Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation music system Page 2

The Mu-so's six speaker drivers—a tweeter, midrange, and oval-shaped woofer per channel—are housed on the front panel, covered by a detachable grille of stretched fabric; dark gray comes standard but three other hues are available at additional cost: Terracotta, Olive, and Peacock.

Removing the grille reveals that the midrange drivers are positioned at the extreme ends of the cabinet; that's because the stereo-steering information comes mainly from the mids. The midrange arrays have patented rubber surrounds of slightly higher mass—a design borrowed from Focal's Utopia Evo speaker line—which are said to help with excursion linearity, Matthews told me.

The Mu-so 2nd Gen has 13% more volume than its predecessor, allowing for better bass capability, but the speaker driver diameters are not huge. Each of the Mu-so's six drivers is actively driven by its own class-D amplifier. 75W is available to each tweeter, midrange, and bass driver for a total of 450 watts. Naim worked collaboratively with Focal to develop the drivers, with bigger magnets and motor systems and longer-throw woofers.

DSP helps, too. "For this generation, we've put in a brand-new algorithm for the bass to give more perceived bass out," says Sells. "It's a dual-band compressor. So, we split the low frequencies, too, and we know exactly how far the cone can go on its excursion at different frequencies."

In use
The second-generation Mu-so was fun to interact with. The round control panel on top is a futuristic touch—or I should say nontouch: A proximity sensor turns it on as your hand approaches. Its center, though, is an actual touchscreen featuring 15 "buttons" with self-explanatory symbols. Surrounding this is a large, glowing LED volume control dial that felt nice and smooth to turn. Sells explained via email that it's a fly-by-wire type, mounted on a precision ball bearing packed with damping grease, as found in camera zoom lenses. Its movement is optically detected to avoid friction.

All this was legitimately cool, but most of the time I used the app, which can control the whole Naim lineup. It's comprehensive, covering everything Naim's network components do. Despite its ambition, I'd rank the Naim app above average in user-friendliness; the interface was intuitive. When I switched from Wi-Fi to wired Ethernet, I had to repeat the setup steps, but this only took a few moments. Glitches were rare. It's handy having everything in one place: music streaming services, external source selections, other networked Naim components, and all the various controls and settings.

A small LED on the right side (beside a USB Type-A input) glows in different colors to indicate connectivity, operation, and setup status.

There's an inconvenience to the Mu-so's minimalism: The inputs are located on the underside of the cabinet and positioned close together inside a small, recessed space. Plugging in cables was tricky. (The USB port is an exception; it is located on the right side.) The easiest way I found involved carefully lifting the right side of the unit until the Mu-so was resting fully on its left side. This is more of a reviewer's than a user's dilemma—and it must be acknowledged that there's a good reason for it: Once the cables were connected, they were tidily tucked away beneath the unit and discreetly extended behind it.

Finally, I tried the lightweight remote control, which worked fine, but because there's an app for that, it likely wouldn't see much use. There's also Roon.

As usual, I started with the most convenient, albeit lowest, entry point for listening: my iPhone 8 Plus via basic Bluetooth, which uses standard codecs. Naim decided against incorporating aptX in the Mu-so because it wasn't giving them what they wanted. Bluetooth was mainly included as a convenience, Sells said. Next I played back a few albums from a USB drive and on tracks of comparable resolution found the sound better than via Bluetooth. But the focus here is on higher-grade sound through streaming source options, which is primarily where I focused my critical listening.

The Mu-so supports the major digital streaming services including Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz, natively, as well as AirPlay 2 (iTunes and Apple Music) and built-in Chromecast, which allows many more apps to be used. There are options for internet radio, including five presets. Mu-so is also Roon Ready, so I used Roon to listen to Tidal and some of my own library tracks. I also tried Chromecast via Google Home. I tried multiroom through Roon (say that three times fast!) with my MacBook Air as Roon Core and as the other networked playback device. After a few setup steps, it worked fine.

I experimented with the Mu-so's room compensation, which offers three options based on the unit's placement (Corner, Near Wall, and Off). In my listening room, the Mu-so resided on the top shelf of my heavy-duty Critical Mass Systems equipment rack. Its back panel was more than two feet from the wall behind it, which would call for either the Near Wall or Off setting. Although these settings adjust the bass output by a couple of dB, I detected other subtle effects. For most music, I preferred the Near Wall setting, with Loudness Control off. Set up that way, playback seemed slightly less polite in its transient attacks and overall dynamics. Bass seemed a touch less full. Energy and pacing seemed to pick up. Again, the differences were subtle.

Almost from the start of my (post–break-in) time with the unit, a few sonic characteristics stood out: crisp clarity with more detail and dynamic output than I expected. Subjective impressions of bass extension seemed to exceed what's possible from small drivers within a smallish box.

The Mu-so 2nd Gen looks a lot like it sounds: clean and smooth, uncluttered. It's hard to pinpoint or describe, but there generally was a sense of ease and continuity in the musical information and details.

One cannot reasonably expect a device the size of the Mu-so to recreate the full impact or scale of certain musical events. This would likely matter most for fans of, say, pipe organ and synth-bass–heavy genres such as Dubstep. Also, full-effect, large-scale orchestral works aren't what the Mu-so was made for. Depending on the source recording, some spatial and staging cues are there. It's worth considering, though, that many people listen to such works via table or modest car radios. Perhaps what's really remarkable is how well the Mu-so does approximate certain aspects of music performances.

Take for instance late Nigerian percussionist/composer Tony Allen's The Source (24/88.2 FLAC, Qobuz stream), a late-career album recorded live in the Midilive Studio in France. I'd listened to my LP (Blue Note 5768336, 2017) of this recording on my audiophile father's system during a recent visit and noticed the jazz musicians seemed to be positioned fairly far back within the soundstage; I was used to hearing this effect on my own MBL reference system. Listening via the Mu-so's native Qobuz, a decent sense of the musicians' relatively recessed placement was conveyed. The Mu-so also lent some realism to the distinctive, deep, rich tones of Yann Jankielewicz's baritone sax and Rémi Sciuto's bari and bass saxophones.


Timing and rhythm also seemed intact. "On Fire" lived up to its name, with Allen's feverish cymbal and snare taps keeping time. Second-line rhythms were distinct. Attacks were quick and clean. Ditto on the "Cruising" track's brassy horn bursts. The album's propulsive energy had an infectious continuity. These grooves seemed to be able to start and stop on a dime.

For electro pop, I tried Billie Eilish's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (24/44.1 FLAC Qobuz stream). The metallic scraping sound effect that opens "You Should See Me in a Crown" caught my ear—actually, both ears. It was so clear and convincing that I replayed it a few times. On "Bad Guy," bass felt punchy and pacey. The low end on "Xanny" and the other tracks wasn't going to rattle windows, but it somehow gave the impression of going deeper than would be possible from an enclosure and woofers this size. I was left neither disappointed nor longing for a subwoofer.

The Mu-so seemed to render enough detail to convey aspects of artists' signature styles. Tori Amos's idiosyncratic vocals and piano playing weren't always perfect in playback, but her expression came through the Mu-so on a couple of popular tracks from her remastered 1994 release, Under the Pink (24/44.1 FLAC Qobuz stream). Close-miking emphasizes her breathy delivery—delivered adequately on the Mu-so. On the quirky "Cornflake Girl," the jangly guitars and sleigh bells, which can be a little bright and irritating on some systems, weren't tiresome here—they were however clear as, uh, a bell. Amos's stirring, lilting piano solo buildup—it comes and goes between end codas—sounded dynamically on target and pretty believable. Loud and soft dynamic variations in her playing were evident. At the discordant "Icicle" intro's end, her Bösendorfer's decays lingered a long time. Satisfying.

Although I wasn't particularly interested in the Mu-so for TV use, I did try the HDMI ARC connection briefly to make sure it allowed you to control TV audio via your TV's remote. I moved the Mu-so onto the credenza beside my Samsung Smart TV. While I watched concert footage on YouTube, the Mu-so provided expansive-enough stereo sound that I hardly noticed it was next to the TV rather than beneath or above it, etc. And yes, I was able to control the volume with the TV remote.

Some readers out there may be merely hi-fi curious and are looking for an entry point into this game; for them, I suppose, the Mu-so could be that entry point. For the majority of Stereophile readers, this would probably serve best as a second system or a Roon endpoint, in an office, kitchen, or bedroom: The Mu-so has an alarm and a sleep timer function. (I should have taken advantage of this feature instead of staying up so late listening ... and writing.)

But don't misunderstand me: The Mu-so is no bedside clock-radio.

The musical Mu-so 2nd Generation offers serious sound and engineering from a respected maker, but it's also built for fun. I wanted to keep on listening, and that speaks volumes. Whether soaking up new stuff or revisiting old favorites, I never experienced the aural fatigue that can set in after a long listening session with some powerful, high-octane systems (wonderful and impressive as those can be). This was true even at higher volumes. I was listening to more electronic music, along with some drums and bass. Jazz, too—a form I usually prefer live.

In some ways, the Mu-so 2nd Gen made me reexamine my sonic preferences. I tend to enjoy substance and musicality with enough detail to capture the essential realism in what an instrument or singer sounds like. I'd rather err on the side of fuller-bodied sound over leanness, as long as it doesn't make the music sound slow or sluggish or detract from its energy. Generally, I'm not drawn to sound that's overly "pristine"; digital sound, especially, can be too clean and perfect, skewing clinical, analytical, and less than expressive. The Mu-so did sound clean and detailed—almost pristine—but it stayed decidedly on the musical, expressive side.

The Mu-so delivers on Naim's stated intention: to get people—audiophiles or not, even analog devotees—to engage more with their music. It's small and inexpensive for what all you get, but it's plenty good enough to capture, or recapture, sublime musical moments and memories.

Naim Audio Ltd.
Distributor: Focal Naim North America
313 Rue Marion
Repentigny, Quebec QC J5Z 4N8, Canada
(800) 663.9352

MhtLion's picture

I don't see any comparison to other lifestyle products or any other similarly priced products. But, the market is flooded with lifestyle products, and the competition around $1500-$2000 is fierce. Also, about good 60-70% of the article seems to come directly from Naim. Audio equipment is subject. Extremely subjective that I think the only way to achieve some objectiveness is by comparing to other products or by providing measurements in my humble opinion.

Chaeflot's picture

I agree that comparisons are very helpful to readers and consumers. I can add a bit to this. I have listened to too many of these small 'lifestyle' systems and speakers and the comparisons have become rather muddled. Those units were mostly quite satisfactory, but I am someone who can enjoy music on a good car stereo.

That confusion doesn't matter much in this case, because when I sat down in the dealer's listening room seeking to listen to the Muso2, I thought the music playing was from his component system and separate speakers. It was not small-speaker music, and it was tonally rich and completely enjoyable. The review could be misinterpreted to be implying that the Muso is overly detailed, bright, and PRAT-exaggerated, but that is not the case. The Muso puts a lot of musical energy into a large room, and the tonal balance is completely realistic. I purchased the Muso.

Julie Mullins's picture

Thanks for reading and commenting, Chaeflot. To be clear, I didn't find the Mu-so Gen 2 at all bright or tipped-up in tonal balance either. It sounds like you had similar impressions of its expansion and energy. Glad you liked what you heard enough to make a purchase!

Julie Mullins's picture

MhtLion, thanks for your comments. Those are fair statements. However, partly because this is an all-in-one type of product that arguably isn't typically "audiophile" in the purist (or purest) sense, I chose not to follow some of the more standard review conventions. I thought readers might be interested in knowing more about what's unique about this product on the technical side — and by extension, why it sounds as good as it does, given its type/category's inherent limitations (size of chassis, drivers, etc.).

tonykaz's picture

This is what my wife would choose for her HiFi. My own singing mother would also love this thing.

Nice Product review

Tony in Venice

ps. it kind of reminds me of vintage B&O

remlab's picture

Physics be damned. Dsp can't fix what that will do to the in room response.

mraudio's picture

One of my favorite places on earth. I've seen hundreds and hundreds of concerts there. I'd live there, if they'd let me. Many, many of my memories are associated with that venue...