Reviews

Neat Acoustics Iota Speakers Small Speakers on The Thrill Side

By Rob Johnson

Based in Teesdale, north England, the Neat team has spent twenty years designing and refining speakers of all sizes. Here we review the smallest of their current lineup – the aptly-named Iota. Those seeking a cost-effective system with a minute footprint may find these speakers a perfect end to their search.

Neat’s mini-miracles measure a scant 7.9 inches (200mm) tall by 5.2 inches (130mm) wide by 6.5 inches (165mm) deep. While pint-sized, the Iotas do pack a surprising heft, weighing in at 6.6 pounds (3 Kg) each thanks to substantial cabinet quality and a large magnet driving the woofer. Power them with an integratedamplifier or receiver in the factory-recommended 25-100 watt range and fill the room with music in no time flat.

Potential owners have several color choices. While we did not have all the hues on hand for side-by-side comparison, the white satinfinish of our review pair offers a subtle beauty which lets the speaker nestle unassumingly alongside modern décor. Neat also offers a similarly-understated satin black. Alternately, those who want speakers with some serious eye-catching pizzazz might opt for the zinc yellow, flame red, or ultramarine blue cabinets.

Placement anywhere

These speakers are designed for placement flexibility. Their diminutive bodies can be placed vertically or horizontally to make the best use of their owner’s available space. Because the Iota speakers in each stereo pair are mirror images of one another, the user can decide if the ribbon tweeters sound best on the inside or outside of the cabinets in a horizontal speaker configuration.

Because the Iotas do not include “feet” of any kind, they may be prone to vibration if placed directly on a hard surface like a shelf or desk. Fear not, though. An easy and cheap remedy results from a quick trip to the hardware store for some self-sticking felt or rubber discs. Placing one pad in each corner of the speaker’s chosen “bottom” side will offer enough vibration isolation to help these speakers sing. For those wishing to place the Iotas on a wall, Neat has supplied them with mounting screws, giving even more placement options. As with other speakers, for the bestsound,the tweeter should end up at ear level when viewed from the listening seat.

As a two-way bass reflex design, the petite woofer gets a little extra oomph from the rear port on each speaker. The owner should plan for a little experimentation with placement to determine how much breathing room between the speaker and a rear wall offers an optimalbass response without leaving sonics on the overly-boomy or thin-sounding extremes.

Beneath the bass port resides the pair of five-way binding posts. A knurled texture on each post nut offers finger-friendly grip when tightening down upon on speaker cable terminations. No tools needed!

Let them sing

Neat Acoustics recommends giving the speakers a minimum of 200 hours break-in time before the speakers achieve their final voicing. After many days of music reproduction,our sample pair demonstrates just how wonderful that oration canbe. These diminutive boxes deliver a very enjoyable, slightly warm sound quality accompanied by an extensive soundstage that defies what one should expect from a micro-monitor. The resulting musical portrayal is akin to that of sitting in the tenth row of a concert hall. While the Iotas to not accentuate the detail of every minute finger movement across a guitar string or key press on a saxophone, they do an extremely competent job of capturing the bigger sonic picture with grace.

One cannot expect a speaker this miniscule to deliver bone-shaking bass when their specifications note a lower limit around 60 Hz. In my listening space, the Iotas indeed experienced roll-off as frequencies approached that depth. For their size though, the speakers do a marvelous job of delivering tight and energetic bass. Listening to Armin Van Buren’s State of Trance albums demonstrate Iota’s ability to capture the excitement of electronic music performances despite the inherent limitations. Those craving more substantial bass response may consider the addition of a subwoofer or two sometime down the road.

The ribbon tweeter chosen by Neat delivers a delightfully smooth and detailed top-end, as demonstrated when listening to jazz and classical music. Sounds residing in the upper music registers never enter into the unpleasant territory of shrillness and sharpness. Instead, flutes, violins, and cymbals’ harmonics portray with delicacy, emotion, and power as the instrumentalist dictates. Saxophones, xylophones – and heck, even telephoneslike those heard on Pink Floyd’s The Wall– render with a high degree of realism.

Among the middle frequencies framing male and female vocals,the Neats also demonstrate their mettle. Sibilance never haunts the Iota’s drivers, leaving the listener’s ears relaxed and at the mercy of beguiling voices of singers like Lyle Lovett, Eva Cassidy, Imelda May, or Jeff Buckley. Track after track, regardless of music genre, the Iotas so a terrific job of presenting a cohesive and dynamic musical performance. The resulting sonic experience exceeds that which anyone has any right to expect from such a tiny enclosure.  Yes, higher priced speakers like Neat’s flagships can offer greater sonic prowess than the Iota. However, a listener should anticipate a price tag higher than $1,000 to gain that accompanying level of nuance.

Summing up

At $995, the Iotas face a lot of competition today. Several new speakers in that price range offer built-in amplifiers, wireless connection options, or even a DAC. While Neat’s teeny speakers lack those pieces of “bonus” functionality, the Iotas certainly live up to their primary design goal of offering major sound in a minor form factor. For those audio fans seeking the smallest possible speaker without major sacrifices in sound quality, Neat gives listeners a stellar option that’s very much worth an audition. The substantial build quality combined with the smooth, fatigue-free sound these speakers offer is likely to make their owner happy for many years to come.

Neat Acoustics Iota Speaker

MSRP: $995

neatacoustics.com