We first saw Neat’s Iota as a cute compact loudspeaker that anyone could live with and grow to love. It then became the Iota Alpha, which is a bit bigger but still diminutive, and does what it’s told. Now we have the Iota Xplorer, a rather more boisterous speaker that likes to push the boundaries of what a compact floorstander can do, and gets everyone to stay up too late. I predict that the range will continue to grow and flourish until it usurps the rest of the Neat range a bit like grey squirrels.
Bob Surgeoner’s latest creation stands 74cm above the carpet, but has large conical spikes that leave a decent gap beneath its squat cabinet; this was not an aesthetic decision but one calculated to allow for a more predictable bass response. This may look like a two-way but underneath you can see a bass driver; what you can’t see is that there’s another identical driver above it within the box creating an isobaric arrangement where one driver moves in phase with the other. In other words, you have two motor systems controlling the output which, combined with the fact that the chamber between the two drivers is sealed, means that the system ‘sees’ the overall enclosure as being twice as big as it is. Neat uses a pair of its P1-R2 bass drivers which are 170mm in diameter and have treated paper cones. The lower half of the Xplorer cabinet is a separate chamber with a port in the back but not a reflex type, Bob describes it as a “controlled leak” because it doesn’t augment the bass output in the way that a traditionally tuned reflex port does. This is apparent in practise because you can’t usually place a rear ported speaker close to the wall in the way that you can with this one.
The mid and treble drivers sit in a sealed cabinet with an angled baffle that sends the sound upwards so that it can project into the room and offset its relatively compact stature. The other drivers are a P1/R3 mid/bass – with a treated paper cone and an aluminium phase plug – and the first instance of an AMT (air motion transformer) tweeter in a Neat speaker. Bob has experimented with this type of planar tweeter in the past, but claims this example from Dayton Audio is the first he has really liked, at least in the arrangement found in the Xplorer; I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to turn up on Neat’s other ranges in the near future. This AMT is 113mm high and 68mm wide, so quite large for a treble driver.
The positioning of the tweeter on one side of the Xplorer’s baffle means that you can experiment with having it on the in- or outside of the pair, which means that the tonal balance can be adjusted to suit different rooms and personal tastes. I found that in a relatively narrow (3.5m) room having the tweeters on the outside gave the best image width without sacrificing focus. But I did struggle to get them to sound right at first. I tried a variety of positions relative to the wall, and different degrees of toe-in but something still seemed wrong, particularly in the bass. Eventually the penny dropped; I put loudspeakers on Townshend Audio Seismic stands because they ‘always’ sound better that way, but it occurred to me that with a bass driver that moves up and down rather than back and forth there might be some extent to which the bass was moving up and down at the same time. Taking them off the Townshend bases did the trick and in the process proved that however universal an accessory might seem there is always going to be an exception (to prove the rule).