The portable Bluetooth speaker market is crowded, with a long list of entries at virtually any price point. Big ones, small ones, splash-proof ones, bass-heavy ones, rugged ones and pretty ones. If you’re looking for a particular characteristic or feature, chances are you can find a speaker that has it. If you’re looking for a speaker with an attractive exterior design, a solid metal case, and impressive mid-range sound, look no further than the Kef Muo.
For the uninitiated, Kef is a high-end, dare we say ultra high-end speaker company. If you think that’s an overstatement, check out their renowned Muon speakers — stunning works of art and audio that’ll set you back about a cool quarter million dollars. Yes, million. With the Kef Muo, they’ve tried to bring some of that luxury into a speaker the rest of us can enjoy.
The Muo uses a miniature version of Kef’s legendary Uni-Q point source driver, which produces strong, clear mid-range and high frequencies that can fill a room with sound much better than many competing speakers. The speaker uses only high-grade internal components within the rigid inner molding and acoustically inert aluminum shell, minimizing interference. Like most high-end speakers, Kef also dedicates drivers and tweeters to only mid-range and high frequencies, with only the right side driver (in a horizontal orientation) producing treble. Besides increased sound clarity, the construction allows for less directionality — it approximates the feeling of being at a concert, with music coming from all around you instead of beamed from a speaker’s drivers.
While Bluetooth isn’t preferred for high-definition audio, the Bluetooth aptX codec enables CD-like sound quality to be streamed from your device to the speaker wirelessly. Another cool feature, albeit not a unique one, is the ability to pair two speakers together for stereo sound or more volume. The Muo also has its own sophisticated digital-to-analogue converter.
In the world of higher-end Bluetooth speakers, you can find everything from uninspired black plastic bricks to works of art made from metal formed into a variety of shapes and styles. The Muo is comfortably in this latter category, with a design from acclaimed industrial designer Ross Lovegrove, the same man who designed the Muo’s aforementioned wallet-busting big brother speakers. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, even the most stringent critic would acknowledge the Muo has an eye-catching design that stands out from the crowd, especially in one of the brighter colors like the sunset orange one we tested.
When standing up, the case is shaped like a smoothly curved triangle, a nice departure from the rectangular forms of most competitors, while the grille design matches the sexy hourglass shape of the Muon flagship speaker. On the top of the speaker (or right side, if horizontal) you’ll find four buttons for Bluetooth pairing, power, and volume up/down, while on the back you’ll find a Micro USB port for charging and a 3.5 mm port for a wired connection. On the bottom, you’ll find two rubber feet to keep the rounded speaker from toppling over, although the shape does not lend itself well to uneven or sloped surfaces.
When we attended the Kef Muo launch event, they made a point to explain that with most audio falling into the mid-range, that’s where they’ve focused their efforts. After hours of listening to all sorts of music, including jazz, metal, electronic, and rock, I can attest that these efforts have paid off handsomely. Many speakers I’ve tested fall disappointingly short in reproducing vocals, drowning them out with too-heavy bass or muddled mid-range. In this regard, the Muo performs remarkably given its size, although perhaps at the expense of bass-heavy and instrumental tracks.
This was most obvious while listening to Andrea Bocelli and the New York Philharmonic’s performance of “Nessun Dorma” from the Puccini Opera Turandot live in Central Park. Bocelli’s magnificent voice comes through appropriately booming, although the string and horn lines seem to take second fiddle, while bass tones can feel like a distant third. On another track from the same album, “Libiamo ne’lieti calici” (from Verdi’s La Traviata), instrumental lines come through strongly by themselves, but are eventually overshadowed by the vocals (although less so than with the other track).
On the guitar-driven hard rock song “Tragedy and Harmony” by Jeff Loomis, the vocal/instrumental balance was much better, despite the pounding percussion and distortion-heavy, shredding guitar lines. Oddly enough, I noticed how good the song sounded on the Muo not when sitting close in front of it, but while I was 20+ feet away down the hallway.
Generally, the Muo produces accurate sound with clean mid-range and clear highs. Presence and theater are very impressive, excepting the occasional emptiness due to weak bass. The lack of bass is more a conscious design choice than an outright flaw. I’m not sure if this is because of the tuning or the construction of the speaker, but regardless I think the speaker could be improved with a bit more bass response.
Outdoors, I found the speaker was pretty good, but not spectacular. Sound quality, presence, and balance make it ideal for smaller, relatively sedate gatherings and casual listening. For a larger or more raucous event, I don’t think it’s the ideal speaker choice.