(Pocket-lint) - Back in 2015 the British hi-fi audio brand, Naim, created its first standalone all-in-one system: the Mu-so. Far from being so-so, this magic box of tricks delivered stand-out sound quality in a bold design that we thought was a sensational surprise.
Fast-forward to 2019 and it's time for round two, with Naim - following its merger with French company Focal - releasing the Mu-so 2, or "second-generation" if you want the full name.
We've had a Mu-so 2 sat pride of place on the living room table for a week to enjoy its acoustic charms and here's what we have to make of this sensational sonic sequel.
Design: What's new?
- 12mm deeper design gives 0.5l additional interior space for enhanced bass
- Enhanced internal bracing designed to minimise micro vibrations
- 95% internal components are new compared to original Mu-so
- Grille colours: Black, Peacock, Terracotta, Olive (£49ea)
- Adds HDMI ARC (audio pass-through)
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (2.4/5GHz)
- Ethernet, optical, 3.5mm
- Included remote control
At first glance the second-gen Mu-so doesn't look that different to the original. In many respects that's because it isn't. Front-on it offers the same dimensions. The build comprises the same weighty mix of metal, giving an unusual yet elegant industrial finish. There's the same illuminated Naim logo to the front, which glows in its transparent base.
But just because it looks the same certainly doesn't mean that lots hasn't changed. Most of it has just happened beyond what your eyes can see. The 12mm added depth, for example, is barely noticeable, but delivers an additional half-litre of internal space for enhanced bass output (which, as it happens, goes from already big to massive - if the speaker is sensibly positioned within its environment anyway).
Then there's the composition of the internal make-up, which includes new bracing built from polymers that are used in riot shields, Naim tells us, to make it as stiff and inert as possible, minimising micro-vibrations for the cleanest sound possible. Indeed, 95 per cent of the internal components are either entirely new for this product or have been changed compared to the first-gen Mu-so, making the second-gen a rather different bit of kit.
But it's with some of the simpler changes that the Mu-so 2 shows-off its aspirations. There's an HDMI port to the rear, for example, complete with audio pass-through (ARC), meaning this all-in-one soundsystem can be used as a successful soundbar if you would like. Apparently a number of Mu-so owners liked using the original for this task, albeit via optical connection, so the Mu-so 2 ups its game (optical is still an option, too, if you want it).
However, there aren't on-screen controls nor sound presets, which we think is somewhat limiting for a versatile soundbar - which is something we hope Naim will update in the future, even if it's by firmware update. The fact is, if we wanted a device for both TV and general audio then we'd more likely look to a dedicated soundbar with all the nuance and directional/multi-speaker value that can add. The Mu-so 2, on the other hand, is really designed to be a great dedicated system for music.
In a similar fashion to the original Mu-so, the second-gen model has a distinctive circular control wheel up top. We're all for physical controls in a world where knobs and buttons are quickly vanishing for the sake of touchscreen, especially given the super high-quality feel of this weighted and infinitely rotating control wheel. It's an elegant solution indeed.
It's also a different solution to before, with a built-in proximity sensor that will see an approaching hand and auto-illuminate to show you touch-sensitive controls. Here it's possible to cycle through the five main options for sources, which show down the bottom. Up top of the circle is the space for three favourites - which can be saved and can be anything you please, including, say a Spotify playlist - for quick access.
There's a lot of connectivity too, with AirPlay 2 included, along with Google Cast, Spotify Connect, Tidal and more. It's Roon ready too. Or if you want to feed it with physical inputs then 3.5mm and optical are available alongside Ethernet and that HDMI port to the rear.
A physical remote comes included if you're unlikely to be inclined to sign-in to the dedicated Naim app. Even if you do have the app running with your relevant source then this physical remote can be handy for at-a-distance adjustments - including things like dimming the illuminated logo or turning it off - so it's a bit of a shame the build quality isn't anything like as good as the main Mu-so unit itself (not that we're looking for a 5kg gold-plated one; just something a bit higher-end would be more fitting here). We've rarely used it, however, as the in-app controls are perfectly fine.
- New DSP (digital signal processor) capable of running at 2000 MIPS (instructions per second)
- Six speakers with individual Class D amplifiers, 75W each (450W total)
- AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Google Cast
- Caters up to 32-bit 384kHz native bit rates
- Multi-room functionality
In 2017 Naim and Focal merged, bringing the Anglo company a different raft of experience from its French cousin. In the Mu-so 2 that's led to the six front speakers - each of which are individually amplified, delivering 75W per piece for 450W total - having a redesign for further enhanced audio.
As we said of the original Mu-so: it's a sonic sensation. The sound is wide, volume is potentially huge and clarity top-end. Indeed, the volume can easily be too much for smaller environments, but within the app it's possible to cleverly cap the output for more nuanced volume control, which is a great feature.
Then there's that bass. Oh that bass. Whereas before it was big and beefy, it's now got a dollop of extra low-end that has lots of clout and elasticity - without being overbearing in any way. The balance of audio is simply fantastic - whatever you like listening to.
As with any speaker you'll need to position the Mu-so 2 correctly to get the impact from the low-end. When we first setup the speaker it was too high up with no rear surface for reflection and too close to an open window - which thinned the sound. Some phsyical positioning adjustments and all was well. It's possible to tell the speaker whether it's sat in a corner or near a wall for sound optimisation - but that's all, you can't be extra specific and there's no room-scanning technology like you'll find with Sonos' Trueplay.
Naim doesn't muck about when it comes to handling high-end files either. The new DSP on board can cater for up to two billion instructions per second, which means it can handle native bitrates up to 32-bit 384kHz without needing to compress. Not that you'll ever really find such high-end files anywhere because most engineers don't utilise it - even 24-bit files are somewhat rare in a typically 16-bit world. Still, if you've got the FLAC goods and want top quality, the Mu-so 2 will do justice to your needs.
This audiophile approach is reflected in Naim's processing too. It sounds balanced throughout the volume range, ensuring the right mix of bass to mid to treble depending on how the volume is set. On the one hand that's great for accurate reproduction without distorting the original, on the other you can't adapt for your files - which, in a soundbar scenario, would be massively useful for voice/bass reduction/movie/music presets and so forth - which could be useful for a variety of different album masters, eras, and so forth.
We've been using the Mu-so 2 to listen to a whole raft of music, from the classics, to underground dance music, through to some more niche recent rock. In every instance - whether Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3.5mm, Spotify Connect or through a TV - tracks sound big, rich and emotive. This big box really delivers on the audio quality front, make no bones about it.
The sequel to the sonic sensation that was the original Mu-so is a visually similar beast that's almost entirely different on the inside. That makes the second-generation Mu-so a uniquely styled and superb sounding box of tricks. Believe us when we say the sound quality and sheer impact from this industrial slice of speaker is second to none.
However, with a £1299 price tag, it's far from cheap - and about £400 more than the original (and now off-the-production-line) Mu-so first-gen - which may raise some eyebrows. You're getting some obvious extras for that, such as HDMI and a more deft physical controls, but we'd like a better remote control given that significant price jump. You could also buy a whole Sonos setup for that kind of money, which is something worth considering should the Mu-so's physical size and weight not be to your tastes.
When it comes down to it, though, we think the Mu-so 2 is worth every penny. In a world where phones are now costing four-figures, the long-term investment and sheer joy that this system's audio prowess will bring to your home is enough to bring a tear to the eye (or your neighbours' eyes, given how impactful it is, sorry neighbours). Really, the Mu-so 2 is a superb soundsystem with little compare.
It's not as fancy as Mu-so, nor as powerful, but if you want quality sound for a cut of the price then it's still a savvy option.
If you can find an original Mu-so at the end of its life - be that old stock or even second hand - then it's a great chance to grab a bargain without foregoing too much of what the follow-up model has to offer.