The Iota Xplorer, a new speaker from Neat Acoustics, is only 29-inches high. Still, it towers over its older brother, the Iota Alpha, which stands just 16-inches tall.
Both speakers, interestingly, are intended as floor-standers and are designed to fill a decent-size room with sound. Both also share the same unique styling: a ported, rectangular wooden enclosure with a top section that slopes back sharply and holds several drivers.
I’ve been impressed with the performance of the diminutive and affordable Alpha ($1,995/pair, all prices in USD) at a few recent shows, so I was excited to hear the brand-new Xplorer (price TBA, estimated to be $5,000 to $5,500/pair when released in the first quarter of 2018) at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.
Where the Alpha has an EMIT planar magnetic tweeter and a 4-inch mid/bass driver on its front baffle, along with a bottom-firing 5.25-inch woofer, the Xplorer features an Air Motion Transfer tweeter with a 6.7-inch midrange/woofer on top and two 6.7-inch low-frequency units in its base.
Although the Xplorer’s cabinet is small, Neat says the low-frequency drivers have been specially tuned and that isobaric loading allows for the speaker to go deeper and exhibit more control.
Distributer High Fidelity Services was auditioning the Xplorer with a system that also included an Audia Flight FL 10 integrated amplifier in its North American debut ($11,295), Audia Flight phono stage ($5,995), AnalogueWorks TT One-Twelve turntable ($4,295 with a Jelco SA-750L tonearm) and an Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge ($2,729). Power conditioning was via a Vibex Generalife unit ($1,795). Speaker wire and interconnects were from the Lynx line by Signal Projects.
My first demo track was the 1968 pop song “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” by the British trio The Peddlers. The intriguing combination of prominent organ, swelling strings and a Tom Jones-style vocal by lead singer Roy Phillips was presented with clarity and verve by the Xplorer. The cool-daddy-o organ solo, in particular, had texture and weight, and the orchestration was nicely projected across the back of a large soundstage.
Indeed, it was the similar wide, deep minimonitor-type imaging that had most impressed me about the Iota. The Xplorer pushed that envelope even further, while bringing greater weight to low frequencies. The AMT tweeter also seemed to boost the level of detail, while adding a touch more refinement.
These attributes were audible on the next track, Steely Dan’s “Gaucho.” The impeccably recorded rhythm section had a perfect slinky groove, while Donald Fagan’s vocal was appropriately dripping with irritation and disgust.
A third song, “Grandma’s Hands” by Bill Withers, illustrated the Xplorer’s exceptional speed and pace. The snare drum on this track had a nice live feel, while Withers’ expressive voice was sharply focused and a joy to listen to.
After multiple demos over the past year, I’ve learned that Neat speakers shouldn’t be underestimated because of their size. They may not make it very far past your knee, but it’s your ears that will take notice.