(Pocket-lint) - When the original Naim Mu-so launched in 2014, it was received with critical acclaim. Although it's a physically large bit of kit, it impressed us so much that it took the Pocket-lint Awards gong for best speaker in 2015.
Which sets-up the newer, smaller-scale Mu-so Qb in good stead. This condensed version of the original is almost like a "Mu-so mini". But just because it's small doesn't mean it fails to go big on sound. Indeed, after having one setup for a fortnight in the office, we're already asking ourselves whether this is perhaps the best £600 speaker 2016 will have to offer?
Naim Mu-so Qb review: Design
Available in a variety of colours (black is standard), the Qb's exterior mesh panel - which is a removable all-in-one piece, to help prevent unsightly seams between the 90-degree corner angles - continues with the same "wave" form as the original Mu-so, which not only ensures the structure doesn't look like a boring and rigid cube, but has its own natural form aking to soundwaves (if you're feeling like a deep-thinker, anyway). That's contrasted with a more industrial metal-edged rear, similar but less severe than the original Mu-so.
And we think it looks rather smashing (American friends: that's British for wonderful, seems fair given Naim is a British brand). It's like a mix of old meets new in many respects, with the physical control wheel up top - which has touch-sensitive control buttons - rotating in a buttery smooth fashion to adjust the volume.
Despite its "cube" name, the Qb isn't quite a perfect cube, measuring 21 x 21.8 x 21.1cm. But it's pretty darn close. And, at 5.6kgs, it's a lot lighter than the 13kg behemoth that is the original Mu-so. The Qb fits into everyday life far more easily - we could easily see this smaller chap hanging out in the kitchen, bedroom or, well, anywhere around the house.
Like its bigger brother, the Qb isn't cutting any corners in terms of build. An aluminium casework ensures everything is rigid, while the transparent base with light-up Naim logo (the brightness is adjustable) gives it a distinct yet familiar design. It certainly looks like part of the family.
Naim Mu-so Qb review: Setup & services
To get the most from Qb you'll want to download the free app (iOS or Android for the time being). This connects directly via Wi-Fi to the Mu-so Qb to ensure the two components are talking to one another, downloads any necessary firmware updates, and, in our setup experience, was all done and dusted with a few minutes without issue - just like with the original Mu-so.
Within the Naim app are iRadio, UPnP for media servers (we're connected to Plex), USB/iPod, Bluetooth, Spotify, Tidal, Analogue (3.5mm) and Digital (optical in) sources. A press on any one will switch to that source, without needing to touch the Qb's touch-sensitive rotational top wheel itself. However you can use this wheel for super smooth adjustment; when adjusting volume it's accompanied by light-up bars to show the level.
The Qb doesn't come with a remote control like the larger Mu-so, but because of the app we don't see this being a major flaw, plus the original controller was a bit too plasticky anyway.
Interestingly there's multi-room functionality too. We've got both Mu-so original and Mu-so Qb setup as individual rooms, where it's possible to send different audio sources to separate devices. We've been listening to the radio in the bedroom, while pushing some Asking Alexandria to the office via Plex. It works seamlessly, with individual volume control, although the app could perhaps be a bit more fluid in its transition between devices. You can connect up to five Mu-so products, assuming you've got very deep pockets of course!
It's even possible to pair multiple units together through the app (although not as separate channels, they're all mono, but each can be independently volume adjusted) for added output.
Naim Mu-so Qb review: Sound
With the front mesh removed it's clearer to visualise how the Mu-so Qb works. The speakers aren't arranged flat, as is typical of a speaker, in order to deliver a wider soundstage. The two tweeters, for example, cross over (literally) to ensure sound is projected in a pseudo-stereo arrangement.
There's a 14.5 x 7.6cm woofer, paired with two 14.8 x 8.6cm passive radiators, two 6.4cm-diameter mid-range drivers, and those two 2.5cm-diameter tweeters. Considering just how many drivers there are, it's actually fairly impressive the Qb is as small as it is.
Naim has maintained Mu-so quality levels in the Qb too. It's smaller than the original Mu-so, but it's not cut down on any of the quality you'd expect. Every format you can think of is compatible - WAV, FLAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless all work to 24-bit/192kHz (wired only, it's capped to 48kHz over wireless); MP3, AAC, OGG and WMA all work to 16-bit/48kHz/320kbps - and work a treat. Although there's every chance you'll just be listening via Spotify/Tidal anyway.
We've had a multitude of listening experiences to test this speaker to the max. Despite its square shape, it's an all-round success. From the initial tests sat on the sofa at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2016 - where we listened through a variety of streamed tracks, from Roger Waters' solo work to New Order's Blue Monday - through to podcasts, DJ mixes, rock, pop and everything inbetween, everything sounds grand.
The Mu-so Qb is far from quiet too, as its 300W output makes clear from the off, filling our large office space without cranking things up.
But perhaps most substantial is just how capable bass thunders out, without overdoing things. That's thanks to a dedicated amplifier for the woofer, ensuring plenty of clean low-end rumble. We've been listening to Logistics' new album, Electric Sun, and the bass flows out wonderfully; not quite as broadly as the original Mu-so, but it's not far off at all.
Sure, we'd not call the Qb a budget speaker by any means, but its £595 price point is about as low as we thought we'd ever see from the Naim, um, name.
If you're looking for high-quality audio at a smaller size and price compared to the original Mu-so then the Qb certainly makes a strong impression. In terms of aesthetics and design it's second-to-none, with audio as cutting as those stand-out industrial looks.
As we alluded to at the beginning of this review the Qb is in with a shout of being the home speaker of 2016. For a speaker so square the Qb is an all-round success.