NEAT Acoustics has been a full-fledged loudspeaker producer for several decades, although North East Audio Traders has long since ceased retail operations. Bob Surgeoner, the company’s founder, is a fascinating and amiable individual who is also a talented and prolific musician. It’s no wonder, then, that his speakers are consistently delightful to listen to. This includes the tiny IOTA, which was released in 2012 for £650 per pair; it may be little in appearance, but its musicality rivals that of many adults!
It’s a teeny-tiny hi-fi speaker, measuring 200x130x165mm. Although it is ports, it still requires boundary reinforcement, so you’ll need to set it in front of a back wall, ideally on the matching single-pillar stands, though the IOTA can also be used on a desk or a windowsill. The IOTA’s interior volume is only 2.6 liters, so don’t expect it to move a lot of air around wherever it sits. However, the damped MDF enclosure is robust and stiff, and a 100mm polypropylene mid/bass driver fastened to it is reported to be a close relative of that used in the higher-end Motive line.
The tweeter is a 50mm vertical planar magnetic ribbon unit, similar to those found in high-end NEAT designs, and it gives the speaker an elegance you wouldn’t expect from such a small box. The crossover is composed of three elements, as well as damping and attenuating resistors. The bass/midrange unit is fed by a first order filter with a huge LCOFC air-cored inductor, while the tweeter is fed by a second order filter with a single polypropylene film capacitor and LCOFC air-cored inductor.
The sensitivity figure of 84dB is low by today’s standards, but it’s not bad when compared to other baby boxes like the Spendor D1. With a relatively strong (40W RMS minimum) amplifier, the IOTA will go reasonably loud in a small to medium sized space. As a result, you get a small speaker that’s extremely sophisticated for its size; the treble is smooth, sensitive, and spacious, and this goes down to the midband, which has a clarity that’s unheard of at this price. More impressive is the IOTA’s ability to project sound right out of the box; owing in part to its trick tweeter, the IOTA is gloriously spacious.
It is certainly an NEAT in terms of rhythm. The song swells with an unbridled notion of unbridled freedom that belies its cost. The little IOTA is incredibly agile and quickly picks up on the dynamics of the music. It’s blisteringly quick, thanks to its particular high-frequency unit, and it perfectly catches the attack transients of sharply struck steel string guitars. Even with inferior digital sources, the speaker’s tone is outstanding for the money; it’s clean, smooth, and welcoming, with no upper midband roughness. The polypropylene mid/bass unit isn’t the most compact on the market, but it has a pleasant warmth to it.
The speaker’s only significant flaw is its lack of bass, but that was always going to be the case. It simply can’t go low enough to cover the lowest string on a bass guitar, for example. What little low-end there is is lively and enjoyable, but there isn’t much to work with. Furthermore, the IOTA’s small box means that when the music gets loud, its dynamics will be constrained; there’s a sense that it’s sitting on accents. Still, this isn’t a problem at regular listening levels.
There’s a lot to like about this little box, from its stylish, compact shell to the high-quality drive units inside, to the great sound quality and the fact that it takes up so little space. The selection of a number of finishes, ranging from Satin White and Satin Black to Flame Red, Zinc Yellow, and Ultramarine Blue, sweetens the deal even more. It’s true that small is lovely.