Tag Archives: Engineering

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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Perform Engineering Calculations in the Palm of Your Hand

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Are you an engineer who wishes they had access to some work-related calculations out in the field? A series of handy new apps may offer what you need. The Formulator Series by MultiEducator, Inc. is a series of iPhone/iPod Touch apps designed and packaged for a variety of engineering and other professionals. Depending on the application you choose, there are many formulas, calculations, regulatory codes and industrial code requirements included.

I volunteered to review a free copy of the Civil Engineer app, since my husband has been a registered professional civil engineer for 8 1/2 years. I knew he could give me some great expert input. I looked around the app first, and noticed many things I learned in high school math classes, but most of the rest was industry specific calculations with which I had no experience.

The main calculation categories for the Civil Engineer app are area formulas, beam, bridge, column, conversion, elevator, piles, piping, plates, roads, shear, soil, structural steel and wood. These are listed in the Contents, accessible at the bottom of the screen. Then each of those categories is broken down further, listing many different subcategories. Other options at the bottom of the screen include Recents (for recent calculations), Favorites (which you can set), Saved (where you can access specific number calculations you have saved in the past) and Search (very useful, since there are so many calculations included in the program). In Search, when you start typing in your search term, it immediately starts listing possible calculations to use.

Once you find the calculation you need, input the numbers for the asked-for variables, and it gives you the result with units. Once you have a result, you can see the definition of the formula, add it to favorites, save the calculation or email the entire result.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Both my husband and I found some mistakes in the program. Perusing the area formulas, I noticed that some of the shapes were listed in the singular, and some in the plural. In another area, they talk about Hazen-Williams friction head loss, but they list it as Hazen William friction head loss. They definitely need a proofreader who is an actual engineer to go back through their program. There are so many special terms specific to the industry that a specialist is needed for this task.

The program doesn’t always use standard industry terminology, spelling things out like “cubic feet per second” instead of just saying CFS. This takes up a lot more room on an already very crowded screen. The program also sometimes uses terms like “cubic feet a second” which isn’t the way most people say it. Also, the program says “circular curve” instead of “horizontal curve” and “parabolic curve” instead of “vertical curve.” Some of the options could be a lot more clear. It talks about the area of a pyramid or area of a sphere when they really mean surface area.

There are some sections with plenty of useful formulas, such as the beam section, and some with very few, such as for roads, bridges, soils, drainage and simple things like grade and distance. For horizontal curves and vertical curves, for example, it has about 1/3 of what it needs. My husband said that it looks like it is designed for structural engineers, based on what is included. The app doesn’t have a unit conversion from square feet to acres, which is the single most common conversion that my husband uses. So you’d have to do multiple calculations to make it all work, since there is no apparent way to send the result of one calculation to an input field of another. Also, there are missing conversions: they have a conversion for gallons to cubic feet, but not cubic feet to gallons.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

The Civil Engineering app is by no means comprehensive, but it is a handy app that could save some time out in the field. You would have more than a calculator at hand, so you’d be able to do much more complicated calculations. To improve the program, my husband’s suggestion is to get the formulas in the book that is given out at the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) exam (formerly the EIT), and that would be a good start for the formula list.

I asked him if it was a program he would use. His answer, “Probably, but not frequently. Most of the equations I use regularly I know off the top of my head.” He thought it would be helpful for a brand new engineer, or perhaps one in school. Would he pay $4.99 for it? “Yes.”

My husband thought that the big problem with this app is that it is a function solver, not an equation solver. A function will say, “Give me a couple of inputs and I will solve for one particular answer.” An equation allows you to input all but one of the variables and it will solve for the one you’re missing. This is a big difference. Because of what options are available in this app, you often triple your work to get the information you need. If it was an equation solver, you could just plug in what you have and get what you need.

The Formulator Series includes apps for architects, building engineers, builders, carpenters, civil engineers, electricians, environmental engineers, finance and business people, HVAC professionals, hydraulic engineers, mechanical engineers, plumbers and real estate investors. I can only assume that these other apps have similar strengths and weaknesses.

Individual apps are available for $4.99 to $6.99. They have about 100 of what they consider the most commonly used formulas. The professional packages are available for $9.99 to $19.99. These are bundled with the full regulations and also have the formulas from the individual apps.

Wired: It gives a lot of calculations that you might need quickly. Might be great for new engineers or engineering students. Good price.

Tired: It is by no means comprehensive. There are large gaps in what it covers. It seems to need some proofreading and more explanation.

Bottom line: A good start to a program that with a number of updates and enhancements could be a great program.

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MIT’s Summer Technology Program for Girls


Image courtesy of WTP

Every year, women in MIT’s Graduate School design and teach a summer program aimed at High School girls. The Women’s Technology Program (WTP) hosts 60 High School seniors for a four week residential summer program. During the program the girls will explore engineering through hands on classes, labs and team projects.  There are two programs to choose from. The Electrical Engineering/Computer Science program will have 40 students and the Mechanical Engineering program will have 20 students.

Applications for the 2010 Summer Program are due on January 15th 2010. Young women in the 11th Grade that are interested in the program should visit the Women’s Technology Program web site and download the application. Please note that applicants must be US citizens and ready to work hard and play hard.

WGBH Is Helping Girls Discover The Joy Of Engineering


WGBH with the National National Academy of Engineering has launched a program to get more girls interested in engineering through a website called Engineer Your Life.  With the President’s recent STEM initiative, this web site is exactly what we need to show high school aged girls why engineering is a cool, creative and rewarding career.

It’s no secret that girls are not well represented in fields of science and engineering.  This has been attributed to a lack of encouragement and a lack of role models.  The Engineering Your Life website gives high school girls a look into the world of engineering by introducing them to women doing great things with engineering.

If your daughter is looking for a fun, challenging and rewarding career, then show her this web site Engineering Your Life

There is also a website for Middle School girls called Engineer Girl which has fun facts and design contests with cash prizes.