Why didn’t they chop the cabinet off at the bottom of the bass driver is what my Dad said to me of his view of room domineering floor-standers: ‘towers’ in the US. I was thinking you CAN’T do that – sacrilegious! Acoustically it would be the equivalent of the ‘you can’t fight me, your arms off’ Monty Python Black Knight sketch. Replacing fighting with notions of sound quality of course. In their soaring monolithic ways, there is no getting away that floor-standers are not to everyone’s interior design tastes. OK maybe not enough to get uppity and as our ancestors, start beating bones around unfamiliar similar monolithic structures – a reference to another well known film. But high on the back of a torn envelope ‘shopping list’, is this reason to be snooping around Neat Iota Alpha speakers. They stand only 49cm tall.
And so it comes to pass this is another product I sought out because I’m already aware how good it is. Some time in design from 2011 but released in 2016, a good-un stays in fashion regardless of how old it is. We aren’t talking about one of Justin Bieber’s albums!
The title implies a rubber stamping exercise? Maybe, however things can change in the home environment. Plus, hear speakers on own amplification and we have an arrow on the target of pinpointing strengths and flaws. Compatibility too.
iota alpha in black oak
These speakers are a 2.5 way design. No it doesn’t mean you can only have half a component, like children in family census statistics, but it’s about the drivers and the speaker crossovers.
The floor firing 134mm paper cone bass driver crosses over to the top angled 100mm polypropylene midrange driver at 80Hz. Because the midrange driver doesn’t have what’s called a ‘high pass filter’, so called in allowing the lowest set frequencies for that driver, the midrange and bass drivers essentially share some of the same frequencies. In this way and not quite being a 3 way design, where *between* the drivers there are usually high and low pass filters, the Iota Alpha’s have this 2.5 way tag. In this design the mid driver is low pass only, crossing over to the tweeter at 4kHz. The lower driver occupies the ported section of the cabinet and the upper section with the two other drivers is sealed.
tweeters : inside or out?
The idea of angling the front drivers is clearly to disperse the sound upwards with their coffee table summiting scale. Spikes set the floor gap for the bass driver and Neat say carpets and hard floors are both fine. Absent mindingly getting them out of the box to set my ears to these quick smart, you can place them willy nilly, forgetting the tweeters are on the inside. Put the tweeters nearest one another and a reigned in soundstage is had.
I corrected my error, swapped them around, toed them in and spaced them at least 20cm from the rear wall. This is what Neat say you should do in their A4 wallet instructions of use. And on the tweeter, it is a 50mm Emit planar magnetic design, as used in some headphones – for example HIFIMAN. If you want to read more about planar magnetics read explanations here.
There isn’t much to say about the cabinets, the black oak pair I have are well made. So are the binding posts of good quality. The sticker around back would be better swapped out for a metal plaque screwed into the cabinet to bolster a view of build quality. Considering sonic quality too.
If possible it would take 45 hours to fly around the world nonstop, under the quoted 200 hours run in time for these speakers. That seems extended to get to your destination, not with lots of mini cans of beer and peanuts, but your audio destination with shear bum on seat home-time. To my ears they don’t need this long. I’ve listened for around 100 hours and it was midrange that was initially compressed, recovering itself in the first few hours. I’ll report back if sound does improve further with another 100 hours.
The first thing that catches you is how so god damn expansive sounding for their size they are. The ratio decidendi in buying is this as their first clear M.O. I said PMC’s twenty5 23 produce more sound than any god given right. Relative to size, these speakers take it to new levels – the A380’s wingspan to that of the 747. An interesting test would be to ask an audio friend who visits, how big they are on listening whilst being blindfolded.
You can’t help thinking this brilliant soundstaging is achieved with the upward firing driver and tweeter design which is of a type which is known to be especially fast and infallible with transient attack. Off axis these tweeter types are reputed not to be as precise as dome tweeters from most listening position angles, but I had no real gripes – diminishing high frequencies off axis are slight!
The sound is tremendously integrated too. It’s funny that lots of HiFi people say you shouldn’t compare speakers at this price to more expensive ones – the common snob thing rearing its head. But these speakers break the mould on traditional speaker design and sound per pound. To my ears, Iota Alpha’s create an integrated sound that is common to 3 way designs. The much more expensive PMC’s – ironically around 2.5 times the price, don’t so much create depth into music that these Neat’s do. Admittedly nuanced, but it got me hearing unheard of parts to recordings – typically sorting itself out as added layering in the music. Something impressed on me over and above the PMCs, with much pricier ATC’s SCM40A floor-standers. Saying something for £1385 speakers!
This soundstage is extended by another big tick – neutrality as a speaker. In tonal balance they might not be the smoothest of the smoothest to the smooth brigade. But to mostly everyone else who doesn’t like flat sounding overly +4 tonal bass HiFi, they are absolutely on the bullseye. Dynamically they are tremendous too.
As far as attack goes, trying some 90s trance and techno, they don’t have the same bass dynamics and speed as I’m used to with the more expensive designs mentioned. But I’m picking trifles here, since it’s very far from anything to grumble about at this money or speaker scale. To my credit, the fact that I give a mention is aligned to these speakers being so good with lots to live up too. Also you wouldn’t buy these speakers to volume shake the cobwebs from unreachable parts of your ceiling. These are small speakers that are likely to be played at lower to medium levels. This doesn’t mean volume can’t go loud considering size, by the way. Bass dynamics at low to medium volumes is always both accurate and good for speakers this size, by any measure.
Using a really dynamically powerful amplifier is a MUST. The speed of the bass driver in close proximity to the floor needs to be kept under tight dynamic control and the more quality power is on tap, the better. The £1000 Marantz PM7000N is lazier with bass versus my own HiFi system – unsurprising with price hike and increased power output. My recommendation would be to try Hegel integrated amplifiers, since they have a good damping factor – in easy terms, the amplifiers ability to control speaker motion once a signal has stopped. Even easier ; tighter bass control.
Against £1000 Definitive Technology Demand D11 bookshelf’s the Iota Alpha’s are more searing in detail and reality to source, with tighter bass dynamics, with the Demand D11’s a fuller bass rich sound but softer in the midrange and with bass dynamics. A taller sound are the D11’s but definitely not wider. Personally I prefer the Neat’s accuracy in terms of a feeling of ‘being there’, and their speed for electronic music too. You might disagree.
I know that Iota Alpha’s are obviously not comparable in design to bigger floor-standers – they too don’t hit the bass dynamics of transmission line PMC twenty5 23’s, nor outright bass depth. The physics wouldn’t allow it. But for sheer 13th Note musicality and enjoyment *per pound* on dynamics and detail and soundstage, they are possibly better speakers to the PMC’s. Just due to being similarly musically enjoyable for less money. HiFi is not always about the pursuit of a perfect system. That’s impossible anyway – it’s about what’s real, what is well priced paired to performance, and frankly, what puts a smile on your face. These Neat’s do this and some.
underside bass unit:
Nah Nah, but they are a different speaker type, the HiFi snob will say. Nah Nah, they are for different uses, different prices. … you can’t compare them to the PMC’s they will say….Yeah yeah, but my retort would be they allow similar enjoyment, and I am making these comparisons to benchmark them for you. That doesn’t mean the bigger floor-stander doesn’t have a place. One class of car can be *better* than a car in a different class at a different price, with all things factored like performance and features, and an argument could be maintained this is true here. But that’s not even my point – it’s about what a set of speakers do emotionally in enjoyment – or more accurately what they bring emotionally through music, without getting all artzy fartzy about it.
If I wanted a mini passive floor stander due to down sizing, moving house or going abroad, or whatever, these Neats would easily be on the shortlist. It’s a product so good, that you could almost think, to hell with it – I’m going for them straight off in the knowledge I’ve got a best in class *type* product. Also, without having to do the rounds at dealers. But then I wouldn’t be doing my job if I advocated that approach, would I!!! What I’m saying is these speakers are extremely accomplished and the tone of my appraisal should reflect their endorphin and alpha wave pleasing character.
click on pictures to view
The way forward
Neat Iota Alpha’s are a fast tracked way to get you onto a journey of being a true separates Audiophile, with a spend that will hopefully be easy to shoulder. That’s my personal take out from this appraisal. Start with speakers like these with a basic amplifier you can upgrade, and you will almost certainly be on that trip.
Rip roaring HiFi like this, is why I do this. You’ve got to appreciate what it can do for you, especially when sensibly priced. Iota Alpha’s are still an investment, sure, but the idea you are somehow being shortchanged on enjoyment by not spending a lot more, is demonstrably flawed with these speakers. Or pow – it’s just not a Neat idea 😉
Extremely recommended and a 13th Note performer very convincingly. Enjoy!
- Neat Acoustics
- 29B Harmire Enterprise Park, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham, DL12 8XT, UK
- Web : http://neatacoustics.com
- Contact via online contact form here
- Tel: +44(0)1833 631021
£1385 a pair
- Enclosure Type : 2.5-way, rear bass reflex ported
- Drive Units : 50mm Emit magnetic/planar tweeter, 1× 100mm polypropylene cone mid-woofer, 1× 134mm paper cone bass unit
- Sensitivity (2.83v/1m) : 86 dB/1 watt
- Frequency Range: 33Hz – 22kHz
- Impedance : 4ohms
- Recommended Amplifier Power : 25 to 100w
- Standard finishes: Natural Oak; American Walnut; Black Oak; Satin White
- Speaker terminals : 4mm gold plated single set (no bi-wiring)
- Dimensions : 450x200x160mm (HxWxD), 49cm tall on spikes
- Footprint : 200x160mm (WxD)
- Weight : 6kg each
- Warranty : 5 years
Marantz PM7000N into Isotek Aquarius Power Conditioner (high current output), Talk 3 speaker cables.
Cyrus DAC XP Signature pre with partnering Cyrus PSX-R power supply, Cyrus MONO X200 signature power amps. Interconnects : AudioQuest Yukon XLR (pre and power), Hegel Mohican CD Player using Atlas Equator Integra, Innuos Zenith Mk 2, DAC : Chord Qutest / RME ADI-2 DAC FS / Cyrus DAC XP signature. Again ALL into Isotek Aquarius.
**Comparison speakers – PMC twenty5 23 and Definitive Technology Demand D11’s.