A new product from Neat Acoustics always gets me excited, especially since owner Bob Surgeoner took over complete control of designs; before that I found them rather avant-garde for my traditional taste. The maestro’s latest creation is the fourth model in the company’s Strata range with the new Majistra sitting alongside the Ministra, Ekstra and Orkestra. The addition follows the format of the standmount Ministra although in larger form, using the drive unit arrangement from the top-of-the range Orkestra. This all sounds most promising and I tremble with excitement as I open the boxes.
All the fundamental design features of the Strata range are present: isobaric bass configuration, true-ribbon tweeter and separate sub-baffle for the front drivers. In common with all Neat’s loudspeakers, the Majistra’s crossover is hand-built using point-to-point wiring. It is a minimal design, employing first- and second-order slopes, with the components all hard-wired to maximise integrity. The crossover components are of premium audiophile quality and include high-voltage polypropylene capacitors and low-loss air-cored inductors.
Here, then, we have a two-way bookshelf design incorporating a 60mm true ribbon tweeter, and two 170mm bass/midrange drive units. Something immediately noticeable is the small footprint which means that the Majistras can be easily accommodated in my modest-sized listening room and will therefore find favour with many music lovers with limited space. The result gives a quoted sensitivity of 88dB which is good for a small isobaric configuration. The nominal impedance is given as six Ohms and, although it drops to just four Ohms, the load is mainly resistive and so not an issue for modern solid-state amplifiers. Anything from 25W/ch should work although you might want a little more grunt, depending on room size and acoustics. My last listening room was very heavily damped and absorbed so much energy that I needed more powerful amplifiers than I do in my present, temporary, setting.
It amazes me to see images of reviewers who have cavernous listening rooms; such luxury is afforded to the few while most of us must settle for something more restrained. In this regard Neat caters for us ‘normal’ people while also producing much larger models for those with more expansive facilities.
The Majistra’s front baffle, coupled to the cabinet via a polyethylene membrane to reduce cabinet coloration, houses the ribbon tweeter and one of the 170mm drive units, to handle bass and midrange frequencies. Then, inside, mounted behind the main drive unit, is another identical driver. The space between these units is sealed, in isobaric configuration. This form of bass-loading can deliver surprisingly deep and controlled bass performance from a compact enclosure and is a technique Mr Surgeoner has perfected over several years.
A low-Q reflex port is fitted to the rear, and the airflow is regulated by an acoustic filter fitted inside the port. Also on the rear baffle is a single pair of good-quality terminals. I found that a very slight toe/angle-in helped to optimise stereo imaging but the speaker was far less fussy in this respect than many I’ve encountered.
The review sample was finished in stunning satin white with contrasting black front baffle, with other finish options being black oak, natural oak and American walnut. Visually, and acoustically, the Majistras matched my trusty Hegle H190 integrated amp/DAC/streamer, and I enjoyed several weeks of listening from live radio broadcasts as well as via Apple Airplay.
Just as when visiting room after room at a hi-fi event, first impressions of new equipment in one’s own system are very revealing. The immediate sensation will be to do a direct comparison with whatever has been heard most recenlty. In this case, my trusty BBC-style broadcast monitor. The contrast with the Majistras could not have been clearer: here we have a really impressive loudspeaker which knows how to not only handle music but bring it alive to entertain the listener. Given their compact nature, the sonic characteristics were even more amazing. They are peppy, snappy even and certainly rhythmically very adept. From the first notes of Taylor Swift’s ME!, my feet were tapping; something that very rarely happens with my usual speakers. The track is surprisingly well crafted and, of course, full of detail which was exhibited to perfection by the Neats.
Track after track revealed just how much fun these speakers could be, slightly sumptuous in fact as the music just flows from the drive units at their beating heart. Really well recorded material was shown to be silkily smooth and I basked in some of my favourite pieces including Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem (NPO conducted by the composer from 1964).
We have here a very civilized design and one which avoids that all-too-common tendency to be overly frenetic but without being unnaturally slow or lagging behind the beat. Live BBC Radio 3 concerts were just a dream to listen to via the Majistras. I was treated to Haydn’s Symphony No.101 in D, ‘The Clock’. Treble here was detailed and super-fast, that very light ribbon diaphragm meaning that it can keep up with transients in effortless fashion. It is clear that the Majistras leave models with a dome tweeter at the starting gate in this regard. High frequencies are reproduced with a glorious openness which extends to the upper midband. Percussion is rendered with an enjoyable crispness as harmonics are handled with aplomb.
For the cabinet size, the bass performance is remarkable thanks to that isobaric loading. It is extremely tuneful while coping with dynamics to a greater degree than I was expecting. Its articulation contradicts its size to produce a real wow factor that brought a smile to my face and stirred the soul.
Rarely do I hear such a wonderfully expressive tonal quality in a design at this level, the LF response was well-textured across all the material I played, here we have a product from a designer who understands the balance between frequency-domain and time-domain characteristics. Bass notes are taut and there’s just the right amount of body to the overall presentation. Okay, while there’s muscle there, clearly something at this level is not going to be able to extract the very last ounce of bass, but that’s not an issue since what they do they do so well and it’s more than initially expected.
The overall sonic balance is neutral and able to reveal the characteristics of each recording or performance. Some speaker designers think they know better than recording engineers and create an unnaturally upfront soundstage with an overly forward presentation. This model exhibits an all-too-rare ability, to sound just right at modest listening levels but also to be able to play loudly, when needed, such that increasing SPLs retain all the positive characteristics without introducing any abhorrent artefacts. At this price-point that’s a real achievement and shows a masterclass in engineering design. Overall, it’s very hard not to be captivated by the music this speaker makes.
Human voice is just a joy to listen to via the Majistras. I indulged in more than my usual amount of drama and speech recordings over the test period. These speakers are what I term ‘honest’ in that, what goes in comes out. Sometimes that means warts and all, but with decent source material listeners wont’ be disappointed. And, I wasn’t. The all-important midrange is very accomplished without obvious defects and certainly managing to avoid unpleasantries such as boxiness, nasality or sibilance. Again, too many designs fail in this area.
It’s no surprise that the designer is a musician, and one who attends live music performances on a very regular basis. The Majistra reproduces acoustic instruments with such realism as to take the listener to the performance: I am happy to say that a piano through these boxes sounds like a piano. If only all speakers were this accomplished. This doesn’t happen by accident though, and especially not with a speaker of these dimensions. It’s the result of musical know-how and design prowess. I recall how, at the vast High End event in Munich, everyone would migrate to beer kellers at the end of the day, everyone that is except for Bob who’d go back to his hotel to change for an evening of live music somewhere before he indulged in food and drink.
He’s done it again! Blending a true ribbon tweeter with isobaric base loading, Bob Surgeoner has created a loudspeaker of sublime qualities which will not fail to impress, no matter the chosen source material. Expertly engineered and exquisitely designed, the Majistra is well worth its asking price and proves that, when it comes to audio transducers, you really do get what you pay for. Punching well above its weight, this model truly deserves a Best Buy badge from me since it is far better than many a design I’ve heard at several times the price.