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HE2006: Neat Motive 2 and Exposure 2010 S Series Take the Cake

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by Josh Ray on June 23 '06

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And now for my favorite room of the show: Neat Acoustic and Exposure hi-fi. The gear is not outrageous looking or wildly expensive. Nor is it going to pimp up your rap superstar wanna-be lifestyle. It's just killer non-audiophile sound in a package that, shockingly, will actually look good in your living room.

Shown were the British Neat Motive 2 speakers ($1995) and the Exposure 2010 S series CD player and 75 watt integrated amp ($1250 each). That's a complete package for $4500 sans cables. Heck, use your iPod, Squeezebox or computer and you're in the high-performance audio club for only $3250.

BlueBird importers also showed the Neat Ultimatum MF7 speakers and ultra-expensive Chord electronics in the same room. Check out our coverage. While the Chord/Neat powerhouse dominated, it was the little Neat/Exposure system camped out in the corner that was the most interesting and, really, got the most love from average show-goers. Probably because it was a system people could see putting in the back of their sedans and driving away with.

The camera distortion is deceiving because those Neat Motive 2 speakers are absolutely tiny. Only 28" high and just over 6" wide with a slightly swept back styling and sexy wood finishing, they are speakers that are clearly expensive without being in your face. As for sound, Neat uses a modified titanium Focal tweeter with a foam surround and a custom mid/bass driver. Bass is listed at 35Hz and I believe it. They put the speaker port on the bottom and vent it through the base plinth to really hit those low notes. It's kinda shocking, actually, how low and smooth these little speakers perform.

For me, the traditional American audiophile equipment lacks a lot of the qualities that make music killer. The demo music sounds great, but when I put on something other than easy listening jazz, I'm not impressed, nor are people new to this industry hearing the gear for the first time. As the good "journalist" I am, and purely for scientific purposes, I struck up conversations with the comely show staff and asked them what they thought of the equipment in various rooms. It was mostly "eh, it's okay." And they were right, so-and-so $100,000 American super system sounded just okay. Sure, it did a lot of classic audiophile things right, but it was boring with modern music. It's a taste issue, of course, but when the greatest of the great systems in our industry only elicit an "eh, it's okay" from the new (and attractive) generation, there's a serious problem.

One person hypothesized that traditional American companies voice their gear for the the easy-listening jazz and lite classical sound that is so ubiquitous in the American audiophile community while Brit and some Euro countries voice for a more contemporary sound. It's an interesting idea and could be true. I know I have a different taste in gear and the Neat/Exposure system was giving me the eye. It was a system that got people to coo like babies while the traditional audiophile goods got shrugged shoulders.

In fact, I believe the Neat/Exposure combo to be HE2006's most important system -- killer non-audiophile sound, suave styling and, at $4500, you get to keep both kidneys. This is what the future of hi-fi should look like.

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Comments

Josh, is that a $5 surge protector along the wall there? :) That sure is statement regarding the other rooms with power conditioners and $1,000 power cables. :)
Yeah, the $5 power strip -- it's not even a surge protector -- is awesome, isn't it? Other than sticking a bedspread back there, this room -- corner, really -- was completely abnormal and defied every single audiophile notion while managing to put out more enjoyable (to me) sound than 95% of the other rooms. And everyone I talked to absolutely loved this system while the big dog rigs got hammered. And this is from traditional audiophiles. Go figure.
That's an impressive conclusion Josh. In that vein, I wager your taste leans to something like the Bryston/KEF combo that was there. Quite sharp, "fresh" and bright - nothing "cushiony" or warm about it. Not my preferred choice by any means - I like warm and rounded, since the music I listen to most often calls for it. But I can understand how someone whose tastes lean more to electronic or rock music might prefer a more "forward" sound the kind these systems give. It's almost like Sennheiser vs. Grado on headphones - I wish I had a pair of Grados here at times, since the Senns, outstanding as they are for classical and jazz and despite their Euro pedigree, don't really do rock - no matter how hard you try. Judging by the pictures, it looks like they just stashed this system on the first available space they could find and left it at that. And the $5 power strip out there - priceless. Isn't the audio world full of mysteries? I'd put it together with the Dixie cable elevators and the half dollar cheaters...
A simple qustion what does "audiophile sound" mean ?
Very refreshing, Josh. As the other gentleman said, I'm not sure I'd share your same taste (heck, we're probably a generation apart in age and that does indeed have something to do with our tastes and references -- neither of which is "right"), but I appreciate your perspective on value. I enjoy looking at audio jewelery as much as all my fellow nut-cases, but I can't afford it, so it's not a real-world goal for me. But both can co-exist and have for many years, though it is indeed refreshing to see any reviewer or correspondent getting more excited about price-performance than just half the realistic equation. P.S. to Scumurculum: I'd define it as stereos that hit the evaluation hot-buttons -- lots of air around tightly-defined instruments and over-the-top detail at the extremes. I sometimes like hearing those things too when I want to amuse myself, but most of the time I just want faithful reproduction that touches my soul. And that, as Josh points out, doesn't mean completing the checkpoints on a reviewer's spreadsheet.
Scumurculum, I see you're from Australia, so I should redefine my comment as "American audiophile sound." Wilson, Krell, Levinson, Audio Research, etc. as well as many of the big buck cables out there. This sound, to me, flattens the music. Most contemporary and popular music is simply dynamic beyond belief, while "easy listening jazz" and light classical is not. When you have any sort of seriously intense music, you want those beats to just hit hard and fast and with amazing definition. But traditional American audiophile equipment strives to neutralize the sound, which is a taste. One person described it as "the world's best background music" and that's not far off. It's not exciting. It chooses a kind of bland neutrality over intensity. But some people like that. Then then there's the super esoteric gear like horns and full-range drivers and tiny watt tubes. Very little bass and this kind of tubish blending of the sound. It sounds very nice for easy peasy stuff, but not for today's music, or even big rock from back in the day or power orchestral soundtracks. Where traditional American audiophile gear like Wilson and Levinson neutralize the sound, this fringe equipment makes it warm and syrupy and blends the notes together. It sounds very cool for some music, but, again, not "normal" music. The interesting point here is that it's traditional American audiophile companies that pursue these sounds, not foreign companies. In fact, I'd say the Brits are leaders of the pack in terms of the stuff new people will really like. Neat, of course, as well as ATC, Linn, Naim, ProAc, Spendor, Harbeth, etc. These guys will rock your world in ways similarly highly ranked American gear will not. Generalities, of course, since there is good -- and bad -- equipment everywhere. It's just interesting how the legendary American companies pursued this sound and, of course, only demo their gear with easy listening jazz. Actually, what shocks me is how traditional audio press can review two components, one classic American and one killer British, and say they're both great without saying how wildly different they sound. Sure, they'll mention this or that sonic quality, but they sound about as far apart as two pieces of gear can get. Reading reviews, you'd think everything was pursuing a singular sound with minute degrees of variation instead of the wildly different audio categories that really exist. As SonicFlare moves forward, it only makes sense to pursue this "New American Hi-Fi Sound." It's the stuff that gets me excited and, more importantly, actually impresses women. Wilson, I'm sad to say, does not. Priorities, people, priorities.
If that's what you want to pursue, Josh, then that's what you should do. ... How do you intend to do so, as regards this site?
By listening to equipment and writing about it. And not just me, but other people as well who are of a similar mind. It's not that equipment that falls into the contemporary taste isn't being reviewed or appreciated, it's just lumped in with everything else, thus making it nearly impossible for a new person to get involved and find something they will like.
Gotta listen to the Neat/Exposure system, definitely. Esp. since it costs about $3100 here in Russia, instead of $4500 :)
Hi Josh! Could you explain what you mean by "killer non-audiophile sound"? I'm looking at my Exposure CD-player and amp right now, trying to guess whether you mean "excellent sound without the snob effect" or "just adequate mass-market sound"? I'm playing the exposures through a pair of Epos m-5 monitors, btw. - it's budget, but not bad at all.
I mean "excellent sound without the snob effect" or, more specifically, "equipment not just for easy listening jazz, low-carb classical and angelic opera." Audiophile sound = AMERICAN audiophile sound. As far as I can tell, there's simply a different taste over here. Exposure with Epos should be a great combo.
Cheers for the clarification :-)) Great site, keep up the good work! -R.
BTW, the funny thing about those Neats and Exposures, is that they both measure quite poorly. So if one is from the "objective" audiophile school, he would not even bother listening to those :)
Mr. (or is that Mrs.?) Anonymous - You really need to back up your posts with data if you are going to make bizarre statements about poor measurements. Where have you seen measurements for these exact products?
Sounds good, Josh. Just keep writing for the same person; it keeps you grounded.
>>BTW, the funny thing about those Neats and Exposures, is that they both measure quite poorly. So if one is from the "objective" audiophile school, he would not even bother listening to those :) Should that even MATTER? Isn't the whole point of owning "hifi" is to enable one to enjoy the maximum amount of music and a platform to discover more musical knowledge? The "Hi End" audiofool sound is the equates to eating boiled food with no salt in a misguided attempt to attain "neutrality". Having said that, and despite being a Brit Fi owner (Naim/Expo and ATC) I cannot agree with the fact that many of the American brands listed as "flat" or "uninvolving" esp. their lower rung kits, nor is there a singular "tube" or Horn sound. Josh Ray, if you get a chance, try listening to Audio Research or McIntosh tube amps with JBL Horns and tell me if that doesn't ROCK? or Ayre/Krell with Aerial or Wilson speakers or some British (proper) speakers like Harbeth or ATC. Conversely, find me a "musically alive" kit from techno-savvy brit brands like the modern Linn stuff or Meridan, DCS or Chord. Imho, is that most of the "statement" products are so overengineered that the suck the life out of the music. How can you expect an anally retentive product to let loose? The "objective" mainstream audiofool school from any nation has always been about sounds and not music (think 50s stereo extravaganzas to 80s Sheffiled Labs to the modern day Casper soundtrack obession. They are frustrated engineers or engineer wannabes who want to listen to sounds created by other engineers, they are like computer geeks who has the latest overspec'd 5 gig ram 100 terabyte HD pc and 30" LCD just so he could surf the net and fiddle with the operating system...
Oh, my guard, Josh! I think that Royster deserves that Sonic Flare tee shirt for *audiofool*! :)
Hey Royster, You speak truth, man. Yeah, measurements are a funny game. There's a weird obsession on the part of some reviewers, though companies like ATC pride themselves on flatter than flat measurements and back them up with published graphs -- and their speakers, when matched with equipment correctly, are really, really amazing. Ultimately, though, getting into the audiophile measurements game means squat about how good it will sound, imo. All the gear that is tops is up for debate but I think what we can all agree on -- and what is most important -- is that, yes, there are definite tastes in this biz and one major taste group simply makes modern music sound "blah" while another makes it exciting. The problem is no audiophile authorities seem to acknowledge this and, ultimately, we the next-gen suffer.
Hey Henry, Lol, I actually think he's right about a lot of stuff. Boiled egg without salt is a great way to describe a lot of what I hear. As for Krell or AR with Wilson, can't agree with that. Though Ayre or Naim with ATC or Harbeth is another story entirely...
>>As for Krell or AR with Wilson, can't agree with that. >> Go bottom of the line, man, bottom of line... try Krell 400xi, AR 55vsi and get back to me.. ;) >>Oh, my guard, Josh! I think that Royster deserves that Sonic Flare tee shirt for *audiofool*! :) My, you broke my "audiofool" cherry, I have call many that over the past 2 decades but no one has called me one b4! >>The problem is no audiophile authorities seem to acknowledge this and, ultimately, we the next-gen suffer. No American authorities that is! Most Brit/Japanese/Chinese/French press wholeheartedly embraces/acknowledges colouration and musicality instead of soundstaging and imaging.
Bingo. And people wonder why the American hi-fi culture is dying. Overseas mags are excellent -- Hi-Fi Choice, imo, is primo -- and have a significant group of young readers/consumers, unlike the US market.
I think we need congressional investigations as to why there are only 2 exclusivley hi-fi mag's in print / circulation in the US.
...and a separate investigation into the sinister and disturbing reasons as to why the paper and photo quality of the 2 US mags is so pathetic compared to the British and German audiofool publications.
> Mr. (or is that Mrs.?) Anonymous - You really need to back up your posts with data if you are going to make bizarre statements about poor measurements. Where have you seen measurements for these exact products? Sorry, I didn't want to remain anonymous. Measurements of the Exposure 2010S amp can be found here: http://www.stereophile.com/budgetcomponents/1105exposure/index3.html Not exactly a neutral amplifier... Can't post a link to Neat's measurements -- they were published in some Russian magazine which doesn't post their articles online.
Gotta love it: "...taking into account its relatively low price, the Exposure 2010S offers a sensible set of engineering compromises. However, nothing in these measurements indicates why it should sound as good as it does.—John Atkinson"
> Should that even MATTER? Isn't the whole point of owning "hifi" is to enable one to enjoy the maximum amount of music and a platform to discover more musical knowledge? Yeah, that should matter. Otherwise you can find yourself owning a piece of gear that sounds great with "women vocals" (exactly 3 CDs in your collection) but sucks with everything else. I did find myself in such situation -- not funny.
> "...taking into account its relatively low price, the Exposure 2010S offers a sensible set of engineering compromises. However, nothing in these measurements indicates why it should sound as good as it does.—John Atkinson" Yeah. That's a very diplomatic way of saying that those Exposures suck :) Please, do not forget that John is an editor-in-chief of a major magazine which depends on advertisers' money. So you gotta read between the lines to discover what they really meant.
Look, Josh, I'd like to make my position clear. IF you've got lots of money OR a large room where you can play with speaker positioning OR if you're looking for something especially "musical" or "euphonic", it's OK to forget about measurements and specifications. Otherwise, you'd better be objective about all this hi-fi stuff.
Hey Leonya, You make some good points, but I'll stick up for JA since, really, he's never had a problem hammering companies on the measurements before and, as far as I know, Exposure isn't advertising in S'Phile. As for Exposure's sound, I dig it and I don't listen to any angelic female vocals. The interesting truth about all of JA's measurements is how they truly have no bearing on how good a product sounds. It's this preoccupation with measurements (on the part of reviewers) that has taken us into the doldrums of American audiophilia. Out of curiosity, what gear do you like Leonya?
Hey Josh, My experience with audio gear is pretty limited. I like B&W (I own Matrix 805), Spendor, Harbeth - that type of sound. I prefer to play it safe, he-he. I had an opportunity to listen to Rega and Neat in a show environment and thoroughly enjoyed their sound (lively and "present", hardly neutral). Though after thinking about it for a while, I thought that *probably* that exact thing would make me hate them after living with this type of sound for a while :) Just a guess, of course. If I had more financial freedom (to afford two pairs of speakers) they would be on top of my consider-for-purchase list. As for amps and sources - I'm not a big fan of trying to hear some minor-to-nonexistent differences in their sound (esp. sources). I just make sure that an amp is adequate for the speakers it's going to drive.
>Yeah. That's a very diplomatic way of saying that those Exposures suck :) Please, do not forget that John is an editor-in-chief of a major magazine which depends on advertisers' money. So you gotta read between the lines to discover what they really meant.

The Exposure 2010S was given a class A rating in our "Recommended Components" listing. We don't give class A recommendations to components that, in our opinion, suck.

John Atkinson is the editor of Stereophile, but the magazine is made of many different opinions. Art Dudley, who reviewed the Exposure amp, loved it. I think you'd agree: the fact that listening perceptions don't always correlate with JA's measurements is a beautiful thing. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, and we're all left to form our own opinions.

This I can say with absolute certainty: John's opinions concerning a piece of gear have nothing at all to do with advertising dollars. Nothing at all.

Josh: I truly enjoyed this review. As well as all of the comments it generated. I found it all interesting, entertaining, and very informative. Great work. And, by the way, I also LOVED this room.

Concerning the Neat Motives 2, I auditioned them here in NYC, with the Exposure set up used at the show. Was not impressed. They lacked a midrange and highs were not well integrated with the midrange that was there. They were not serious competitors to three other floorstanders that I compared them to, viz., the Epos M15.2 (approx. $1400) , Totem Hawks (approx. $2300), and the Devore Gibbon 8s (approx., $2800). I was dissappointed, as they look great and are a perfect size for a small room.
Funny - I am of the opposite opinion. The Motive 2s have a fantastic and open midrange - the true strength of the speaker and the highs sound wonderful as well. All in all, a terrific speaker. I have owned Totem Sttafs, Hawks and Forests and in my opinion, the Neat Motive 2 beats them all. It is just a more energetic and enjoyable listen - it is not "american audiophile" sounding at all - it just drives along with the music. Perhaps the pair you heard were still breaking in. They DO change substantially and DO sound bright and disjointed up to the break in point. Have mine partnered with Naim gear and very happy with the results, especially since all my previous gear subscribed to the american audiophile point of view. Music sounded nice but was never exciting or involving until I finally found this setup.
Anonymous, perhaps they weren't properly broken in. The store had run them for about 50 hours, but they might need more time. In any case, I also heard wonderful sounding highs, and I believe this is their real strength. My concern was with the lower midrange, and how it was integrated with the uper end.
Hello. I would live to hear those Motives 2. I have a pair of Neat Mystiques and a pair of Proacs 1 SC and these are absolutely my favorite sounding speakers. Sorry, but Brit sound all the way for me. I had a pair of US speakers in past and it doesn't compare. Very hard to compare the Neat and the Proacs. I must say, different as they are, I still slightly prefer the Proac Sound. It's, what a speaker should be, IMHO. Mystiques are the world best sounding speaker FOR THEIR PRICE. Great lows, involving mid and highs. I absolutely love the Neats. My two setups are driven by Benchmark DAc1s and Primaluna Prologue 1 and 2. I think I have the most cost efficient audiophile ( NON US ;-)) Sound. Regards.