Imagine this: You place an audio playback system in your living room and enjoy the hell out of your favorite music with your family and friends. This is something I could only imagine, but for many people this is something they remember. Back in the day people placed a stereo console in their living rooms and partook in all the fun that goes along with listening to music with others. Sadly, over the years these ďbeautifulĒ pieces of audio furniture were replaced by separate components and soon relegated to man caves. The wonderful hobby of listening to music moved from a shared experience to a companionless commitment. Even worse than a room in the basement, where thereís a chance the guys could hang out for a while and listen to a couple tracks before being summoned upstairs to join the rest of the party, is the solitary loneliness of listening to music through headphones. The shared experience of listening to music has been obliterated by keep-it-to-yourself audio and the antisocial pseudo-communal experience of sharing yourself with others online, but only from the comfort of your empty house. I am way over on the introvert side on the introvert / extrovert continuum, but I still enjoy sharing the things I love with friends and family Ö while the friends and family are physically in the room, not simply reachable via Internet Protocol from an iPad in an isolated nook of my living room. In addition to sharing the music I love with others, the ability to share high quality sound with others is also important. Without an easily accessible and conveniently placed high end audio system in a common living space, this sharing of good sound just isnít going to happen. Sure, my three year old daughter comes down to my listening room now and then, but imagine if I could bring all the music and all the quality to her on a daily basis. That would be priceless. While the dream of doing this is priceless, the reality of doing this here and itís made possible my Englandís Naim Audio. Having the Naim Mu-so in my house has enabled me to bring my favorite (and my daughterís favorite) music, in high quality, to her and has enabled me to share the fine qualities of a high end component with friends who had no idea such a product exists. I donít know how many times Iíve told friends that a Bose iPod dock isnít the height of living, but now I can casually let them experience the joys of high quality music and fine craftsmanship while getting together to create new shared experiences weíll remember for a lifetime.
In the last several years there have been all kinds of somewhat similar products that while cool, just didnít do it for me. Or, maybe I was simply blind to what was in front of me and it took me longer than most to realize what a critical role this category of product can play in the lives of high quality music aficionados. Either way, the Naim Audio Mu-so is here and itís high quality in both sight and sound.
The technical specifics of the Mu-so are very good, but are much less interesting to me than its end game, producing music for peopleís enjoyment. Briefly, the Mu-so has six custom drivers setup as a pair of three way loudspeakers. Each physical drive unit is powered by its own 75 watt digital amplifier. The entire system is controlled by a 32 bit digital signal processor, making this active loudspeaker system completely optimized for high end playback. One of my favorite technical features that intersects with aesthetics is the Naim engineered internal antenna. I donít know how many products Iíve had in my system that feature the ultimate in ugliness, the old faithful of WiFi devices since the late 1990s, the rubbery plastic wireless antenna. The Mu-so does not ďfeatureĒ this antithesis of high quality. The Mu-soís built-in antenna not only canít be seen, but it works terrific. The wireless worked so well during this review period that it blew well past Naimís stated specs for high resolution file support. According to Naim, the Mu-so only supports sample rates up through 48 kHz when sent to the unit via 802.11 b/g (2.4 GHz) WiFi. Yes, you read that correctly, the Mu-so only features 802.11 b/g wireless, not 802.11n or 802.11ac. I guess good engineers can eek out every ounce of performance from even an old WiFi standard. When streaming music to the Mu-so I monitored WiFi traffic to and from the unit. My monitor showed the Mu-so maxing-out the 802.11g WiFi capabilities at 54 Mbps, but playback remained problem-free. Back to streaming higher resolutions than the stated Naim maximum of 48 kHz. The maximum sample rate supported by the Mu-so is 24/192, so I figured I would cut right to the chase and stream 24/192 via WiFi. To my surprise 24/192 files played back without a hiccup. These high resolution files even played gapless! Thatís better than some high end components can do wired, let alone wireless. Is my situation an anomaly? Iím unsure. A search of Google did indicate some users experiencing week WiFi issues with he Mu-so, but Iím sure a Google search of any wireless product would reveal the same. When it comes to WiFi, thereís no substitute for trying the product in oneís own environment. Those lucky enough to have wired Ethernet near a Mu-so can simply plug the unit in and never worry about any WiFi issues.
The Mu-so supports a surprising number of input methods and services including UPnP, AirPlay, Bluetooth (aptX), USB (for USB drives or portable players), Tidal, Spotify Connect, Internet radio, optical (TosLink), and even good ole analog. Bringing all of this together is Naimís very well designed iOS / Android application. Selection of the input or source service is done with a simply tap of the finger on a specific icon. The app is one of the only apps that Iíd recommend people stick with, even if they are using UPnP. I usually tell people to just use JRiver with JRemote if they want to stream UPnP. However, the Naim app is very good and worthy of peopleís time to get used to it. Sure there are some things that JRemote can do that the Naim app canít, such as edit metadata embedded in the file or display tag values for dynamic range, but for the most part most people will probably be very happy with Naimís app. Well done Naim. My one complaint about the app is its inability to preset some podcast channels for easy access. To listen to The Adam Carolla Show I had to browse into Podcasts by Genre > Comedy > the search for Adam Carolla to find KFIRís ACS channel. It would be so much better if I could set KFIR as a preset like I can with other Internet radio channels within the Naim app, but this inít the case right now. It would also be nice if Naim could embed full Spotify browsing and playback within the app for Spotify Connect, but Spotify has allowed almost nobody to do this. Selecting the Spotify icon within the Nam app simply brings up a page that says, launch the Spotify app. once something is playing, the Naim app can control it a bit through forward and back and volume buttons, but itís too limited for practical use with tens of millions of tracks available. Fortunately, this wontí be an issue for most audiophiles because they likely donít stream Spotifyís lossy offerings anyway.
Using the Mu-so
I briefly touched on some of the technical aspects above, but what really thrills me about the device is my experience listening to the Mu-so. To me, the Mu-so is all about good aesthetic design, good sound quality, and good Tidal integration within the Naim iOS app. There was no way I was getting a component into our living room unless it visually appealed to everyone in the house. By everyone, I mean my wife. To us, the Mu-so passed the looks test and itís pleasant to view every day. The switchable front grills are nice as is the ability to raise and lower the intensity of the lighting underneath the unit.
Sound reproduction through the Mu-so is better than 99% of the devices in this category. I didnít say 100% because I havenít heard them all, but I can make an educated guess based on what Iíve heard and what I know is available. One canít expect the Mu-so to replace a full HiFi system, but they also canít expect a full HiFi system to replace the Mu-so in a civilian living room. What one can expect is for the Mu-so to easily outperform products like the ubiquitous Sonos and likely all the other devices sitting next to the Mu-so in the Apple Store. Many dealers Iíve talk to over the years have always said they wish they had something to offer customers that worked like a Sonos but offered something more high end in all categories namely sound quality. The Naim Mu-so is definitely the product to replace Sonos in homes where people care about sound quality. During the review period I sent everything in the direction of the Mu-so, from Metallica to Menudo (wait, what? Did I just write that) to Leonard Cohen to Iggy Azalea to Prince to Nicki Minaj to Peter, Paul and Mary, because thatís how I listen to music when using a device like the Mu-so. I donít sit in my kitchen listening for the back hall ambiance of a Keith Johnson Reference Recording while I prepare something for my daughter to eat. Rather, walk around the house or sit in a room listening to whatever moves me at the moment or whatever is going to get my daughter to dance and recite lyrics. Since she was two year old my daughter has been really in to the band Journey. For example, today she came to me and asked me to play Journey and wanted to skip the first track, going right into her hat trick of favorites, Donít Stop Believiní, Wheel In The Sky, and Faithfully. And yes, she sings the words, dances, and plays the air drums during Faithfully. This is what itís all about. Exposing my daughter to great music and high quality sound and to watch her be a toddler dancing like nobody is watching. Whatís more, I can do this every day of the week because Iíve brought the experience to her rather than wait for her to come down to my listening room. The Mu-so enables me to accomplish all of this while checking off the required boxes of aesthetics, sound quality and great app with Tidal integration.
Note: The settings within the app allow the user to dis/enable the Loudness function. I preferred listening with Loudness disabled as I thought it added a bit too much bass.
Speaking of the app and Tidal integration, the Mu-so to me is all about accessibility. Accessibility in that itís easy to use the app and stream tens of millions of lossless quality tracks with the tap of a finger and it integrates with how I live, playing music at home and while mobile with Tidal in both scenarios. How so? Naimís Tidal integration enables the user to create or add to a Tidal playlist within the Naim app, and have that Tidal playlist appear wherever one uses Tidal. On my iPhone and within Roon the Tidal playlists are the same as they are in the Naim app. Itís great when technology follows what the user wants rather than when technology makes the user act a certain way that is the opposite of anyone except a software developer. The Naim Tidal integration is a bit like Roon in that it displays some of the information surrounding an artist or specific release. For example browsing the Artist St. Paul and the Broken Bones, one can tap on a paragraph of text that explains a bit about the band. Within the text one can tap artists names such as James Brown and be taken directly to the James Brown Tidal page. Browsing this bandís album named Half the City enables the user to view information about the album such as a write-up and guitarist, bassist, producer, and mastering engineer. None of the aforementioned metadata is hyperlinked like it is in Roon, but Roon is the exception to the rule when it comes to music discovery in this manner. As expected by now, the Naim Tidal integration displays all of oneís favorite artists, albums and tracks, in addition to all the Tidal selections for Whatís New, Tidal Rising, and Tidal Discovery. Granted the Tidal-selected music in these areas has changed since new management took over, but nonetheless this is still available for oneís perusal within the Naim app, as is the age old method of simply searching for what one wants (itís very fast by the way).
The reason all of us entered into this hobby was because of the music and how it made is feel emotionally. We didnít start purchasing sterile HiFi gear only to find out we could play something called music through said gear. Music brings out emotion like few other things in this world. What can make the emotional experience even better for many of us is getting closer to the performers and the actual sound of the recordings through great HiFi components. In addition, the ability to share both our favorite recordings and high quality reproduction with our friends and family is hard to put a price on. The Naim Mu-so enables us to overcome many barriers to bringing music back into our every day lives. The Mu-soís high end build quality, aesthetic appearance, comparatively small size, high sound quality, and well made remote application make it the perfect piece to place almost anywhere in oneís home or office. When tens of millions of tracks are available in high quality at our fingertips we are guaranteed to enjoy this wonderful hobby even more and share what weíve known forever with our loved ones. Great music is one thing, but add in the element of high quality playback and the listeners can be transported to places only limited by the imagination. The Mu-so has enabled me to share more music and high quality sound with my daughter, in a short period of time, than any piece of HiFi gear Iíve used in her three years on this planet. That fact alone makes the Mu-so worth its weight in gold. As soon as my daughter asks for Pearl Jam in high resolution, the Mu-so will literally be priceless.