If you’re looking for compact home audio there’s no shortage of options. There’s Sonos, there’s adapters for existing stereos, there are countless Airplay and Bluetooth systems. But I’d argue that, per cubic foot, there’s no more perfect solution than British sonic maestro Naim Audio’s new Mu-So Qb.
Debuted at CES 2016, the Qb is the littler, more equilateral brother of the original Naim Mu-So, which debuted in 2014 to nearly universal acclaim (including a nod in the GP100). The general premise of the Mu-So was to compact the multi-component home hi-fi into a single, attractive, incredibly well-connected device that could produce rich audio from a number of sources and pair with other Mu-So speakers for a whole home audio system, a la Sonos or Como Audio. The only downsides: it was big (compared to most connected speakers on the market) at 10 inches deep and over two feet long, and it sold for the tough-to-swallow price of $1,499.
The Qb is a checklist solution to those issues. It’s sized at a much more manageable 8.6 x 8.6 x 8.3 inches (not technically a Qb), it sells for a slightly more reasonable $999, and the performance trade-off isn’t noticeable unless you’re aiming to fill out a McMansion-sized rec room. The speaker connects to any music source you can think of, including physical connections like USB, Toslink and 3.5mm analog along with wireless options like Bluetooth Apt-X, Airplay, Spotify Connect, Tidal and UPnP (for what it’s worth, we used it with Bluetooth for 95 percent of the time, call us old fashioned).
The Qb’s greatness rests in how it retains the original Mu-So’s two most important traits. First up is the best-feeling volume knob currently in production — a gigantic, backlit wheel with a weight and smoothness that’s reminiscent of a Leica Summilux lens. And second — and perhaps slightly more important — is the audio quality. The Qb’s internal arrangement of two dome tweeters, two midrange drivers and a custom-made subwoofer driven by its own 100-watt amp and working alongside two passive bass radiators allows the small speaker punches far above its weight class and can deliver 300 watts of shockingly well-defined sound.
If you’re in the market for serious hi-fi sound that takes up less space than a stack of hardbacks, it’s tough to point you in any other direction than the Qb. Audio quality, multi-unit pairing, aesthetic brilliance and ease of use makes it my top pick for any rooms (or budgets) that are a little too tight for a full-size setup.