The English-based speaker company Neat Acoustics has been in business for over 20 years producing very highly regarded stand-mount and floorstanding models in the European market. Throughout the years, I have had the pleasure of listening to different Neat Acoustic speakers either as in-home systems or as demos in certain stores in the Chicago area. However, over the years, the Neat Acoustics line either did not have quality representation or was not imported into the United States, so the speakers have a very low profile here. Recently, this lack of representation has been eliminated because a new and highly qualified U. S. distributor, High Fidelity Services, has brought the Neat Acoustics speakers back to life in the American market. I contacted Paul Manos, head of High Fidelity Services, and we agreed that the Ultimatum XL6, which retails for $14,295/pair, would be the model sent for review.
To ensure their safety, the Ultimatum XL6 speakers arrived in a heavy-duty wooden crate with excellent internal packaging. The first thing I noticed when I unpacked them was the very high quality of construction and the beauty of the wood veneer. The review pair was clad in a wood called Velvet Cloud, which looks like a pastel rendering of cloud shapes on an amber background (other finishes are also available). The speaker's dimensions are 39.4 inches high by 8.7 wide by 14.6 deep, with a weight of 75 pounds. The Ultimatum XL6 uses an ultra-rigid birch/plywood enclosure with an innovative baffle decoupling plate, ensuring no vibrations will reach its front-mounted drivers. Additionally, it uses four external drivers and internally has two 6.6-inch bass drivers set up in an isobaric bass-loading design vented into a separate cavity. This type of internal isobaric bass design allows the Ultimatum XL6's overall cabinet size to stay relatively small while extending its bass range and power to a significant degree. The front-firing drivers are composed of a 6.6-inch bass/midrange driver with an aluminum phase plug and a 1-inch Sonomex domed tweeter. Atop the Ultimatum XL6 are a pair of upward-firing 0.98-inch EMIT ribbon-type super tweeters. Behind it are two ports, along with two pairs of superior-quality binding posts. The Ultimatum XL6's frequency range is 22 Hz to 40 kHz, and its sensitivity is 87 dB/one watt. The impedance of the Ultimatum XL6 is eight ohms on average with the minimum being five ohms at certain frequencies. To secure and ground the speaker to the floor, the XL6 comes with excellent heavy-duty front and back steel footers with adjustable spikes.
I drove the Ultimatum XL6 speakers with numerous solid-state and tube-based amplifiers. I auditioned them in both of my reference systems. One auditioning room is a very large acoustic space, and the other auditioning room is an average-sized listening space. In my reference system room, the ceiling peaks at 24 feet tall. When placed in this acoustic space, the wonderful, sweet, silky, and smooth high-end extension of the Ultimatum XL6 was negatively affected. My speculation was that the top-loaded and vertical-firing EMIT ribbon-type super tweeters needed some reflection off the ceiling to work their magic and were not loading the room correctly because of the extreme height of my listening-room ceiling. However, any normal ceiling height would not cause this difficulty, as the Ultimatum XL6 worked wonderfully in my other room with a regular ceiling height of eight feet.
It was apparent with my first musical selection, Jack Jeffer's big-band recording New York Dances (Mapleshade), that the Ultimatum XL6 was going to provide a pleasurable listening experience. Two strengths of this speaker came to the forefront quite quickly. First, these relatively small floorstanding speakers delivered a powerful and accurate bottom-end foundation to this big-band music. The bass extension and its impact would rule out the need for any subwoofers. Secondly, it throws a large wall-to-wall soundstage with excellent depth and height.
My next selection was Peggy Lee's classic album Black Coffee (Decca Records), which allows me to hear how a speaker handles the midrange, timbres, and tone for vocals. The reproduction of Ms. Lee's unique voice and vocal expressions came through beautifully and clearly with all its gorgeous tone color. Overall, the Ultimatum XL6 renders timbres and tone colors in an effortless and natural way, allowing you to relax into the music.
Finally, I was curious how the Ultimatum XL6 would handle the high frequencies. I was expecting something extraordinary because of its unique use of top-loaded/firing EMIT ribbon-type super tweeters. I chose the new album by trombonist Steve Davis, For Real (Posi-Tone), because the extension of the highs on this acoustic jazz record are exceptionally recorded. Surely enough, the XL6s delivered what a pair of EMIT super tweeters can create, if implemented correctly, having silky, smooth, pure highs with a sense of air that just allows things like cymbal decays to go on forever.
• The Ultimatum XL6 has a small footprint that would easily fit into most small to medium listening rooms, yet it still provides tremendous bass extension and dynamics without a subwoofer either for a two-channel or a home theater system.
• It is superior both in its design and beautiful appearance.
• This speaker really images like a great two-way stand-mount monitor and can develop almost a holographic soundstage if placed correctly in a standard-height room.
• It offers timbres and tones that are very natural and lends itself to relaxing with the music experience.
• The Ultimatum XL6 is slightly inefficient at its 87-dB/one-watt sensitivity rating. Therefore, to maximize its wonderful low-end extension and to reach higher volume levels, you need a high-quality amplifier that can provide enough current and watts.
• As I mentioned in my review, its wonderful top-end extension can suffer if you have very high ceilings, so this should be taken into consideration.
Competition and Comparison
The two speakers that would be the natural competitors, both in price and performance, for the Ultimatum XL6 are the DALI Epicon 6 retailing for $13,995 and the Marten Django XL retailing for $15,000. I have spent time listening to both these speakers and find them to offer excellent transparency/details, a warm musical presentation, and good extension on both the top and bottom frequencies. What gave the Ultimatum XL6 a sonic edge over both these models were its deeper and tauter bass extension and its more extended silky, sweet high-end frequencies.
I don't know if the Neat Acoustics Ultimatum XL6 represents a new British invasion on American soil. However, I do know that another terrific speaker has landed on our shores. Based on the sonic virtues of natural and rich timbres, excellent soundstaging, and reference-level bass and top-end extension, the Ultimatum XL6 offers a terrific musical experience. Because it is a small floorstanding speaker, it will fit in and work its sonic magic even in small rooms. Additionally, because of its great bass extension, you will not need a subwoofer when using it in a home theater system. It is also a very attractive speaker, showing in an understated way its superior build level and its sophisticated design in the details of the music. If the Ultimatum XL6 is in your budget range, I highly recommend you not purchase your next set of speakers until you contact High Fidelity Services to direct you to your closest local retailer of Neat Acoustics to audition a pair.