Introduction- what is the Neat Ministra?
The Neat Minista is a two way standmount speaker. We look at a good number of these but even so, the Ministra has a driver combination that we’ve never tested before. Neat Acoustics has been one of the more inventive companies active in speaker design over the last decade or so. The two models we have looked at for AVForums so far; the IOTA and peculiar but utterly lovely IOTA Alpha both came out of leftfield and both of them are decidedly unusual in their execution. It didn’t stop either of them delivering a performance that delighted me though and the traditional virtues of Neat as a brand were unaffected by their design.
On the face of it, the Ministra is a rather more ‘normal’ looking product but it takes some ideas that first appeared in the IOTAs and mixes them with ideas that Neat has employed in their speakers for decades. The result is something a little bit different to the norm. Of course, different does not automatically equate to better but at the recent Bristol Show, the Ministra was on demonstration and garnered some positive comments from forum members so let’s see how this delivers in reality.
Specification and Design
Unusually, having gone a number of years without one example of this design practise turning up for review, the Ministra is the second speaker in quick succession to have an isobaric driver arrangement. It is still a two way speaker but as well as the mid bass driver you can see, there is a second one placed directly behind it. The two drivers function as one, both receiving the same feed from the crossover. This means that the Ministra has double the radiating area of a conventional two way speaker, although there are some side effects of this we’ll cover off in due course.
These isorbaric drivers are 134mm units made from treated paper. They are the same as the ones used in Neat’s Motive range of speakers that act as the relatively conventional range of speakers to sit alongside the IOTAs. None of the Motive range uses them in an isorbaric configuration though which makes the Ministra the most affordable speaker in the current range to offer this.
What is also unusual is that the Minista has a floorstanding relative, the Ekstra which, while superficially similar in appearance terms, is actually quite different. The Ekstra only has a single forward firing driver and instead has an isobaric pair firing downwards. The Ministra therefore is not a straightforward chop conversion of the Ekstra and neither was it automatically the case that Neat was going to make it.
What the two speakers do have in common is that they share a tweeter. This is a 50mm ribbon that is a direct influence of the IOTA program. The use of ‘influence’ is deliberate though because the tweeter used here is not the same as the one used in the IOTAs (or indeed the IOTA Xplorer, which uses an Air Motion Transformer) but Neat employs the experience that the IOTAs gave in the use of ribbon tweeters to ensure that the performance of the Ministra is as good as possible.
One unavoidable facet of using a tweeter of this nature is that the crossover point between it and the midbass driver will need to be fairly high because it simply won’t extend down as far as a conventional dome. This means that the Ministra has a crossover point in the 4kHz region that means those ‘mid bass’ drivers really are being asked to do some midrange work, covering off between 2-3kHz more response than many designs we’ve looked at recently.
In order to help the drivers work as well as they can, the Ministra has a cabinet that makes use of conventional MDF for five of the six sides but then uses a separate baffle that mounts the drivers on a stiff and non resonant enclosure that affixes to the rest of the cabinet via a polyethene membrane. The cabinet itself is rear ported but the Ministra itself has been designed with a view to working near boundaries so the claim is that it is entirely benign in operation. In keeping with most recent Neat speakers, the Ministra is fitted for single wiring only, with a pair of small but sturdy binding posts.
In most behavioural aspects, the Ministra isn’t far removed from rivals at the price. Neat doesn’t give an official lower frequency response but suggests that it should go sub 40Hz on a +/- 6dB measurement. This is the benefit of the isobaric driver arrangement in action; there aren’t many conventional rivals that can match the Ministra in this regard. The trade-off hinted at earlier is that the sensitivity of the Neat is fairly low. Neat quotes 86dB/w but running the Ministra alongside some other speakers with similar claimed figures does suggest that it might be a little lower.
After a succession of small but visibly varied speakers, the Ministra is almost a return to tradition for Neat. The proportions of the Ministra aren’t quite classic standmount - it’s narrower and deeper than that but it still looks quite tidy. It is a nice piece of industrial design, something that is masked a little by the black ash finish of the review samples which, as examples of black ash go, is well applied but utterly uninspiring. Thankfully, there are other options and these look a great deal better. One of the reasons for this is that when the rest of the cabinet is in a different finish, the front baffle becomes more of a styling feature and starts to make the Ministra look rather more interesting.
It is well made too. There are elements of the Ministra; the exposed bolt heads around the driver surround and the like, that might not feel as slick as some offerings from larger companies but the manner in which it is physically bolted together is very confidence inspiring. It might be best to say that the Neat feels more like engineering then furniture, although in some of the other finishes, it manages to bridge that gap more effectively.
... the Ministra has double the radiating area of a conventional two way speaker
How was the Ministra tested?
The Minista has been placed on a pair of Soundstyle Z60 stands and connected to a Cambridge Audio Edge A and Naim Nait XS3 integrated amp that have both been connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas mains conditioner. Source equipment has included a Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 and Mscaler and Hugo2 and prototype 2Go, all acting as Roon Endpoints from a Roon Nucleus. Some additional testing has taken place from a Rega Planar 10 and Michell GyroDec with a selection of cartridges and an LG 55B7 OLED TV. Material used has included FLAC, AIFF and DSD, some Tidal and Qobuz, vinyl and broadcast and on demand TV material.
A statement that has proved curiously durable over the years exists to the effect that Neat doesn’t measure its speakers. This is entirely incorrect. Neat measures everything and knows the vital figures of every aspect of their behaviour. A nuance that gets lost in the mix is that Neat chases a sound that they are happy with and measures the result rather than the other way around. For a few people, this approach will never be ‘correct’, but for many people, and I count myself amongst them, it makes for a consistently satisfying product to listen to.
The Ministra is at once completely in keeping with this tradition but it does bring some extra dimensions to it. For starters, those isobaric drivers really do deliver some low end oomph. The Ministra is considerably smaller than the Kudos Titan 505 and while it has a bespoke stand, it was not supplied for testing. Despite this, the Ministra managed 40Hz in the same in room conditions before dipping below the +/- 3dB threshold and it tails off very gracefully from there. This is a considerable amount of punch for a small speaker and something that helps it to deliver scale as well as punch. Returning to the wonderful Resolve by Poppy Ackroyd, the Neat makes the piano sound like a piano. This is a big instrument, one that can move far more air than we often associate from the childhood experiences of a worn upright in the school hall. The Ministra is one of the smallest speakers I know that manages to do it.
And if you just want clout, it has that too. My vinyl copy of Hello Nasty by the Beastie Boys manages to have some of the most astonishing bass I’ve ever heard on a record. The Neat is an absolute delight here. Not only does it have improbable heft but the speed at which it can turn it off and on is genuinely exhilarating. If space is tight but you want to listen to Intergalactic at levels you feel as much as hear, this is where you need to start looking.
The Ministra is so much more than a heavy hitting party speaker though. Put the Beastie Boys away and move to the pared back and utterly beautiful Countless Branches by Bill Fay and the Neat begins to show its other virtues and they are considerable. Despite the very different construction and design of the two drivers, the handover between them is seamless and completely tonally even. A word that crops up time and time again in my listening notes is ‘sweet’ and its use in this case is wholly justified. Without ever sounding overly warm or syrupy, the Ministra is completely free of any unwanted edge. Bill Fay sounds entirely real, the focus of attention on the record but ably supported by the sparse instrumentation.
The longer you listen, the more joyous this effect becomes. The Neat manages to deliver upper registers without a hint of beaming or directionality. This means that provided a modicum of care is taken with their placement, they will deliver an exceptionally three dimensional performance. There are some subjectively interesting aspects to it too. The Ministra can feel like a ‘big picture’ style device that doesn’t deliver the fine detail that some rivals can muster but this isn’t strictly true. The detail is present on the recording but it is delivered in a way that doesn’t overemphasise anything specific. There will be an element of personal preference to this but I have found that the Ministra is a very easy speaker to listen to for extended periods.
These virtues are delivered with commendably few vices too. Like a number of speakers at this price point, I would say that the Ministra is not a band aid to fixing a system that you are unhappy with. It responds to the source equipment and shows what it can and cannot do in a manner that is fairly transparent and while it is very enjoyable with both the Cambridge Audio and the Naim, it is the latter where it genuinely shines. The energy of the XS3 combines with the Ministra to deliver a performance that is greater than the sum of its parts. So long as you like what your system does though, it is highly likely that the Neat will appeal.
The final, welcome piece of the puzzle though is that the Ministra makes music fun. Like the IOTA Alpha, it does a better job of getting to the crux of what the artist intended than many more expensive and ornate rivals. You cannot measure emotional intent and the inference of what makes the artist tick but I would wager that if you spend a bit of time with the Ministra and music you know really well, you’ll reach the conclusion that this is a speaker that ‘gets’ it rather than shoots for it.
Without ever sounding overly warm or syrupy, the Ministra is completely free of any unwanted edge
- Spacious, refined and engaging performance
- Unfussy about placement
- Well made
- Need a reasonable amount of power
- Won't flatter electronics you don't like
- Slightly odd looks
Neat Ministra Standmount Speaker Review
Neat does things its own way for its own reasons. We’ve been treated to some very distinctive speakers in recent years and, taken at first appearances, the Ministra can look like the company is backing away from them and returning to normality. The reality is that everything that makes those speakers tick has been condensed, considered and employed here. The Ministra is not a monitor. It is not a fix all solution for people unhappy with how their system is performing. What it is is a speaker that unfailingly and consistently makes music in a way that is extremely hard not to be captivated by. The Ministra is a joy to listen to and comes Highly Recommended.
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