The drive units are also improved, although their size, number, and position in the Qb case remains the same (two tweeters and midranges with a racetrack bass unit to the front, and two side-firing passive radiators). The big change, however, is in the multicore DSP engine, which offers a claimed 13 times the punching power of the original single-core engine of the Qb. This in part reflects the transformation of the digital audio landscape that has happened since the first Mu-So Qb was launched in January 2016. Where the 2016 version was primarily driven by Naim’s own app, set-up now requires use of the Google Home app (as it features Google’s Chromecast) and can integrate with Apple’s Airplay 2 and Apple Home. These features were simply not accessible to the original Qb, and as a result the first model had to ‘live’ within Naim’s ecosystem, where the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation can just be a visitor.
Documentation is Apple-grade minimal now, because it can be. If you buy a new Apple product, the product itself is effectively its own manual and once powered up takes you through the process of installation. The Mu-so is similarly light on actual documentation, because such documentation is largely unnecessary; make it go through Google Home, load up the Naim app on your tablet or smartphone… job done. OK, there are some names and passwords to enter if you are hooking it to Tidal, but technobabble splash screens and bewildering settings are a thing of the past in modern consumer electronics and the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation is very much a product of the now in that respect.
That all being said, there is a lot of online information on the Naim website, and I’ll give Naim a bit of a free pass here too, thanks to its forum. Unlike the dark underverse of pestilence and anger that has come to define many online communities, Naim’s forum is a mine of useful information. If you have a misstep in the set-up or operation of your product and post a legitimate question on their forum, you will get honest and reliable answers seemingly in nanoseconds from a community that genuinely doesn’t want to see you struggle. In fairness, setting up the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation is extremely easy and any bumps in the road get repaired fast, either by the guide on the website, by the experts in the stores, or on the forum. This ease of set-up is mandatory for a product that isn’t designed to require a lot of expert on-site installation, but it’s good to know that if your network is truly weird, help is at hand.
Knowing the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation is easy on the eye and connects into your system like it was superglued to your router is one thing. How it performs is very much another. Here, the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation stands or falls; not only against its older brother, but in absolute terms. In fact, the original Qb stood taller than its rivals in 2016 and is still the main rival to the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation. But, even if the original Qb is cheaper than its replacement (at the time of writing, there are still a few companies with stocks of the first model, and they sell for almost £150 less than the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation), I can’t imagine anyone buying the original today. The jump in performance is more than big enough to make the first model seem a little ‘old hat’.
A big change is the way the Qb handles voices. I wasn’t unhappy with the presentation of vocals on the original Qb, but the 2nd Generation makes those vocals considerably more articulate and real, and the original sounds more than a little ‘thrummy’ and ‘chesty’ in comparison. So, when I tune into ‘PM’ on BBC Radio Four, I can hear the Mother of Parliaments descend deeper into chaos in far greater clarity and detail. Less grimdark in nature, the same applies when listening to music; whether it’s the redesigned drive units or that improved DSP, the result is a Mu-so Qb that better projects those vocals into the room in a clearer, more naturalistic manner.