The Naim Mu-so Qb is an ultra-high-end wireless speaker. It would be a perfect fit for the Apple Store, with a premium design and big audio quality ambitions.
It's £595 cube of pure loveliness. It's £300 cheaper and, promisingly, will prove far more convenient than its larger sibling, the original Naim Mu-so, which picked up a number of awards (including one from us, which is all that matters) last year.
For those wanting a mid-sized wireless speaker, the Naim Mu-so Qb is one of the best around, and it has enough power for parties. However, anyone "upgrading" from an older, traditional hi-fi system with big speaker boxes will need to accept that the sound may not offer an improvement in every area.
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For many, traditional hi-fi equipment is hardly the epitome of design. “Boring black boxes” is the common accusation from consumers now more familiar with funky-looking kit.
Despite being a black box itself, the Naim Mu-so Qb is one of the coolest-looking speakers around.
There are a number of design choices that elevate it above what on first glance is a plain black cube. First, there’s the brushed-metal top, in the centre of which sits a gigantic volume dial. It's here you'll also find the Mu-so Qb's display.
This isn’t an LCD screen, but a whole series of light-up icons. If you’re using Spotify, its name will appear. Switch to Bluetooth and it’s replaced by a little Bluetooth icon. Naim has done an excellent job of making this touchscreen display feel more like a remote-control pad than a full-blown "computer" interface.
My personal highlight is the volume wheel. It’s so smooth that it feels more like a classy dimmer switch in an apartment I definitely can't afford.
The message is clear: this isn’t just audio tech; the Naim Mu-so Qb is as much a piece of design as it is a speaker.
Other features that cement this air of class is the way the speaker grilles curve in and out, and how the acrylic base makes the Qb look as if it's either floating or sitting on a slab of glass.
Of course, anyone can make something look fancy if they have a generous budget to work with. What really impresses here is that all of these design flourishes fulfill a purpose. The Naim Mu-so Qb’s acrylic base apparently “dampens unwanted vibration”, the curvy grille is designed to help sound dispersal, and the ridged metal plate on the rear acts as a heat sink for the amp.
I’m pretty sure that the lights for the volume knob and Naim logo are there only for aesthetic purposes, however, but either way Naim has managed to make one of the most grown-up looking speakers around.
The Naim Mu-so Qb also ticks plenty of boxes when it comes to features. It streams over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but also has wired connections. On the rear are 3.5mm and optical inputs, as well as a USB socket to let you play files from a USB drive, or from an iOS device.
Spotty Wi-Fi? There's an Ethernet port
The super-easy integration of internet radio is another hit. There are "Radio" and (wired) "Input" buttons on the display that appear whenever the Qb is turned on, and tapping the Radio button cycles between up to five internet ratio stations, which are selected via Naim's app for iOS and Android.
The app also lets you tap into the Mu-so range’s multiroom functionality. This works much like Sonos’ system, where you can name different speakers and control them from the app. It will only work with Naim’s Mu-so speakers and other networked Naim gear, as you'd expect. The app also lets you customise the sound a little for smaller and larger rooms, fiddling with the levels of upper bass and lower-mid frequencies.
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A battery is all that’s missing, but the Mu-so Qb isn’t intended for use outside the home, and would really be too heavy and fragile to be a portable speaker.
The Mu-so Qb is capable of reaching volumes that will be loud enough to replace a full-size hi-fi in most people’s living rooms.
I’ve listened to the two systems side by side, and while the larger Mu-so can put out a lot more bass, there’s no sense of the Qb lacking in that area. It’s like comparing a small set of floor-stander speakers to a larger pair with a greater number of drivers.
This is far from a bookshelf speaker, though. With its sheer power, it's far away from what you'd expect from a compact unit. You get a far more assured bass than the number of cubic inches might suggest.
Take off the Naim Mu-so Qb’s speaker grille – secured in place by magnets – and you'll get a better view of what’s going on. There are five active drivers on the front: two tweeters, two mid drivers and a larger bass one. The tweeters are angled to reduce any sense of there being a "sweet spot", much as the Qb can’t create a stereo image in the way a classic pair of speakers can.
You'll also find some very large oval bass radiators on the sides of the Naim Mu-so Qb. It's with these that Naim achieves a more substantial bass than you'd expect, by using the air pushed around by the active drivers to move a larger secondary driver, hence their 'passive' labelling.
One of the real triumphs of the Qb is how it puts these passive drivers to use. The bass is great fun, adding energy and bounce to tracks without losing control, resulting in a sound that's flabby or boomy. For smaller rooms, the Qb may actually be a better sound fit than the original Mu-so, which is significantly bassier.
For funk and dance music, or anything where the beat is a leading drive, the Mu-so Qb is superb. It may look serious and sleek, but this would make a fantastic party speaker.
The more time I spend listening to the Qb, the more I like it. However, be aware that the quality of the mid-range in terms of "space", texture and tone will be unable to compete with a hi-fi made of less lounge-friendly components.
Where you’ll notice this most is with vocals, which on a close listen are definitely delivered to the standard of a standard high-end wireless speaker rather the more detailed, sophisticated tone of a high-end bookshelf speaker.
Which would I rather have for a party? Probably the Qb. It's loud, sounds great at that volume, but is equally comfortable when you turn the level right down come 3am.
I’m in danger of oversimplifying things here, but the limitation is probably down to the speaker drivers available. A good bookshelf speaker might use a 5.25-inch mid-bass driver, while the mid-range drivers in the Qb are 2.5 inches across. The Qb gets a lot more help with its low-end, but the mids are the one weak point.
This is common to almost all higher-end wireless lifestyle speakers such as this. But this one costs £600, which is the reason I've made such a point of it.
Still, unless you spend a lot of time sitting in a chair just listening to the music in quite a concentrated way, I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Naim Mu-so Qb.
The Naim Mu-so Qb is a city-dweller’s dream that can go loud enough to cause friction with the neighbours.
Like all the best wireless speakers, it makes clever use of DSP (digital sound processing) to ensure it sounds right at any volume, and has impressive bass for its size. It’s a little party machine.
The Naim Mu-so Qb looks and feels fantastic, too. However, it’s aimed at the casual listener, not someone who’s going to sit down and do nothing but listen to music. If you’re that sort of person, you might not be all that impressed by the Qb’s mid-range.
For everyone else, though, it’s a smash.
A wireless speaker that looks the part and has plenty of power for a rowdy house party.