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.
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.
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.
I’m excited to go to the NYC Toy Fair again this year and an thankful that I have more time to plan for it. Rumor is that one or two other GeekDad contributors will be there so a meet-up is hopeful.
The fair is growing this year with over 1200 exhibitors and a reported 7000 never before seen products. I’m skeptical of that last number, but it does promise to be a fun time.
I’ve already got appointments with LEGO, Bandai America, and Playmobile, and probably won’t book too many more. I’d like to keep my schedule open and spend more time cruising around in the cheap booth talking to startups and smaller toy and game companies. I missed the 20% of the floor last year that included most of the independent game houses and startups. This year I’ll start on that end so I can talk with the creators and owners of the companies and hopefully sniff out some cool new games for you all.
If any of you are going and would like to meet a GeekDad or two, ping me on twitter @AntonOlsen and we can coordinate when and where. Or just keep your eye out for the GeekDad shirt. I’ll be wearing one of the new ones from ThinkGeek.
Is there anything special you’d like to me to look at, or seek out?
The Drawer of Redundant Technology by Nathan Barry
At last the festivities are over, the decorations have been put away, the cards and tree have been recycled, and I can finally play with one of my presents to myself - a home cinema kit. That’s not what this post is about, but it does need a little bit of a backstory…
A few years back, before my days of being a dad, I spent all of my free time rebuilding our house. I planned out the wiring and buried all the speaker cables for a surround sound setup in the walls, with nice banana plug sockets on the ends. About halfway through the build, we somehow managed to get pregnant - no idea where we found the time or energy for that. The impending arrival of ‘Oops,’ as she was then known, changed many of the plans for the house and a home cinema kit was no longer a priority.
Fast forward back to now and Dulcie is old enough to appreciate a good movie (even if they do all feature Princesses and Faeries) and needs to hear them in glorious 5.1 Surround Sound right? So I find the right system on eBay - it has to be silver and slimline to match the decor, with small speakers as the room isn’t very big - and it all arrives just before Christmas. So first chance I get when the living room is de-christmased, I start to set it all up. Now where did I put those gold-plated banana plugs…?
Oh yes, I remember, they are tucked away in that special storage area that all GeekDad’s surely have for such things - I call mine The Drawer of Redundant Technology. Yours may be a cupboard, or a box tucked away in a wardrobe, or perhaps a shelf out in the garage - maybe even the whole garage!
Wherever and whatever yours is, it is the place where that outdated camera lives. It is the last resting place of superseded iPods. It is a nest of tangled (or possibly neatly coiled) cables and wires of all types. Power adaptors for long lost mobile phones, a vast array of digital media storage devices, knotted and broken Headphones or Earbuds, spare parts for things that you don’t even own anymore - they can all be found within.
The Contents of The Drawer of Redundant Technology by Nathan Barry
Here’s just a few of the choice items that my drawer contains:
A mouse for a Mac Plus - the Mac Plus itself in now a Macquarium. I always thought how cool it would be to convert the mouse to hold the air pump for the tank, but I know I’ll never get round to it.
A six-CD changer magazine for my car - hasn’t been used for about 8 years, since I got my first iPod
That very same iPod - a 2nd gen 20GB model, complete with a 12v power adapter and an iTrip
A 5″ floppy disk
A Canon Powershot camera with a busted LCD screen and lens cover
Pieces of that lens cover
3 Apple power adapters - 2 x Firewire and 1 USB
2 kettle power leads and 3 figure 8s
A 32Mb compact flash card - in my 6MP Nikon D70s, that only about 10-15 photos. It can’t have been enough for the camera it came with either, because there’s also a whopping 128Mb one there too
An old HP RPN scientific calculator from my school days - I remember spending ages first learning Reverse Polish Notation, then programming the formula to solve quadratic equations into it
A Darth Vader rubber stamp
And, of course, those gold-plated banana plugs
I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say that it’s time for me to stop hoarding useless crap, and that goes for more than the Drawer of Redundant Technology too. My shed is full of leftover DIY materials, electric drills that packed up, rolls of carpet underlay that are slowly rotting away, offcuts of timber that are far too small to do anything useful with even if I did have the time. My wardrobe is full of T-shirts and trainers that I just don’t wear anymore and my bookshelves filled with tomes that have been read and need not be read again.
Enough is enough I say, and this is my New Year’s Resolution - to the recycling center with you all!
Have you got a fabulous stash of redundant technology? If so, we’d love to see it. Upload a photo to the GeekDad Flickr Pool and tag it ‘redundanttech’ and we’ll post them up later for all to see.