Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation Review

Is this one box to rule them all?

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

19

Best Buy
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation Review
SRP: £1,299.00

What is the Mu-so 2nd Generation?

The Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation is a self-contained wireless speaker. As the name suggests, it is a visible and direct descendent of the original Mu-so that we reviewed in 2014. At the time, as the review itself noted, it represented a fairly radical departure for the company - so much so that I even asked if it would be accepted by people as a genuine Naim product. Proving once again that I am emphatically not the person to analyse market trends, it’s been a huge success for Naim and has sold by the proverbial bucketload.

In the ensuing five years, the pace of Naim’s development from the Mu-so has been impressive. It has reached the point where their current streaming flagship, the ND555 has features that are absent from the ‘convenience’ all-in-one. Clearly, the time has come for a tweaked and updated Mu-so and here it is.

The competition is hotting up though. There are now a great many products to choose from that can mimic the functionality of the Mu-so and some of those carry some fairly renowned brand names of their own too. Are the changes made to the Mu-so enough to warrant the price rise and does it still offer enough performance to justify you spending your hard earned?

Specification and Design

Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
Unlike the Uniti models which still need you to add speakers to them, the Mu-so series is truly self contained. Just add power and a wireless network and away you go. It is still a wireless streaming speaker with additional support for Spotify and Tidal built in alongside internet radio. This is a respectable enough feature count but Naim has managed to boost it without significantly altering the basics that the Mu-so does.

The first area of change is that rather than responding to requests to add 37 additional streaming services (which, don’t forget, also has a strong regional variation to it as well), Naim has added Chromecast to the inventory. This should allow for pretty much anything that isn’t Spotify or Tidal to be successfully streamed to the Mu-so without any significant challenge. This is partnered with AirPlay2 which was added to the original Mu-sos last year and has been retained here. The main advantage to this is that the Mu-so can join an ad hoc multiroom system of other such devices and be controlled from the same point. With these two streaming options added, the Naim can receive the vast majority of streamed digital media.

The only thing that has had to ‘give’ in terms of streaming fitment is that the Bluetooth on the 2nd Generation Mu-so doesn’t support aptX and is now SBC and AAC only. This might seem a little parsimonious given that the Mu-so only works on a mains socket and this should also ensure that a network is present for either Chromecast or AirPlay to function. The format handling has also been improved slightly. The new version is now 24/384 capable with WAV, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF and supports DSD to 128 into the bargain. As such, there is very little in common circulation that the Naim won’t handle natively.
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
The other significant specification change is lurking in a - slightly hard to reach it has to be said - alcove under the chassis. The new Mu-so still offers an optical and 3.5mm analogue stereo input but this has been augmented by an HDMI ARC connection. Provided that this is the selected input when the connected TV is turned on, the Naim will turn on at the same time and the TV volume becomes the Naim’s volume control too. It was always possible to use the Mu-so as a TV speaker - indeed I did as part of the testing for the original - but this is decidedly slicker and more closely mimics what the Uniti systems can do. It goes without saying that this HDMI connection is resolutely stereo only and has nothing in the way of surround modes.

The drivers used to generate the stereo signal are revised though. It’s still the same six strong complement spread across three different types but all the drivers have been worked on by partner brand Focal, to improve their rigidity and general performance characteristics. Each one still has a 75 watt class D unit to drive it but the DSP system that controls the process has been heavily revised. If you fancy rolling your sleeves up and tweaking the performance, you can go and roll them back down again as the adjustments are limited to choosing the position of the Naim relative to walls with the rest of it being pre-ordained.
All of this functionality is now roped together with Naim’s latest control interface which is now used across pretty much everything that the company makes. As well as offering Naim’s own interface on both iOS and Android, it is completely Roon compatible as well, allowing the Mu-so to become part of a Roon based infrastructure. The Naim app will also tie multiple devices as well if you wish. One of the nicest elements of the control point is that the Tidal integration really is integrated. If you look at an artist, the albums you have on your NAS will show on one line with the others available via Tidal showing just below. This sounds easy to do but it’s still a rare thing to find. Another nice touch is the inclusion of a small IR remote. For the most part, you’ll probably never need it but when you need to shut the device up there and then, it’s very handy.

Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation


The basic appearance of the Mu-so looks unchanged from the first generation which is clever because there have been a number of adjustments. The chassis is deeper than before (although this has been quite skilfully hidden by reducing the depth of the heatsink at the back. The metal finish has been darkened down and, for me at least, I think the result is better looking for it. The main point of visual interest remains the rotary control on the top of the unit. This is a combination volume control and display but Naim has added extra functionality to the display to make it more useful and also ensured you can dim the light at the edge so it won’t reflect into your TV screen when being used as a TV speaker.

Overall, it still looks brilliant. The proportions are sufficiently different from other Naim devices (and indeed most rivals) that it can still look odd in pictures but in the flesh, it works brilliantly. The Perspex foot that carries the illuminated logo is still one of the cleverest pieces of industrial design in the category. It helps that the build quality is absolutely top notch and that Naim has retained the optional coloured grilles at £50 a pop can help with room matching too. Naturally, due to the width of the chassis, there are some spaces it won’t fit in but many rivals are going to be a space challenge for different reasons so the Naim isn’t a huge disadvantage here.
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
there is very little in common circulation that the Naim won’t handle natively

How was the Mu-so 2nd Generation tested?

The Naim has been connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner and attached wirelessly to my network. It was connected to a Melco N1A for a music library and the Spotify and Tidal support was tested directly. The Melco was then used as the content for a Roon Core running on my Lenovo T560 laptop. Chromecast and AirPlay testing was via an iPad Pro and involved Qobuz and Deezer. The Mu-so was then connected to an LG 55B7 OLED for testing the HDMI ARC connection. Material used has been FLAC, WAV, AIFF and ALAC with some streaming services as well as broadcast and on demand TV services.

Sound Quality

Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
The original Mu-so managed to do something that was absolutely crucial to its success as a Naim product; it managed to sound like a Naim product. This sounds utterly obvious but the process by which this was achieved with something that shared so little direct relation to more conventional items from the company was an impressive achievement. Even five years after launch, there is an urgency and attention grabbing quality to the original Mu-so that is a little different to many rivals. It’s a lifestyle product but it has never been content to do background music.

Its successor doesn’t shift this balance beyond recognition but it does make some changes. This is because the overall sonic balance of Naim has itself moved on a little since it launched. There was a time when the company was indisputably a marmite product - for every person that was drawn to it, at least one more felt it wasn’t for them. These days, it’s rather more benign and Mu-so 2nd Generation reflects this. Heading straight for the eponymously titled effort from the Black Pumas, there’s a richness and energy to the upper registers of Colors that is slightly different to what went before. It’s livelier and more immediately engaging than might have been the case before.

It still grooves though. If you’re looking for the technical explanation of what a product might be doing for this to be the case, I imagine it has something to do with current delivery and damping factor ensuring that the drivers are under total control with a resulting gain in the perceived sense of speed to the delivery. In a non-technical sense, it just sounds fast, immediate and hugely entertaining. Neither is this solely to the benefit of faster music. Everything has a time signature and everything benefits from that time signature being right.
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
More specific to the Mu-so though, the most significant difference is that feeling of the processing that is at work to make a slimline box of drivers generate the spatial image that it does. In the original, the sense of it being there was omnipresent. You willingly accepted it because the sound on offer was larger, better defined and more recognisably stereo than a single speaker had a right to be but you still noticed it. Here, it’s pretty much absent. The same effortlessly open and potent presentation is still here but now the only point of contention to it is your brain deciding that it can’t really be coming from a single slimline box. The Naim only bends the laws of physics so far - compared to something like the KEF LSX which genuinely is a stereo speaker, it has some limitations but there’s very little in a single chassis that can get near it.

This is helped by truly impressive bass extension. Everything that the Mu-so does is underpinned by deep, clean bass extension that can be felt as much as heard. It is possible on some occasions to have a little too much of a good thing and for the result to be a little overbearing. I’ve found that adjusting the settings so the ‘close to wall’ setting is used is handy here for reining it in slightly. What’s genuinely useful is that the Naim still feels big and powerful even running at low, late night listening levels.

Then, there is the HDMI connection. There are no shortage of premium soundbars on the market at the moment and if you need virtual surround, HDR passthrough, or the ability to add wireless rear speakers or the like, the Mu-so is not going to work for you. Away from the spec sheet though, this is an absolutely brilliant partner for film and TV work. It’s a demonstration of an effect I’ve found a few times now where if the image in front of you is sufficiently engrossing that the lack of things going on behind you ceases to matter. I watched pretty much the entirety of Chernobyl via the Mu-so and never felt I was missing out.
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
Away from the spec sheet though, this is an absolutely brilliant partner for film and TV work

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Sounds brilliant
  • Comprehensive specification
  • Well made and good looking

Cons

  • Bass can be slightly dominant
  • No aptX Bluetooth
  • Quite wide

Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation Review

£1,300 is quite a lot of money. It hovers at the point where a respectable, streaming system could be assembled for the same money that would be fairly free of compromise. The Mu-so 2nd Generation isn’t quite at the point where its big brother the Uniti Star is, where I can’t easily assemble an alternative in my head that does more than it does better than it does. The Mu-so, by contrast, does at least have recognisable competition - not least in the form of the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge which - in basic form at least, is £400 cheaper.

It still goes on to deliver a level of performance that is hard to get close to though. The key is the level of strength in depth. The Naim combines excellent features with a brilliant interface (that can be substituted for an even better one if you wish). It’s well made, nice to look at and fairly unfussy about placement. With the basics in place, it proceeds to offer a level of performance that is simply outstanding. Not content with delivering on the promise of a great all-in-one music system, Naim has gone and delivered something that will put the frighteners up many companies making soundbars too. The Mu-So 2nd Generation doesn’t reinvent the wheel created by its predecessor but instead makes it better in every regard. The result is an unquestionable Best Buy.

Best Buy

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
9

Features

.
9

Verdict

.
9

Value for Money

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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