Smaller than you might think, NEAT’s latest Motive SX1 speakers deliver an unmissably thrilling ride
As floorstanding speakers go, the new NEAT Motive SX1 is small. Seriously small, as in standing well under 100cm tall and with a slimline front baffle, meaning a pair take up considerably less front-room real-estate than most standmounted designs.
Coming from NEAT Acoustics, the company responsible for the appropriately-named NEAT Petite, that should probably come as no surprise. However, it’s gratifying that, in developing its Motive SX range, NEAT has resisted the ‘bloat’ that seems to be afflicting some speaker manufacturers of late, and kept the new models svelte and – well, neat.
Mind you, you’d never guess you were listening to speakers so small, and more to the point so short, if you were led into a blacked-out room and plonked down in front of them: not only do the Motive SX1s sound so much bigger, with a confident, well-extended and tight bass, but they also pull appear to cast a soundstage image able to extend up above their 92cm tall enclosures.
The tilt helps with that last trick: like the previous Motive 1 and 2 models, the SX1 and SX2 lean back slightly on their plinths, while the downward-venting bass port, exiting through the plinth, enables them to deliver what can only be described as prodigious and very civilised bass for speakers so small.
A two-and-a-half-way design, the Motive SX1 speakers are part of a revised line-up of one of NEAT’s most popular ranges, the Motive models having been around for some years. The SX versions – like all NEAT speakers handbuilt at the company’s factory/listening facility/studio in Teesdale, Co. Durham – have a new tweeter arrangement, greatly upgraded crossover components, and redesigned cabinets with better bracing, separate internal compartments to reduce driver crosstalk and that downward-firing port (in the two floorstanders).
Having examined and experimented with many tweeters for the new range, in search of a more natural sound, NEAT’s Bob Surgeoner returned to the company’s existing inverted-dome design (left), using an anodised aluminium diaphragm in place of the titanium unit of the last Motive series.
This, he found, gave a better upper treble response, and that whole process is very much indicative of the NEAT way of doing things: when it comes to the final choice of components, listening is what counts.
The crossover components have been upgraded, to a standard similar to those used in the company’s top-end models, and the crossover itself is a simple three-element design, all part of getting as few components as possible in the signal path,
Single-wire speaker terminals are fitted, and while biwiring is available as an extra-cost option, NEAT suggests it’s should only be specified when the user intends to biamplify the speakers.
As with the previous Motive line-up, there are three models in the new range, each using a combination of that 25mm inverted-dome tweeter and 13.5cm bass unit: in the bookshelf Motive SX3 and standmount SX2 there’s one of each driver, covering treble and mid/bass, while the SX1 we have here adds a second woofer as a sub-bass unit, mounted in its own enclosure to keep it from interfering with the midband and treble.
In common with other NEAT designs, the new speakers are available in a range of high-quality finishes – American Walnut, Black Oak, Natural Oak, and Satin White – with custom finishes available to order.
The speakers are £1085/pr for the SX3, £1395 for the SX2, and £1885/pr for the Motive SX1 here, and there’s also a centre-channel speaker for surround-sound use: only available in black oak, the Motive SXC is £705.
The compact size of the NEATs – and even though I reviewed the old Motive 2s a while back, I still can’t get over how dinky the SX1 are – plus that downward-venting bass port arrangement, makes them easy to accommodate. No worries about bass boom when too close to the wall, as can be the case with rear-ported designs, or conversely the need to get them close to the wall to wring any bass out of them.
As is usual with floorstanding speakers in my room, I placed them a couple of feet forward of the wall, and well in from corners, and after some fiddling settled on a position with a very slight toe-in to the listening position, and definitely less than I usually employ.
To be honest, given that moving them around seemed to have little effect on the impressive bass on offer, I simply stopped moving them when the combination of stereo focus and soundstage image snapped in from being very impressive to nothing short of remarkable.
After that, I just got on with playing music. Lots of it.
System completists take note at this point: I used the Naim NDS/555PS, the latter fully recovered from some power-cut induced fuse-blowing (and near heart-stopping!) the other weekend, run into the SUPERNAIT 2/HiCap. Connections were Naim Hi-Line between player and amp, and Chord Signature from amp to speakers, with music served over wired Ethernet from a pair of QNAP NAS devices and using the Naim UnitiServe as the UPnP server.
I also gave them a blast on the end of both the NaimUniti I use on my desk and the Cambridge Audio Minx Xi, just to see how they work with less hefty amplification: the answer is ‘very well indeed’, but that they also keep on getting better as the partnering equipment improves.
Performance (as if you hadn’t guessed by now!)
You may have got the impression by now that I rather liked what I heard from the Motive SX1s, and while that was hardly a surprise, given that I’ve long had a soft spot for the products of this innovative British company, I wasn’t quite ready for just how well these speakers slotted into my system.
Not only do they create a credible soundstage around, between and beyond their enclosures, but there’s excellent front-to-back depth, as well as that height trick. Add that to the sometimes startling sense of focus and imaging of elements within the soundstage, and these are remarkable speakers for their size and price.
I’ve been playing a lot of music through the Motive SX1 speakers in the past couple of weeks, from the new Daniel Barenboim recording of the Verdi Requiem with the orchestra and chorus of La Scala through to Jeff Beck at Ronnie Scott’s, electronica, heavy rock, smooth jazz and everything inbetween, and I can honestly say there’s not a single genre of music for which these speakers aren’t eminently suited.
They major on finesse, and detail resolution is never in doubt, but at the same time they’re fully able to deliver the scale and slam of a full orchestra and chorus or a hard-charging rock or jazz rhythm section, and revealing the full character of percussion and basses alike. The snap and growl of an electric bass, the attack of finger on the string of a jazz upright, or the rumble of orchestral big fiddles – all are delivered with the same weight and body, and make a thrilling contribution to the music.
A sweet, open midband means the SX1s are equally persuasive with solo voices and instruments, while fully able to let rip with solo guitars or soaring jazz brass, and the tight control needed to bring out the character of piano. That speed and deft touch also make them especially well-suited to chamber and other small-ensemble classical recordings: every instrument is readily apparent, but at the same time the flow of the music is delivered intact, rather than in an excessively trainspottery manner more to do with the highness of the fi than making convincing music.
Oh yes – as you might expect from speakers designed by accomplished musicians, whose demonstration/listening room doubles as a recording studio, the Motive SX1s very definitely do music..
This is an unconventional design, but all the better for it: if you want unexpected weight and power with an equally unexpectedly small in-room visual presence, these speakers strike just the right balance.
What’s more, in the room they manage to be unobtrusive while also just a little little eye-catching – and that’s a clever act if you can pull it off.
And did I mention that they sound amazing?
NEAT Motive SX1
Floorstanding speakers | £1885/pr
Drive units 25mm inverted dome tweeter, 13.5cm mid/bass and bass drivers
Dimensions (HxWxD) 92.5x22x26cm
Finishes Natural oak, black oak, american walnut, satin white: other finishes available to order
Written by Andrew Everard