This was the audio buzz of CES, and not in the wrong way. Although many rooms at the show were frighteningly empty at times, Naim Audio’s room was not one of them - there was a steady through-flow of visitors looking specifically at the new £545/$999 Mu-so Qb. Following in the footsteps of the Mu-so, this new, small, cube of sound is designed to reach a new set of music lovers.
In a way, this new device has the toughest job to do of all the products in the Naim line. On the one hand, it has to stand alone, inviting new listeners to join the club. On the other hand, it has to be exciting enough to entice existing Naim users to add more rooms to the mix. On the, er, third hand, it needs to be the perfect introduction for people who want something a bit better than a Sonos Play (which is harder than it seems, it’s a very good package at the price), and on the fourth hand it needs to do all that while being simple enough for almost anyone to use, with or without aid from specialist retailers. All in a package better thought out than this Shiva-esque paragraph.
The original Mu-so works in part because it combines the elements that makes good traditional audio in a more modern aspect: it’s basically amps and speakers in a wooden cabinet. The size and complexity of the Mu-so Qb shape (it looks like an olmec stone head under the grille) meant wood was out of the question at the price, so the cabinet is made from a tough glass-filled polymer. From the front there are two angled tweeters, two slightly less angled midrange units, one ‘racetrack’ bass units, and two well-made passive radiators firing out to the sides. Both the tweeters and midrange drivers are driven by their own 50W amplifiers, while the bass is powered by a single 100W device. Naim could have gone for exotic DSP to create more of a stereophonic sound, but instead went for a less processed sound with a slightly-stereo presentation. It uses the same 32-bit digital processing as the Mu-so, however.
Mu-so Qb’s rear panel is a heatsink for the amplifier and digital audio circuitry, and it gives the device some weight, solidity, and surprising tactile advantages - you can’t help putting your hand reassuringly on the heatsink when first installing it. Like its bigger brother, the Qb sits on an acrylic sheet that has three levels of illumination and a white Naim logo, and the top plate is given over to that super cool touch multiway controller, volume control dial.