This luxurious, compact wireless speaker offers very good sound quality and amazing design -- with a high price to match.
What comes to mind when you think of the term "wireless speaker"? Is it a $50 Bluetooth speaker? Maybe the $200 Bose SoundLink Mini? Or perhaps something even higher quality like the $500 Sonos Play:5?
Above those popular conceptions of the wireless speaker lives in a select group of "high-end" models which start at about a grand in the US and continue climbing from there. In these loftier climes reside models you've never heard of, like the Devialet Phantom ($1,990), the Raumfeld Stereo L ($2,400) and the Naim mu-so ($1,499) -- all rich in design and sound quality, but too rich for most shoppers' blood.
Now Naim is aiming just under the $1,000 barrier with the mu-so Qb. It's a more compact version of the original mu-so, but still keeps much of the same technology and design elements. Arguably, it also sounds better.
The Qb is the perfect size to slot into the corner of most rooms. But it's no shrinking violet, and can also take the limelight with a gripping musical performance. Of course you can do a lot better (with a dedicated stereo) for the money, and one major competitor, the Sonos Play:5, sounds just as good for half the price. But it's also twice as big and not nearly as cool-looking. If you want a beautiful, compact wireless speaker and have a grand to spend, the Naim mu-so Qb stands out.
The Mu-so Qb retails for $1,000 in the US, £595 in the UK and AU$1,295 in Australia.
While the original mu-so resembles a TV soundstand, the Qb is much smaller at about 8 inches square. Despite its diminutive size it still manages to pack in five drivers, with an angled "stereo" midrange and tweeter pair in addition to a low-end woofer. Naim says it wasn't able to build a bass port into such a small speaker, so instead it includes dual pistonic bass drivers to work in tandem with the woofer.
As with the mu-so before it, the Qb is gorgeously designed, with an all-metal chassis and the same iconic control console at the top of the device. The console is reportedly milled from a piece of aluminum and has a great, smooth feel when used as a volume control. The front and sides are covered with a removable grille, and you can buy other colors such as orange and blue.
As part of the mu-so wireless family, the speaker supports multiroom playback for up to five other networked Naim devices, and will play music up to 24-bit/192kHz. The system supports 802.11b/g wireless, though it's disappointing not to see N or even AC.
Of course this wouldn't be a 2016 music player unless it included Bluetooth (with aptX) and AirPlay as well, but it also bundles a 3.5mm analog, a digital optical and a USB port.
Naim was one of the first high-end brands to fully embrace digital media, and the mu-so line is capable of linking the company's Uniti products into a multiroom system with the use of an app. The Naim mu-so app for Apple and Android offers streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal, as well as streaming from your network over Wi-Fi. Disappointingly it can't play music from your phone unless you use Bluetooth (competitors can use Wi-Fi), and this is especially annoying given the company's audiophile heritage.
The app is also a little barebones, even austere, compared to the slick interfaces of most of its (proprietary) competitors like Sonos. However with the ability to play back hi-res, and the flexibility of UPnP, AirPlay and Bluetooth, it offers way more flexibility.
To test the Naim mu-so Qb I amassed a who's who of mid-to-high end wireless speakers, which included Sonos, Bowers & Wilkins, Raumfeld, Definitive Technology and newcomer House of Marley. I also pitted the Qb against its own older sibling, the original mu-so.
The Naim mu-so Qb quickly acquitted itself against most of its rivals with a lively, confessional sound. It was better sounding than the first two speakers I compared it to: the Definitive Technology W7 and the Raumfeld Stereo Cubes. Despite the stereo spread offered by having discreet speakers, the Cubes sounded a little lifeless compared to the Naim. This is disappointing given our love for Raumfeld's high-end Stereo Ls and the $250 One S. Likewise, the DefTech lacked the verve and articulation of the Naim.
When paired against the similarly priced House of Marley 1 Foundation, the Naim had its work cut out for it. Both speakers accentuated vocals in the same way with a forward, confessional sound. But the Marley was able to bring a naturalness to music that the mu-so sometimes lacked. The mu-so could sound boxy at times due to the limitations of the small cabinet, while the Marley with its dedicated stereo speakers sounded a lot more open.
But how did the Naim perform against perhaps the most famous high-end wireless speaker: the Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless? Well, the openness of the B&W afforded by the larger, wider cabinet was an advantage. Simpler styles of music such as folk or jazz sounded better on the Zeppelin than the Naim. But the Naim crushed the B&W when it came to bass response: Future of the Left's funk-metal-anthem-that-never-was "Drink Nike" sounded tight and focussed on the Naim, while the Zeppelin was a little too airy and comparatively bass-lite to compete.
The mu-so, then, performs well among speakers between 500 bucks and a grand, but what about the $500 juggernaut, the one that everyone wants to beat: the Sonos Play:5? I compared the two using Bob Mould's "Voices in My Head," which features a (gleefully) buried vocal shrouded in buzzsaw guitars. The Naim's vocals sounded a little too recessed and too confused and the rhythm section struggled to be heard. On the Sonos, Mould's voice sounded more open and natural but the bass and drums became a little swampy. I give a narrow win to the Sonos, but articulation is not its strong point, and if you're comparing to separate speakers, neither of these single-speaker systems puts out a distinct stereo image.
Meanwhile, we've had the $1,499 mu-so in-house for a while and found that it has its pluses and minuses. It can sound lovely with most music, but the mu-so Qb has a sprightlier sound than the original muso with less low-end boom and better articulation of vocals. Using the lead track of Future of the Left's new album as a benchmark, the Qb evinced better articulation in Julia Ruzicka's bass -- you could hear the pick contact the strings -- whereas the mu-so made it a low distorted rumble.
Yet when the music called for a bigger sound the original mu-so was still better. When tasked with Dead Can Dance's "Yulunga (Spirit Dance)" it sounded more expansive than the Qb and was able to produce a definable stereo image. The mu-so was able to generate more mid bass too, though deep bass was the same.
While you could easily argue that you're better off buying an amp and speakers, this would be missing the point of speakers like these. With a slightly lower price and peppier performance, the Qb is seemingly the one to beat out of the two Naim products.
The little mu-so QB offers stunning looks, thoughtful design and uncluttered setup. While it's not as slick as some competitors, and there are a lot of them, it offers enough chops to appeal to high-end shoppers who prioritize compact size and sleek design.