Naim Mu-So for Bentley review: Ludicrously luxurious wireless audio
Question: what does the audiophile with money to burn buy himself? Is it some extra-expensive interconnect cable, built by the children of Athenian godesses from unicorn hair and spider silk? Or does he go for luxury brand association? High-end British hi-fi manufacturer Naim is hoping for the latter and, after recently partnering with the same car firm to develop its premium in-car audio system, it has persuaded Bentley to return the favour and slap its logo on Naim’s equally luxurious high-end wireless speaker – the Mu-So.
It’s an odd venture. One the one hand, Naim is not a brand I’d think of as needing a boost. Its products, targeted at the discerning audiophile, have always had a certain cachet, are always beautifully constructed, with exquisite attention to detail, and usually sound wonderful. The brand has history, pedigree and is generally well thought of among those who care about such things.
On the other, it makes perfect sense. The Bentley owner is someone who is used to a touch of pampering behind the wheel, and that’s precisely what Naim Audio products offer in the audiophile world: delivering a little luxury not just for your ears, but your tactile senses, too.[gallery:1]
Naimn Mu-So for Bentley review: Design and build
Before I go any further, though, I’ll get my one complaint out of the way. It’s about the remote control, which is small, made of rather cheap-feeling plastic, and is so far out of keeping with the luxury ethos of both brands it’s ridiculous. Quite what Naim was thinking here I’ll never know – surely it would have been better not to supply a remote control at all.
But perhaps that was Naim’s reasoning. Why spend money designing a beautiful remote when most users will be selecting music and browsing sources via their smartphone or tablet? Why indeed, when all you want to do is get up out of your seat and adjust the volume with a light tweak of the Mu-So’s wonderfully indulgent, heavily damped volume dial?
Perhaps, though, Naim is relying on the fact that the Mu-So is such a fantastically well-made piece of hardware that you’ll forget it ever came with a remote control in the first place.
Its sharp lines, elongated shape and cloth front grille, which glitters with subtle silver threading, make it look more like a piece of designer Scandinavian furniture than a music-streaming device.
It’s one of those “ooh, that’s nice” products, from the subtly illuminated clear acrylic base, with the Bentley logo gleaming away in the corner, to the muscular, finned heatsink that runs across the entire rear of the box.
And there are touches everywhere that echo the detailing and materials used across the Bentley car range. The colour of the grille – Portland – is a “signature Bentley hue”; the pattern applied to the top of the Mu-So mimics the grille on Naim’s in-car audio system.[gallery:4]
Naim Mu-So for Bentley review: Features and audio quality
Once you’ve got over looking at it, stroking it and fiddling with that volume knob, it’s time to start using the Mu-So, and here the system continues to impress. The Mu-So is principally a Wi-Fi streamer, aimed at those with Spotify and Tidal subscriptions, but there are plenty of other ways to connect.
On the right-hand side of the unit, you’ll find analogue 3.5mm and USB inputs (for iPod and direct file playback). In a cubby hole cut out of the base is an optical S/PDIF port, and you can also connect your mobile devices via Bluetooth. It’s all controlled via the Naim app, which integrates access to both Tidal and Spotify services, and also allows access to your UPnP-compliant network servers.
There’s internet radio integration, too, and owners with multiple Naim products – including the smaller and just as attractive Mu-So QB – can link the speakers up to play music in sync.[gallery:2]
But enough about the looks and the features. How does this beauty sound when you start streaming music through it? In a word: magnificent. Thanks to a hugely powerful 450W amplifier and six “custom-designed” drivers, the Mu-So delivers sound on such a scale it’s scarcely believable. It’s powerful, it’s loud and yet it’s also subtle, rich, deft and balanced. For a box just 2ft long it’s seriously impressive stuff.
What’s most impressive about this relatively compact speaker, however, is the sheer grunt of bass it’s able to muster, and the control it exerts over those low-frequency notes. It’s ready to slam you in the chest with its power, vibrate the floorboards and annoy the neighbours, but it never wants for control and grip, delivering double bass and electronic pulses with equal authority and realism.
It’s not just the low notes that are good, though: every other aspect of your music sounds great through it, too, and there’s a rich, almost analogue quality to the way it presents music.[gallery:3]
Naim Mu-So for Bentley review: Verdict
This is a wonderfully sophisticated wireless speaker, as you’d expect from Naim. It defies its size to produce a wonderfully articulate musical performance; it’s well equipped and, aside from that carbuncle of a remote control, gorgeously well appointed in the design stakes.
And the price? Let’s just say that it’s expensive, but well worth it for the quality of the sound alone. Add in those luxurious looks and glorious, glorious design, and you have a wireless speaker system that’s as close to perfection as you’re likely to get. I want one.