Naim Mu-so Second-Generation Compact Stereo System

High End Made Simple

Equipment report
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio
Naim Mu-so Second-Generation Compact Stereo System

Luxurious and Engaging
I hooked the Mu-so 2 up and did some casual listening initially, being sure to take the volume levels up to medium and medium-loud often so that the speaker drivers and amps got a chance to break-in. It seemed the first firmware update, which installed near the end of 2019, provided a serious uptick to the sound quality. It was tricky to say exactly what changed and how much though, since before/after listening was only separated by a day, and the update was not reversible.

Luxury? How about Rutter’s Magnificat? By the King’s College Choir, Cambridge, with City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Ah yes. It brought up more than just a taste of memories of performing the piece a couple of months before with the choir I am in here in New Mexico, though the recording features a boys’ choir for the soprano and alto parts instead of women. I would say full choral music with orchestra is the true acid-test of any system. There are just so many elements at play simultaneously, so many different musical lines and flavors to be displayed and detailed. For a hi-fi to be able to present it so you can hear every single part (given a recording of sufficient quality, of course), while keeping the whole properly balanced in emotion, dynamics, and flow is not an easy feat. This the Naim Mu-so 2 can do. Very impressive for a compact, affordable system.

Did it ever offend sonically? To check this out we need to play a recording which has sounded offensive under the wrong conditions—Isolation by Toto. I queued up the album and voilà…no offense at all. While I love the music, this album can be too hot in the top octave on some systems. Great songs, but the recording does not have the delicious liquidity and enveloping reverb of its predecessor, the more famous Toto IV. I was jamming out, toe-tapping, and loving the sound of every single instrument, yes, including the piano and horn section.  I was particularly impressed with the presentation of the reverb. It seemed less flummoxed by treble sounds like snare and cymbals than it had on many other systems.

Not content with a single victory, I felt compelled to fire the trebuchet once again upon the fortress that is the Mu-so. “U Got the Look” by Prince would do nicely. Heavily-layered rock/funk track with synth, multiple guitars, multiple percussion, and multiple vocals all going at once. This little all-in-one marvel did not miss a beat, literally. I could clearly pick out any and all musical lines, even in the busiest passages. The guitar solos and vocals stood high and proud. The bass was surprisingly satisfying also. It seemed like the amount and quality of bass you might expect from two separate speakers each the size of the Mu-so. Though the Naim did come up just short of a miracle, as the very lowest frequencies were missing, and some of the second-lowest frequencies, as well. But for it to make Prince, Toto, and just about any other rock or funk I threw at it completely danceable was quite a feat for a small system like this.

Muse on the Mu-so
It may be the same size as and shape of a “boom-box,” but once you start to hear what this compact system can do, there will be no mistaking it for an “all-in-one” of decades past. It is a different creature entirely. It can recreate a convincing illusion of a band/orchestra/artist right there in your home, in front of “your very eyes,” as well as some affordable systems built from separate components. Its best qualities compare favorably to those of systems of separate components up to about twice its price, though there are some caveats. 

One, it will not play super-loud, an expected result for amps and speaker drivers of this size, though I was not able to induce blatant distortion at any volume. However, when I took it up to loud levels during my auditioning in a small room, I did start to feel like it was straining a touch.

The other caveat is that you just don’t get the kind of wide, deep soundstage from a single stereo unit like this that you get from individual speakers. Unless, that is, you put your head unrealistically close to the unit. What you get in exchange is affordable price, ease of location/relocation/use, simplicity of setup, unobtrusive aesthetics, guaranteed compatibility, etc. Not a bad tradeoff.