- 2-way bass reflex design
- Parallel network with 1.9kHz crossover point
- Neo-3 pdr with deep back cup (tweeter)
- M-130X 5.25 inch composite paper woofer with phase plug type dust cap, polymer chassis, and vented Kapton voice coil and XBL^ motor.
- Frequency response is as good as +/-1.5dB-3dB is 55hz
- Sensitivity is 85 dB (1watt/1m)
- Recommended amplification is 8-100 watts RMS Impedance 8 ohms nominal 6.2 ohms minimal Dimensions: 12.5″ h x 8″ w x 11.625″ d.
- Price: $329 base kit, up to $572 with all options
The competition between manufacturers in the monitor-sized loudspeaker category is fearsome, and the performance of these pint-sized speakers would astonish the casual listener. These days a well-designed monitor speaker is capable of generating a huge soundstage, and creating the illusion of a live performance in a listening room. Low frequency performance has been improved with the current generation of speakers, and flat bass response below 80-hertz is not uncommon. The best monitors in today’s market are capable of being either stand-alone speakers, or the top half of a high performance satellite/subwoofer speaker system. Unfortunately, high performance comes with an escalating price tag, and the stars of this speaker category have been effectively priced out of reach for the every day audio enthusiast. Many a discriminating audiophile would not hesitate to part with $2000 or more for a set of high quality 2-way monitor speakers. Small stand mounted speakers used to be one avenue that the frugal audio enthusiast could follow in order to attain quality sound reproduction for a modest outlay of cash. While there is a large pool of value-priced small speakers in production, the performance gap between them and the top of the line speakers can be quite significant. Designing a speaker that bridges the gap between performance and price is a challenging endeavor, although the latest speaker kit designed by Danny Richie at GR Research is intended to bring high quality sound reproduction to a price point where the average audio enthusiast can afford it.
Speaker kits reached their zenith in the audio world in the 1970’s, and continued to be popular into the 80’s. Kits were one avenue that cost conscious audio enthusiasts could take to keep their hobby affordable. While kit speakers have not obtained the same popularity as they once had in the past, there are still several manufacturers who offer high quality kit speakers. The designers of these speakers have access to a wide array of engineering software and sophisticated test equipment, and by no stretch of the imagination are these kits a second rate product. Current offerings from GR Research, Madisound, North Creek Music Systems, Linkwitz Lab, Occam Audio, and Audio Note offer a level of performance that can easily exceed the offerings of mainstream commercial speaker manufacturers. The value quotient of kit speakers is quite high, and the person willing to invest a bit of sweat equity into their speakers will achieve success that far outstrips the amount of actual cash spent.
GR Research was founded in 1995, and has earned a reputation for offering high performance monitor speakers. The Paradox One speaker put GR Research on the map, and there is still a strong following for this fine speaker. Over the years Danny Richie has been recognized as one of the up and coming speaker designers in the audio world. At the top of Danny’s list of accomplishments is the development of the crossover network for the US version of the Usher BE718 Tiny Dancer speaker. The crossover network in the AV123 Mini Strata speaker system is also Danny’s creation. GR Research has a wide array of products and services, which include speaker kits, modifications/upgrades to existing speaker designs, and engineering support to the DIY speaker builder. Over the last decade GR Research has solidified its position in the audio world as a company that offers speaker kits that challenge the big names in the marketplace, while keeping the cost of their products within the grasp of the average audio enthusiast.
GR Research NEO-1X review
The NEO-1X speaker kit is the latest monitor class offering from GR Research. Danny Richie has been involved in the development of several well-known small speakers, yet he feels that this new speaker is competitive with many of the highly regarded speakers in this class. The NEO-1X kit is based upon the proprietary GR Research M-130X 5 and ¼” woofer, and a custom built Bohlender-Grabner NEO-3 PDR planar-magnetic tweeter. As fate would have it the drivers are an ideal match for each other, and allows Danny to design a straightforward crossover network. The tweeter crosses to the woofer at 1.9kHz, using a third order crossover, while the woofer uses a minimal first order network with impedance compensation. This asymmetrical design maintains time alignment, and minimizes colorations because of the low part count in the signal path. The NEO-1X is a ported design that requires the cabinet to have an internal volume of .39 cubic feet. The 3dB down point is 55 hertz, which is more than respectable for the 5 and ¼” woofer that is used in this design. The standard speaker kit, sells for $329, and there is a series of upgrades for the kit which can significantly enhance the performance of this speaker. The crossover parts can be upgraded to Sonic Caps, and Mills wire wound resistors. Other possible options include internal JPS wiring, and Vampire binding posts. No-Rez dampening material is another upgrade that perspective kit builders should strongly consider. The cost of these enhancements add up to approximately $220, making the final cost of the “SE” version of this kit $549.
The challenge that faces many aspiring DIY speaker builders is how to obtain attractive cabinets. For those fortunate souls who have access to a high quality table saw, this is not a problem. However, many a frugal audio enthusiast who would be willing to tackle a DIY speaker project cannot justify the cost or room needed to build a single set of speakers. As providence would have it, Danny has located a cabinet from Parts Express that is well suited for this application. The Dayton TWC-0.38MA cabinets have the correct internal volume for this application, and are priced at $93 apiece. The cabinets have curved side panels to break up internal standing waves, internal bracing, and several attractive finish options.1 The front baffle is a ½-inch wider than optimum, but the effect on the overall performance of the speaker is negligible. Also, the MDF used for the cabinet is softer than Danny would prefer, however the use of No-Rez dampening material will eliminate any resonance issues from this material. The Dayton cabinets are a cost effective solution for completing this kit, and the amount of time saved is another benefit to the aspiring DIY’er who undertakes this project. The NEO-1X kit can now be considered a weekend project, and the finished speaker will have an attractive appearance that can be proudly displayed in any part of the house.
I placed the NEO-1X speakers on a set of Target HS-30 stands. These are welded one-piece stands, and the large center columns are sand filled. A solid speaker stand is absolutely necessary to unlock the potential of any small speaker, and perspective owners of these speakers should acquire a quality set of stands. These speakers have remarkable dispersion characteristics, and I was able to spread them 8.5 feet apart. I applied a moderate amount of toein, and the soundstage locked in quite nicely. The Neo-1X speaker has a rear firing port, so there needs to be some distance between the back of the speaker and the rear wall. I placed them 2-1/2 feet off the wall, and had an acceptable balance between bass response and imaging. A Jeff Rowland Model 5 amplifier and Consummate pre-amplifier took care of the amplification duties. A Bolder modified Squeezebox is used as a transport for an Audio Magic Kukama DAC. An Audio Magic Mini-Reference power conditioner ensures that they system receives clean AC current. Audio Magic Illusion 4D speaker cables, interconnects, and digital cable is used throughout the system. Power cords are sourced from the value-priced Audio Magic Extreme series. All components are placed within a pair of racks from AV123.
Quite frankly, I find it difficult to get excited about small speakers. After all, every company out there builds at least one model, most have a similar appearance, and in many respects even have the same level of overall performance. As a general rule monitor class speakers all image reasonably well, but are plagued by limited bass response and dynamic range. The GR Research NEO-1X speaker kit is not another “me-to” product; this speaker performs at a level that belies its modest cost. Danny has high praise for the Bohlender-Grabner tweeter, and this driver is primarily responsible for the excellent vertical and horizontal dispersion characteristics of this speaker. The NEO-1X speaker easily disappears in my listening room, and the soundstage spreads out to fill the front half of my 19’ by 16” library. The soundstage generated by electronic music can be massive, and the recordings done by Enigma excel in these regards. “Mea Culpa” [Enigma; Charisma V2-86224] is a track that showcases the abilities of this speaker, and is quite a treat to listen to. In the opening passage of this song, a church bell is ringing, while a thunderstorm forms in the back of the soundstage. When this track is played through a speaker with excellent imaging characteristics, this is an eerily realistic effect that always catches my attention. A set of snare drums begins playing, and the NEO-1X speakers place them in a spot behind the rear wall. A chanting choir is placed in the center of the room, while synthesizer notes float above the speakers. What is amazing is how well the soundstage holds together when I move about the room. The dispersion characteristics of this speaker are superb, and the high frequency information is not diminished when I stand up. Also, I can move to several different points in my library, and the song still remains coherent. This is not a “stereo everywhere” effect that is espoused by some speaker manufacturers. The ability to enjoy the stereo from multiple listening positions is a trait that should appeal to the practical audio enthusiast who often multi-tasks while listening to their tunes.
The tonal balance of the NEO-1X speaker is as close to neutral as one could expect from a $500 speaker kit.2 It has been my experience that it is relatively easy to build a speaker that is warm and smooth, or even clinically analytical. Either side of the spectrum can be accomplished without too much effort, but voicing a speaker to be neutral is maddeningly difficult. Also, neutral is expensive, since it often requires high quality drivers, acoustically dead cabinets, and the designer has to have a firm grasp on crossover implementation. Diana Krall teams up with the Chieftains for a wonderful interpretation of “Danny Boy”. [Tears of Stone; RCA Victor 0902668968-2] Krall’s distinctive style is magical on this song, and the NEO-1 speakers portray her vocals as well as any speaker I have heard. These speakers are remarkably devoid of coloration, and maintain an even tonal balance across its output range. The NEO-1X also does an above average job of delivering the fine detail contained in this recording. The bagpipes and acoustic guitar have an easy and natural sound, while still containing the subtle nuances that are contained in this recording. Danny Richie has put together a remarkable speaker; inexpensive speakers are just not supposed to sound as good as the NEO-1X does.
The bass performance of the NEO-1X speaker kit is quite respectable for a monitor class speaker. The M-130X bass driver uses the XBL2 motor structure, which contributes to the speaker’s long stroke, and minimal amounts of low frequency distortion. A 5 and ¼ -inch driver is going to have physical limitations to how much air can be displaced by the diaphragm, so the lowest octaves of bass information will be diminished. Still, the NEO-1X is capable of reaching down to 55 hertz, which will accommodate the needs of most audio enthusiasts. I found the bass reproduction on “Let Me Be Your Baby” by Hiroshima [Urban World Music; Warner Bros 9 46234 2] to be quite enjoyable. These speakers captured the majority of the bass information, although the physical impact of the lower registers was definitely missing. However, the bass notes had excellent detail, and the sound was never ill defined. Bass guitar, kick drums, and various synthesizer parts had a clean presentation that I definitely appreciated. The quality of the bass from NEO-1X more than made up for the inability of the speaker to grunt out the lowest octaves.
The typical audio enthusiast often admires the high end products in this hobby, but must work within the constraints of a real world budget. For many hobbyists times have gotten tough, and finding ways to stretch whatever dollars contained in the audio kitty has become difficult. Products like the GR Research NEO-1X speaker kit offer a viable alternative to the mega dollar monitors that are offered by the mainstream speaker manufacturers. These speakers have outstanding performance in the midrange and treble region. The imaging characteristics are as good as most monitor class speakers that reside in the two or three thousand price bracket. The bass response is quite respectable, especially in light of the modest size of the bass driver and speaker cabinet.3 I thoroughly enjoy my listening sessions with these speakers, and often leave them in for extended periods of time. The NEO-1X has become my personal gold standard for evaluating the value of monitor class speakers. The top to bottom performance of this speaker is remarkably consistent, and the associated price tag is makes them a veritable steal. Over the years I have heard several small speakers with hefty price tags, and while many of these speakers are enchanting, it is hard to justify the asking price of these pieces. The NEO-1X speakers perform at the same level as the kilo-buck monitors do, and is a refreshing alternative to the two thousand dollar monitors offered by mainstream speaker manufacturers. If you are a frugal audio enthusiast in the market for speakers, I suggest you order the kit and spend a weekend assembling them. Your efforts will be rewarded; this speaker will not disappoint you.
Equipment used is
- Jeff Rowland Consummate pre-amplifier
- Jeff Rowland Model 5 amplifier
- Bolder Cable Company modified Squeezebox
- Audio Magic Kukama DAC
- Audio Magic Min-Reference power conditioner
- Audio Magic Illusion 4D speaker wire
- Audio Magic Illusion 4D interconnects
- Audio Magic Illusion 4D digital interconnect Audio Magic Extreme Series power cords AV123 equipment racks
- Target HS 30 speaker stands
from aﬀordableaudio, By John Hoffman