Magazine article Gramophone

Mu-So by Naim: Accomplished All-In One System Well Worth the Wait

Magazine article Gramophone

Mu-So by Naim: Accomplished All-In One System Well Worth the Wait

Article excerpt

Even by Naim standards, the mu-so has been a while coming: it was at the Bristol Sound and Vision show back in February that Naim MD Paul Stephenson cornered me and said 'We've got something we're working on I'd like you to take a listen sometime soon.' It turned out to be an all-in-one system with UPnP streaming, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay and Spotify, housed in a wide, silver enclosure the whole of the front of which was taken up with drive units.

Digital amplification; only available in silver (at least so far) and with a choice of brightly-coloured optional front grilles; made in China; sold in the likes of Apple Stores and John Lewis as well as Naim dealers--unsurprisingly, news of mu-so attracted what was at best a mixed reception from the Naim faithful.

Even worse, the green illuminated logo was gone, replaced by the white version first seen on the range-topping Statement amplifier system, not to mention the lack of any power supply upgrade options or chances to use the company's famously inflexible cables.

But as both Stephenson and Sales Director Doug Graham told me at the time the product was first launched, Naim isn't in any way abandoning its core buyers in favour of those able to afford Statement, nor for those who would never even consider a separates hi-fi system: instead, it's spreading the appeal, and hopefully the awareness, of the brand by getting it in new outlets, and thus in front of those who'd otherwise not even be aware of this.

And why the manufacture in China? Graham was very clear: there would be little point in insisting on making the product in the UK if that meant it sold for 1500 [pounds sterling] or 2000 [pounds sterling], rather than its 895 [pounds sterling] tag. To reinforce the point, both Stephenson and project leader Trevor Wilson--who's also in charge of the company's network audio R&D--emphasised that Naim had spent a long time searching for a Chinese manufacturer not only able to meet its quality standards but also satisfy ethical requirements.

One of the benefits of the extensive use of DSP (digital signal processing) in mu-so is that it's possible to keep tweaking and tuning the sound without the need to change the physical design of the product, but then one of the disadvantages is that it can be hard to know when to stop: at one point I was told, 'Well, it's going into the shops in late September, so it's likely there will be revisions right up to that date--but then the benefit is that all will happen is that the unit will go into an "update from the Internet" routine when switched on.' So, what is mu-so? I've already mentioned some of the features but what will be most unexpected to those familiar with Naim's usual 'black boxes' is that the silver-clad mu-so is just a shade under 63cm wide, 12cm tall and 25.6cm deep. It appears to float above the shelf on which it sits, thanks to a transparent acrylic base, to the left-hand end of which is the white illuminated Naim logo--you can turn off this if required while to the rear is a finned heatsink running the whole length of the enclosure.

The only visible connections are a 3.5mm analogue audio input and a USB Type-A connector for portable devices on the right-hand end panel, along with a 'pinhole' button to reset the system and also allow it to 'inherit' home Wi-Fi settings from a connected iPad or iPhone. The Wi-Fi system uses an embedded diversity antenna to ensure optimal reception without an external 'twig' (or miniature rubber truncheon!).

The rest of the connections--mains, optical digital audio in and wired Ethernet--are recessed into the righthand end of the base, so cables come out of the unit and away to the rear out of sight, while a similar opening at the lefthand end forms the mouth of the reflex tuning port.

The amplification and speaker system here is a dual three-way design, using a 'racetrack' oval bass unit, a dome tweeter and a conventional midband driver for each channel, with each driver having its own channel of amplification, delivering 75 W into 8 ohms. …

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