North East Audio Traders has long since stopped its retail operations; NEAT Acoustics has been a fully fledged loudspeaker manufacturer for several decades now. Founder Bob Surgeoner is an interesting and highly affable sort of fellow, and a passionate and prolific musician too. Perhaps then it is no surprise that his speakers are unerringly enjoyable to listen to. This even extends to the tiny IOTA, launched in 2012 at £650 per pair; it may be small in stature but its musicality surpasses a good many grown-ups!
Measuring 200x130x165mm, it is dinky as hi-fi speakers go. It’s ported, but this doesn’t stop it needing boundary reinforcement, so you’ll have to place it in front of a rear wall, ideally on the matching single-pillar stands, although the IOTA can work very well on a desk or a windowsill. With just 2.6 litres of internal volume, don’t expect the IOTA to move vast amounts of air around, wherever it sits. The damped MDF enclosure is decently solid and stiff though, and bolted to it is a 100mm polypropylene mid/bass driver said to be a close relative of that used in the higher end Motive range.
Interestingly, the tweeter is a 50mm vertical planar magnetic ribbon unit based on one seen in high end NEAT designs, and it lends the speaker an amazing grace that you simply wouldn’t expect from most small boxes. The crossover is a three element design, plus damping and attenuating resistors. A first order filter feeds the bass/midrange unit, using a large LCOFC air-cored inductor; the tweeter is supplied through a second order filter using a single polypropylene film capacitor and LCOFC air-cored inductor.
The quoted sensitivity figure of 84dB is poor as modern speakers go, but doesn’t compare badly to other baby boxes such as the Spendor D1, for example. However, the IOTA will go reasonably loud in small to medium sized room, with a decently powerful (40W RMS minimum) amplifier. Thus aspirated, you get a small speaker that’s unusually sophisticated for its size; treble is silky, delicate and spacious, and this extends down to the midband, which has a clarity that’s totally unexpected at the Price. More impressive is the way that it is able to project sound right out of the box; the IOTA is magnificently spacious, thanks in no small part to its trick tweeter.
Rhythmically, it is unquestionably a NEAT. The music bounds along with sense of untrammelled freedom that totally belies its price. The wee IOTA is wonderfully fluid and tracks the music’s dynamics with alacrity. Again thanks to that special high frequency unit, it is blisteringly fast and captures the attack transients of sharply struck steel string guitars superbly. Tonally the speaker is also highly impressive for the money; it’s clean, smooth and inviting with no upper midband harshness, even with poor digital sources. The polypropylene mid/bass unit isn’t the tightest around but has a pleasing warmth.
The only real problem with this speaker is its lack of bass, but then this was always going to be the case. It it simply cannot go down low enough to give any meaningful coverage of the bottom string on a bass guitar, for example. What little low end there is, is bouncy and fun, but you are not given much to work with. Furthermore, the IOTA’s tiny box always means that its dynamics will be limited when the music gets loud; there’s a sense that it is sitting on accents. Still, at normal listening levels this is not an issue.
There is so much to love about this baby box – from its attractive, diminutive cabinet to the high quality of the drive units inside, to its excellent sound quality and the fact that it takes up such little space. The choice of a variety of finishes, from the standard Satin White and Satin Black to the optional Flame Red, Zinc Yellow and Ultramarine Blue hues, further sweetens the deal. Small is beautiful.