When I envision a wireless speaker, my mind usually conjures images of portable, Bluetooth fare like UE’s Boom line or Yatra’s rugged, affordable offerings. But there’s a whole world of high-end, audiophile quality wireless speakers that should populate my imagination instead.
Naim Audio has been making high-quality audio for decades, long before Spotify came along and ushered in a new area of audio distribution. In 2014, the company took its years of experience and applied it to the new wave with Mu-so, its first wireless music system. Two years later and Naim is trying to replicate the success it had with the Mu-so on a much smaller scale.
The Mu-so Qb is surprisingly compact given the amount of power it can produce. At roughly eight square inches and 12 pounds, the Qb is not a portable machine. It’s meant to sit on a table and stay there, but it also doesn’t need to dominate the room in the same way the much larger Mu-so does. The squared speaker offers a small enough footprint to give users flexibility; you can find a spot for Naim’s latest hardware without calling an interior designer.
Once you do find a place for it, you will spend hours admiring the effort Naim put into designing the Qb. An undeniably modern and minimalist look, the Qb catches the eye with its stark lines and simplicity. It works well both as a prominent feature in a room, but can also be tucked away without drawing too much attention, if you don’t want it to. But, with a machine as well-built as this one, why would you want to hide it?
The speaker sits on an acrylic base, which gives the whole system a floating sensation, and delivers just the right amount of “oohs” and “ahhs” you’d want from a $1000 speaker when illuminated by the LED lights. There is nothing bombastic about the design of the Qb, but it also isn’t boring. The unassuming looks play in perfect contrast to the ample bombast the sound offers, giving listeners a pleasant surprise when they ramp up the volume.
I appreciate modern designs in high-end electronics, particularly audio equipment, and Naim delivered on that aesthetic with just enough flourish to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. The fabric grill has a subtle slope to it which gives the face and sides of the speaker a touch of character, but if you really want to spice it up you can swap out the classic black grill for one in blue, red or burnt orange. Given the color options available for the grill, I hoped to be able to change the color of the LEDs, but no luck in that regard.
Joining the aforementioned acrylic and cloth is an aluminum chassis holding it all together. The cuboid speaker is solidly built, showing the worth of its price tag in the construction alone. In fact, you can feel the quality of the Qb from nothing more than its volume knob. Yes, it’s constructed of aluminum and glass, has elegantly chamfered edges and offers touchscreen controls for playing/pausing music, selecting inputs and putting the system in standby mode. But that is not how the volume controller illustrates the Qb’s eminence. It’s in how damn satisfying it is to turn it.
On the back you’ll find the speaker’s heatsink, along with numerous I/O ports. Besides the necessary power output, the Qb comes with a 3.5mm audio jack, digital optical, ethernet and USB inputs.
Most likely, though, you’ll use the Mu-so Qb as it was intended: wirelessly. There’s a multitude of ways to wirelessly play audio with the Qb, including Spotify Connect, Apple Airplay, Bluetooth, UPnP and integration with Tidal and internet radio through the Naim app. I primarily connected via Spotify or Bluetooth during my time testing the Qb and I had zero problems with the former, despite using a myriad of devices, but the latter was another story.
The Qb could be finicky when connecting over Bluetooth and it took me a few days of attempting before I was finally able to get it to work. Once I was able to connect, the Qb still gave me fits every so often, and others who attempted to use the speaker in my apartment found using Bluetooth to be a pain. The issue seemed to resolve itself after about a week or so, and once it did, I had zero issues with any of the connection types.
I was especially impressed with how responsive the Qb was coming out of standby. Even if I hadn’t used it in several hours, the speaker would perk up within a few seconds of connecting via Spotify or Bluetooth. If I had wanted, I could have easily set the Qb up and never touched it again, using the Naim app on my phone to control the volume and any one of my devices to play music.
The app was a pleasant surprise, though I have to admit I went into the review period with low hopes for the software side of the Qb. Though it is certainly basic, the app did everything I wanted and did so with a swiftness I appreciated. All your basics are covered, such as changing connections and managing volume level, along with a multitude of settings options like LED brightness, input settings, alarm clock features and more. Really, though, I didn’t have to use the app much unless I wanted to connect multiple speakers together.
Naim allows users to connect up to five Mu-so speakers, or any combination of Mu-sos and Naim Uniti or streaming products. In order to test the feature, the company sent me the original Mu-so along with the Qb. I’ve had my share of frustrations with connecting multiple wireless speakers together. Trying to pair a UE Megaboom with a Boom 2 is a regular test of my patience. Thus, I approached Naim’s multiroom system with a healthy dose of reticence.
I was wrong to be reluctant.
Connecting the Mu-so and Qb could not be easier. Just open the app, press the four square button on the now playing page, pick the speaker(s) you want to add into the mix, and that’s it. It takes no more than a second or two for the speakers to connect and your music to resume. From that point, you can use the app to add or remove additional speakers as well as change the volume of individual speakers or the whole system at once. I never had an issue using the multiroom system with Naim’s speakers, it was incredibly easy and not once did the app fail to recognize one of the speakers or fail to connect to them. It worked exactly as advertised.
Of course, I was only connecting two speakers together, therefore I have no idea how the system would handle the max number of devices, but given how simple it was here I’m confident users wouldn’t have an issue no matter the number of speakers. It is important to note that you can only use the multiroom function with certain connections like Spotify Connect and USB, among others. I can’t imagine it being much of an issue, anyone buying a speaker in the four digit price range likely has multiple ways to consume music and thus multiple ways to connect to the Qb, but I was disappointed Bluetooth did not work with two speakers at once. Ultimate Ears allows you to do this with its line of portable, Bluetooth speakers and I wish Naim had done the same.
In the end, half the appeal of a wireless speaker is how wireless it actually is. If it offers great sound but a miserable user experience when connecting devices and other speakers, it’s a lost cause. Naim doesn’t have the most sophisticated app but it all works extremely well, which I will take every single day over a fancy app that fails me.