Naim Audio isn’t a household name outside of audiophile circles, but this British company has for many years made some of the most respected amplifiers in the business. Naim long had an informal partnership with Linn, and if the standard audio system fitted to Bentley’s ultra-expensive cars isn’t good enough for you, the optional audio upgrade is to a Naim system. You’ll also find it available through the Apple Store.
The company is notoriously conservative when it comes to new technology, refusing to even consider making a CD player for most of the 1980s, relenting only in 1989, when it felt the technology had developed sufficiently to allow it to deliver the quality it sought. It’s therefore no surprise that Naim has waited so long to launch its first wireless speaker system, the mu-so – nor that it has done the job properly when it finally did so.
The price is also no great surprise …
Getting your hands on the Naim mu-so will set you back a cool $1500. Like the even more expensive Devialet Phantom I tested last year, for most people that’s a price you expect to pay for a complete hi-fi system rather than a standalone speaker. The question, then, is whether the mu-so is a serious contender to act as your main hi-fi?
Look & feel
This is, in a sentence, a stunning-looking piece of kit. The brushed aluminum casing with massive cooling fins running the entire length of the rear gives it a look that is at once reminiscent of very traditional hi-fi and at the same time gives it a modern, minimalist look. The sculpted front cover is available in a range of colors. The base of the unit is clear perspex, with an embedded Naim logo that lights up when the speaker is connected to a device. There’s not an exposed screw in sight, not even on the underside. It’s a piece of kit that would look instantly at home in the most Apple-like of homes.
It’s also a unit that would fit on most shelves, at 62.8cm long, 25.6cm deep and 12.2cm high.
122 mm x 628 mm x 256 mm
All you see in the way of visible controls is a large single dial that combines a touch-sensitive panel with a mechanical rotary volume dial. At the right-hand end are analog and digital inputs, together with an extremely discreet multi-color indicator light used during setup, and a reset button. Underneath, next to the mains power socket, is an optical input and Ethernet socket.
If I have one small complaint about the looks it’s the perspex base. It’s very funky-looking, but if you need to run the power cable to the left rather than the right it’s visible through the perspex. But in a permanent setup, I’d tack the cable down neatly.
The unit is heavy, at over 28 pounds. Each of the six speakers – two bass, two midrange and two tweeters – has its own amplifier, so the weight is explained by the contents as well as the aluminum-clad wooden chassis.
You could argue that there’s really no need for physical controls in a wireless speaker, as everything can be controlled from the iDevice. This is true, but the combined touch panel and volume control is so utterly gorgeous in both look and feel that it’s almost a gadget in its own right! The touch sensitivity is perfect, and it has indicators that light up to let you know exactly what’s going on. Above, for example, we can see that the music source is AirPlay.
When you rotate the volume dial, the display switches to lit volume segments. The movement is beautifully smooth and perfectly weighted. It’s such a joy to use that I – Mr Gadget – actually found myself walking over to it to adjust the volume rather than doing it on the Mac or iPhone.
As soon as you stop rotating the dial, it returns to the standard display. Only the outer ring rotates, but it’s so finely engineered you get the impression that the whole thing is moving.
The meaty-looking cooling fins at the rear of the unit do the job they’re designed to, keeping the unit cool to the touch.
The remote is the one thing that lets the mu-so down – and it does so very badly indeed! This is a beautiful-looking aluminum-clad speaker system, yet the remote is … black plastic. It has no weight to it, and looks and feels like the sort of remote you’d expect to get with a $200 speaker, not a $1500 one.
Granted there’s really no need for a remote unless you have conventional hi-fi sources as well as iDevices: you can control it from your Mac or iOS device. All the same, it’s inexplicable to me why Naim would make such an aesthetically pleasing piece of kit only to pair it with a cheap-and-nasty remote. I would stuff it in a drawer out of sight.
This system does it all when it comes to input sources: AirPlay, Bluetooth, UPnP, Spotify Connect, Tidal, wired Ethernet, USB, optical and 3.5mm analog. It also supports mp3, FLAC, AIFF and WAV at up to 24-bit/48KHz, with 24-bit/192KHz available if you use Ethernet instead of wireless. Finally, it offers multi-room support for up to five rooms.
There’s a Naim app that allows you to control the system, including built-in access to Internet radio stations with presets available on the touch panel, but you don’t need to use this. I just used it as an AirPlay device to stream from iTunes on the Mac and the Music app on my iPhone.
Setup is quick and easy. It does suffer from the usual occasional flakiness on AirPlay, but that’s an issue with the protocol rather than the speaker. As I find with all my AirPlay kit, it drops out once or twice very early in each session but is solid after that.
So, to the important bit! Does it sound as good as it looks?
Yes. Yes, it does. The maximum volume isn’t quite up there with the Devialet Phantom’s ‘legal limit for a nightclub’ level, but this is true room-filling sound, and there is no trace of distortion even at maximum volume.
The mu-so delivers chest-thumping bass and crystal-clear treble, and the overall sound is beautifully neutral. Naim has clearly worked hard at this and doesn’t want the likes of you or I messing with it: there are no equalization controls on the unit itself, nor in the Naim app – the only configurability is a setting to tell it how close it is to a wall behind it so that the speaker can automatically compensate. You can, of course, use iTunes or the Music app to tweak things, but – in my view – you won’t need to. It’s perfect right out of the box.
If you want ultimate volume from an all-in-one hi-fi-quality unit, the Devialet Phantom Silver is the setup for you. But if you don’t plan to use your speaker as a weapon, the Naim mu-so delivers all the volume you could possibly want in a true hi-fi unit that looks as beautiful as it sounds.
The Naim mu-so costs $1499, and is available direct from the Naim Audio Amazon store.