Keep my SBLs or change for Neat Iota Explorer? Update

So I have had my SBLs for over 30 years or so and thinking of a change….not sure why but…

Would the Explorer be an upgrade in SQ or a backward step.

They will be driven by LP12, CDX2+XPS2, 82+SC, 250….

Looking for something that’s exciting and fun to listen to rather that analytical and precise….any views?



Chris, I have owned two pairs of SBLs (mark 1 and 2) passively and extensively heard the Iota Explorers at the end of a 500 system fairly recently over a few separate days.

The Neats are very musical speakers. Highs were a little shouty when volume was pumped on those ribbon tweeters.

IMHO, they are still not at the SQ level of a pair of fully optimised mark 2 SBLs, even now. Maybe you could source the mid-bass upgrade to the mark 2s if you can find them, and get a 52 which will really open up the SBL’s scanspeak tweeters much more. Have you changed the tweeters because after 30 years, they should be refreshed. The mark 2 SBLs really sing beautifully balanced at the end of a 52/135/CDS2 set up, and if you, I would work towards this combo before looking at a speaker change.
Active set-up = more outlay and boxes. The Archilles’ heel is not in the speakers assuming their drivers have been refreshed.

I would use a minimum 52-250 for the SBLs, but the immediacy and grip of the 135s is something else.

I have recently had feedback from a reliable source that the 250DR is really no slouch and a different kettle of fish to the older olive 250 you have, so it might be a consideration for you with less boxes against the 135s, though the aesthetics would be a mix and match olive-black box, if it doesn’t bother you. I prefer all olive, or all black, but that’s me.

The Iota Explorers are close, as a “mid level” Neat speaker, but not quite as refined in direct comparisons to the mark 2 SBLs. They have an SBL-like bass (80% for me), good mids and PRT, but this is at the end of a full 500 set up with the ND555. Anything lesser you’d have to try a loan. Somehow, they weren’t enough for me in overall terms compared to the still-mighty mark 2 SBLs.

Please cable dress, and look at your support rack and mains if you haven’t, because these when combined, help your olive set up without you having to spend on components. Cheers


Yes perhaps getting the tweeters sorted might be a good interim solution for now…not sure where I could get this done?
Another speaker that has been recommended ate the ATC 40A….
Thanks for your input….much appreciated.

Do a web search, Chris for the SBL driver replacements. Some specialist UK stores carry new replacements. Mid-bass driver upgrade to mark 2s would be a challenge perhaps. I remember having seen some new tweeters. Hope they are matched. Be patient in your search.

Ask your Naim dealer to help with the driver changes if you trust their installation workmanship. I would reach out to Naim for support and information.

If you feel it is time to change your aging speakers, it’s an exciting time for in home loan auditions. Only way to tell and compare. I love the ATC bomb proof build. Haven’t heard the 40A. 50A yes. Bring the 40A back home and try.

The SBL mark 2s are still formidable speakers if optimised. They are still hard to beat for what they can do when driven correctly and with a good source.


Hi Chris,

My two tuppence.

I think the SBLs are great speakers and I have heard none better …in my small room. I need a boundary speaker and so this is a KEY requirement for me.

The SBLs are no longer SOTA. For instance, I had a pair of Sonus fabre small standmounts in for a month and while not the same, there is a phase coherence to the SBLs which is addictive, they were as good overall at £2.2k, from memory. Materials have moved on, as has cabinet design that is possible with these material.

I had my MkI drivers changed for MkII eighteen months ago. It was an improvement, but not an epiphany. That said I have done a couple of changes and I have to say I have no complaints about either my bass or imaging …so that slight upgrade may be a part of a bigger picture.

WRT to amps with the SBLs I would rank them as:
300DR > 250DR = Chord Etude > CB250 = EAR534.

I found this list stunning at the time as with every other speaker the EAR534 came out top.

An outside choice might be the Benchmark AHB2. In many ways this is the best power amp. Its detail presentation is mind boggling, and it doesn’t overcome its music making ability …but, it doesn’t carry the macro-dynamic swings quiet as well as the amps listed above. If you are into smaller scale music this might not matter to you.

I should point out that I use an Icon4 passive pre-amp, that I think is spectacular VFM …but it isn’t a Naim and so may colour my advice in your eyes.

Be interested in your journey should you decide to have a listen for yourself.



Is it definitely a speaker change you are after? And is the obvious change of pre to a 52 and keeping your SBLs out of the frame?

And why Neat Iota Explorer in particular? How did that come about?

Hopefully the answers to the four questions will bring a bit of clarity for you. (And me!)

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Hi…the Neat were as a result of a few reviews I read and I quite like the compact design.
I’m not wedded to change the SBLs as I do like them…a lot.
Although having read the thread on SBLs upgrade the tweeters I’m not sure I can cope with that not being able to find anyone who will do the swap although I am becoming increasingly determined to do it myself…just was bit wary about ruining them which would be a disaster . I have in the basket 2x scanspeak tweeters but have not pulled the trigger yet,:thinking::grimacing:
Not heard a 52 but it’s reputation precedes it….however my 82 is like a very old friend and can’t really bring myself to let it go….bit like the SBLs….it would take quite a lot for me to part with either of those.
I am thinking of the link that uses more power rails so the SC is more utilised…but that won’t be for a while.
With regard to power amps the 250 just been serviced by Darran so that’s performing great….just feeling that perhaps the SBLs are not ‘hiding’’ something if you know what I mean!
Thans for your input and comments

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Should read Hidding something……spellchecker strikes agin…:roll_eyes:

If you decide to go down the driver upgrade route might be worth buying a new set of foam inserts.

I read on the forum that one other member who did this found the foam had fallen to pieces. I had my units changed by my dealer so gave him a call, he assured me that had they found any issues with the foam they would have contacted me ask about changing it …so perhaps this isn’t a universal issue.


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I was in a very similar position to you. I started auditioning replacements for the SBLs before the plague arrived as I was fed up with having to play them loud to get a full balanced sound. Having auditioned “the usual suspects” around the £4,000-£5,000 mark, including the Iotas I have to say I felt the SBLs were as good or better, so could not justify the purchase. One dealer advised looking at replacements around £7,000.

So I tweaked my SBLs with new crossovers and tweeters and both brought clear improvements, the crossovers more so. The tweeters are easy to replace if you have a good soldering iron. I just went with the standard Scanspeak replacements and they were fine.

However in my auditions I did come across the Harbeth range and was drawn to them. They offer a different experience to the SBLs and one I found much more compelling musically on a three week home demo (thanks Tom Tom).

The 30.2s were perfect for me and my room and the music I enjoy. They also have an ease about them. As other comments confirm, I always felt the SBLs, needed more powerful amplification whereas the Harbeths are excellent with the system I have already. They also maintain a far fuller, more even sound at low levels. The SBLs reproduce voices, wind instruments and drums really well but the Harbeths are quite breathtaking. The Harbeths also get much closer to the sound of a piano.


@MrUnderhill so for the absence of doubt…do you mean the foam in the main driver cabinet?

@Michael17 I have had the crossovers serviced and brought a goos improvement….so my next move will be the tweeters before I make any changes…

I am assuming there is foam in the two upper boxes, but I have never opened them up.

Ok…so I will find out shortly….

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Here’s what to expect. It’s some kind of fibre inside rather than foam.


The tweeters are available, on line, from Willy’s HiFi. Hope that helps.


Chris, you can keep the 82 for sentimental reasons, but it never sounded anywhere close to a well-run-in 52 in full song. The 82 is I’m sorry to say, a tad veiled in comparison but for the money up the Naim ladder, offered a slice of Naim’s flagship olive sound at better value. I couldn’t get over something in the sound of the 82, which didn’t sound right with full flow, from first audition. I felt something was “hiding” and a little muddy compared to the 52. If we didn’t compare, the 82’s fine.

If you, I would be hankering after a 52, in good condition as the first upgrade that will open up the sound much more, and let the music flow as it should. Please give a cold 52 time to settle into your system. Your SBLs will happily show sonic differences in components all the way through to a full active 135 monoblock set up, or you could eschew that approach and just settle happily for a 250DR / 300DR.

There is no better suggestion than to experiment with home loans, unrushed over a few weeks if you can muster them. Have some fun exploring.

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This fibre wool-like material fills 80% of the lower bass loading cabinet as well. I do not recall seeing any acoustic foam within, the way these are certainly present in the larger DBLs, but I stand corrected. I think the difference was, I suspect, the damping needed within the smaller and more compact SBL cabinets was adequate with “just” the fibre wool-like material. The DBLs on the other hand were much larger speakers and needed more damping material to contain resonances from those huge 15 inch drivers and to manage correct air flow in their sealed-box design.

I love them both.


This is an easy one imho! Keep the SBLs and move from an 82 to a 52. Later on stick a pair of 135s up them. You are not getting the best from the Sibbles at the moment. I too loved my 82/250 but the move for me to 252/300 in 2004 was a game changer. My only other observation would be to make sure sources are impeccable. Have fun!


I’ve never heard the 252 and a 52 side by side, any impressions between the black vs olive pre-amps, all else being equal? Curious and would be interesting to know.