The musician who appreciates good audio equipment and the hi-fi enthusiast who is also a serious musician are rare breeds. Musicians often don’t seem to be bothered about sound quality. They appear to hear everything they want to with a basic pair of headphones or desk monitors, which explains why the use of the Yamaha NS-10 (one of the fiercest small speakers of its era) in so many studios of the ‘80s and ‘90s; they’re probably still around today. Bob Surgeoner who started Neat Acoustics in 1989 is the exception that proves the rule, he was a professional guitar player in the ‘80s and got into hi-fi by selling it from his home to make ends meet. Then he took the next step and opened a shop called North Eastern Audio Traders in Darlington and developed the Neat Petite to fill a gap in the market. In 1990 he took it to the Penta show at Heathrow and discovered that the trade appreciated his efforts and has focussed on speaker building ever since.
Neat now makes four speaker ranges amounting to 13 different models. The latest addition is the floorstanding Orkestra which sits somewhere near the middle of the catalogue between the Motive and Ultimatum ranges. Neat enthusiasts will be able to figure out that it replaced the Momentum SX5 no longer in production. The Orkestra stands just over a metre high on its spikes and has a compact footprint the like of which might not prove too imposing on domestic arrangements. Who am I kidding? If you need speakers that don’t provoke a divorce, stick with the Iota models; they’re almost invisible.
The Orkestra is a larger version of the Ekstra and shares many of its features but adds a fourth spiked outrigger to the base for extra stability. The outriggers are a distinctive part of this speaker. They’re chunky lumps of aluminium that bolt onto the base and provide two functions, they increase the footprint and raise the box for the six and a half-inch bass driver at the bottom to drive the room. The bass system is isobaric with one driver inside the cabinet directly over the one you see (if you turn the whole thing over). The lower part of the cabinet is dedicated to the bass system with a reflex port to load it in the rear. This isobaric arrangement effectively acts as a dedicated subwoofer for each speaker. The mid/bass and tweeter are therefore in their cabinet on top, and this is a sealed infinite baffle system with another six-and-a-half-inch main driver topped by a ribbon tweeter with a claimed treble extension of 40kHz. The latter is 75mm long and described as a true ribbon to differentiate it from EMIT iso‑dynamic tweeters misdescribed as ribbons. This ribbon driver type has become a feature of Neat designs with only the range-topping Ultimatum models sporting domes, and even they have EMIT tweeters for the highest frequencies.
Both the visible drivers attach to a secondary baffle isolated from the main cabinet to some extent by a polyethylene membrane. The secondary baffle gives the mid and treble some chance of avoiding the bass drivers’ resonances. I asked Bob about the optimum distance between the floor and the base of the box given that this will affect how the bass system interacts with the room, he said that if the gap is too small, the bass can become overloaded. Still, as ever with such considerations, this will vary with room and the floor surface. Neat provides rather nice spikes and lock nuts that allow a degree of height variation with which to experiment.
There are just two terminals on the back of the box and these hook up to a minimal crossover with first and second-order slopes built with hard-wired components using high voltage polypropylene caps and air-core inductors. Sensitivity is quoted at a fairly average 88dB so most decent amplifiers will drive them, Neat usually uses Naim in its show dems and is not renowned for raw power.
For this assessment, plenty of power was available in the first instance. The latest addition to the armoury chez Kennedy is a Moor Amps Angel 6, 150 Watt beast with the nimbleness of a triode with dynamics that can startle. It proved an excellent match for the Orkestras, allowing them to shine from the first note, albeit shine isn’t quite the mot juste. Orkestra is a reasonably dark-hued loudspeaker that puts musical communication ahead of stark detail. And yet there is plenty of detail to enjoy if that’s what you want, it’s just not thrust front and centre but an integral part of the musical flow. That is the mot juste. The Orkestras are all about musical fluency. It is all but impossible not to be swept up in the song or the composition when they are in action. Little else seems to matter.
In more objective terms the mid and treble are a little recessed compared to the PMC and Bowers & Wilkins speakers I generally use, and the bass is less hard-edged and more relaxed. If you are looking for an etched image and low-end slam, there are plenty of speakers out there that can deliver it. These Neats manage to provide lots of fine detail with a sense of timing that is engaging yet devoid of hard leading edges found in many other speakers that also time well. It’s a very appealing combination altogether.
It’s only real limitation seems to be a tendency for the sound to stick to the cabinets, especially concerning the areas on either side of the stereo pair, ribbons are not renowned for their wide dispersion, which is what you hear with the Orkestras. There is a good depth of sound between the speakers and plenty of space for the various instruments to perform and be heard but not the sense of boundary-breaking air behind them. There is always some kind of trade-off, and this is the only one I noticed, that said it did nothing to get in the way of appreciating the finer details of everything played. An example here is the nuances of Susumu Yokota’s electronica on ‘Gekkoh’ (Sakura, Leaf) where different layers of sound slowly fade in and out of the mix creating a shifting acoustic tapestry that is very easy to enjoy.
I found that the Orkestras required a fair amount of space behind them, half a metre to the wall from one back corner, with their axis pointing straight at the listening position. This provided maximum definition without introducing any glare. That ribbon tweeter is smooth, and the key no doubts to the tonal character of this speaker. One of my preferred tracks for imaging is Radiohead’s ‘Decks Dark’ (A Moon Shaped Pool, XL) where the sounds are manipulated in such a way as to carve out distinct shapes in the air with some amp/speaker combos. This didn’t happen here. Instead, it was the tune and the song that engaged and that proved far more enduring than psychoacoustic ‘visuals’, by the end of the track I was hooked, stuck to the chair eager for whatever came next.
In fact, what came next was I picked out Sheryl Crow’s ‘I Can’t Cry Anymore’ (Tuesday Night Music Club, A&M) something I haven’t played in over a decade and was struck by just how perfectly honed it is. On the one hand, it’s based around a very catchy riff, but that riff is arranged unusually. Despite its richness, the song has a precision and efficiency that reminds me of Elvis Costello at his sharpest. These are the sort of insights you get with the Orkestras. I tried other amps with these Neats, too. First up was a Rega Elex-R integrated, and this managed to make them sound bright and forward, proving that it can be done, so I added a Townshend Allegri+ passive preamp which smoothed things out dramatically. Playing some Ryley Walker on the turntable, I was gripped once more by the coherence of these speakers: they let you hear what is creating the sound such as the sliding of fingers on the neck of a double bass but bring out the heart and soul of the song.
Maybe musicians know something about reproducing their art which we mere spectators scrabble around trying to figure out. Bob Surgeoner has figured this out, and his latest creation delivers it in spades if you’re in this game for the right reasons I can’t see what’s not to like about the Orkestra.
- Type: 2.5-way, four-driver, floorstanding speaker with isobaric bass system
- Driver complement: One 75mm ribbon tweeter with 34mm; one 170mm midrange driver; two 170mm bass drivers
- Crossover frequencies: 80Hz, 3.5kHz
- Frequency response: 20Hz–40kHz
- Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 88dB/W/m
- Dimensions (H×W×D): 1030 × 220 × 240mm (plus outriggers)
- Weight: 21kg/each
- Finishes: Satin white, American walnut, natural oak, black oak
- Price: £5,485/pair
Manufacturer: Neat Acoustics
Tel: +44(0)1833 631021