Well hung up to maybe even optimized over decades: If you are into speaker solutions with a long history of evolution not driven by short-lived marketing goals, you will find some very well-known classics from suppliers on the island. And less prominent ones, too: I never really had the Neat Petite, launched in 1991 and maintained until 2016, on my radar. But I now have the latest product from the northern English manufacturer on my stands: the Neat Petite Classic (2,498 euros).
But wait: Maintained until 2016 and the latest hit in the listening room? Don’t worry; even if I wouldn’t find that so far-fetched with an absolute classic, there are no seven-year-old camels at the start. But let’s digress a bit:
Several generations, a break, and an anniversary – the story of the Neat Petite Classic
The brand name may also encourage more or less “nice” puns or promise a “clean” sound. Still, above all, it is the acronym of “North Eastern Audio Traders” and thus a specialist shop founded by Bob Surgeoner in Darlington in 1989, it was initially limited to trading and repairing hi-fi equipment. Out of a desire for good sound and new business areas, developing their speaker solution started immediately – and, voilà, the Neat Petite was launched in 1991. According to reports, it was so successful that loudspeaker development and manufacture increasingly came to the fore for English.
The cuddly cornerstone of Bob Surgeoner’s and his team’s success was continuously fine-tuned over four official model generations and a few intermediate updates. Until the said year 2016 – when the development power flowed into the Iota and Strata series in particular and a “natural” but only “petite” break was inserted, as the still active Bob Surgeoner explains to me. The Neat founder currently leads a team of ten – and over the decades, has become something of a hi-fi classic, if you will.
After an anniversary interlude called Petite 30, limited to 100 pairs, the starting bells rang in 2022 for our guests, the Neat Petite Classic. Incidentally, the Classic is more closely based on the ancestors, not least with a view to the case dimensions, than the more significant and one-fifth more expensive 30s.
Neat Petite Classic – construction and technique
The 30 centimeters high, 20 centimeters wide, and 18 centimeters deep cabinets of the Petite Classic are recruited from MDF, as with (almost) all Neat loudspeakers, only the Ultimatum series is wrapped in multiplex birch plywood. The 12-millimeter thick side walls are dampened with bitumen, and the more powerful 15-millimeter baffle of the two-way system accommodates a 15 cm bass-midrange driver and an AMT (Air Motion Transformer) operating at around 3.5 kHz.
The relatively high crossover frequency is also due to the relatively small AMT, which can be taken out of the race with a flat 6 dB/octave. In the larger Neat Acoustics Majistra and Neat Ministra, which we tested last year and in 2020, Neat uses custom-made ribbon tweeters from Fountek, while the comparatively high-amplitude AMT of the Petite Classic comes from Dayton Audio. Bob Surgeoner praises its “extraordinary ‘organic’ quality that allows for a natural presentation.” In addition, the Dayton-AMT already fits perfectly with the concept of the Neat Petite Classic, i.e. without further modifications, as Andreas Sehlhorst from the German Bellevue audio sales team adds.
The same applies to the cone driver from SB Acoustics, which is sealed at 12 dB/octave, which Neat only additionally ringed with felt to optimize the radiation behavior. I ask Bob Surgeoner (and anticipate the sound check) what trick ensures the small mid-bass driver sounds surprisingly confident despite its broadband load.
Logo, of course, there isn’t “one” trick: Rather, the driver has a vast usable bandwidth per se, but its qualities can still be further exploited with a careful crossover design, high-quality components, and offset port matching. For example, when selecting the capacitors, four different brands entered the race to ultimately decide on Jantzen models.
More reality than appearances: the look and workmanship of the Neat Petite Classic
If you look closer at the Neat Petite Classic, you can conclude that the English attach more importance to the technical inner values than to the outer ones. Contributing to this is the impeccably cleanly manufactured but rather tool design of the speaker housing – produced in England and not in the Far East – reminiscent of reliable workhorses from the studio area.
Many loudspeaker manufacturers rely on complex connection terminals that immediately suggest quality to the customer. And save the money again in the other (invisible) signal path using simple plug connections between the crossover and drivers, and the terminal. Neat Acoustics goes the opposite way in this matter:
Two rather clumsy binding posts mark the visible beginning of the signal path of the Petite Classic – which is wholly soldered through (!) on the inside. I think it’s adorable that Neat doesn’t rely on superficial purchase incentives in this matter but on the probably even more expensive and, in any case, technically better solution: What’s the use of a shiny terminal if behind it is a rat’s tail with many simple, by no means long-term stable (contact resistances) contacts? By the way: Especially in the price range of the Neat Acoustics Petite Classic, “complete soldering” is a rarity.
The hidden values also include the screwing of the chassis to the baffle, which is not made with Spax or wood screws, as is usual in this price range, but with M4 screws and lock nuts.
To gain a first impression free of expectations, I like to start the listening rounds without having previously dealt with the test candidate in more detail technically – often, I don’t even know the exact price at first. And the final writing of the report, where I usually start with the good part, only starts when I think I’ve fully grasped the profile of the component.
Surprising from the start – the bass
It may come as a surprise with a compact speaker as small as the Neat Petite Classic: One of the areas that I liked right away and even got better the longer I listened was the bass. No, of course, the NEAT developers cannot do magic; if you want deep bass, you are wrong physically with such small boxes as the Petite. Especially low-frequency gimmicks in the music, such as the short note every two bars for maybe a second in “Am I” by Kode9 & The Spaceape (album: Black Sun), are almost entirely left out. But even larger compact ones often don’t offer more unless they are significantly more expensive, an Inklang Ayers Two or Nubert nuBoxx B-40, which inspired colleague Jochen Reinecke on the bass side, may be exceptions.
Much more important, however, is that with low-pitched electronica such as Kode9 or the beat-bubbling “Turbulence” by Free The Robots (album: Ctrl Alt Delete), you get precisely what is acoustically essential, in this case, the formative pieces Bass beats with sufficient pressure and blackness. Such music may not physically affect the Neat Petite Classic, but it still gets involved.
The speed and the dancing ease with which the Neat Petite Classic act underneath is mainly responsible for this. Holla the forest fairy, the quality of the bass is of the very best – this applies to the dynamic jaggedness, the contours, and the timing. Yes, the stoic electro beats in Clock DVA’s “Final Program” (maxi version), the electric bass gradations in Villager’s “Becoming a Jackal,” or the eruptive bass drum semiquavers in Scale the Summit’s “Odyssey” get so rampant, coherent and clear defines that even my passive membrane-reinforced floor-standing loudspeakers, the Sehring 903 (12,000 euros), seem a little more “approximate.”
Okay, an unfair comparison: Of course, the very deep-reaching Berlin swell transducers also have to pump out a lot more bass mass; they hurl significantly more massive tones to the ear than the Neat Petite Classic, which plays with less load. But even in the English duel against a compact B&W 705 Signature (3,000 euros), the Petite has the edge in terms of bass quality, especially since the bass reflex system does not taste through in any way.
Putting the bass in the limelight a bit more tonally, i.e. tuning it up a little louder than the strict high-fidelity teaching, is a common trick with compact loudspeakers to make it sound more sovereign. Such a device was also used in developing the Neat Petite Classic, but so sensitively and discreetly dosed that I only mention it for formal completeness. Although: not everyone hears such small loudspeakers set up freely (distance to the back wall > 90 cm) in a 30 square meter room with a height of more than three meters as I did for this test. It might be worth experimenting with the enclosed bass reflex plugs in smaller listening rooms closer to the wall.
The tweeter: Classic British?
The treble tuning of the Neat Petit Classic is tonally more audible. Not typically “classically British” at all, Barnard Castle in northern England has a soft spot for the fresh tone. By the way, angling the loudspeakers doesn’t change much; it’s mainly a bit of a super high tone, a little bit of fine airiness – which I think is a shame; that’s why I only listen to the Petite almost “on the move.”
The said freshness comes from increasing the level of the middle and upper treble, not the super treble. The latter is even less dazzling, less ethereal than one would expect from such a concept: right at the top, yes, that’s the right word: it “breathes” a little more subtly than it would be pure teaching. Regarding treble tonality, the Petite aim in a close direction to the B&W 705 Signature already mentioned. For example, the “world-class treble” – as it was called in the test – of the diamond tweeter of a B&W 805 D4 (8,000 euros) is also a prime example of ethereal Airiness and plays in a different league.
As if you had a déjà vu when you look at the above lines on the bass range, the treble of the Neat Petit Classic also fascinates with healthy above-average transparency, contours, and light-footed, “fast” dynamics. Precision is essential at Neat to give the whole thing a headline. And that’s authentic precision without illusions if you disregard the slight increase in level, i.e. without exaggerated attack, unnatural silveriness, or insubordinate harshness.
I even find the treble to be above-average distortion-free and clean, which invites you to enjoy Jaki Liebezeit’s outstanding drum work on Can‘s 1972 album Ege Bamyasi again: In the opener, “Pinch the treble side is just bustling with more metal Percussion and snare overtones, in addition, extraordinary individual noises are repeatedly introduced for moments. A particular highlight is that Jaki Liebezeit, who unfortunately died in 2017, was able to draw this acoustic hidden object picture with an almost stoic style, apparently being able to control it effortlessly at any time and certainly be able to push it to the limit – incredible art and not pure sports drumming.
And something similar can also be said about the treble quality of the Neat Petite Classic: great art – and no artificial glossy reproduction. The impulse energies and textures of the countless transients – a supposedly bland cymbal hit is in reality highly complex – the Englishmen bring to light in an incredibly realistic way; here, high resolution and the best fine dynamic qualities go hand in hand.
Whereby… the last five little words shouldn’t create any false romance: The performance of the NEAT is generally not for cuddly, cuddly rock listeners who like to scratch their stomach dreamily or someone else while listening to music in the candlelight, but it promotes curiosity, interest, active discussion with music immensely.
In this regard, the Neat Petite tops the aforementioned innocence and my very own. The latter offer increased airiness and a very aesthetically pleasing silkiness.
Monitors in the mids
Homely warmth, lush tones, full-bondedness – that these are not terms that characterize the mid-range reproduction of the Neat Petite Classic should hardly come as a surprise after what has been said. The small North English speakers are more monitoresque, i.e. they are more factual and very detailed reporters than they enrich the music with sensuality, as do boxes like the Bryston Mini A Bookshelf. However, the Canadian converters rely on a tonally, even more emphasized bass and fundamental tone and act less differentiated and precise there and in the treble than the NEAT.
Last but not least, the Neat Petite Classic results in excellent speech intelligibility and an above-average richness of facets: The brittle, the rough in John Balance’s voice on Coil’s “Where are You?” (Album: Musick to Play in the Dark 2) seems even more profiled, more striking and the conspiratorial vocals all in all unmistakable, more impressive, even in comparison to my Sehring 903. However, this is also promoted a little by the fact that the upper edge of voices is tonally emphasized more than strictly neutral teaching. Vocals and the mids generally put the Neat Petite Classic in the limelight a bit more present, more directly – the described treble tuning of the Neat Petite Classic is certainly involved here.
I was surprised at how differentiated the small mid-bass driver conveys rich, complex music: With many two-way systems, for example, in Dysrhythmia’s “Running towards the End” (Album: Test of Submission), I perceive that the impulses of the low-pitched, through Stereo panorama wandering toms can easily be swallowed up, since here the same membrane has to transmit a denser guitar sound at the same time. The little Neat of all people solves this task quite well. And they remain clean up to levels many listeners in apartment buildings cannot exhaust – only to sound increasingly unclean as the volume increases. Of course, the Petite are not party boxes, but they are surprisingly stable for their size.
Completely detached: the spatial representation
And almost as clear with such a concept: the image is excellently separated from the speakers in the listener’s direction, floating so freely in the room as if there were no loudspeakers here, and is exceptionally spacious on the horizontal plane. The reproduction of voices would probably feel even more vivid from a listening psychological point of view if the midrange sounded more sonorous. Still, the localization sharpness and the size dimensions are as exemplary as the discerning listener expects from high-end small monitors.
High precision, jagged impulsiveness, and a tonal freshness that promotes immediacy: Bob Surgeoner is a musician. Somehow, it’s only fitting that his loudspeaker classics Petite have tonal characteristics that suit high-quality studio monitors perfectly.
Of course, the Neat Acoustics Petite Classic are more than mere workhorses – and much more stimulating music mediators. However, they do not provide that listening pleasure where you sink comfortably deep in your wing chair and let God be a good man. No, expressive warmth, romantic high-tone melting, or other whitewashing are not their thing.
The Neat Acoustics Petite Classic wants to grab the listener and move him to active listening, an emotional and intellectual examination of the music. The Neat developers probably also bring the slight treble level increase into play for this purpose. This, however, does not lead to any hissing, harshness, or other stress – as long as the rest of the chain keeps up in quality or is tuned a little smoother – the Petite’s AMT plays much too cleanly and organically for that.
Regarding resolution and dynamics, the Petite Classic sets qualitative standards even for significantly higher price ranges, provided you disregard the fact that the small speakers naturally don’t throw too much bass mass into the listening room. These qualities apply to the entire transmission range: the exemplary, coherently sounding Petite is free of “island talents” – even if they come from England.
The Neat Acoustics Petite Classic is characterized by…
- Lightning-fast dynamics and very high resolution. And from head to toe: we sound bass, midrange, and treble from a single source.
- An honest, level-side only minimally increased bass; in this matter, many other manufacturers of small boxes reach into their bag of tricks much more courageously.
- Immediate, concise mids with a slight emphasis at the top towards the highs. Lastly, the bottom line is that voices are exceptionally multifaceted. Tones are not overly warm or lavish but are impeccably pure and well-differentiated.
- A tonally minimally raised middle and upper treble. The super treble, on the other hand, is slightly reduced. Artificial sharpening and hardening are conspicuous by their absence. The qualitatively clean, unpolished high-frequency reproduction enables stress-free listening, provided the source and amplification are of the same quality or are tuned more mildly.
- One can only wish for spatiality from such small monitors: a perfectly detached, free, spacious stage design that opens up nicely to the listener. Superior location accuracy.
- A decent level of stability considering the manageable physique, which is easy enough to annoy the neighbors, but not for wild parties.
- Valuable, but rather tools than luxurious processing. The fact that there are no plug contacts in favor of soldering contacts in the internal cabling deserves a lot of extra praise.
- Model: Neat Acoustics Petite Classic
- Concept: passive two-way compact speaker with bass reflex system
- Price: 2,498 euros
- Nominal impedance: 6 ohms, minimum impedance at 4 ohms
- Efficiency: 87dB/2.83V/m
- Dimensions & Weight: 30 x 20 x 18 cm (HxWxD), 3.5 kg/each
- Colors: Textured Black, Satin White
- Guarantee: 5 years