Naim’s wireless speaker packs an astonishingly big sound into a compact cube – the 2nd Generation Qb is a big step forward
- More refined sound than previous model
- Deep bass and impressive mid-range slam
- Goes surprisingly loud
- The (already high) price has gone up
For a brand whose product portfolio is capable of vapourising even six-figure bank balances with ease, it’s refreshing to find that Naim also believes in a more affordable, minimalist path to high-fidelity audio: the wireless speaker.
The firm’s two-strong wireless speaker family consists of the Mu-so and Mu-so Qb, a pair that has earned more than its fair share of plaudits. The Mu-so Qb earned a thoroughly well-deserved Recommended award from Expert Reviews in 2018 and the second generation of the larger Mu-so received a matching award in 2019.
Now, however, the Mu-so Qb has been reborn in its 2nd Generation guise and has returned replete with a host of upgrades. Without wishing to spoil the surprise, the results have been worth waiting for.
Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation: What you need to know
The Mu-so Qb is the smallest speaker in the Naim Mu-so family. Where its big brother the Mu-so is a chunky 63cm-wide slab, the Mu-so Qb is far daintier cube that measures 21cm wide, 21cm deep and 22cm high.
This makes it substantially larger than many wireless speakers such as the Sonos One or Apple Homepod (click here to read our full review), but the result is that it sounds dramatically bigger, too. In fact, it even manages to outgun a pair of either of those rivals for its sheer weightiness and clarity of sound.
The addition of upgraded speaker drivers, an upgraded internal DSP and a handy new remote control mean that the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation is also a big upgrade on its predecessor. It sounds better than anything so small deserves to and it’s more versatile than ever.
The sheer variety of inputs and supported formats and streaming services remain its other trump card. Whether it’s compressed MP3 or hi-res audio, streaming albums from Spotify or Tidal, playing files direct from a USB stick or via Wi-Fi, Ethernet or Bluetooth, the list goes on and on – the Mu-so Qb is hugely flexible.
The combination of wireless streaming, multi-room features and physical connections (analogue and digital), not to mention the integrated AirPlay 2 and Chromecast support, mean the Mu-so Qb is more multi-talented than any other speaker I can think of.
Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation: Price and competition
With £749 to play with, though, you’re not exactly short of options. And the most obvious rivals come from Sonos’ family of multi-room speakers.
For instance, you could pick up the very capable Play:5 (£409) – which sounds similar, if not as big and refined as the Mu-so Qb – and still have almost enough money left over to buy a couple of Sonos One smart speakers (£199) for elsewhere in the house. Factor in Sonos’ more refined multi-room functionality, brilliant app, and the benefit of Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant integration and you have the beginnings of a marvellous, smart, multi-room system. You’d be right to be tempted.
If you just want the biggest sound for the money, however, then it may just be worth hunting down one of Naim’s first-generation Mu-so speakers (around £849). These have been superseded by the second-generation models but prices have dropped substantially as a result. If you can spare the extra space, then the Mu-so is easily the best sounding wireless speaker under £1,000. Sure, you can get better sound from hi-fi separates or active speakers with a similar budget at your disposal, but neither will be anywhere near as elegant.
Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation: Features and design
You’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between this and the previous generation model but that’s no bad thing: it’s a lovely bit of brutalist design. Hidden LEDs illuminate the Naim logo etched into a perspex base (although you can dim them or turn them off if they’re not your bag) and the soft waves of the wrap-around fabric cover serve to soften the Qb’s stark, cuboid lines. If you’re feeling particularly flush, you can shell out an extra £50 for a replacement cover in olive green, peacock blue or terracotta to better match your decor.
One of the most welcome additions to the new model is a simple one: the Mu-so Qb now comes with a small remote control. On the previous model, adjusting the volume and flicking between inputs required you to access the Naim app on a compatible device or physically walk over to the speaker. Now you can skip tracks, adjust the volume and flick between inputs with the remote control.
The huge illuminated rotary volume control is still present and correct but it now has a proximity sensor and a new button layout. It lights up the moment your hand moves close-by and there are now buttons to cycle through and select more of the available inputs. You can tap the Bluetooth button to initiate pairing mode, dab the multiroom button to pair it with another compatible Naim device, or just wander over and tap the favourites or radio buttons to pick from your five favourite radio stations or Spotify playlists.
Just like the previous model, the Mu-so Qb can play music from a vast array of sources. It might not have a built-in smart assistant (though you could just plug a Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot into one of the rear inputs if that’s top of your list) but its generous selection of inputs and supported streaming services provides huge amounts of flexibility.
You can take your pick of wireless 802.11ac or wired Ethernet 10/100 for general music streaming duties, or you can opt for a direct Bluetooth connection, which is incredibly handy for quick ad-hoc music streaming. There’s support for Spotify Connect, Tidal and Roon, in addition to integrated Chromecast 2 support.
All that is rounded off with a 3.5mm analogue input and optical S/PDIF input at the rear, which means it’s easy to hook up to TVs, laptops or any device with an analogue or optical digital audio output. You could even plug in an iPod or digital audio player and ignore the Mu-So Qb’s networking features completely if that’s more your style.
Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation: App
Naim’s app comes in both Android and iOS flavours, and acts as a touchscreen remote control. It provides access to streaming sources including Tidal, Spotify, internet radio and any repositories of music you have attached to your home network or directly connected to the Qb via USB. You can also flick to the analogue or digital inputs, activate the Bluetooth pairing mode for streaming directly from a device, or link up to five compatible Naim devices for multi-room shenanigans.
It’s not perfect by any means. The interface does take a little getting used to but it’s usable once you get to grips with it. It’s easy to flick between local and streamed content, and equally easy to quickly favourite Tidal tracks and add them to online playlists as you’re listening. It’s just a shame you can’t create playlists jumbled together from local and streamed content.
One remaining disappointment is that the Spotify button in the app only provides two options: you can resume playback from where you last left off, or launch the official Spotify app. That’s your lot. Given how good the Spotify app is and how well Spotify Connect works that won’t be hugely upsetting for Spotify subscribers but it does leave one nagging regret. It would have been nice to have a universal search function which could sift through Tidal, Spotify and local music libraries.
Internet Radio is still handled a wee bit clunkily, too. Although you can add as many presets to the app menu as you like, you can only select five favourite stations which you can listen to by tapping the favourites button on the Qb or the remote. That’s probably enough choice for most of us but those who love their radio will simply need to keep their tablet or smartphone close to hand.
Sifting through all those radio stations can be a bit of a chore. Unless you’re happy with the five that Naim has chosen for you – and, to be fair, they are a very listenable selection – that means delving through a rather unfriendly series of folders in the app to find stations you do like. That done, you can select which preset to replace from the five slots available, or just select none at all so that your chosen station is added to the app menu alone. Can’t find the station you want? Don’t despair. You can fire up a web browser and navigate to Naim’s vTuner portal to add them yourself.
Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation: Sound quality
Play music on the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation, and it’s clear that Naim has taken full advantage of its partnership with Focal, the legendary French audio manufacturer. The Qb’s four hidden speaker drivers and 300W of internal amplification have been tweaked and refined extensively and the results are sensational.
One of the key additions is that the upgraded DSP now provides an extra room compensation setting. You still don’t get anything like the microphone-powered magic of Apple’s HomePod but you can now pick from “near wall”, “near corner” and “no compensation” modes in the app’s settings menu.
The effects are not subtle, either. Slam the Mu-So Qb close to a back wall, and you can clearly hear the bass become a bit tubby and ill-defined. Engaging the ‘near wall’ compensation tightens up the bass dramatically in this scenario and it’s a similar story for corner placement, with the “near corner” setting aggressively dialling the bass down to compensate for the increased boundary reinforcement. The result? Wherever you put the Mu-So Qb, thick, wallowy bass is replaced by a tight, punchy bottom end with plenty of extension.
Listen to the first- and second-generation models side-by-side and the difference isn’t subtle: it sounds like the original Mu-so Qb has a severe headcold by comparison. Switch to the second-generation Qb and the slight thumpiness to the upper bass is entirely gone, and both the midrange and upper frequencies sound noticeably clearer and more impactful – regardless of room position. Bass remains outstandingly deep and forceful given the size of the speaker but the more balanced frequency response means that it sounds deeper and more powerful as a result.
Everything from low bitrate internet radio streams to hi-res audio files sounds fantastic through the Qb but, where lesser speakers tend to paper over the cracks between lossless streaming sources such as Tidal and those using compressed formats (ie Spotify), the Qb leaves you in no doubt as to the provenance of the music. Spotify sounds great, but flick to the same songs and albums on Tidal and there’s a definite boost in punch and solidity, albeit a relatively subtle one. Not convinced? There’s a 90-day Tidal trial voucher in the box so feel free to try for yourself.
If there’s a weakness, it’s one that’s common to all wireless speakers: you simply can’t get a proper stereo image from one speaker. Apple, Sonos and others get around the problem by letting you pair two speakers together for stereo sound but Naim has not designed the Mu-So Qb with this in mind.
In all honesty, though, this is probably a good thing: I paired a first generation and second generation Mu-So Qb together in my open-plan living room and dining area, and they reached terrifying volume levels far too easily. Unless you’re dead set on stereo, one speaker of the Mu-So Qb’s calibre is more than enough for most rooms.
Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation: Verdict
This is a wireless speaker that works the way you want it to. With wires or without; with the tap and swipe of a smartphone app or with the reassuringly old-school press of a button and flick of a volume knob; it’s entirely up to you.
It’s this versatility that permits the Mu-so 2nd Generation to artfully channel a gateway from classic hi-fi through to the present day of elegant, effortless music streaming. That it does so with so little compromise –and in such a compact, stylish package – is something for Naim to be very proud of indeed.