Neat Petite SX

This breif review was written for The Hi-Fi Journal in 2011

Neat Petite SX

Neat Petite SX

In 1988 Bob Surgeoner designed the original NEAT Petite to be a compact loudspeaker that could play loudly, exhibit decent bass extension and be musically convincing. He succeeded: the Petite, although currently in its third revision, is still as popular today as it was twenty years ago. Now it is emerging in its fourth iteration although, fundamentally, there have been no radical changes to the design since day one. The new Petite SX boasts a new soft-dome tweeter and is slightly differently tuned to its predecessors but that is the extent of the differences, I was told.

Regardless of the changes, the £1250 SX still exhibits the near-magical musical fluency the Petite has always had: listen to a band or singer through this speaker and you immediately understand what they are trying to convey, whether that message is subtle or overt. The Petite is simply wonderfully musically communicative and draws you into a performance like very few others manage to do.

To perform at its best it needs a good source and an amplifier that is sufficiently powerful to avoid clipping. It further needs the support of a decent set of stable, 60mm loudspeaker stands such as the Partington Dreadnought I used.

The Petite SX features 4 terminals for loudspeaker connection. These can be used for bi-wiring but NEAT prefers bi-amping (using 2 stereo amps or 4 mono amps and allowing one amplifier channel to power each drive unit) if funds permit. The increase in expression and control using 2 Naim NAP250 power amps in my test system was readily appreciable. Having said that, it is worth noting that the SX managed a thoroughly respectable performance when driven by a Naim SuperNAIT integrated fed by my Naim HDX hard disk player, Well Tempered Amadeus turntable, and Naim CDS CD player.

Loudspeaker cables are always a personal choice but I used Chord Company Signature, whose performance seems to complement that of the Naim amps and NEATs particularly well.

The early Petites were musically communicative and very satisfying to audition but they were perhaps not equally as adept with conveying the hi-fi aspects of a performance. That situation alters dramatically with the SX version, which can produce a stereo soundstage to rival the best in terms of width, depth, instrumental placement and integrity.

As a result you can listen to an album such as Renata Youngblood’s The Side Effects of Owning Skin, and appreciate not only a highly credible 3-dimensional soundstage filled with richly modelled and dynamic instrumentation accompanying her exquisitely etched vocals but also an emotionally convincing performance that impresses you with the singer’s vocal dexterity, expressive ability and the sheer intelligence of her moving song-writing.

While the Petite SX delivers a delightful cosmetic performance that, as far as I am concerned, is simply a bonus. Far more significant – and valuable – is the close connection it forges between the musical performance and the listener. It allows you to hear every note that a musician plays but it also allows you to hear how those notes and the way he plays them affect the overall composition.

The Petite SX is, ultimately, is a wonderfully open, exceptionally well-rounded little performer that delivers incredible musical insight along with impressive hi-fi performances. Its bass is a little leaner and tauter than it was before but this, I feel, is an advantage: there is absolutely no overhang or drone, and notes begin and end as crisply as they should; depending, of course, upon the instrument that is producing them (and the care with which you have positioned them in the room). There is, for example, no confusion between bass guitar and kick drums, both having distinct timbre and note-shape that clearly delineate each instrument.

The same is true further up the spectrum: the Petite SX is a very clean, uncoloured sounding speaker that makes it especially forthcoming with vocal and instruments such as guitar, where it scavenges veritable hosts of information.

Anyone who is in the market for a bookshelf-sized loudspeaker absolutely must listen to the NEAT Petite SX. It is a true giant-killer.

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