“And now for something completely different”
Last month I reported on my disappointing experience with NeoSpeak’s bookshelf model, the Tetra. At the last “moment” (literally hours after I submitted the preliminary findings, I switched the polarity of the tweeter. I did this remembering that Andrew Kim, NeoSpeak’s president, had written me telling me that the crossover was asymmetric, 3rd order for the tweeter section, and 2nd order for the woofer section. Someplace in the back annals of my mind I recalled that 3rd order crossovers and tweeters create a tilt of some 15E, sometimes used to “phase correct” the offset of loudspeakers on a baffle. I tore into the Tetras and jury-rigged the tweeters so that I could interchange the leads to them.
That’s how I can say with authority that the speakers really do contain air core inductors, high quality wirewound resistors, and Solen caps. Everything on the inside was exactly as Mr. Kim had stated, better quality materials than pretty much all of the competitors in this price range has, and better quality components than some plus $1k designs that I’ve peaked inside of too. NeoSpeak has used South Korean and Chinese manufacturing to their fullest. My only real criticism is the poor quality 3-way binding posts. They have a cheesy feeling compared to the rest of the loudspeaker, but are probably more in line with what other manufacturers do today in this price range.
“And now for the rest of the story (in my best PaulHarvey voice)….”
Toss out almost everything I stated in the preliminary review, except for maybe the last couple of paragraphs. The short story: I (could and) have listened to the Tetras long term. In the “modified” incarnation, I’ve enjoyed the Tetras with almost every piece of music I own. These Tetras are a humdinger. They now sound as though the quality of components and care of construction warrant serious consideration and recommendation.
Imagine a B&W with sweetness. Very extended highs with no glare, no “etchiness”, and no “dry” sound. These things are detailed in spades, but without any irritation. The are “quick” for lack of a better term, or “coherent” or whatever you use to describe a sound that could come from a single source – I like single drivers and coax designs. Choirs sound choir-like. Female voices are beautifully rendered in tone. Acoustic guitars sound like hollow wood bodies with strings being plucked and strum. Male voice is not chesty, nor is it pinched. Tonally I think these speakers are very good. I know these are boxed speakers, but the don’t sound much like most. Perhaps it’s the high quality, high-density grey egg-crate foam used on all interior walls of the enclosures.
One of the pluses to good tonality is quality “soundstaging”. You know the term. Everybody over-uses this one. You’re supposed to believe that you can accurately place a performer in some sort of 3-D space in front of you, as though at a live performance and “see” if you can fix the performer’s placement. Some like what I would call “pinpoint” soundstaging. In this case you can “lock” a performer firmly in place. I don’t particularly like the idea of this “pinpoint” localization or whatever you want to call it. At live performances it is pretty rare to exactly locate a performer. There is a natural “vagueness’ that occurs in larger venues. The Tetras have “it” in spades. Only in small, intimate settings can this actually occur. Sorry, few 100 member choirs perform in 40 seat clubs. The Tetras can do this too. Depth and lateral information are present and it is very easy to hear into the performance. A sense of the acoustic space is available on recordings when present, sometimes startling enough to make you wonder what have you been listening to in the past. The sense of “air” about the performers is there too.
Some of my favorites for auditioning any equipment:
- Michael Jackson–“Billy Jean”–it’ll tear your head off if “bad”
- Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra: Out of This World – the complete album is “out this world” Lyle Lovett: Road to Encinada–a bit of a tribute to his ex-wife, Julia Roberts. Very intimate. The guitar work is beautiful, particularly on “Come on Baby”, and the toe-tapping can’t be stopped.
- James Taylor: Greatest Hits (the “white album”).
- Loreena McKinnet- Book of Secrets – complexity way beyond words, especially” Marco Polo”
- John Lee Hooker – Best of Friends – all duets, including Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt and others.
- The Chieftains- Tears of Stone – duets again and a great listening experience
I could keep going, but I’ll stop there for now. So folks, we have here a turnaround, a complete 180 on my sonic impressions. Was it due to a manufacturing error, or a design flaw? I don’t know. I don’t care. Right now I can easily give two big thumbs up to the Tetras. They have exceeded my expectations of what loudspeakers costing $299 USD (delivered) can sound like. The quality of components (other than the already mentioned binding post/terminal cups) are clearly superior to what I think (maybe incorrectly) what most $1k loudspeakers have in terms of crossover components, and on par with the driver compliment.
If I could change anything about these loudspeakers I’d change perhaps three (ok maybe more):
The typical, cheap terminal cups and replace them with decent quality binding posts without a terminal cup physically separate the crossovers from the interior of the enclosures (maybe in their own sub enclosure at the bottom of the cabinet) Offer a painted version (painted both inside and out–a pet peeve) Check every single pair to ensure the tweeter polarity is opposite.
Offer these in a floor standing version so good quality stands are not needed or offer good quality stands as a package.
But at this point I would ask Mr. Kim to please not change the sound of these. I will miss them when they are gone.