Even though my wife is gainfully employed as an analytical chemist, at times I think she’d be happier working as an interior decorator. She seems semi-addicted to the Home and Garden channel and holds strong verbal opinions about what does, and doesn’t, qualify as being worthy of inclusion within our home’s decor.
The first time she saw my Quad ESL-63s, she asked: “Are those loudspeakers…?”
“Yes… they’re electrostatic planar speakers.” I responded.
“Good Lord…” she continued, “…they look hideous.”
I smiled a demented smile and retorted: “They may look hideous, but paired with the proper tube amps, Quad ESL-63s deliver the best mid-range in the entire audio game.”
She sighed and walked away in silence.
That conversation took place over a decade ago. I still have the very same pair of ESL-63s. And, IMHO, they still produce the best mid-range I’ve ever heard.
When new speakers arrive for reviews, I usually unpack them in the front hall so that my ohhhh so understanding wife can eyeball them too. These days, if she doesn’t like the way speakers look, she calmly utters one word: “Basement.”
This means, in no uncertain terms, that most new pairs of speakers are to be forever banished to my ‘Audiophile Man Cave’ in our basement.
When I unveiled the pair of Neat Acoustics IOTA loudspeakers, my wife commented: “Now those… those are gorgeous.”
I passed her one of the tiny speakers and asked: “Yea… wha’d’ya like about them?”
She carefully clutched the tiny micro-monitor, eyed the IOTA fondly, and explained: “They’re compact, the finish on them is stunning, and… well… they’re cute.”
“You think these speakers would appeal to women?” I asked optimistically.
She slowly nodded her head approvingly and replied: “Ohhh yes… you can put these anywhere you want.”
She paused briefly and then added: “If they come in royal blue. I might even take a pair for my office.”
“But…” I interjected, “don’t you wanna hear what they sound like?”
“Doesn’t really matter…” she fired back. “They’re small enough to fit in anywhere and, if they sound half as good as they look, you’ve got me sold.”
For the most part, audiophiles don’t give a tinker’s darn about how a loudspeaker looks. If they deliver stellar sound, a pair of speakers can be: A), larger than an electric car; B), three times as hard as any electric car to physically move; and C), outweigh Oprah after she’s finished wading into an all-you-can-eat buffet.
When it comes to stereo systems, most women have different priorities than men. Hence the Wife Acceptance Factor, commonly referred to as the dreaded W.A.F., can cause serious constraints in a married audiophile’s purchasing decisions.
The Neat IOTA, priced at $1,199, is an irrationally beautiful micro-monitor. The finish is modern, the execution exact, and the colours are eye-catching. This is a loudspeaker that will fit comfortably into any contemporary home.
Tilted sideways to improve the IOTA’s sound, each speaker measures 5” high, by 8” wide, by 4” deep. They don’t have grills, are not magnetically shielded, and come in five different striking colours: satin white, satin black, flame red, zinc yellow, and ultramarine blue.
The main driver is a 4” inch (10cm) cone with a low-distortion ferrite magnet. The tweeter is a 2” inch (5cm) vertical-planar magnetic-ribbon transducer. The cross-over is a simple 3-element network that utilizes polypropylene capacitors and air-core inductors. Germane to their diminutive size, Neat’s engineers recommend that the bass-reflex IOTAs be positioned near a back wall.
With the IOTAs placed 3” to 5” inches from the rear wall, the speakers created a believable mid-bass and low-bass. Adjusting the amount of lateral separation between the speakers also added, or lessened, the size of the soundstage and the focus of the image.
The IOTAs are rated at 84 dB / 1 Watt and have a nominal impedance of 6 Ohms. I tried driving them with these amps: 1), an 85w/ch solid state Celeste 4070SE; 2), a 40w/ch EL-34 based Assemblage ST-40 tube amp; 3), a 150w/ch solid state Modwright KWA-150; and 4), a 55w/ch Sonic Frontiers KT-88 based tube amp.