Four tall spikes per side are included in the box. These are not the kind of armour-piercing designs you might find elsewhere, as they are more to raise the bass driver enough for it to bounce off the floor than to rigidly lock the speaker in place. Interestingly, given the driver to floor proximity, it didn’t seem too troubled as to whether there was wooden floor or carpet underneath, as long as the carpet wasn’t extremely thick or absorbent. Wooden floor seemed best, but the Iota Alpha isn’t fussy. Neither are they bothered about placement; a foot or so from the back wall gives the port breathing space, and the tweeter doesn’t have the widest lateral dispersion around, so having the speakers toed in slightly toward the listener helps. It’s worth noting the height of the speaker does make some obstructions between speaker and listener more sonically obvious. Low cabinets to the side walls or a large coffee table between you and the speakers seem a little more intrusive thanks to the low point of exit from the loudspeakers.
Despite their size, the Iota Alpha feel surprisingly solid in construction. Not heavy because Neat took the easy option of mass-loading the speakers (mass-loading would probably undermine the performance of a speaker this small anyway). Just solid.
There is a recommendation for a 200 hour run-in period for this loudspeaker and this is more important than most. That EMIT tweeter requires a lot of settling into its role, and the first few hours are a little bit of a musical rollercoaster of bad, good, bad again, then good and getting better. However, the first few hours are the most important and see the greatest change. After that, it’s a slow, steady improvement.
What the Neat Iota Alpha does brilliantly is cover its tracks. If you listen critically, and especially if you compare the Iota Alpha against its bigger, less cute rivals, the lack of very deep bass is relatively easy to hear. And if you try to play at thrash levels, the Iota Alpha is quick to complain. But, if you step away from the comparisons and play the loudspeakers as normal, non-party levels, it’s beguiling and infinitely entertaining. You are so swept up in the musical performance that these limitations simply fade into the background.
The sound is exceptionally coherent. There is an effortlessness to the midrange and treble that just draws you into the music, especially if that music has pure female vocals: I played ‘Because He Was a Bonnie Lad’ by The Unthanks [Here’s the Tender Coming, EMI] and Rachel and Becky Unthanks’ vocal harmonies are just beautiful, rising out of seemingly nowhere and filling the room. This is more than just folk for the 21st Century; it is music you fall in love with, and that’s easy to do here.
Perhaps in line with that coherence, the fast, fun sound with great rhythm and surprisingly deep bass gives that easy, unforced charm to virtually everything you throw at it. Contrapunctus 1 from Bach: The Art of Fugue by the Emerson Quartet [DG] gave a sense of musicians impassioned by the work of JS Bach, not ‘simply beautiful music well recorded’, but it was moving over to ‘La Grange’ by ZZ Top [Tres Hombres, London] that really showed what the little Iota Alpha is capable of. This is not a difficult groove, but it is one that surprisingly hard to get right: it either sounds impressive, yet a little bland, or upbeat and a little thin. The Iota Alpha managed to get closer to ‘impressive’ and ‘upbeat’, with plenty of dynamic range and energy, yet without the downsides becoming obvious in the process. Yes, you end up pushing it to its limits by virtue of wanting to play ZZ Top loud, but in a small room the Neat speaker is more than loud enough.
Describing the limitations of the Iota Alpha are fairly easy, and they are almost all entailed within the limitations imposed by the size. A loudspeaker that can be hidden from view by a relatively small potted plant is going to have potential line-of-sight issues, most of which can be overcome. Size also imposes limits of how much real volume and how much real deep bass is possible. All of which does tend to preselect the Iota Alpha for use in small rooms, with smaller, agile amplifiers. They don’t sound bass light in such a context and in UK rooms, the port simply seems to add the perception of bass depth. You probably won’t regret the lack of real deep bass, unless your music collection comprises mostly dub reggae and organ music.