Much like the full-size system, Compact Neo delivers a calibre of performance above and beyond what we’d expect for the money. Naturally we took it for a test-drive with The Empire Strikes Back on Blu-ray and the cherished classic explodes into life with satisfying levels of punch and detail.
For starters the opening Twentieth Century Fox fanfare and iconic Star Wars theme sound suitably epic – glossy brass and fulsome percussion, real stirring stuff. Then skipping to the Empire’s attack on the Rebel’s Hoth base, the Compacts make the action sound fast-paced and dynamic.
Rebel fighters zip around the soundstage with a convincing 360° effect, while the fallen AT-AT explodes with a hefty thump. Despite their size the speakers has no trouble filling the room, and manage to create a spacious, seamless soundstage with effects placed accurately within it.
The fact that all six of the speakers are identical is crucial as it guarantees tonal consistency across the soundstage. That’s important when it comes to playing Empire’s 6.1-channel soundtrack with its rear-back surround channel, which relies on smooth, seamless pans from front to back and across the surround channels. You’re placed right in the middle of a coherent, engaging soundstage.
We’re also impressed by the Compacts’ ability to dig out fine detail and their refusal to lose control of high frequencies when the volume is pushed up high. What you get is a sound that’s smooth yet thrilling, and the Compact One is no slouch as a centre channel either, making sure speech has the drive and openness to remain audible no matter what’s going on around it.
The Neo Sub does the same assured job as it does with the other Neo V2 systems. Its bass depth is astonishing, yet the blasts of low frequency information are tightly controlled and as nimble as Michael Flatley.
If we had to find a negative among this torrent of positives, the system isn’t a forceful or authoritative as the other Neo speakers we’ve tested. Some may find the sound a little laid back compared with the brutal dynamics of its stable-mates. That’s inevitable really given their scaled down nature, but if you like your home cinema system to batter you round the head then you might want to think a little bigger.
For around £850, the Compact Neo system is something of a bargain. For starters, you’re getting six high-quality speakers (and a sub) for the sort of price that some manufacturers would charge for five, a fact made all the more satisfying by their excellent build quality – although they’re not the most attractive speakers AE has ever produced.
Performance is top notch too, as they handle Blu-ray soundtracks with the sort of panache befitting pricier speakers. The Neo Sub contributes greatly to the overall sense of wonder, providing deliciously deep bass output. Some listeners might yearn for even more aggression from their satellites, but that’s the only slight reservation about this otherwise fabulous compact system.