Fitted with a ribbon tweeter for top treble quality, NEAT’S new Majistra loudspeaker engages Noel Keywood. Read our NEAT MAJISTRA Review.
NEAT’s Majistra had me puzzled.The ribbon tweeter produced excessive treble under measurement, something I usually find aurally unacceptable. Review fear set in: I’d rather not sit there gritting my teeth. But in this case the sonic picture wasn’t as expected – for much of the time the Majistras not only sounded balanced but also impressive, for reasons I’ll come to explain. So here is a curious review, one that is both good and bad: the Majistra turned out to be ‘fun’ in more ways than one. A top device in more ways than one.
The Majistra is a large standmounter, one that’s heavy at 11kg. It will go on a shelf but this is not ideal as the speaker generates a lot of bass and would likely induce room boom in rooms under 16ft long.With dimensions of 380mm high, 220mm wide and 290mm (11.5in) deep it will sit on a stand easily enough and this way can be manoeuvred for best results. Cabinet finishes are black oak, satin white, natural oak and American walnut, our review samples being a visually light natural oak. Beneath the removable grilles, held by magnetic catches, lie two drive units, a 170mm treated paper cone bass unit and – playing a star role – a 60mm long ribbon tweeter that NEAT call “a true ribbon” by which I guess they mean not a folded ribbon. Here comes my first aside.
Long ago (late ‘80s) I heard and took to the Tonigen ribbon tweeter used in the Heybrook Sextet, a favourite loudspeaker of mine at the time. So I used it in World Audio Design’s first loudspeaker, KLSI. Integrating a ribbon isn’t so easy, technically because they don’t run low and subjectively because an aluminium ribbon doesn’t sound like much else, leading to chameleon character.The Sextet suffered this but the benefit of a ribbon tweeter outweighed this disadvantage.What you get is super clean and precision fast treble that leaves domes standing – or so you might think.
The Majistra is solidly built and heavy, made so by an internal isobaric chamber carrying a second 170mm bass unit. At top, the ribbon tweeter, with soft surround to absorb surface waves.
After years in front of an electrostatic I now find ribbons have their own colour, sounding tinselly, but this gives a good impression. Designers like to emphasise it by lifting output to ensure their contribution is obvious. No point in using an expensive drive unit if no one notices. Making them sonically more conspicuous than domes – especially in the Majistra.
Ribbon tweeters have progressed since the Tonigen. It reached down to 5kHz but Neat’s makes it down to 2kHz so it contributes more to the sound. Ribbons have become popular in Germany where companies like Quadral and Mundorf are associated with them. But Quadral loudspeakers, that I know well and greatly admire, follow a different design ethic to that of NEAT: they measure flat.
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The Majistra differs in other ways. It uses Isobaric loading of the bass unit to minimise pressure changes in the chamber behind. A second bass unit sits behind the main one, working into a vented rear chamber, with vent (port) sited on the rear panel. It’s quite a lot to squeeze into a small cabinet, but delivers “surprisingly deep and controlled bass” NEAT say, something our measurements confirmed. Such loading raises cabinet and drive unit cost and, with two bass units to drive, lowers impedance and sensitivity. The Majistras need an amplifier with a bit of oomph as a result: think 60+ Watts.
Fitted with a single pair of terminals, bi-wiring is not possible, nor external adjustment of tweeter level.
A large port tuned to 40Hz loads the internal isobaric bass unit.
Initially, I drove the Majistras from our Creek i20 amplifier (100W) believing its easy going sound would be most suitable. Not so. It’s works well with acoustically well damped loudspeakers where, like our Icon Audio Stereo 30 SE, bass is enhanced, but the Majistras have strong bass and need a grippy amplifier like our PrimaLuna EVO300 Hybrid with its 100W MOSFET output stage. Differences were large, the PrimaLuna exerting better bass control.
Acting as a source was our Oppo UDP-205D silver disc player spinning CD and acting as an ES9038Pro equipped DAC to feed hi-res from a MacBook Pro, including DSD, from an Audirvana+ software player. For LP I used our Timestep Evo modified Technics SL-1210 Mkll with SME309 arm and Audio Technica VM750 SH MM cartridge, feeding a Pro-Ject Phono Box RS2.
The Majistras proved a bit Jekyll and Hyde, as expected. For the most part they came across as full bodied with surprisingly powerful deep bass in relation to cabinet size.This was more apparent with LP than the drier balance of CD, where the bass line in Ride Across the River (Brothers
NEAT’s diagram of the Majistra, showing the principle of isobaric loading where a rear bass unit unloads the front unit. The rear unit itself is loaded by a reflex chamber. It’s a complex cabinet.
In Arms, Mobile Fidelity 45rpm re-master) was large and muscular making it very apparent in the mix. Lows were very low, sending rumbling sounds out at me.
As this track faded and The Man’s Too Strong got into its stride Mark Knopfler’s aggressive chord strikes flew at my ears in supercharged fashion. Meanwhile his vocals and all else were smoothly and evenly presented. It was only at specific moments when the music deviated from ’normal’ that the Majistras suddenly jumped at me, both at the bass end and up top. In this sense they are dramatic that’s for sure, but I had reservations about such emphasis, where the balance I know suddenly became very different.
Spinning Alison Goldfrapp’s Supernature LP massive lows came from the synthesiser and suitably breathy vocals from the lady, laced with sibilance from lines like “switch me on, turn me up” (Ooh La La) where ’s’ and ’t’ shot out like needles. At times like this, the extreme treble of the tweeter was very apparent. Otherwise the album came over well enough, sounding big bodied and powerful.
“Spinning Alison Goldfrapp’s Supernature LP massive lows came from the synthesiser”
The same sort of switch from one state to another occurred with Nigel Kennedy playing Vivaldi’s Spring (CD) where the orchestra was clear and very detailed, and so was Nigel’s Stradivarius for the most part – until he got strenuous with the higher strings – then his violin was pushed hard at me and took on a sheeny edge. The tweeter gives superb quality and deep insight, making this a dramatic experience that seemingly shades all else – because it does shade all else! But I found the drama artificial, making for a presentation quite different to that I know. It’s very easy in a situation like this to elect for drama and excitement, which the Majistras have in buckets, but the longer I listened the more my reservations built.
Running through a swathe of CDs and LPs the Majistras were, on balance, nothing other than a great experience.They deliver wonderfully clear vocals that have both body and depth, with a sense of insight that betters most else; the ribbons were mining deep detail. Bass was strong and ran low, the overall character of the loudspeaker being fulsome.There were times when I heard more from a song than ever before. However, there was a sense of bass and treble being emphasised as if a loudness control was in play.
With most recordings and music genres the Majistra comes across as big bodied and colour free. As NEAT claim they deliver bass with depth and weight.The ribbon tweeter for the most part sounds finely detailed and fast, but at times its rising output was very obvious. Making this an idiosyncratic loudspeaker, worth hearing if strong bass and high treble are an attraction.
Our frequency response analysis shows a dominant feature of the NEAT Majistra is rising output from the ribbon tweeter, from where it comes into play at 2kHz all the way up to 20kHz where output is + 8dB above the 1kHz datum – a very large rise not seen in other loudspeakers. This result is with grille on and 25 degrees off-axis. Ribbon tweeters have wide dispersion so measuring on/off axis made little difference, and the grille was transparent so had no affect either.
Below 4kHz output is even down to 400Hz after which there is low frequency lift of +4dB down to 90Hz before output starts to fall away. Deep bass below 100Hz is aided by a well damped port (red trace).
Emphasis to the lower midband suggests a full bodied sound balance. Extension down to 30Hz means very low bass ‘subsonics’ will be audible. In all then strong low bass and a full bodied sound are shown here.
Sensitivity was low at 84dB sound pressure level (SPL) from one nominal Watt (2.8V) of input, meaning 60W+ amplifiers will be needed. NEAT quote 88dB – not a figure we could repeat.
The two bass units combined come in at 3.5 Ohms d.c.r. overall and impedance stays close to this value up to 200Hz our impedance trace shows. The near flat nature of the trace means the loudspeaker is well damped acoustically, reflecting back into being an almost resistive load. The port is tuned to 40Hz, its dip shows. Overall, impedance measured with pink noise was a normal enough 6.5 Ohms due solely to the midband peak caused by voice coil and crossover inductances.
The Majistra has a reasonably flat response up to 4kHz but above that the strong treble rise will be audible. Bass runs very low and is strong.
EXCELLENT – extremely capable.
A dramatic if inaccurate sound.
- very insightful
- strong deep bass
- big bodied demeanour
- upper bass heavy
- excessive high treble
- no bi-wiring
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