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.