Tag Archives: Electronics

Mu-so Qb: The Best Sound I’ve Ever Heard From an 8″ Cube

Mu-so QB Large
It’d look good on a Bond villain’s desk.

When I first set the Naim Audio Mu-so Qb up on the counter in our kitchen, and started playing the soundtrack from Tron: Legacy through it via AirPlay from my iPhone, my 17 year-old son walked into the room, paused to listen, then said “wow, that’s clear!” No sarcasm, just honest praise from a teenager. Oh my.

And it was. It was clear, it was strong, and it was – it is – impressive.

It’s also expensive, but this is one of those times when you get what you pay for.

Naim Audio is a high-end audio brand from the UK that makes very, very good speakers, amplifiers, and other audiophile-quality components. They also make sound systems for cars. But not just any cars. They make sound systems for Bentleys. Yeah, wow.

Naim’s wireless music system is called Mu-so, and it’s akin to the offerings from Bose or Sonos that are meant to deliver good sound to a room, and give you the option of having units in multiple rooms that you can network so you can have a whole-house audio experience. They have two devices, the larger Mu-so, and the unit they sent me, the Mu-so Qb (like a cube, get it?). And while there is a similarity between the intents of the various whole home audio products, comparing something like Bose to the Mu-so is like comparing a decent, mid-sized Toyota to, well, a Bentley. While both will get you from point A to point B in about the same amount of time, you’re going to enjoy riding in the Bentley a whole lot more.

Mu-so Qb Top
The top is a touch-screen controller.

The Qb is a cube, a little over 8″ on a side. The base is a thick slab of lucite, completely transparent save for the Naim logo etched in it, and when you power the unit up, a very cool white glow emanates. Seriously, this thing would look awesome in a Bond villain’s lair, or as a prop on Star Trek:TOS. It’s also VERY heavy for its size. That’s good, because with the bass this thing puts out, if it were any lighter, it’d probably walk off the table. But it doesn’t.  In fact, it doesn’t rattle, shake, shimmy, or do anything that cheaper speakers with more power than refinement often do.

You turn it up, and there’s no distortion. You turn it up some more, and still no distortion. The bass is clear, with impact, but it doesn’t get in the way of the total sound experience. Indeed, you hear the bass, you hear the mid-range, and you hear the highs, and each provide distinct voices that play together. In so many other small form-factor speakers, there’s just one actual speaker unit trying to do the whole job, so everything is mashed together, and the sound becomes mushy. You can still hear voices and instruments, but because the speaker is melding all the waveforms together, you’re getting a hybrid of the music.

The Qb has five speakers: two tweeters and two mid-range drivers that are focused away from each other to provide stereo separation, and each powered by a 50W amp. Then there’s a woofer, powered by a 100W amp, that disperses the low-end out the front, and out the sides with two passive radiators. All together, that’s 300W of power running some excellent hardware, and delivering distinct, balanced sound better than you’ve ever heard from 512 cubic inches. It’s plenty of power to drive really, really good sound in a large room or outdoor space.

Mu-so Qb Front

So, the sound is awesome, but what about the connectivity? Connectivity is everything in this day and age, and the Qb has it in spades. AirPlay? Check. Bluetooth? Check – and double check, as it uses the aptX audio codec when available to pull in CD-quality sound. Aux in? Check. But wait, there’s more.

How about USB in? Yeah, you can plug your iDevice into it via USB rather than headphone jack, and play the files digitally rather than in analog mode. And you can plug in a USB drive and play the files on it as well, because it supports UPnP (Universal Plug-n-Play).

Since it has Airplay, you know it already has wifi built in, but how about this: it has an ethernet port in back. You can hard-wire this machine to your network to avoid any kind of interference and, with that aforementioned UPnP, access all those CDs you ripped to the NAS on your home network.

And for the hardcore audiophiles, it even has optical audio in -Optical S/PDIF (TosLink) up to 96kHz which, if you understood that, is really, really cool.

Plus, with the connected app, you have easy access to the nearly limitless variety of internet radio stations. And built-in support for Spotify Connect and Tidal. Oh, and it’ll act as an alarm clock. There, I think that’s about it.

You might have gotten the impression by now that I love the Mu-so Qb. As I write this, the loaner unit Naim sent me is about 4 feet behind me, playing some awesome spaced-out ambient and mid-tempo electronics from Space Station Soma, and I’m happy. Well, I’m mostly happy, but a little sad, too, because I have to send the unit back. And, since a new one costs – gulp – $999, it’s going to be a while before I can get something that provides such a lovely listening experience again.

But here’s the thing: the Mu-so Qb isn’t overpriced. If you value high-quality audio in a versatile and attractive package, you expect to pay a premium, and for the price, the Qb is worth every penny.

You can get the Qb on Amazon, at select Apple stores or the Apple store online, or specialist audio retailers all over.

 

Note: while Naim Audio provided a review unit, it was a loaner, and the unit was shipped back. I miss it already.

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Open Letter to Retail Customer Service: Get it Together

Zombie Hulk SMASH bad customer service! (Image by Flickr user Bob Jagendorf)

Zombie Hulk SMASH bad customer service! (Image by Flickr user Bob Jagendorf)

“The televisions these days, they depreciate when you take them home. Like a used car.” - Customer Service manager at [insert electronics store here.]

Dear retail customer service folks, that was the justification I received when I was handed a gift card for nearly a third less than what I paid for the LCD HD Television I was exchanging via a warranty exchange. I raised one eyebrow to express puzzlement to the manager, then proceeded with a short diatribe into the logical and perfectly rational reason why he was completely wrong in his assessment in the situation and why he was making a mistake. Not to mention, the gift card I was originally handed wouldn’t even cover the tax on the replacement television. After a short discussion, then attempting the transaction again in the computer, a gift card was created with the correct amount. As a customer, I was finally satiated, but still left in mild bemusement at the complete level of incompetence I routinely experience when dealing with retail customer service representatives.

Now, to be clear - this isn’t everywhere and everyone. This is a select bunch of folks who seem destined to cross my path when I walk into a store to return something. With electronics, this happens often enough to warrant a rant. The lack of intelligence and general problem solving skills, not to mention the seemingly oblivious behavior when it comes to standard transactions, is amazingly curious for this day and age. Perhaps it’s simply a lack of training, perhaps it’s a lax standard in education up to that point. Perhaps they really just don’t care. Having worked in retail myself for many years in my formative years, I’d have to say it’s a little bit of all three. So how can the retail customer service folks optimize their service? How can they get better at what they do so I don’t have to explain it to them every time I walk into a store? Here are a couple ideas that have been around for a while they may want to take heed to.

Learn the Inventory.

Retail jobs can be fun, for some they can be a career. For most, they are a stepping stone to the next thing. They are a filler until a professional job comes along, or a second job. No matter place your retail job holds in your life, you should still take the time to learn the inventory. Especially if you are working at the customer service desk in the front of the store. You should know what you have on sale, what you don’t and what’s in stock. If it’s not something you can pull off the top of your head, you should know what quick keystrokes to punch into the computer to bring it up.

Sadly, this is rarely the case. More often than not I am being helped by a customer service representative that appear as if they either just woke up, or just finished off a batch of “special” brownies. Maybe it’s just here in Central Florida, but no matter their state of mind, they should at least be able to tell me if they have a particular brand of television in stock that is advertised for sale in the weekly. They should be able to point me in the direction of the splitter that I need, or be able to quickly know if they carry the hard drive enclosure I’m asking about. Scanning the shelves for 6 minutes then giving up is not customer service. That’s laziness.

Case in point, my friend Justin and I recently went to a large electronics retailer to pick up a new Plasma television he had bought at the same store across the county. They were out of the television, so we went across town with the receipt to pick up one of several they had in stock. This is what the customer service representative at store #2 told the representative at store #1. This was after the rep at store #1 was on hold with store #2 for 45 minutes. We arrived at store #2 and after slowly explaining the situation and presenting a receipt, we were told the television was out of stock.

At the same time, we heard the stock-man say out loud, “I wonder if there are any in the warehouse.” So before checking the warehouse to see if any were in stock, we were told there were none in stock. Know your inventory!! Turns out, there were plenty in stock. To further add insult to ignorance, Justin and I had to carry the TV out ourselves as when we asked for assistance, they offered a cart (in which a 50″ TV won’t fit.) Major customer service fail.

If You Can’t Figure it Out, Ask for Help.

This is just a quick note to customer service representatives that have either just started the job or are in the middle of training. It’s alright to ask for help. 12 years into my professional career, I still ask for help when I don’t know the answer. Don’t stand there struggling with a transaction that you aren’t familiar with for upwards of 15 minutes before asking a more experience co-worker. Your pride will not take a hit if you ask for help. It’s okay. I won’t look down on you or anything. If I ask you for an SCSI cable and you have no idea what I’m talking about - direct me to someone who does. Don’t stand there looking befuddled and then tell me you don’t have any because you don’t know what they are. This takes you right back to knowing your inventory.

Math is Your Friend. Embrace it. Use it. Love it.

I am fully aware that the registers are pretty self sufficient these days. They do all the adding and subtracting for you, and most customer service representatives don’t have to think about things like division and multiplication tables when processing a transaction. There is still an element of human interaction. When processing a return and entering the tax calculation, mind the decimal point. Seven percent is .07 not .007. When you see the tax on a $700 item is $4 you must know that is incorrect. Right? Right?

What I can’t figure out is at what point customer service reps were no longer required to learn basic math. For the short six months I was forced to work the register at the retail store I worked, I did the math in my head along with the register. I knew what things cost and how they would add up. I could calculate a transaction down to the penny. I don’t expect that same type of exemplary math skill from customer service reps today, but I do expect they be able to tell when they’ve put in a ten percent discount as a one percent discount and not argue with me about it. All it takes to solve this problem is one day working without a register. Everything by hand in a notebook (which I had to do at a hardware store I worked at) will force a learning of general math.

The Customer is Always Right, Unless they are Wrong.

There is a creedo in customer service that we are all aware of, “the customer is always right.” From personal experience on both sides of the counter, I can say that this isn’t always accurate. Now more than ever, due to a lack of general education and a strange sense of entitlement by the populace, sometimes the customer is a jackass. The problem is when the jackass was the customer in line in front of you. That sets the tone for your transaction, and it’s not a good tone. The best advice I can give the customer service rep in this situation is not to let the bad transaction carry over to the next one. Too many times I’ve dealt with a surly customer service rep because the customer before me was a moron.

In general though, the customer is almost always right. They know what they want or are looking to you for assistance. It’s the job of the customer service rep to provide that assistance in the least stressful way possible. I know all of this seems like textbook obvious stuff for $10 an hour jobs, but if you’ve been to a big box electronics store lately, you’ll agree that there has been a serious disconnect between the one on one customer service of yore and the current “next please” mentality. More important than knowing that the customer is always right is knowing that I am always right. I research everything I buy, I know how to add and subtract before your computer does it. Challenge me with ridiculous claims of falsehood and I will destroy you in front of your co-workers.

What it all boils down to is training. Both by management and by the employee. The management has an obligation to the shopping public to make sure the employees are trained correctly. The employee has that same obligation to receive that training and use it to earn their wage. As I mentioned, I’ve worked in retail and can understand the animosity that arises between employee and customer due to so many terrible customers. What they don’t think about, and what took me years to realize, is that the customer is the one paying your check. The customer is directly paying your rent. If that customer decides not to shop at your establishment anymore because of a terrible customer service experience, that hurts you directly.

With the availability of online retailing and shopping, it is so much more imperative that direct retail customer service gets it together. It’s the only way to survive. I like the personal touch, I like to hold the product in my hand and talk to an expert. The moment I stop getting that, that’s the moment I stop shopping at your store.

What are some of your good/bad customer service experiences at retail stores?


Cool Timeline of Consumer Tech is a Scrapbook for Geeks

Image from Permuto.

Image from Permuto.

Online ad company Permuto put up this nifty graphic on their company blog, showing a timeline of consumer technology from Pong forwards. Obviously we GeekDad could have added a few dozen suggestions to the list, but how many of the devices played a part in your formative years? And what will the devices that fill the same places for our kids? You can read the blog post here.


R/C Gran Turismo Mashup

Gran Turismo Ford E10 (image:forums.radiocontrolzone)

Gran Turismo Ford E10 (image:forums.radiocontrolzone)

My childhood joys revolved around Radio Controlled cars and Video Games. It was with some excitement then that I unpacked the Gran Turismo-designed HPI Ford E10 radio controlled car (kindly provided for review by Eclipse Hobbies). Not only was this a car from high-end R/C manufacturor HPI, but it had all the detail and shine of the Ford GT in my Gran Turismo garage.

My six year old wandered in and was intruiged to see what I was so excited about. As I tried to explain I realized that this as much about reliving my youth as it was about a new toy. Here are some excerpts from my review

The radio controlled HPI Racing E10 Ford GT LM brings together two hobby worlds - video games and r/c cars. The r/c car and been designed and branded by Polyphony Digital around a vehicle from their video game racing simulator on the PS2 and PlayStation 3.

This reminded me of the synergy behind Nike and Apple working together on their running shoe add-ons for the iPod. Two brands set their differences aside and create something that works in both markets. Here we find the high end R/C components and design of HPI join the attention to detail and eye for high design of Gran Turismo to create something a little bit special.

I’m sure there are plenty of other no-brainer overlapping products like this that never get made due to corporate red tape. So, congratulations to HPI and Polyphony Digital for bringing this to market.

The Gran Turismo HPI E10 Ford LM R/C car is most likely a marketing idea. But it is one that fans of both Sony’s PlayStation3 Gran Turismo game and HPI’s high performance R/C cars will get a lot of value from. It strikes a sensible balance between price, performance and appearance. Although it looks pretty, you really need to hit the road to see this car really shine.