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Naim Mu-so Second-Generation Compact Stereo System

almost owned a Naim CDI player as my main source component back in the early 90s. That is more of a positive recommendation than it sounds. I did not change equipment very often, and my choice had been narrowed down to just the Naim and one other. It ended up being fortunate later that I chose the Kinergetics, as it was a more flexible platform for modifications and tweaking. However, I did feel the Naim sounded better, justifying its higher price. There was a special “Naim look” that lasted for many years, ultra-simple and clean layout and controls, with bright green display and logo. Was there also a “Naim sound”?  I can’t say definitively as the CDI was the only component I became intimately familiar with. I do remember it sounded luxurious and engaging, among other things. 

Judging from the new second generation of Naim’s extremely popular Mu-so all-in-one compact system ($1690), the new “Naim look” seems to include clean lines and an overall black/grey color scheme, as before. However, the bright green displays have been replaced by less-fun white lighting. I suppose the displays will fit into a wider variety of home décors that way. The Mu-so’s speaker grilles can be ordered in different colors: black, peacock, terracotta, or olive. As for simplicity of controls, is that even possible in an advanced, streaming all-in-one system? Yes, why not? Naim’s solution is to leave the more complex controls hidden until you choose to access them. In normal operation all you may notice is the Naim logo along the bottom front, and the large glowing circular volume control on the top. Apart from a tiny status-indicator light and a USB input on the side, the other inputs are hidden on the bottom. 

But let’s get back to what exactly this unit is: a complete all-in-one streaming compact system. From the Android or iOS apps you can stream most popular services, including Spotify and Tidal, controlled natively. You can also connect network resources and digital and analog sources directly. The Mu-so includes wireless networking, DSP, D/A converter, preamp, power amps, and stereo speakers all in one chassis. Simple, yes?

Particular Muons
Is the Mu-so 2 as small as a subatomic particle? No, it carries some heft. The ample heatsinks at the rear inspire confidence in a mountain-dweller, who has only thin air to flow over them at high altitude. Even playing at medium-loud levels for extended periods never got the heatsinks more than slightly warm. The chassis is more rigid than the original, and has 13% greater internal volume for improved bass performance. The 150MIPs of DSP power in the original Mu-so has been increased to 2000MIPs. The Class D amps have a cumulative power rating of 450W. Even the touch-wheel control interface has been redesigned, with 15 touch-sensitive points on the illuminated dial, along with a proximity sensor that wakes up the unit when you bring your hand near it. The Mu-so 2 comes with a wireless remote, and a two-year warranty, which is important since a component of such complexity would be challenging to repair, even for a professional. It would be nice to have an even longer warranty on a whole system such as this. 

Starting with the inputs, there is native support in the Naim app for Chromecast, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Internet Radio, and Roon. Of course, anything else you have on a mobile device you can send to the Mu-so 2 via Bluetooth, UPnP streaming, or USB. It also has an optical digital input, a 3.5mm analog stereo jack, an Ethernet LAN jack, and HDMI. It is multiroom-ready for use with other Naim streaming systems. I mostly listened to Tidal streaming through the Naim app (via an Android tablet) over my WLAN, though I did test the functionality of some other inputs. The others worked fine, but were not quite in the same league in sound quality.

The Naim app itself is quite well rounded, providing all the settings and controls you’ll ever need. Though it has a fairly basic look and interface, the Mu-so 2 still aims to keep as much control at your fingertips as possible. It reminded me of the BluOS app, which was a good thing, although I wish the app were available for Windows PC, as BluOS is. To be fair, the affordable Technics Ottava all-in-one units that I reviewed in Issue 300 did not have a Windows app either. Tidal navigation and music selection via a Windows app just seems faster and easier. I suppose, though, a diminutive tablet in hand is preferable to a laptop PC nearby, while you’re parked in your listening chair/sofa. However, quite often I will listen to an entire album, or at least an album side, before I move on to the next thing. (Yes, I still think in terms of album sides from time to time.)

There was a minor hiccup when trying to update the firmware of the main unit. I had paired to my WLAN and started listening to music through the Mu-so 2, when it alerted me that an update was available. I tried a few times to update it over WLAN, and the tiny light on the side changed colors, was blinking, and the volume control display was pulsing and counting-down—very exciting! From these indicators I realized that the download never completed. So I connected a LAN cable to the unit and tried the update again, and it completed successfully. This was true for both major firmware updates during my auditioning. Not a big deal, really. Just don’t waste your time attempting the update via WLAN.

 

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. 

 

It goes without saying this would make a great first high-end system for a young person (perhaps in a college dorm room). It would also make a great second or third system for the already well-equipped audiophile, without offending his or her ears. Put one in the kitchen, the workshop, the ski cabin, or the beach house, and share the good tunes and good vibes with everyone within earshot. No headphones required—stay plugged-in to each other instead. 

The sound and overall performance of the Mu-so 2 fell right about where I expected relative to the other compact all-in-one systems I have reviewed over the past year. It’s sound was decisively more refined and detailed than the two Technics Ottava systems (SC-C50 and SC-C70), each of which goes for half or just over half of the price of the Mu-so 2. Then again, it could not really scale the dizzying heights of performance I enjoyed with the DALI Callisto 2C, though it did give a taste, a very generous taste, of that level of satisfaction at less than half the price of the Danish wonder-system. 

Naim’s new Mu-so 2 is highly recommended.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Table-top powered wireless speakers, with integrated streaming
Inputs: 3.5mm mini stereo jack (analog), TosLink digital, USB, WiFi, LAN, Bluetooth, HDMI
Amplifier power: 75W per driver x 6  (450W total)
High frequency driver: 2 x 1″ dome tweeters 
Midrange driver: 2 x 2.25″ cones 
Woofer: 2 x 2.5″ x 5″ cones, “racetrack” configuration
Price: $1690

FOCAL-NAIM AMERICA
313 Rue Marion
Repentigny, QC J5Z 4W8, Canada
(800) 663-9352
focalnaimamerica.com 

By Muse Kastanovich

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