When British audio brand Naim turned its attentions from pricey, high-end setups to wireless speakers in 2014, it showed us what was possible when hi-fi smarts meet top-notch design – albeit with a premium price tag to match.
Fast-forward two years and the team behind the original Mu-so are hoping to follow its success with a smaller, more affordable speaker that boasts the same functionality as its bigger brother. Colour us very interested indeed.
The result is the Mu-so Qb – a compact speaker with a big personality and plenty to say for itself. And with sound like this, we are only too happy to listen.
Enter the cube
It doesn’t take a genius to work out the Qb takes its name from its striking design – a minimalist cube-shaped speaker that appears to hover in mid air thanks to its illuminated acrylic base. It’s superbly made, heavier than it you might expect, and topped with the same gorgeous aluminium touchscreen dial that we loved on the original Mu-so.
This works as the control panel for the Qb, allowing you to tap illuminated icons to select inputs and manage playback, as well as twist to change volume. It’s a stylish and sophisticated control system that works wonderfully while really looking the part. The Qb is a speaker that’s fit for any yuppie’s living room, or yours if you can scrape together the cash to own one.
Elsewhere, black grilles cover three of the Qb’s four sides, with its big brother’s distinctive aluminium heat sink making up the back panel to keep things on this inside nice and cool.
There’s a slight ripple in the grilles that gives the Qb’s otherwise crisp outline a hint of softness, and there’s a choice of coloured grilles – namely blue, orange or red – should black prove a little too dramatic for you.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts
So, we know the Qb is a looker then, but its hi-fi heritage means it’s equally serious about sound too.
Running the show on the inside is a carefully positioned setup of custom-made drivers – two mid-range drivers, a pair of tweeters and a woofer if you’re interested – that pull together to produce a whopping 300w of sound. That’s no mean feat for a speaker this size.
There are also two passive radiators that work with the woofer to help the Qb give real oomph to the bass notes, while its 20% glass-filled polymer casing helps to prevent vibrations affecting its performance.
All bases covered
As well as offering plenty of oomph, the Qb is an accommodating little speaker. It features both an optical and 3.5mm aux input, uPnP functionality for sniffing out other music on your network, aptX Bluetooth and AirPlay connectivity, plus a USB port that will charge and play Apple kit as well as internet radio to boot.
Basically, you won’t struggle to blast out a few tunes on this thing. Spotify Connect is also on board for direct dealings with the streaming behemoth, as is a link to Tidal for similar (subscriptions required in both cases, natch).
The Mu-so Qb has you covered when it comes to format compatibility too, from low-res streams and MP3s all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz high-res tracks.
The only catch is you’ll need to be hardwired to get the very best sample rates – any high-res tracks streamed over Wi-Fi will be downsampled to a still thoroughly respectable and “better-than-CD-quality” 24-bit/48kHz.
Making a connection
With all of these options to hand, connecting to the Qb can be as simple as pairing to it via Bluetooth, but you’ll get the most from it if you hook it up to your home network over Wi-Fi (though there’s that ethernet port for hardwiring if you prefer).
Download the Naim app, make sure your device is connected to your Wi-Fi network and the app will walk you through the process step by step for your device – with an iPhone or iPad it will be as simple as selecting the Qb from your wi-fi settings menu once the speaker is in setup mode.
Of course, the app also doubles as a controller, which is handy as, unlike the original Mu-so, there’s no remote in the box. We don’t miss it though – the app allows you to easily skip between sources, select internet radio presets and control playback, plus gives you the ability to tweak things like the illumination in the base, rename inputs and set an alarm. You can even setup a multi-room system with up to four other Mu-so devices if you have them.
If can afford the step up from a Sonos system, here’s where to look.
Small speaker, big personality
There’s a bit of the Napolean complex about the Naim Qb, but that’s certainly no bad thing. It packs a huge sound for its size, thrashing out sound with power and scale that you just wouldn’t expect from such a compact speaker.
This complements its bold, muscular way with music, with a presentation that’s upfront and authoritative. It’ll demand your attention, and it’ll hold it, with a tight command on timing and rhythm that even the most complex rhythmic patterns won’t fluster. It sounds solid too, which is certainly helped by the fact the Qb doesn’t scrimp on bass – another surprise for its size, but one that could be a turn off for those looking for a more neutral sound.
At most volume levels, the full-bodied punch the Qb ploughs into tracks works to its credit, and is supported by a clean, focused midrange and a treble that’s never in danger of sounding hard or harsh. Push the volume close to the max and you will hear the bass get thicker, but with the pure scale on offer here, we’d be surprised if most rooms need to go much past half way.
As for the competition, the slightly cheaper B&W Zeppelin Wireless does pip the Qb when it comes to dynamics and fine detail, offering more insight and sounding a touch more expressive when it comes to big dynamic shifts. However, the Qb’s punchier, attention-grabbing sound makes quite the argument for itself too, with better solidity across the board and a rhythmic wherewithal that leaves the Zeppelin for dust.
It’ll be down to personal taste as to where your priorities lie, but we find ourselves leaning towards the Qb, particularly when you consider the extra features it’s got up its sleeve to boot.
Naim Mu-so Qb verdict
There’s been a shift in the wireless speaker market in recent years that’s meant hi-fi sound hasn’t had to be confined to racks of stereo amps and speakers, and the Mu-so Qb is most certainly part of that movement.
It complements its big brother’s slightly more refined character with a confident presentation that pays no attention to its physical size. And it packs a features list that makes it more flexible than Madonna’s yoga teacher.
All of this is a stylish design that shows the attention to detail didn’t stop at the sound. While £600 is still a lot of money to spend on a wireless speaker, buy this and you’ll get plenty of boom for your buck.