producing competent, unexciting, utterly average, typically British loudspeakers. This in itself is no crime. Neither are Emmerdale Farm, Cilla Black albums nor Wimpy burgers. Conversely, they don't exactly set the pulse a'racing. So it is with a measure of surprise and glee that I report on Ruark's latest, a speaker which won't be mistaken for a product from (fill in the blank). It's the Equinox, a speaker which might, though, be mistaken for something more Italianate.
Yes, it's a box, but the cosmetics have been addressed with skill. And how. It's a mix of what's called 'rich walnut' (which looks like cherry) and contrasting areas of black, with a smart sloped baffle and an integral -- truly integral -- stand. But let's back-track, because the aesthetics are as much a case of form following function as of salesman seducing punter.
After only a cursory examination, the Ruark might be written off as but another trad-box with sexy trim. It is, after all, a mid-sized, rear-ported two-way on a stand so you might think that Kessler's gone all unnecessary just because he's looking at sculpted edges. The 18-litre enclosure is a bass reflex type constructed from 25mm Medite panels with 30mm baffles front and rear, measuring 880x250x340mm (HWD) including the stand. The front baffle is finished with a Meridian-like plate that positively begs to be exposed; listeners who abhor grillecloths will love the look, not a zillion miles away from an SL-series Celestion. Inside, the cabinet features multiple figure-of-eight bracing and reinforcement panels, while all the cabinet walls are faced with acoustic foam with 'sonafil' as the centre fill material. Fitted to the underside are three downward pointing cones which make contact with the toplate of the stand. The speaker only rests on the stand, the cones isolating the speakers from external energy while improving mechanical coupling. Two safety bolts are fitted as per the Celestion SL700 to prevent the speaker from being knocked off its perch; they hang free and do not actually fix the speaker to the stand.
Ruark has used a Scanspeak-made, 25mm hand-treated fabric dome tweeter in the Equinox, its constituent parts consisting of a hexagonal aluminium wound voice coil on a Kapton former, a vented magnet system with its own rear chamber and ferrofluid cooling for increased power handling. Below this is a 165mm air-dried, treated pulp paper coned woofer with an undamped pure rubber surround. Some damping has been designed into the cone, and a specially formulated lacquer reincorces the neck of the cone. The woofer features a 40mm long-stroke voice coil wound on a Kapton former, with a large vented motor assembly fitted to a low reflection die-cast magnesium chassis; its contours were shaped to promote free air flow. The vented pole piece reduces pressure build-up, improves the cooling of the voice coil and it's domed to concentrate the magnetic flux.
That's it. Because the crossover is in the stand.
No, this isn't just a case of Ruark being wierd for the sake of it. Apparently, it sounds better, and for a number of reasons. By siting the crossover in the stand, where it's also decoupled within, the crossover's inductors are spared any exposure to the magnetic radiation from the outsized lump on the back of the woofer and the assembly enjoys total immunity to any vibrations or resonances within the cabinet. The speaker section connects to the crossover/stand assembly via a dedicated single-point, four-core Cliffkon professional cable. The crossover point is 2.8kHz, with second order electronic/third order acoustic low and high pass filters. Its 11 elements are hard-wired, the shopping list consisting of Ruark/ICW polypropylene capacitors, high precision ceramic power resistors and air core inductors in both legs of the crossover. At the base of the pedestal, or the bottom of the crossover as it were, are 4mm, four-way, gold-plated binding posts for single or bi-wiring connections from the amplifier.
Ruark's stand designing efforts didn't stop with creating an orifice to accept the crossover. Its primary task is to position the tweeter at a height of 30in above the floor, ideal for a 'normal' seating position. I suppose the stand is so appealing because it's a one-piece item that looks neither undernourished nor overly massive, a rigid steel support finished in black wrinkle-textured epoxy resin paint and pre-filled with a mix of lead shot, resin and sand. The bottom steel plate is set into a bevelled wooden plinth with is fitted with spikes that screw through the base plate and can be adjusted from above; they're capped with gold, to match the screws holding the drivers to the baffle -- the one tacky aspect of the speaker and suitable only for the kind of aesthetically-challenged vermin who think that shell suits are sharp and that diamonds look good on a watch dial.
Equinox numbers read like those of any number of Britboxes, with a frequency range of 45-20kHz +/-3dB in free space conditions. The impedance is a safe 6 ohms, sensitivity a medium 87dB/1W/1m and the recommended power amplifier range a standard 20-150W RMS. Naturally, I strapped these to 300W Krell monoblocks for the sheer obscenity of it all. But I also used 'regular', less costly power houses like the 60W/ch Copland CSA14 integrated amp, the affordable Acurus 250 and a 12W/ch tube amp, all of which drove the Ruarks with better-than-adequate capabilities. Just in case you were thinking that this �1749 per pair speaker might be beyond the grasp of your existing amplifier. Admittedly, it benefits from the high damping factors and unbridled power of a behemoth, but you can get away with a lot less.Read more about the Equinox on Page 2.
Before listening to the speakers proper, I tried a little experiment with the stands, difficult as the umbilical isn't very long. By positioning the Ruarks on other stands with the dedicated stands sitting behind the speakers on other pieces of hardware (just to take any strain of the cable), I was able to determine that the stand was -- as PR man Richard Allan told me approximately 473 times -- tuned to the speaker because all sorts of unpleasant changes took place when I altered the height or moved to more massive supports. So, as with Sonus Faber's stone that inspired British speaker builders -- wood stands, MTD's tripods and other unlikely-looking solutions, Ruark has done your stand shopping for you.
Blessedly relieved from choosing stands appropriate for the review, and -- by virtue of the Ruark's hooker-like fussiness when it comes to amp selection -- freed from agonising over power sources, I was able to indulge in...music.
What a relief. The Ruarks are so un-hi-fi, so self-effacing, so invisible that they fall into the set-and-forget category. It's the kind of compliment most components aspire to but few deserve. Think about it. Think about how many times in your hi-fi history you've inserted a new product into your system and it positively segued into the chain. This isn't quite the same thing as making a quantum leap in performance, going from an undistinguished little two-way, 99-per-pair, bought-out-of-desperation wheezebox to a pair of Duntechs. I moved to the Ruarks from a regular diet of seriously desirable reference speakers, including a couple which cost as much as a loaded Renault Clio. I expected the Ruarks to present me with enough deficits to allow for some sort of positioning relative to price.
The Equinox is no 'normal' 1749-per-pair speaker. It's an absolute killer.
It's real high end.
Delighted that a Britsh company has (1) joined the Americans and the Italians at producing speakers worthy of the finest electronics, and (2) done it at a price which proves that high end doesn't have to mean second mortgage, I spent a couple of weeks wallowing in the sound. And that's what you want to do: wallow. It's a warm, cuddly, natural, lifelike sound smooth and sweet and seductive. It doesn't suggest laboratory equipment and neurotic attentiveness and detail retrieval so trivial that you question your own sanity. Do I really want to hear the drops of sweat sliding down the drummer's brow? Must I hear the sound of a moth fluttering against the lights at the far end of the studio? You don't even contemplate such anal issues. The Ruark, coy, shy yet mature, just makes music.
Particularly enticing is the bottom end, warm or dry or tight or succulent as required. Whether Fender bass or acoustic upright, rock drums or tympanis, the Ruark is just right, never exciting the room with an overabundance of low-end energy, nor sounding undernourished when large-scale works call upon the speaker's larger driver. Considering how small, how unobtrusive the Equinox is, you're forgiven for shaking your head in wonder.
Then there's the vanishing act, a result of the speaker's ability to create a large, cohesive soundstage, with impressive depth and out-beyond-the-edges width and discernible, convincing height. I was reminded again and again of the Sonus Faber Minima Amator as far as the 3D characteristics are concerned, but the Italian speaker is more forceful, more dynamic -- a different listening experience entirely. Rather, the Equinox is like that mythical dream speaker of mine, an LS3/5A with dynamics. OK, so the Ruark costs three times that of the LS3/5A and 35% more than an LS5/12A, but it remains a bargain.
That it's British, too, is the kind of bonus I haven't expected in a
long time. WIth all due respect to the more characterful British
speakers, those with such specific sonic signatures. We're talking
about the more realistic upgrades most of us make. But/referenceSo not
so much with performance to crow about but, as is the reviewer's curse,
a list of qualitativedetermining But t And ii'''',oror, They sound like
they're chin-high to Michael Jordan.neutrality and its ,
convincinghe-edges width and discerniblesemuch ning experience
entirely. Instead (for xenophobes and taxpayers) that periencI figured
that nearly all British manufacturers gave up on real high end
performance about 15 years ago, with the exception of SME and a few
amplifier makers of the tubed persuasion. Here, then, is a British-made
speaker for which no apologies need be made; it's probably the best
two-way, coned speaker this country has produced in the 1990s. It's
just too bad that my size-obsessed countrymen can't accept that giants
needn't be eight feet tall.