There are a couple of fundamental problems with the Neat Acoustics Iota Alpha loudspeakers; they are small, and they are cute. Precisely why this is a problem becomes clear when you move them out of the room, and suddenly hear a peculiar whining noise from the upper regions of the Other Half. This whine gets a lot louder when wheeling in a pair of far larger loudspeakers.
The other problem with small and cute is it’s hard for audiophiles to take the Neat Acoustics Iota Alpha seriously. Unless it stands 2.5m tall and bristles with large drive units, so the logic goes, it’s not a ‘real’ loudspeaker. So a loudspeaker that comes up to your knees, and only has a small down-firing driver for the bass really doesn’t figure in the ‘audiophile approved’ handbook. But, in all this, there is an uncomfortable little plot twist for those ‘buy by the yard’ audiophiles – the Iota Alpha’s sound.
Sound is a big deal at Neat Acoustics. The company’s test procedures revolve largely around critical listening by keen musician and Neat founder Bob Surgeoner, and his small team, of which many are gigging musicians in their own right. The equipment is put to more objective testing, too, but principally the sound quality outweighs the objective testing in every step, the logic being that we still don’t know everything about how ‘ears’ and ‘meters’ correlate, and when you get a pair of loudspeakers home to listen, the ‘meters’ part becomes little more than an academic exercise.
The sound of the Neat Iota Alpha is largely dictated by the size of the cabinet and the drivers in that cabinet. That seems like a fairly prosaic statement (it’s like saying ‘the amount of people who can sleep in this house is largely dictated by the number of bedrooms’) but the Iota Alpha cabinet is so small, it’s worth reiterating slowly and carefully. If you have seen either the Iota Alpha (or its even smaller, older brother, the Iota) in the flesh, you’ll understand. It stands just 49cm tall on its spikes, is just 20cm wide and 16cm deep, and the front baffle is angled upward to fire the treble and midrange drivers to typical ear height. As with the original Iota, the tweeter is a planar magnetic EMIT design and the mid-woofer is a 100mm polypropylene cone driver. There’s also a down-firing 134mm treated paper cone bass unit (given the 160mm depth of the cabinet, that’s a tight fit, and putting your fingers under the cabinet for carrying purposes can end up pushing in the drive-unit, so be careful). There is a small rear-firing port mid-way along the rear of the cabinet, and a screw-in panel below houses a single pair of gold-plated 4mm speaker sockets and the simple, hard-wired crossover with a second-order network between treble and mid, and a first-order network between mid and bass. It’s all air-core inductors and Clarity capacitors in there, too.