Let’s get one thing straight from the start, the Mu-so does not shoot out colours like the picture on the Naim website, pity really as it looks rather good but I guess the novelty would wear off! It does look pretty gnarly without its wraparound grille though, drivers pointing everywhere in complete contrast to the restrained minimalism of the control dial and brushed aluminium. It does sounds as funky as that image suggests however, at least it does if you have it play something a bit of raw funk.
Mu-so Qb is the latest, smallest and least expensive addition to Naim’s Mu-so range, it’s most clearcut attempt to break out of the audiophile ghetto and into the homes of regular folks. It’s got to be done I’m afraid, there aren’t enough of us connoisseurs to keep a company like this up to the turnover that its owners would like, and if it gets the word out that there’s more to sound systems than a pocket sized Bluetooth speaker, then all the better.
Mu-so Qb is a wireless receiver, amplifier and speaker system built into a cube that’s not quite cubic but stands 21cm high, or eight inches in old money. It does everything that you could want a wireless source to do, it can receive Airplay and Bluetooth from phones and tablets, stream from network attached drives, USB sources like iPhones, MP3 players and thumb drives, and receive net radio and both Spotify Connect and Tidal music services. You can also plug in a 3.5mm analogue source or an optical digital one such as a set-top box if you can accommodate the cube with your telly. If you have a wired network it can hook up to that too, which is a good idea if you want to stream hi-res files (anything over 48kHz).
Its controlled with a big rotary that surrounds a small selection of touch screen symbols for basic operation, anything more complex than changing volume or radio station needs to be done with the Naim app that runs on both Android and iOS. You can select between five radio presets with the onboard control but have to remember which station is which as there’s no name display. Under the grille there are seven speaker drivers actively driven by four 50 Watt amps plus a 100 Watter for the woofer. But these are peak music power type ratings rather than the RMS figures given for more serious Naim amplifiers. Still it should be enough power unless you really do want to rock the block.
Set up initially seems fool proof as the Qb locks onto the wireless network and starts playing Naim’s second favourite net station, Paradise, soon after turn on. But the absence of instructions for network set up did mean it took a bit longer to get to the point where I could play music from the NAS drive. It would be great if the basics of this were included in the quick start instructions. It would also be good if the Android app were a bit more consistent with its display of radio stations, but maybe that’s my Moto G acting up again. The sound can be tailored to suit location by choosing whether the Qb is placed nearer or further than 25cm from a wall, the nearer it is the more the bass will be reinforced. However, even with the nearer setting chosen there was still more bass than you’d expect from a separates system. But this is clearly not such a thing and not designed for that market, and a little extra bass isn’t such a bad thing. In fact with many net radio stations it’s not an issue and I spent many happy hours with the Qb streaming FIP (the world’s greatest online station for those with catholic tastes) and BBC 6Music.
What stands out even with net radio is that this Mu-so has a sense of timing, it’s a Naim thing of course, but to achieve it in something so compact and affordable is quite an achievement. The usual source in my kitchen/dining room is a Vita (now Ruark) R4, the largest of that range which has a similar price to the Qb yet lacks its ability to produce engaging music. I don’t have the latest R4 but suspect that it will only be the features that have changed in the current model, this type of product is usually bought for its looks and ability to do what average consumers need in spec terms. The Qb ticks both those boxes for my family at least, they liked the look of the lighting in the base and the general styling overall. The invisibility of the power button in bright sunlight caused some confusion early on and the difficulty of getting Bluetooth up and running in the first instance not withstanding, the little Naim is proving very popular.
I didn’t try it with a wired network connection but nonetheless found that pretty well all the music played was enjoyable and even occasionally distracting. It’s detailed, dynamic and transparent enough to let you know how good the original recording is, so if something really good comes along you enjoy it nearly as much as you do on a big system. Sadly for the hi-fi industry there’s only limited correlation between musical enjoyment and equipment quality, once you get above a certain quality level at least. The better the gear the louder you can play it without distortion and the more fine detail you can hear, but emotional communication works on a different level, one that the Mus-so Qb is very much on a par with. It doesn’t do imaging nor does it shake your furniture, but it makes music that you want to listen to and that’s what counts. It’s also fast at turning on and tuning in, many streaming devices take their time at producing a sound from switch on. And then there’s the control app, another area where such systems fall down, but not here, the Naim app is pretty intuitive and quick to respond. Factor in the Mu-so Qb’s potential as a multi-room component and you have a stunning piece of kit, with or without colours shooting out!