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Naim Mu-So Qb review: Superb audio, stunning design – it’s hip to be square

Sasha Muller
28 Nov 2018
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
599
inc VAT

Potent, room-filling sound is matched with striking design – Naim’s Mu-So Qb is a wireless audio tour-de-force

Pros 
Thrilling, room-filling sound
Superb design
Versatility
Cons 
It's not cheap
No stereo pairing option
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Wireless speakers are the very antithesis of high-end hi-fi. Where money-no-object purists dedicate entire rooms to audio reproduction, the new generation of wireless speakers sit unobtrusively in a corner. Thanks to Naim’s audiophile heritage, the Mu-So Qb is where those two worlds collide.

The Naim Mu-So Qb has since been superseded by the 2nd Generation model. Read our review of the newer model here.

Naim Mu-So Qb review: What you need to know

The Mu-So Qb is the smaller of Naim’s two wireless speakers. Where the firm’s £900 Mu-So packs 475W of power into a long metal slab, the Mu-So Qb (yes, that is a hip misspelling of cube) is much more compact. It measures roughly 21cm along each edge, so fits more neatly into a corner of a kitchen, living room or bedroom.

This is no average speaker, however. There’s a considerable 300W of amplification inside, with 100W dedicated to a mono subwoofer and 50W delivered to each of the two pairs of tweeters and midrange drivers. It goes without saying: this is a decidedly big-sounding small speaker.

It also supports a wide array of streaming standards and audio inputs. You can pipe music in via 802.11g Wi-Fi, Airplay 2, Bluetooth AptX, USB or Ethernet, and there’s support for Tidal, Spotify Connect and internet radio. The 3.5mm analogue and optical S/PDIF inputs at the rear also make it easy to hook up to a TV or existing audio source.

Naim Mu-So Qb review: Price and competition

The Mu-So Qb finds itself going toe-to-toe with the best in the business. Sonos’ £499 Play:5 is a very capable alternative especially since it can be paired with a second Play:5 to form a great-sounding stereo setup. That’s an upgrade path the Mu-So Qb sadly lacks.

If Sonos’s multi-room speakers appeal, then you also have the option of buying a pair of Sonos One, which are £199 apiece. With support for Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant baked-in and the option to use them in separate rooms or as a stereo pair, these are a highly versatile option even if they don’t sound as good.

Then, of course, there’s Apple’s £319 HomePod. It’s doesn’t go anywhere near as loud, nor sound as full-bodied as the Mu-So Qb and you can forget about Tidal or Spotify support; it’s Apple Music all the way. But the HomePod’s compact footprint and 360-degree sound are highly impressive. And if you have £600 burning a hole in your pocket, you could always pair two of them for an even bigger, wider sound.

Naim Mu-So Qb review: Features and design

There’s something refreshingly different about the Mu-So Qb. Where rivals opt for soft curves and understated plastics, the Qb’s sharp lines and chunky squared-off design stand apart, evoking the kind of timeless brutalism which wouldn’t look out of place in a classic 1970s Kubrick movie.

You wouldn’t call it pretty, but it is elegant, refined, and it’s the little things that make it feel like a cut above. The slight ripple in the wraparound speaker grille breaks the straight lines, and the clear perspex base is lit with a gentle glow, adjustable downlighting glinting off the edges of the Naim logo on the left-hand edge. In the wrong hands it could have been tasteless and naff, but Naim has made it work.

And if black is an absolute no-no for your feng shui, then it's worth mentioning that you can pick from replacement covers in red, orange or blue – for £50 apiece.

On top, a huge, weighty-feeling volume dial is sunk into a plate of metal, backlit segments illuminating as you crank the volume upwards. There’s no large touchscreen or colour display here: instead, touch-sensitive playback, source and radio buttons fade into view when required. A quick touch of each cycles through the physical inputs, your five favourite radio stations or quickly stops and restarts the music playback.

Look at the rear, and the metal has been carved into a thick-finned heatsink to dissipate heat from the amplifiers inside. It’s here that you’ll find all the physical inputs: the 3.5mm input, optical S/PDIF, Ethernet, USB and mains power, positioned along the bottom edge, with a tiny, unobtrusive status LED at the far end.

Naim Mu-So Qb review: Setup and ease of use

You won’t need to spend too long peering behind the Mu-So Qb but the status LED is quite important since it lets you know whether the Mu-So Qb is already successfully paired to a Wi-Fi network, or ready and waiting to start the setup process. If it isn’t, you’ll need to push a paperclip in the hole alongside to set it in motion.

Granted, that breaks the spell somewhat. It’s certainly not as elegant as Sonos’ simple setup routine, or that of Apple’s HomePod but unless you’re intending to regularly move between Wi-Fi networks you’ll only need to do it the once.

Once you’ve connected the Mu-So Qb to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, the Naim app (available on iOS and Android) takes the reins. The app’s home screen allows you to pick between the Naim devices currently on your network and, yes, you can unite up to five devices for multi-room playback.

Simple icons allow you to flick between the various music sources – internet radio, UPnP shares on your network, USB drives, Bluetooth, Spotify, Tidal, and the analogue and digital inputs – and the interface makes it easy to navigate through folders, create playlists and mark your favourite tracks.

The sheer wealth of inputs, both wired and wireless, is freeing; where rival devices lack support for wired or direct Bluetooth connection, the Mu-So Qb has no such limitations. I could happily flit between using my Apple devices via Airplay 2, an Android tablet or Windows laptop via Bluetooth, my TV via the optical and analogue connections, or just use the Naim app to flick through NAS devices and USB thumb drives full of music. Wherever your music is, it’s not hard to find with the Mu-So Qb.

For one thing, Tidal is handled brilliantly in the app. Indeed, I prefer it to Tidal’s own app in many ways, not least because it pushes artist and album descriptions to the forefront rather than hiding them away in a menu. Spotify integration leaves a little to be desired, however, as it simply prompts you to launch the Spotify app. From there, Spotify Connect does its bit to beam music wirelessly to the Mu-So Qb via Wi-Fi. It works, but it’s not the beautiful integration you might have wished for.

You don’t have to always reach for your phone, though. Dab the iRadio button and you can cycle between five preset radio stations. Don’t like the default stations? Then select your five favourites from the long list in the app. It’s decidedly low-tech compared to today’s smart speakers but it’s a handy feature for those bleary-eyed mornings all the same.

Naim Mu-So Qb review: Sound quality

The Mu-So Qb sounds far bigger than you might expect given its physical dimensions. However, that’s not especially surprising when you consider just how much Naim has packed into this relatively compact cube.

The 300W of amplification powers five discrete drivers: two tweeters, two mid-range units and a subwoofer. The subwoofer isn’t alone, however. Two passive radiators – unpowered speaker cones that pump in and out in unison with the subwoofer – positioned on each flank allow the Mu-So Qb to move the same amount of air as a far larger speaker.

Moving enough air to create proper bass is a simple case of physics, and big speakers do it best. Rivals such as Apple’s HomePod and Sonos’ Play family work wonders with very little, but once the volume rises they’re forced to use digital sound processing (DSP) to reduce bass output to stop their tiny drivers melting into a puddle of plastic and magnets.

The Mu-So Qb also employs DSP to do its stuff but it remains remarkably composed as the volume rises. The subwoofer and passive radiators team up to serve up the kind of rich, deep bass that not even the Apple HomePod can rival. It’s not just bass it’s good at, either.

I tested it side-by-side with Apple’s HomePod and a pair of Sonos Ones and, although those speakers both sound superb, the Mu-So Qb exposes their tendency to emphasise the extremes of the frequency spectrum. The result is that lead vocals can sound small and distant, pushed backwards into the instruments around them, especially as the volume rises.

The Mu-So Qb has no such issues; it’s a joy to listen to. Bass isn’t just deep and tuneful, it’s also powerful enough to fill even larger rooms and where smaller speakers struggle to get a grip on bass-heavy material it revels in the challenge.

What’s more, the balanced mid-range and treble ensure voices and instruments don’t shrink into the background. There isn’t the almost 360-degree sound of Apple’s HomePod, nor the wide stereo image of a pair of Sonos Ones, but its sound scales up to fill even large rooms with sound in a way that neither of those rivals can match.

Hold the Mu-So Qb to the highest possible standards and there are weaknesses worth mentioning. Bass isn’t always as tight as it could be, and it can struggle to unpick all the musical threads in denser rock and orchestral recordings. There are, after all, some things stereo speakers do better than one.

It can be a touch fussy about positioning, too. Where Apple’s HomePod uses hidden microphones to automatically tailor its sound to its location and Sonos’s TruePlay has you waving your iPhone around your room to perform a similar feat, the Mu-So Qb requires you to flick between two EQ settings in the app depending on how close it is to the wall. In my room, it sounded best around 10cm away from the wall but not tucked too closely into a corner where it did tend to sound a tad too boomy.

Naim Mu-So Qb review: Verdict

When it comes to priorities, the intersection between audiophiles and the average person buying a wireless speaker isn’t very big. Naim’s real success here, however, is that the Mu-So Qb is likely to appeal to either camp.

It’s compact, designed beautifully, and large enough to produce a bigger, more energetic sound than the competition, as well as proving more versatile than either of its Apple or Sonos-branded rivals. If you were looking for a reason to spend £500 on a wireless speaker and you don’t mind forgoing smart speaker features, then this is it.