When a well-respected audiophile brand known for an amplifier costing a cool $150k launches an AirPlay speaker system, you can be sure of two things. One, it’s going to be pretty special. Two, it’s not going to be cheap.
Sure enough, Naim’s first wireless offering – the Mu-so which I reviewed earlier this year – came in at $1500. I did, though, consider it worth every penny. It’s a true replacement for a hifi system, delivering room-filling sound that I couldn’t fault. The design is fantastic, build-quality first-rate and it offers every input source you could ever want: AirPlay, Bluetooth, UPnP, Spotify Connect, Tidal, wired Ethernet, USB, optical and 3.5mm analog.
If you liked the sound of it but thought that $1500 was pushing things a little, there’s good news and bad …
The good news is that the company’s second wireless speaker system is a smaller and cheaper model, the Mu-so Qb. With this, the company has managed to break the $1000 barrier. The bad news is that it’s done so by exactly one dollar: the Qb will cost you $999.
So, what do you get for your money?
Look & feel
Design-wise, the Mu-so Qb is like a much more compact version of its bigger brother, measuring roughly 21cm in all three dimensions (21Wx21.2Lx21.8H if we’re being technical). It would look right at home in the most Apple-centric of environments, being a blend of brushed aluminum, sculpted black grilles and that utterly gorgeous combined display panel and volume control.
This works in exactly the same way as before. By default, it displays an icon for the input source (AirPlay in this case) plus touch-sensitive buttons for pause/play, previous track and next track. But adjust the volume on the unit itself, and the display changes to lit segments.
Again, the volume wheel is beautifully weighted and the action is perfectly smooth. It’s a delight to use.
There’s a little less bare aluminum on this model, as the ends have wraparound grilles. I’ll get to those when I talk about the sound.
The rear of the unit has the same cooling fins as the larger model, along with the USB, Ethernet, Optical and Line-in ports.
Setup is very quick and easy, though it does require the Naim app to walk you through it. When you first power it on, the app asks you the color of the small indicator LED at the rear of the unit. This was purple, so it prompted me to use the supplied SIM-removal tool (identical to Apple ones) to press the recessed reset button. This done, I was prompted to go into Settings → Wi-Fi and scroll down to ‘Add AirPlay Speaker.’ The Mu-so was listed, and the iPhone added it to my network.
I’ve complained before about the flakiness of AirPlay. In general, I find it solid once it’s playing and has got past any immediate disconnect, and the original Mu-so behaved in the same way. The Qb was, I have to say, flakier, but given the performance of the original Mu-so, I suspect this was an issue with the review unit rather the model as a whole.
You can network up to five Mu-so speakers into a single system.
To the important bit! Despite its rather compact dimensions, Naim has managed to squeeze in a full 300w of power. That is room-filling in a typical bedroom, office or similar, but not quite up to replacing your living-room system.
What you get is one woofer, two tweeters and two mid-range drivers. The latter are angled to give more all-round sound coverage than you would imagine could be possible from such a small unit. Finally, there are two passive radiators at the side to assist the bass – hence the grille wrapping around the edges.
You get the same support for WAV, FLAC, AIFF and mp3 topping out at 24-bit/192kHz (though you’ll need to use Ethernet if you want to play sample rates above 48kHz).
With the original Mu-so, I was completely unable to fault the audio performance: it was absolutely perfect to my ears. I don’t make claims to being a true audiophile, but my other home kit is a mix of Bang & Olufsen and Bowers & Wilkins, so I do have reasonably high standards when it comes to audio quality, and the original Mu-so absolutely delivered.
With a much more compact unit, you’d expect a little less chest-thumping bass, but I was surprised to find the difference was smaller than I’d anticipated. However, that does seem to have been achieved at the expense of a slightly less neutral sound, the bass starting to overwhelm the mid-range just a tiny bit when I cranked up the volume – perhaps due to the passive radiators. Treble, though, was again crystal-clear.
Again, Naim doesn’t want you messing with the sound balance: the only EQ control in the app is to tell the system how close it is to a wall.
If I gave the original Mu-so 10/10 for sound quality, I’d give the Qb a strong 9.75/10.
If you want a true replacement for a complete hifi system, and your budget stretches to $1500, I don’t think you can beat the original Naim Mu-so. The Qb might be up to the job in a small city-center apartment, but for most homes this is a system designed for a secondary room: a bedroom, office or kitchen.
A thousand dollars is a lot of cash to lay out for a secondary room, but if you can afford it, I don’t think you’ll regret the decision. It looks gorgeous, is delightful to use and delivers near-perfect audio performance.