Mu-so Qb: High-Quality Wireless Audio in a Box

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Mu-so Qb: High-Quality Wireless Audio in a Box

When I envision a wireless speaker, my mind usually conjures images of portable, Bluetooth fare like UE’s Boom line or Yatra’s rugged, affordable offerings. But there’s a whole world of high-end, audiophile quality wireless speakers that should populate my imagination instead.

Naim Audio has been making high-quality audio for decades, long before Spotify came along and ushered in a new area of audio distribution. In 2014, the company took its years of experience and applied it to the new wave with Mu-so, its first wireless music system. Two years later and Naim is trying to replicate the success it had with the Mu-so on a much smaller scale.

The Mu-so Qb is surprisingly compact given the amount of power it can produce. At roughly eight square inches and 12 pounds, the Qb is not a portable machine. It’s meant to sit on a table and stay there, but it also doesn’t need to dominate the room in the same way the much larger Mu-so does. The squared speaker offers a small enough footprint to give users flexibility; you can find a spot for Naim’s latest hardware without calling an interior designer.

musoqb_build_680.jpgOnce you do find a place for it, you will spend hours admiring the effort Naim put into designing the Qb. An undeniably modern and minimalist look, the Qb catches the eye with its stark lines and simplicity. It works well both as a prominent feature in a room, but can also be tucked away without drawing too much attention, if you don’t want it to. But, with a machine as well-built as this one, why would you want to hide it?

The speaker sits on an acrylic base, which gives the whole system a floating sensation, and delivers just the right amount of “oohs” and “ahhs” you’d want from a $1000 speaker when illuminated by the LED lights. There is nothing bombastic about the design of the Qb, but it also isn’t boring. The unassuming looks play in perfect contrast to the ample bombast the sound offers, giving listeners a pleasant surprise when they ramp up the volume.

I appreciate modern designs in high-end electronics, particularly audio equipment, and Naim delivered on that aesthetic with just enough flourish to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. The fabric grill has a subtle slope to it which gives the face and sides of the speaker a touch of character, but if you really want to spice it up you can swap out the classic black grill for one in blue, red or burnt orange. Given the color options available for the grill, I hoped to be able to change the color of the LEDs, but no luck in that regard.

musoqb_volume_680.jpgJoining the aforementioned acrylic and cloth is an aluminum chassis holding it all together. The cuboid speaker is solidly built, showing the worth of its price tag in the construction alone. In fact, you can feel the quality of the Qb from nothing more than its volume knob. Yes, it’s constructed of aluminum and glass, has elegantly chamfered edges and offers touchscreen controls for playing/pausing music, selecting inputs and putting the system in standby mode. But that is not how the volume controller illustrates the Qb’s eminence. It’s in how damn satisfying it is to turn it.

musoqb_io_340.jpgOn the back you’ll find the speaker’s heatsink, along with numerous I/O ports. Besides the necessary power output, the Qb comes with a 3.5mm audio jack, digital optical, ethernet and USB inputs.

Most likely, though, you’ll use the Mu-so Qb as it was intended: wirelessly. There’s a multitude of ways to wirelessly play audio with the Qb, including Spotify Connect, Apple Airplay, Bluetooth, UPnP and integration with Tidal and internet radio through the Naim app. I primarily connected via Spotify or Bluetooth during my time testing the Qb and I had zero problems with the former, despite using a myriad of devices, but the latter was another story.

The Qb could be finicky when connecting over Bluetooth and it took me a few days of attempting before I was finally able to get it to work. Once I was able to connect, the Qb still gave me fits every so often, and others who attempted to use the speaker in my apartment found using Bluetooth to be a pain. The issue seemed to resolve itself after about a week or so, and once it did, I had zero issues with any of the connection types.

musoqb_spotify2_340.jpgI was especially impressed with how responsive the Qb was coming out of standby. Even if I hadn’t used it in several hours, the speaker would perk up within a few seconds of connecting via Spotify or Bluetooth. If I had wanted, I could have easily set the Qb up and never touched it again, using the Naim app on my phone to control the volume and any one of my devices to play music.

The app was a pleasant surprise, though I have to admit I went into the review period with low hopes for the software side of the Qb. Though it is certainly basic, the app did everything I wanted and did so with a swiftness I appreciated. All your basics are covered, such as changing connections and managing volume level, along with a multitude of settings options like LED brightness, input settings, alarm clock features and more. Really, though, I didn’t have to use the app much unless I wanted to connect multiple speakers together.

Naim allows users to connect up to five Mu-so speakers, or any combination of Mu-sos and Naim Uniti or streaming products. In order to test the feature, the company sent me the original Mu-so along with the Qb. I’ve had my share of frustrations with connecting multiple wireless speakers together. Trying to pair a UE Megaboom with a Boom 2 is a regular test of my patience. Thus, I approached Naim’s multiroom system with a healthy dose of reticence.

I was wrong to be reluctant.

musoqb_app_680.jpgConnecting the Mu-so and Qb could not be easier. Just open the app, press the four square button on the now playing page, pick the speaker(s) you want to add into the mix, and that’s it. It takes no more than a second or two for the speakers to connect and your music to resume. From that point, you can use the app to add or remove additional speakers as well as change the volume of individual speakers or the whole system at once. I never had an issue using the multiroom system with Naim’s speakers, it was incredibly easy and not once did the app fail to recognize one of the speakers or fail to connect to them. It worked exactly as advertised.

musoqb_app2_300.jpgOf course, I was only connecting two speakers together, therefore I have no idea how the system would handle the max number of devices, but given how simple it was here I’m confident users wouldn’t have an issue no matter the number of speakers. It is important to note that you can only use the multiroom function with certain connections like Spotify Connect and USB, among others. I can’t imagine it being much of an issue, anyone buying a speaker in the four digit price range likely has multiple ways to consume music and thus multiple ways to connect to the Qb, but I was disappointed Bluetooth did not work with two speakers at once. Ultimate Ears allows you to do this with its line of portable, Bluetooth speakers and I wish Naim had done the same.

musoqb_app3_300.jpgIn the end, half the appeal of a wireless speaker is how wireless it actually is. If it offers great sound but a miserable user experience when connecting devices and other speakers, it’s a lost cause. Naim doesn’t have the most sophisticated app but it all works extremely well, which I will take every single day over a fancy app that fails me.

musoqb_drivers_680.jpgThe second half of a wireless speaker’s appeal is, of course, the sound. The Qb has a five driver setup: two tweeters, two midrange and one woofer. That pairs with a five amplifier setup: four 50 watt amps for the tweeters and midrange drivers and a 100 watt amp for the woofer. Combined, the speakers and woofer create an impressive 300 watts of sound, all of it controlled by a 32-bit digital signal processor. Initially, the first thing that strikes you about the sound of the Qb is how powerful it is given the speaker’s compact size. It has more than enough strength to fill a room on its own, and a generous amount of punch from the low-end thanks to the dedicated woofer and two pistonic bass radiators on either side. When the volume is pushed to it’s max, the Qb can barrel right through your chest.

Clarity and separation are good, though not quite reaching the same incredible heights as the Essence speakers. Still, vocals are crisp and stand on their own and instrument separation is apparent. The issue comes from the low-end on the Qb. The amount of bass the speaker is able to produce is impressive, and it gives the Qb an amazingly rich, full sound, but sometimes the low-end can cover up the more delicate work happening in the mids and highs. The bass never sounds boomy or muddy, though, and to most people’s ears the Qb will simply sound phenomenal. Because it is phenomenal.

Naim’s compact speaker is also incredibly versatile. It was able to handle the switch from the gospel hip-hop of Chance The Rapper, to the fuzzy blues of Margaret Glaspy to the Broadway showstoppers of Hamilton without ever stumbling. Rap and hip-hop sounds full and punchy, but the softer elements of folk and country, like acoustic guitars and pedal steel, are able to shine just as well. No matter what you listen to, the Qb will offer impeccable sound.

musoqb_drivers2_680.jpgWhen talking about wireless speakers, you also have to talk about file types. Because most of what comes out of the Qb will be from streaming services, it’s important to understand the difference in quality from a lossless, uncompressed file, like WAV or FLAC, and a lossy file like MP3. If you’re using lossy files, particularly at lower bit rates, there is only so much the Qb can do to make them sound great. The more a file is compressed, more data gets lost and a speaker’s ability to present a full, rich sound is limited. With this in mind, the Qb still managed to impress me when playing songs from Soundcloud, which transcodes everything to 128 kbps MP3s for streaming. A song like Chance The Rapper’s “Missing You” from his debut mixtape 10Day still had the amount of thumpy bass you would expect it to coming through the Qb, even when presented in a more compressed format.

That said, if you’re using a speaker of this quality, you should still attempt to use the best file types you can in order to highlight the Qb’s strengths. But, with wireless speakers, users are often at the whim of streaming services and whatever encoding they choose. I can say the Qb performs well with both bitrates employed by Spotify, 160 kbps as standard and 320 for high-quality. If you’re a real hound about file type, the Qb does have streaming integration with Tidal.

My big takeaway with the Qb, though, was that it didn’t really matter where the music was coming from. Naim’s speaker was able to suck out enough from most file types to give a sound that would impress the average listener, and perhaps even those with an audiophile lean. When given the proper tools to do the job, the Qb gives a big sound with exceptional bass, but also a good amount of detail through the highs and mids.

musoqb_appandspeaker_680.jpgThe Mu-so Qb is an impressively compact speaker that offers a fantastic design and build, supremely easy wireless connectivity and fabulous sound. What Naim was able to cram into this tight package is truly remarkable, enough bells and whistles to satisfy your favorite tech head, with decades of high-quality audio knowhow to pacify the pickiest of audiophiles.

In the world of high-end audio equipment, the Qb’s $999 price is considered rather affordable. To the average consumer, that number is eye-popping and more than enough to have them looking elsewhere for a more budget-friendly option. If you are looking for a great quality wireless speaker, and the thousand dollar number doesn’t have you running for the hills, Naim’s Mu-so Qb is absolutely worth a listen.