Neat Acoustics Iota Xplorer loudspeaker

hfncommended.pngAnd then there were three: Neat's little Iota range is all grown up with the arrival of the Xplorer model

One of the best sounds at Bristol's Sound & Vision Show [HFN Apr '18] came not from a gazillion-pound set-up, but the latest arrivals from Neat Acoustics, driven by modest amplification, in a small room that just made you want to stay and listen some more. The Iota Xplorers are the new model in a range that began with the tiny original Iotas some seven years ago, and while they draw on the same principles, the newcomers are very decidedly grown-up despite standing just 780mm tall on their polished conical spikes.

A Grander Scale
The price is certainly up there with the big boys, at £3495 a pair, and the speakers come in a choice of finishes – natural or black oak, American walnut or Satin White – with grilles in colours either subtle or bright as an optional extra.

So what to make of the Xplorers? Well just as the Iota Alpha model [HFN Oct '16] built on the success of the original Iotas by tilting their boxes atop a small floorstanding cabinet containing a downward-firing bass unit, so the new model takes a further step up. It's designed on a grander scale, and has a pair of Neat's P1-R2 170mm bass drivers in isobaric configuration in the floorstanding column. Neat and others that deploy isobaric drivers, here one above the other and moving in parallel, claim it aids control as well as deepening the bass [see KH's Isobaric Loading sidebar on this subject].

Just as the top section, with its ribbon tweeter beside a mid/upper bass driver, is a design tried and tested by Neat in its previous Iota models, so the isobaric principle is a familiar one for the company, having been used in models including the flagship Ultimatum range [HFN Feb '12]. The upper section is completely partitioned off from the 'bass column', and both enclosures are themselves sealed boxes. The drivers in the 'head' include Neat's familiar 170mm P1-R3 mid/bass unit, which uses a treated paper cone with a flared profile and an aluminium phase plug, and has already seen duty in the company's speakers from the Petite range all the way up to the aforementioned Ultimatums.


It's partnered here with a Heil AMT (Air Motion Transformer) tweeter, which uses a pleated Mylar diaphragm with aluminium strips, the whole sitting in a strong magnetic field to give extension down into the midrange for better integration. Add to that the fact the P1-R3 is actually working here as a mid/bass, and not just a midrange, as also is the case in the smaller Iota models, and the two drivers in the lower cabinet are more or less underpinning what's going on in the upper compartment, rather than shouldering all the bass duties.

sqnote.jpgFloating In The Air
It doesn't take much listening to realise that these are no novelty speakers, even if their looks and stature still take a little getting used to. Forget any thoughts of needing to have the tweeters at ear-level – the speakers still sit below the eye-line, with the midrange and the AMT treble unit firing up at you. But what's remarkable is that these speakers pull off the same trick as the smaller Iota Alpha in casting a soundstage that seems to float in the air above the speakers – indeed, they create one of the most 'out of the box' images I have encountered, with a fine sense of three-dimensionality and presence that eludes many a more conventional design.

Playing the recent remaster of Jethro Tull's 1978 Heavy Horses album [Parlophone 0190295757311; 96kHz/24-bit] allows the Xplorers to show both their light touch and their powerful but tightly-controlled bass. Set up with a bit of breathing space around them – though that downward-firing woofer is less critical in this respect than with most conventional ported speakers – and with a slight toe-in to the listening position, the Iota Xplorer creates ambience a-plenty while still driving the music with real muscle.

Notable, too, is the fine 'ear' these speakers have for instrumental timbres. Ian Anderson's flute sounds beautifully light and breathy, and his voice gutsy, a bit rough round the edges – as befits the material – and impassioned, while the attack of the rest of the band is never in doubt. Folky this set may be, but twee it definitely isn't.

Again there's that 'tweeters in, or tweeters out' debate, but it really is a matter of taste: having them inboard of the midrange drivers yields the tightest soundstage focus and imaging, while reversing the speakers left to right gives the widest, most impressive soundstage. Yes, the differences are marginal, and more apparent at shorter listening distances, but they are there to be had, and some experimentation is worthwhile.

Guitar Showcase
And that grip of instrumental timbres is much in evidence with Twang!, an all-star compilation from a couple of decades back in tribute to Hank And The Shads [PANGÆA 7243 8 52710 2 1]. This is a showcase of guitar styles from Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi, the latter with a sledgehammer cover of 'Wonderful Land', to Brian May (whose cover of 'FBI' suddenly breaks into the unmistakable higher registers of a Red Special), and from Mark Knopfler to the banjo picking of Béla Fleck.

Yes, the whole project sounds potentially cheesy, especially for those who just consider The Shadows as the easy-listening act they arguably later became. And yet these reinterpretations are fascinating in their own right especially with the insight on offer here, as the Xplorer conveys the individual instruments and techniques with great clarity.

Neat Acoustics Ltd, Co.
Supplied by: Neat Acoustics Ltd
01833 631021