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Naim Mu-So Qb 2nd Generation Review

Naim gleams the cube

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

12

Best In Class
Naim Mu-So Qb 2nd Generation Review
SRP: £749.00

What is the Naim Mu-so Qb Second generation?

The Naim Mu-So Qb 2nd Generation (hereafter Qb2 to try and stave off arthritis for another month) is a self-contained wired and wireless streaming speaker with additional features. Indeed, quite a few additional features as we shall cover. It is not a completely new product - like its larger sibling, the Mu-So 2nd generation, it is a revision of the original Naim Mu-So Qb that appeared in early 2016. Like the Mu-So, these revisions concentrate on improving the performance available and boosting the functionality on offer at the same time.

There are good reasons for this too. This part of the market was busy in 2016 when the original launched and it is absolutely festooned with options now. To maintain those important shelf spots in more mainstream retailers, the Mu-Sos need to be up to the job. Like the original, the reasons for this are more than a simple desire to add an extra line to the balance sheet. These products are likely to be many people’s first experience of Naim. They raise the profile of the company and make buyers more aware of what the company does further up the price structure - a world of Uniti and Classic products. Think of the Qb2 as a fully functional advert as much as anything else.

Naim Mu-so QB Second Generation

Of course, this is also a world of wireless multiroom. The idea goes that if you do treat yourself to a shiny Uniti Atom to go into the room recently vacated by your Qb2, you can still use the smaller speaker in a different room as part of the same family that is entirely familiar to operate because they all share the same interface. The Qb2 has much to achieve then, can it do the honours?

Specification and Design

The Qb2 is conceptually the same as the original Qb. It has no provision for physical media and is designed to play network audio - either material that you own already from a NAS drive, or by directly accessing Spotify or Tidal. This is backed up by provision for AirPlay2 and Bluetooth and physical inputs. Bullet point the specification in this fashion and you could reach the conclusion that the only significant change between the two units is that the new one costs £150 more.

 ... there’s a sense that Naim has been diligently collating all the feedback since launching the original and working out how to make the Qb2 better

Dig a bit deeper though and the Qb2 does rather more. The streaming capability gets a boost in the form of DSD support and if you don’t fancy using Naim’s own (excellent) control app, you can also make use of Roon to control it. On their own, both of these features seem a little on the… overzealous… side. The percentage of customers who will buy a £750 speaker to set about a large DSD library or who will pay the money to get Roon up and running for one product is tiny. What it means though is that customers who have a Uniti Nova or ND5 XS2 already can add a Qb2 to their existing streaming hardware and it will do everything that the bigger unit will which makes for a seamless operating experience.

Naim Mu-so QB Second Generation
With these enhancements, comes some more real world additions. The move to AirPlay2 - something that has also been added to the older Mu-So models - means that if the idea of having multiple Naim models in the same house seems a long way off, they will still form a solid multiroom partnership with other compatible devices. The addition of Chromecast is a useful one too. Naim’s Chromecast implementation is a very tidy example of the breed and allows for Hi-Res audio to be transferred from any compatible device or app which avoids the ongoing need to add every streaming service known to humanity to the app. The only slightly retrograde step is the removal of aptX Bluetooth. Sure, AAC is now supported but it is perfectly possible to support both and Chromecast is not a total replacement for it.

 ... the indent around the volume is a dust trap of the first order but we all need to suffer a little for our art

Around the back, you will find the same connections as the original. This amounts to a 24/96kHz capable optical connection, a 3.5mm stereo line input and a USB-A socket for reading sticks and drives. What Naim hasn’t fitted is the HDMI ARC connection that the full size Mu-So has been issued with. This is a bit of a shame - it’s a superb feature to have - but a line probably has to be drawn somewhere. The optical connection would still be up to the job of boosting a TV in a second room if you wished.

Naim Mu-so QB Second Generation

The functionality tweaks are complemented by some changes to the hardware side too. Partner company Focal has been employed to tweak the drivers and their DSP hardware to boost the performance of the unit without changing the rather pricey bits of tooling that make the chassis itself. The DSP changes are perhaps the most significant - a reflection of how these products function. A new corner preset has been added to the settings to give a better level of fine control as to how the Qb2 responds to boundaries. Nothing has been the recipient of a ‘clean sheet’ design or torn up but there’s a sense that Naim has been diligently collating all the feedback since launching the original and working out how to make the Qb2 better.

  The streaming capability gets a boost in the form of DSD support

One area that they haven’t messed about with is the design. Obviously, we’re into the realms of subjectivity here but this is a good thing. The larger Mu-So is a device that tends to work better in the metal than in pictures. The Qb and now Qb2 just work. This is one of my very favourite pieces of industrial design in recent years. It’s clean, modern and unobtrusive and takes all the clever bits of the Mu-So (and now Uniti) design language and makes them work better than on almost anything else Naim builds with the possible exception of the Uniti Atom. This is a premium-priced wireless speaker but it goes a long way to feeling worth the asking price. It’s less arresting than the Formation Wedge - another device that looks better in the flesh than in pictures, but no less appealing.

The other clever part of the design is that Naim didn’t feel the urge to remove the controls to make it work. Compared to a Formation Wedge, the Qb2 is by far the simpler device to mute if your phone rings or the cat brings in something furry and unwilling. In fact, the range of control options has been augmented as the Qb2 has the enhanced display that we saw on the Mu-So that means a set up Qb2 can be used for large tracts of time without going anywhere near the app at all. There’s a remote handset as standard too. I am aware that many people don’t find a lack of physical controls as irksome as I do but this is a beautiful demonstration of how controls can be retained without spoiling the lines. I will say that having lived on and off with Unitis and Mu-Sos of various types, that the indent around the volume is a dust trap of the first order but we all need to suffer a little for our art.

Naim Mu-so QB Second Generation

There are some other neat features too. You can still buy coloured grilles aftermarket to better match your décor and the illuminations are dimmable to ensure that they don’t reflect off screens or the like. All of this is packed into a chassis that feels encouragingly well made and well finished. Completeness dictates that I mention that you cannot run two Qb2s as a stereo pair but given that a Mu-so 2nd gen costs a little less than two Qb2s and if you go any further up the pricing structure, an Atom starts to make sense, this is perhaps not too surprising.

  The only slightly retrograde step is the removal of aptX Bluetooth

How was the Qb 2nd Generation Tested?

The Qb2 was initially dragged down to my parents over the Christmas period, where it was parked on the wireless network and used with my father’s NAS as well as Tidal. Back at my own house, it has been connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Corvus mains block and run both wired and wireless via both the Naim app and as a Roon endpoint. An iPad Pro has been used at the main control point and for Chromecast and Bluetooth testing. Material used has included FLAC, AIFF and DSD, Qobuz and Tidal.

Sound Quality

First off, a degree of subjective comment. I have had an original Qb kicking about from the time of the original review. It has spent the bulk of its life sat in a kitchen where it has performed the sterling task of providing a soundtrack to my cookery in that time. Temporarily freeing it from the kitchen and placing it back in the position that most Qb2 testing took place reveals that it is still a good listen. Rather than pick up on what it is and isn’t doing, the Qb conveys the intent of the music and allows you to switch off and enjoy yourself. It isn’t perfect; it does its best work in free space which is a luxury few of them will be afforded and the more solid the object it is placed on, the better it gets. Without these things, there is a tendency for it to sound a little ‘cupped’ and closed in.

  The sound is expansive - helped in part by the counter firing nature of the tweeters - but it is easy to discern that it comes from one speaker

Naim Mu-so QB Second Generation

Moving to the model straight after is interesting and very illuminating. The Qb2 is instantly recognisable as a descendant of the same product. Listening to Sturgill Simpson’s mighty Remember to Breathe, the Naim always does enough to engross you in the music rather than have you wondering if the top end is a little recessed (it isn’t). Compared to the Formation Wedge (and its own big brother), the Qb2 is more perceivably single point in its presentation. The sound is expansive - helped in part by the counter firing nature of the tweeters - but it is easy to discern that it comes from one speaker.

How much this matters comes down to a few variables. If you live for the reproduction of an orchestra in its full majesty, the Qb2 isn’t the perfect starting point but then again, no single chassis speaker is. For something less enormous like My Baby’s gorgeous collection of tracks on LIVE, the Qb2 is more than sufficient. Helped by more than reasonable bass extension, I have had the Qb2 sat within touching distance of my rather more ornate main system and be happy to keep listening to the one box.

Naim Mu-so QB Second Generation

And this one box is better than the old one too. The revised drivers and processing means that the Qb2 is much more forgiving of placement and position than the old Qb. Something like a kitchen work surface is now sufficient to allow a level of performance from the new model that the old one needed something like my Quadraspire rack to achieve (although, the new one still improves if given something like this too). Once you are into the realm of using the Qb2 as a secondary speaker, the single point nature of its sound starts to matter rather less because it is replaced by the more pressing need to fill the room with sound.

  As a combination of specification, performance and aesthetics, this is an absolute star turn

And to reiterate, what makes this all the better is that the user experience of the Naim is geared to making this performance accessible. There is a certain irony the speaker with one of the best developed control apps out there, is so easy to use without it but in the real world, I am more likely to listen to the Qb2 for a few minutes than most rivals because it will happily select BBC 6Music from the top control rather than relying on my to pull my phone out of my pocket. In this particular regard, the Qb2 has more in common with the Supernait 3 than their appearances might suggest. For all the added cleverness available, they both ‘just work’ without any of them.

Naim Mu-so QB Second Generation

And like the Supernait 3, there is an indefinable quality beyond technical ability that the Qb2 has in spades. The live version of Bloc Party’s Banquet sizzles with the energy of a band reliving past glories and an audience loving every second of it. For as long as the Qb2 is running, my kitchen is, in a tiny way, an extension of the venue rather than somewhere I make soup. The original Mu-So was good at this, the new one positively excels at it. It is usefully source agnostic too. The ‘high quality’ stream of BBC 6Music is consistently good enough and if you want to use Spotify Connect because it’s that much more convenient, the Qb2 is perfectly happy to do so in a way that the larger Unitis will, gently but firmly, point out to you. In the same manner, you can enthusiastically use Roon to perform some upsampling to send everything to the Qb2 at 24/96 but the overall presentation of the Naim doesn’t change significantly from doing so.

  The revised drivers and processing means that the Qb2 is much more forgiving of placement and position than the old Qb

Verdict

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality for a single chassis
  • Comprehensive specification
  • Handsome and well made

Cons

  • Quite pricey
  • Doesn't get the HDMI input of its big brother
  • No aptX Bluetooth

Naim Mu-So Qb 2nd Generation Review

We kick off 2020 having to ask an awkward question about an Editor’s Choice of 2019 and it is one that comes down to a sort of VAR style decision that we’ll be able to revisit in a few weeks from publication (Jan 2020). The Mu-So Qb2 cannot quite match the overall performance of the Bowers and Wilkins Formation Wedge; our current best all-in-one under £1,000. The problem is that there are lots of provisos to that statement. To do what the Naim does out of the box for £150 less, the Wedge needs Roon and, if you want any inputs, the Formation Audio too. You don’t have to be Rachel Riley to know that these additions push the price of the Wedge well beyond £1,000. It seems that Bowers & Wilkins knows this because enhanced functionality for the Formation range is imminent. Until we look at that, we have to reserve judgement.

Leaving this technical wrangle aside for a moment, the Mu-So Qb2 is an outstanding bit of kit. It simply takes the original Qb and, minor gripes about the Bluetooth fitment aside, makes it better in every single way. As a combination of specification, performance and aesthetics, this is an absolute star turn and a product that has to be considered the current Best in Class.

Best In Class

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
9

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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