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