Naim Audio's Mu-so 2nd Generation all-in-one speaker system is an update to the popular original Mu-so, launched roughly six years ago. It retails for $1,690 and includes a remote, as well as a dedicated app for setup and operation. It relies on Class D amplification to deliver a total of 450 Watts of amplification to six built-in drivers, which were engineered in conjunction with Focal, another venerable name in high-end audio.
The Mu-so 2nd Gen measures 24.7 inches wide by 4.8 inches high by 10.4 inches deep and weighs a formidable 25 pounds, which speaks its build quality. The aluminum case is stylish, the contoured grill is interchangeable and, although it ships with standard grey, Naim also offers olive, terracotta, and peacock-hued grill replacements. The overall aesthetic, including the illuminated control dial up top and Naim logo underneath, is not only stunning, it's also a likely conversation-starter, especially given the proliferation of exceedingly drab-looking streaming speakers on the market.
Not to tip my hand, but Naim has produced such a beautiful – and beautiful-sounding – integrated audio solution that I simply can't quit it, even now, long after my testing and evaluation is complete. As I sit here compiling my listening notes into something cohesive, I'm listening to Tears for Fears via the Mu-so 2nd Generation, which has become such a constant companion in my life I can't fathom boxing up and returning my review unit.
Although the Naim comes chock full of connectivity and streaming options, most notably Roon, Spotify Connect, and TIDAL, as well as Chromecast and AirPlay 2 – all pre-loaded and fully integrated in the Naim app – I relied on Qobuz via my Mac for most of my critical listening sessions.
I also did some listening via Apple Music and the Qobuz app through AirPlay 2 on my phone. Lastly, I experimented with using the Naim as a speaker for watching TV and also used the USB input for listening from one of my hard drives.
Given my affinity for and familiarity with Apple's HomePod, I started by doing copious amounts of A/B testing between it and the Naim. My conclusion? The Naim sounds better. Markedly better. Better imaging and a wider and deeper soundstage; stronger and more palpable bass... and the list goes on. Is it five times better, as its price ($1,700 vs. $300) would indicate? No. But one cannot judge a product of this ilk on sound quality alone. Actually, one can, but one would be cutting oneself short. Lastly, one must consider how many times one can use "one" as a pronoun before pissing off one's readers.
Once I'd had my fill of A/B testing with the HomePod, I began critical listening by firing up Sam Smith's "Burning." The Naim did an excellent job with the track, accurately conveying Smith's epic range, while also keeping its coherence with the piano and various other instrumentation, even with the volume cranked. On lesser speakers, Smith's falsetto can be off-putting. Not so on the Mu-so.
If forced to characterize the sonic signature of the Naim, I would have to say that its most important characteristics are its sonic neutrality and high transparency. That said, despite its transparency, I also found it to be somewhat forgiving, especially with MP3 files. Cringe if you will, and I did with a few of them. But you definitely want an all-in-one to be forgiving with low-fidelity files, since in most settings it's going to be fed all kinds of source material, including MP3s streamed via Bluetooth (insert sad face). The fact that the Mu-so 2nd Gen handled such files with a gentle touch, while still delivering every ounce of detail from higher-quality files and recordings is yet another feather in its cap.
After wrapping up critical listening with music, I connected the Naim to my television and fired up The Mandalorian, Chapter 6: "The Prisoner." When incorporating the Mu-so 2nd Gen into an AV system, connection options are plentiful – you can stream audio via AirPlay 2 or hardwire the unit via optical or HDMI. And while it is no substitute for a full 5.1 or 7.1 surround system, the Naim performed remarkably well, especially with lower frequencies. I also noted that during chaotic action scenes in this action-packed episode of The Mandalorian, dialogue remained coherent and intelligible.
While the bass was stellar, especially for a speaker its size, I did miss my sub and surrounds while watching this type of show. And if your room is on the larger side, you might find the Naim slightly underpowered. But for small to mid-sized rooms, it should more than suffice for watching TV, which only adds to the versatility of this little all-in-one system. Let's face it, for most people, $1,700 is a pretty fat check to write for a product of this nature, but that expense becomes a little more justifiable when it can be used as both a music system and an AV sound system. At least, that's what I tell my wife.
Speaking of versatility, while a ubiquitous feature on products of this ilk, it was refreshing to plug one of my loaded hard drives into the USB input of the Naim and have it play flawlessly, complete with album art and metadata.
I played around with all manner of bass-heavy tracks straight off my hard drive, including "Name of the Game" by Crystal Method, "Fantasy" by The xx (a word of caution when searching for this video online) and an epic instrumental by the Beastie Boys, "Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament." The Naim played much larger and deeper than one would expect, especially given its footprint. Would bass junkies miss a sub? Always with this type of product. But the level of deep, authoritative bass the Mu-so 2nd Generation is able to generate is pretty astounding. I also noted that transients were handled exceptionally well; better than any all-in-one product I've heard to date.
Sonically, I can find no fault with the Naim beyond it possibly struggling in oversized rooms. Aesthetically, I find no faults either. That said, it does suffer the same fate as other non-Apple devices with regard to AirPlay, namely hit-or-miss connectivity. When you search the AirPlay widget for available devices, sometimes it shows up on the list and sometimes it doesn't. Again, this is common with non-Apple devices. It happens more frequently and is more difficult to remedy with my Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin. That said, I found AirPlay 2 to be quite a bit more stable from a connection standpoint. It also worked well in conjunction with my HomePod in terms of playing them simultaneously for multi-room audio. So, if you have legacy Apple products sans AirPlay 2, just be aware that you might run into connectivity issues.
Given all of my emphasis on Apple's HomePod above, you know I'm going to start there. When you get right down to it, though, if you can afford the Naim, you should buy the Naim. If $300 is the most you can afford to spend on a self-contained audio playback device, you're not going to find too much fault in Apple's offering. I would stop short of calling the HomePod an audiophile product, though, while the Naim fits that bill brilliantly.
Another stalwart player in the all-in-one streaming realm is Bowers & Wilkins. At $899, the company's Formation Wedge (available at Crutchfield and Audio Advice) is worth a look and a listen. While I have not auditioned the Wedge, I have enough experience with Bowers & Wilkins to know that their speakers, from the bottom of their product line to the top, are always well-engineered. You might also want to take a look at the $3,999 B&W Formation Duo (available at Crutchfield and Audio Advice). While not direct apples-to-apples (the Duo is a pair of powered speakers), it does represent the high end of what's available today in terms of all-in-one packages.
There's also, of course, Sonos to consider. If you're mainly interested in the AV connectivity of the Mu-so 2nd Generation, you might also consider the new Sonos Arc at $799 (available at Amazon, Audio Advice, and Crutchfield). It isn't nearly as lovely as the Naim, of course, but it does feature more extensive streaming service support and also features Atmos audio decoding and playback. In truth, though, the Mu-so is more like an Arc, Sonos Port, and Sonos Five all wrapped up in one pretty package.
Since I've made much of the comparison between Apple's offering and that of Naim, I'll wrap with an analogy. Making a determination regarding HomePod vs Naim vs whatever is sort of like a Porsche enthusiast trying to decide between a Boxster, a Cayman, or a 911. Anyone who possesses the requisite discretionary funds will likely go for the power, prestige, and history of the 911. For the rest of us, it's the Boxster or the Cayman... or no Porsche at all.
My point is, if you have the money, buy the Naim. You will not be disappointed in its performance, nor its build quality, nor its aesthetics. Hell, if you follow my lead and write a check for your own Mu-so 2nd Generation all-in-one, you might even thank me.
• Visit the Naim Audio website for more product information.
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