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Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation Wireless Music System | REVIEW









 

The Naim Audio Mu-so changed the way I listen to music.

That’s not hyperbole, a ready-made pull quote that Naim can use in their print ads. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to borrow a Naim Mu-so QB, the smaller cube in the line-up, for a few months. I wasn’t that excited about the Mu-so when I first encountered it. To me, it was a fancy table radio. It did a lot of cool things, but these were mostly the things in audio I didn’t do at the time, like digital streaming.

That Naim Audio Mu-so QB had been set up for me in advance, so I plugged it in and started exploring. I didn’t even have a proper owner’s manual for it. I just started poking around, and slowly I started to understand why I would want something like the Mu-so in my daily life.

The first discovery was internet radio, something that didn’t interest me in the least before the Naim arrived at my office—the place where I ultimately planned to use it. Over the next few weeks I explored the thousands of stations playing all sorts of genres from all over the world. If I wanted to hear Japanese polka, there was a station for it. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But if there’s a specific type of music flourishing in some part of the world, there was an internet radio channel that specialized in it.

Once I felt comfortable (and perhaps a little bored) with internet radio on the Naim Mu-so, I was shown how to stream using Tidal. That was the moment where I changed the way I listened to music, the point where the Vinyl Anachronist finally stopped bashing digital. Unfortunately for that QB, I moved on, playing with DACs and digital streamers and network players (including a few products from the Naim Uniti line), installing Roon, and eventually settling on Qobuz for most of my streaming needs. The Naim Audio Mu-so QB went back to its rightful owner. But I never forgot its key role in opening my eyes to the possibilities of streaming music.

Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation

I’d almost forgotten about the Naim Audio Mu-so, and its important role in my audio education, when I received an email from Wendy Knowles of Naim and Focal. Wendy and I met last year at an audio show, and when I found out she represented Naim I started babbling and telling her all about my Naim NAIT 2 and my NAP 40 and my CD3 and my CDX2 and my NAIT 5i. I also mentioned that time I spent with the Mu-so, and how much it changed the way I listened to music and blah blah blah blah blah.

Wendy remembered that. She emailed me out of the blue to tell me the Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation players were coming out. Would I like to re-acquaint myself? The answer, of course, was yes. I chose the larger player—the one that was always just called the Mu-so—because after my time with the QB I really wanted to hear the larger player. (Obviously, the new version of the smaller player is the QB 2nd Generation.) The QB was, as I mentioned, a perfect cube, so it took a bit of time to adjust to the single-point source set-up. The longer, wider and sleeker Mu-so can create a bigger sense of lateral imaging—especially in near-field, as I later found out.

How do the Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation products improve on that auspicious first generation? First of all, connectivity options have expanded to include Apple AirPlay 2, so you can stream directly from your iPhone or iPad or any other Mac device. If you’re using Apple Music, you can use its voice command features. Google Chromecast is also built-in, allowing you to add Google Home and still control the Mu-so by voice. Compatibility with Roon, Qobuz and most of the streaming services have been enhanced for better functionality.

You can hook up the new Mu-so to your Smart TV via HDMI, instantly creating an awesome sound bar. The digital signal processor in the 2nd Generation Mu-so is approximately ten times as quick as the one in the original Mu-so. Even the chassis has been redesigned—it’s more solid and vibration-free than before.

Naim replied with a quick summary of the advantages of the 2nd Generation:

The App and UI were developed in house by Naim, rather than using some off the shelf chipset solution. The Muso2 is designed and engineered in Salisbury, England by the same engineering staff that works on the full Naim range, up to the Statement series. The drivers (speakers) were also designed with the help of the engineering team at Focal, makers of many world class speaker systems. 

All of the good things from the older version are still present, of course. You can play all sorts of digital files with the Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation, with hi-rez playback up to 24-bit/384kHz and DSD 64 and DSD128. There’s Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, UPnP, a USB port for flash drives, mini-jack for portable devices and a digital input. And, once again, you can buy more than one Mu-so and spread them throughout your home and have them all running together or separately. There’s a lot more, which is part of the glory of playing with the Naim Mu-so—constantly exploring, constantly discovering new features and new configurations.

The MSRP of the Naim Audio Mu-so is $1690, a couple o’ hundred more than the original Mu-so. It’s worth it for all of these new features. The new QB, however, is just $990, which is actually $10 less that the first generation–something worth investigating, I think.

Set-Up

That, of course, can be an issue with a product as complex as the Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation Wireless Music System. As I mentioned, that first Mu-so QB was set up by someone else, so I just had to learn how to use it. With the 2nd Generation, I had to start from scratch, so to speak, with the dreaded network sync.

The owners’ manual is fairly short for a product with so many technical features—I do find that complicated digital products often have laissez-faire instructions for those IT-minded people who love to come up with new ways to listen to music and don’t mind work-arounds and creative connecting. Since you use the Naim Audio phone app to control most of the functions, despite the inclusion of a conventional remote control, troubleshooting often requires that you follow the app instructions and let it walk you through everything. Trust the app. Don’t ever doubt its wisdom and usefulness.

Still, it took me a few tries to get the Mu-so playing music—it seemed like I’d get a little further along each time before I’d run into the old circular menu slalom that always puts the kybosh on my IT aspirations. What was the issue, besides the fact that I’m not IT-minded? While following the basic set-up instructions through the app, Naim insisted that a new update was available. I’d click yes, not having any other choice that led me to music, and I’d wind up with some type of reason why the update couldn’t complete. Start over from scratch, please.

I’d prefer it if you could start that update once the Naim Mu-so is properly set-up and operating correctly. That’s really the most serious criticism I have, and it’s fleeting and minor and probably user error.

I started my familiarization with the Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation the same way, by rediscovering the joys of internet radio. After a couple of days, I felt some trepidation while getting ready to ask the first big question—what about Qobuz? I listen to it almost exclusively these days, and in the back of the Naim Mu-so manual there was a Qobuz logo. YEAH. Still, I couldn’t find out how to connect to my account with the Mu-so and there were no other references to Qobuz anywhere—including the Naim website. Can you use Qobuz or not?

The omniscient app answered the question. I merely looked down at the home page of the app and there it was, a Qobuz button, one I hadn’t noticed until that moment. (Mu-so can you hear me?) I clicked that button and was immediately taken to the Qobuz website. I just had to type in my account name and password, and I was off to the races…just like the first time with the QB.

Room Placement

Where do you place the Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation for the best sound? The Andover Audio manual had some fairly specific ideas on where to start with the Model One Record Player I just reviewed, but the Mu-so has one trick up its sleeve—room compensation, with three settings for near wall, near corner and no compensation at all. Yes, you can optimize the sound of your Mu-so through the app based on placement. (Most of this equalization involves adjusting the low bass output. That little box will shake your doors and windows if you let it.)

I chose two specific locations for the Mu-so. First, I did place it on a small coffee table in the middle of the room in front of the main system, as you can see in the photos. The second location was more realistic—I put the Mu-so up on top of the dresser in my bedroom, a more likely choice for a small, self-contained system.

Finally, your room placement might depend on the location of your wireless router. In my living room the Mu-so was placed within a few feet of the router, which helped that glitchy set-up period move along much quicker. You can also plug an Ethernet cable direct from your router to the Mu-so. Place the Mu-so in a room on the opposite end of the house and you might get the stubborn obstinance I experienced when I first unpacked the Mu-so. I’m sure you IT types have a dozen ideas about fixing that.

Sound

The Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation replaced the Andover Audio Model One Record Player as my new unorthodox, not-quite-two-channel second system in for review. It’s natural to compare the two products—they both offer a complete and modern one-box audio system for the 21st century, filled of lots of tech. They both also provide a very similar solution to loudspeaker design—both use a multiple-driver complement arranged horizontally, which resembles two small speakers placed on their sides and pushed together. As the Andover proved, you can get lateral imaging and soundstaging and a decent stereo image from a single box.

(A quick sidebar: again, I won’t compare the two products and declare one better than the other since they’re aimed at different consumers. The Andover is a way to enjoy a quality turntable-based system in a small place, and the Mu-so is more about streaming and connectivity…albeit in a small place.)

The Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation did a fine job with soundstaging and offered a more complete picture of the original performance than that QB from days of yore. I briefly mentioned the Mu-so’s sound quality in near-field listening since that was my favorite way to listen. The soundstage wasn’t lined up in the middle like monaural, nor was it confined to the width of the Mu-so’s chassis. With excellent recordings, the Naim Mu-so provided a soundstage that was very, very deep, and it also provided a stunning amount of soundstage height—something I never noticed with that QB. The lateral imaging was somewhat limited in absolute terms, but after my ears adjusted I found that the sound equaled a traditional two-channel set-up in a relatively narrow and deep room. You know, like the kind you occasionally see in a hotel at a high-end audio show.

Let’s work back to that one word, adjusted. For me, that was the glory of the QB, that after a while you stopped caring that it wasn’t a typical two-channel sound. You were submerged in that sound when you sat near the cube, as I did in my office. The first thing you noticed was the deep bass coming out of the little box. More than once I was visited by an audiophile buddy who thought he was listening to the reference system. “Oh, that sounds nice.” I’d always point to the Mu-so QB in the corner, and reveal that the music was coming from that tiny little box on the table. (I suppose that’s the best way to sell a Mu-so.)

The final thing you probably want to know about is the deep bass. From the beginning the Mu-so was always known for its generous bass output. It’s downright surprising, especially when you look straight at the Naim Audio Mu-so while listening to the THUD THUD THUD of a well-played kick drum. But it could be overwhelming, especially if the Mu-so was pushed against a back wall.

This new 2nd Generation Mu-so seems more in control of those surprising low frequencies. Part of it is the room compensation, but I suspect some of that tightness is due to the improvements in the chassis and the damping within. I could get that old QB to rattle and squeak when I cranked up the volume—not so much with the Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation.

Conclusion

With the Andover Audio Model One Record Player, I spent a lot of time explaining who would need such a specialized audio product. With the Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation wireless music system, its easy to imagine how and where it will enrich your life.

My first choice is using the Mu-so as an office system. It’s compact enough to place on a desk, and awesome enough to make your cubicle the new coolest place in town. Just know that you’ll probably anger your co-workers with your Casual Friday Rammstein Marathon. With its built-in alarm clock, the Naim is also perfect for the bedroom. And a vacation rental. And a wild party, since you won’t have to worry about some jackass bumping your Linn LP-12.

Finally, the Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation is still as fun to use as that QB back in my Syracuse office. It’s still an audio product that you buy and then waste an entire weekend just playing around with it. I still miss that old QB and the sense of discovery it instilled. I’m glad to revisit those feelings with the new Mu-so.