SoundMag - - Review / Kf Muo - By Julie Mullins (The Ab­so­lute Sound)

De­mand for per­sonal, wire­less, and on-the-go au­dio has never been higher—cer­tainly among Gen Xers, Gen Yers, and Mil­len­ni­als—but au­dio­philes of any age, or any­one else who wants a por­ta­ble or desk­top sys­tem shouldn’t have to set­tle for sub­stan­dard son­ics. En­ter the KEF Muo, a won­der­ful lit­tle wire­less loud­speaker that de­liv­ers the sonic goods well be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions, es­pe­cially given its pe­tite di­men­sions. In­tended for those who want qual­ity lis­ten­ing on the go, it’s a tiny two-way that pumps out big, full, and ex­pan­sive sound with re­spectable res­o­lu­tion—and even re­pro­duces some sense of sound­stag­ing on many record­ings.

Achiev­ing both great sound and porta­bil­ity is a tall or­der. Even in this crowded mar­ket seg­ment, it’s not easy to find that com­bi­na­tion in a small, sleek, and smartly de­signed pack­age. Pro­duc­ing big sound from a small speaker also presents big en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenges. For­tu­nately the UK-based loud­speaker man­u­fac­turer KEF has in­dus­trial designer Ross Love­grove in its cor­ner. Love­grove, who de­signed the com­pany’s ac­claimed Muon flag­ship floor­stander, also con­ceived the Muo, which rep­re­sents the op­po­site end of the speaker spec­trum size-wise and price-wise. Yet the two have plenty in com­mon: Many of the Muon’s key de­sign el­e­ments have been re­pro­duced in the Muo, though ob­vi­ously on a smaller scale. The Muo’s smooth, mod­ern ex­te­rior is made from the Muon’s same acous­ti­cally in­ert, solid, brushed alu­minum that min­i­mizes res­o­nances (though with the Muo you can feel some slight vi­bra­tion in the lower oc­taves). The Muo has a sub­stan­tial weight and feel; at just shy of two pounds, it’s heav­ier than it looks. (A pair could al­most dou­ble as hand weights for arm curls.) It’s avail­able in six strik­ing matte color op­tions: Light Sil­ver, Nep­tune Blue, Sun­set Orange, Storm Grey, Hori­zon Gold, and a lim­ited-edition Bril­liant Rose. The form fac­tor is vaguely cylin­dri­cal, only with three sides and gen­tly curved edges. A pair of soft, rub­ber­ized stop­pers on the bot­tom pre­vents rolling when the speaker is in its hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion. It can also be po­si­tioned ver­ti­cally on its side/end and, when paired with a sec­ond Muo, played in two-chan­nel stereo mode. When both speak­ers are po­si­tioned hor­i­zon­tally they’re said to be in “party mode.” More on this flex­i­ble us­age later.

Yes, the tiny two-way Muo is el­e­gant look­ing, cute even, but don’t let its stylish­ness be­lie some se­ri­ous pro­pri­etary tech­nolo­gies in­side that have been “trick­led down” from the Muon. (If you shine a light and look through the grille holes on the front panel you can ac­tu­ally see the driv­ers.) Let’s start with the unique Uni-Q “point-source” driver ar­ray, a minia­tur­ized ver­sion of the Muon’s. There are two iden­ti­cal 50mm/2-inch full-range Uni-Q driv­ers, each with a de­cou­pled cen­tral dome tweeter and midrange, in ad­di­tion to one aux­il­iary long-throw ra­di­a­tor in be­tween for bet­ter bass ex­ten­sion. When two driv­ers are placed closely to­gether in a small en­clo­sure, stereo imag­ing be­comes dif­fi­cult to ex­tend be­yond a lim­ited sweet spot close to and di­rectly in front of the speaker. High-fre­quency in­ter­fer­ence can dis­tort and color the sound out­side this area. In the Muo, only one Uni-Q driver han­dles the full fre­quency range, while the other driver plays only low and midrange fre­quen­cies. This con­fig­u­ra­tion en­ables a “gen­tle” cross­over for wider over­lap and bet­ter sonic dis­per­sion. In­deed, the Muo not only sounds like a larger speaker than it is, but its sound can fill a small-to-mid­sized room quite ca­pa­bly. In ad­di­tion, ei­ther one (or a pair) is handy for desk­top use, of­fers porta­bil­ity for travel, and paired most eas­ily with my iPhone. (On prac­ti­cal note, I’d sug­gest that a slip­cover case might be a wor­thy ad­di­tion for a fu­ture model to help pro­tect against marks and small sur­face scratches on the alu­minum.) You can stream via Blue­tooth 4.0 aptX from your com­puter or mo­bile de­vice, or lis­ten via an aux­il­iary in­put (DAC, NAS, etc.); plus there’s a mi­cro-USB in­put, which can be used for charg­ing and firmware updates. The Muo comes with a mini-USB (3.5) cable and a se­lec­tion of in­ter­na­tional plug-in charg­ers (which vary by re­gion) for its Li-ion bat­tery; KEF has also just in­tro­duced an op­tional pocket-sized por­ta­ble charger ($50) shaped like a mini Muo (which can also be used to juice up your smart­phone or other de­vices)—not that you con­stantly have to worry about that: A full charge lasts for up to 10–12 hours of lis­ten­ing time, depend­ing on play­back SPLs. Also in­cluded is a small quick-start guide book­let (avail­able as a PDF down­load on KEF’s web­site as well) with mostly pic­to­rial-based ex­pla­na­tions and less text. Bet­ter still, there’s a free KEF Muo app for both Android and iPhone (avail­able via the Google Play Store and the Ap­ple App Store). It con­tains clearer wire­less setup in­struc­tions than the quick-start guide and of­fers handy ac­cess to your phone’s iTunes library.


Ba­sic setup when paired with my iPhone 6 was quite user-friendly, but con­nect­ing with my

Mac com­put­ers proved more chal­leng­ing (as I’ll de­scribe shortly). You can pair the Muos in their ver­ti­cal po­si­tion for stereo use, or place them hor­i­zon­tally for “party mode” lis­ten­ing (that is, two speak­ers each play­ing in mono for in­creased vol­ume po­ten­tial); an in­ter­nal DSP sen­sor au­to­mat­i­cally shifts the out­put based on the speaker’s ori­en­ta­tion. The smart lit­tle Muo even re­mem­bers up to seven de­vices and can pri­or­i­tize pair­ings based on their ini­tial chrono­log­i­cal or­der.

The Muo has four but­tons on one end: the main power and multi-func­tion button (round one in the cen­ter), a smaller round one for syn­chro­niz­ing one speaker with another (via Blue­tooth) for stereo mode, and a button each for vol­ume up and down. Var­i­ous chime tones in­di­cate power on and off, as well as Blue­tooth con­nec­tion, dis­con­nec­tion, and synchronization.

To con­nect one speaker to your iPhone, turn the speaker on by press­ing the cen­ter button for about three sec­onds, make sure your Blue­tooth is on (un­der Set­tings na­tive app), then se­lect “KEF MUO” from “My De­vices.” You’re all set. Con­nect­ing a pair of Muos in stereo mode (ver­ti­cal po­si­tion) re­quires another cou­ple of button-presses (plus a lit­tle pa­tience). First con­nect one—and only one—Muo to your phone via Blue­tooth, then turn on the sec­ond Muo. On the first speaker, press and hold down both the main button and the smaller round one at the same time for two or three sec­onds. Re­peat this on the sec­ond speaker (right chan­nel). Sit tight while the Muos syn­chro­nize—about ten to thirty sec­onds or so, depend­ing on the strength of the Blue­tooth con­nec­tion. You’re ready for twochan­nel play­back. You can also shift the speak­ers into hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion while they’re play­ing, and they au­to­mat­i­cally re­set from stereo to dual-mono or “party mode.” Var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions of two or three tones and a small ring of LED light (that switches col­ors) around the main button in­di­cate changes in con­nec­tion, dis­con­nec­tion, and power.

I ex­per­i­mented some with place­ment for stereo play­back, vary­ing dis­tances be­tween the speak­ers. Dis­tances of up to 6 or 8 feet be­tween the Muos with just a lit­tle toe-in seemed to work well for stereo, but I found I did as much nearfield lis­ten­ing at just a few feet. Though I lis­tened less in dual­mono or party mode, up to 10 feet apart seemed do-able there.

Setup is quite sim­i­lar with com­puter sources. As

I’m a Mac gal, I used both a Mac­Book Pro (mid2012) run­ning OS X 10.9.5 and a Mac­Book Air (2015) run­ning OS X 10.10.5. (The folks at KEF in­formed me that the con­nec­tion process is quite sim­i­lar for PCs—as ex­pected.) In con­trast with my iPhone source, I en­coun­tered a cou­ple of mi­nor glitches along the way—hard­ware-re­lated as it turns out. I found I needed to re­boot the lap­tops once or twice for the Blue­tooth to “find” the Muo. In stereo mode, the Blue­tooth con­nec­tion was dropped in the right chan­nel a cou­ple of times but only very briefly. My Mac­Book Pro was run­ning an older OS that didn’t sup­port Blue­tooth aptX, but I was able to find a work­around. If pos­si­ble, I’d rec­om­mended up­dat­ing to El Cap­i­tan or Yosemite, which both seemed to work fine.


How does the Muo sound? What struck me most was how en­gag­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion was; I didn’t ex­pect the de­gree of de­tail, co­her­ence, and im­me­di­acy. How they packed this re­mark­ably clean- and clear-sound­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion into this sleek, pe­tite form is a won­der—and a tes­ta­ment to the Muo’s clever de­sign.

I mostly lis­tened to Tidal stream­ing (hi-res ver­sion in Chrome) and tracks from my library rang­ing from lousy mp3s and Red Book CD rips, to high­res­o­lu­tion tracks. The Muo cer­tainly made the most of the lossy/low-res files, pre­sent­ing them with bet­ter sound than they had any right to have. Cuts from Tori Amos’ Un­der the Pink (2015 re­mas­tered ver­sion) streamed via Tidal (in its hi-res ver­sion) re­vealed ex­cel­lent midrange prow­ess and pres­ence. The Muos were able to con­vey the emo­tion be­hind her plain­tive, plead­ing vo­cals. Si­bi­lants seemed spot-on. Tori sounded like Tori, and her Bösendor­fer piano also sounded quite true-to-life (though minia­tur­ized). A lis­ten to Miles Davis’ “So What” and other cuts from Kind of Blue via Tidal de­liv­ered pretty quick tran­sient at­tacks and del­i­cate de­cays, par­tic­u­larly on Paul Cham­bers’ dou­ble bass, and pacey en­ergy through­out. Cym­bal taps were quite clean and nu­anced, with ef­fort­less loud-to-soft dy­nam­ics across all per­cus­sion. As one would ex­pect of such small speak­ers, sound­stag­ing in stereo mode wasn’t huge; nev­er­the­less, some sense of the mu­si­cians’ dis­tances from each other was main­tained.

The Muo is light and quick in bal­ance, which lends it a pleas­ing sense of ef­fort­less­ness—an ad­van­tage of cer­tain smaller speak­ers. But the Muos can also rock out, as I dis­cov­ered on the White Stripes’ heavy­duty, brash and bluesy “Ball and Bis­cuit,” where the speak­ers flexed their mus­cles to re­pro­duce Jack White’s growl­ing gui­tar licks ad­mirably. I was told the Muo goal was to main­tain cleaner sound over louder sound, even if that means sac­ri­fic­ing a lit­tle dy­namic head­room or bot­tom-end. Ob­vi­ously the Muos don’t sound like floor­standers, but they sound larger than they are, and their abil­ity to im­age in stereo is more than re­spectable, al­beit minia­tur­ized. Care­ful place­ment also helps. Priced at $399 each, the Muo might not be the cheap­est in its cat­e­gory, but its sound and ro­bust build-qual­ity would give a good many com­pact, por­ta­ble, and wire­less speak­ers a run for their money.


In the ar­eas the Muo is de­signed to play in, it plays very nicely in­deed. As I’ve de­scribed, it’s a scaled-down “mini-me” ver­sion of the Muon. Though it con­tains many of that flag­ship model’s ma­te­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies, the lit­tle Muo could hardly be ex­pected to de­liver com­pa­ra­ble sound. But the point here is about lever­ag­ing what can be reap­plied—such as the de­sign of the driver ar­ray—to el­e­vate the por­ta­ble and wire­less speaker ex­pe­ri­ence. As such, it’s an over­achiever in many as­pects. It’s no small feat to make a speaker of this size sound as big, ex­pan­sive, and re­mark­ably de­tailed as it does. I’d en­thu­si­as­ti­cally rec­om­mend the Muo (prob­a­bly a pair) to non-au­dio­phile friends who are mu­sic lovers. I’d even give it a thumbs-up for cer­tain au­dio­phile friends (those who lis­ten to digital, that is). Fur­ther proof that great things can, and do, come in small pack­ages.

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