In this Naim Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) review, we're looking at a speaker that is, simply, the best speaker for those who want uncompromising audio quality, but don't have space for big stereo systems or wireless units that take over a whole sideboard on their own.
The Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) is the smaller sibling of the Naim Mu-so (2nd Gen) that current sits atop our list of the best wireless speakers – but while that speaker will take a whole shelf to itself, the cube-like Mu-so Qb measures 210x218x212mm. That may be bigger than the likes of the Amazon Echo, but it's much more compact than pretty much anything else that delivers 300W of audio power, and will fit on a desk easily, or just on top of a chest of drawers.
The Mu-so Qb 2 features AirPlay, Chromecast and Spotify Connect wireless streaming, and supports Roon, Qobuz, and TIDAL – plus it has Bluetooth built-in for playing easily from anything else. It also has a 3.5mm jack, optical input and USB port.
Anything you play on it sounds just fantastic – from classic arrangements to banging drum n bass, the Mu-so Qb 2 has the gears to make you music sound full, precise and rhythmic. And it does it without taking over the room.
Naim Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) review: Price & release date
The Naim Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) was released in September 2019, and comes with a price of £749/$990. That's obviously much, much higher than the likes of the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) or Sonos One… but you get what you pay for. The sound quality of those devices simply isn't in the same league.
Though the Mu-So Qb (2nd Gen) is a few years old now, we're not expecting it to get replaced soon – its support for file formats and streaming services is very up to date.
Naim Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) review: Features & what's new
Squeezed into the Mu-So Qb 2's frame is a three-way system, consisting of five drivers: a bass driver facing forwards, and then a left-firing tweeter and mid-range combo, and a right-firing set of the same.
These are powered by 300 watts of amplification, and you'll wonder where the hell Naim managed to store all of this, especially once you fire it up (but we'll get to that).
The driver system as upgraded from the original Mu-so Qb, as was the amount of processing power (drastically), both which both benefits the signal processing of the music, as well as what files can be handled.
I've already mentioned support for Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Spotify Connect services, as well as it being Roon Ready, and you can play easily from TIDAL and Qobuz.
Bluetooth means you can easily play from any device, including turntables with Bluetooth streaming built in, but it's worth noting that there's no aptX support, so it's regular SBC Bluetooth or AAC only here.
When it comes to file support, WAV, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC are all supported up to 24-bit/384kHz, and there's DSD64 and 128 support.
As I mentioned, you can pump music in over 3.5mm or optical connections instead, and you can use Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi if you want to ensure there's no interference. The USB 2 port enables you to play directly from devices that way instead.
The design is premium and impeccably made, though I will say that several years on the from the original Mu-so Qb's launch, the soft undulating waves of the grille and clear base (with light) don't feel like cutting-edge design.
However, I can't overstate how important the knob is. The large volume dial on top is tactile and satisfying to turn, and is a reminder that you really are missing out on a great part of industrial design as devices try to remove all buttons, switches and dials.
Naim Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) review: Sound quality
If you've read this far, it will not come as much of a shock to you that I think the sound quality on the Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) is just fantastic.
First the one complaint out of the way. Well, it's not technically a complaint so much as a neutral piece of information. Despite featuring angled drivers, you shouldn't expect a real stereo effect from the Qb 2 – what these achieve is spreading the sound around the room evenly and with clarity, but the sound still comes from a single point. No speaker can really overcome this, but let's just be clear on what thing can and can't achieve.
Because what it can achieve is layer after layer after layer of warm and detailed audio. It's robust and weighty in the bass without ever feeling flabby; it's structured in the mid-range in a way that lets every instrument pop through the mix, while maintaining they musicality; and the trebles is airy and clear, dancing out of the lower ranges without getting bright or harsh to achieve it.
Voices are carried strongly, delivered as perfectly or imperfectly as they were recorded. Fingers move on instruments between notes. Synths feel like they might vibrate right out of the grille and onto your nice wood finish.
It's not fussy about positioning either, though because of its side-firing speakers, do try not to enclose it to much – if you'll put it in a corner, you'd ideally angle it to face out of the corner.
Would I recommend it over some of the best bookshelf speakers that are active and have streaming support? It depends on your room and how much effort you want to put in. As a single-box system, it's simpler to set up and maintain, and actually its speaker arrangement will deliver a fuller dynamic range than the stereo competition at this price. But a pair of active bookshelf speakers would be able to give you stereo, and in some room layouts, but actually be preferable for hiding away (or even mounting). I would take the Mu-so Qb 2, personally, but you don't live in my house, so if you feel differently, I won't try to talk you out of it.
Naim Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) review: Verdict
The Naim Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) is a high-end hi-fi system squeezed by mad scientists into a cube that could fit into the living room of a pokey flat… but that has the sound quality to fill a ballroom if needed.
The audio quality is magnificent, the streaming and file support is near-perfect, and it even has a great big volume knob to play with. There are bigger one-box speakers that can beat it for sound quality, but at this size, it's peerless.
Naim Mu-so Qb (2nd Gen) review: Also consider
The bigger Naim Mu-So 2nd Gen is probably the competitor to go for, if you have the space for something that will take over a shelf. It's even beefier and fuller, and feels like a giant hi-fi system in a (relatively) compact box. Here's our full Naim Mu-so 2nd Gen review.
Also bigger is the Sonos Five, which provides powerful, rich and detailed sound. Its overall connectivity isn't as wide as the Mu-so Qb's – you're restricted to wireless streaming over AirPlay 2 or Sonos' app – but if you want the best sound from the Sonos ecosystem, this is it.
If you're wondering what the more affordable alternative to the Mu-So Qb 2nd Gen is, then I'd point you to the Sonos One. It's a bit smaller than the Mu-So Qb, and doesn't even try to be stereo on its own (though you can easily pair two in a stereo setup), but it's highest quality sound you can get from a speakers of its size. Here's our full Sonos One review.