Neat Petite Classic review

Small, fun and endlessly musical Tested at £1995 / $2500 approx / AU$3999

Standmount speakers: Neat Petite Classic
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The Neat Petite Classic remain as enjoyable as ever – small, premium speakers that are terrifically talented and deliver the heart of music effortlessly

Pros

  • +

    Tremendously fun presentation

  • +

    Stunning rhythmic precision and agility

  • +

    Solid, detailed sound

  • +

    Compact footprint

Cons

  • -

    Needs care with positioning

  • -

    Bigger rivals offer greater bass extension, insight and scale

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Even though we’ve been reviewing Neat Acoustic speakers for decades, we’re still impressed by just how infectiously entertaining the brand’s speakers typically are.

The Neat Petite Classic speakers we have on test here are the fifth generation of the Petite model, which originally began production in the early 1990s, and have remained not just one of the most well-liked but also the biggest-selling speakers in Neat’s entire catalogue.

Build & design

Standmount speakers: Neat Petite Classic

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Petite Classic sticks with the same dimensions as the original, measuring a very, ahem, petite 30 x 20 x 18cm (hwd). These would be ideal for when you want a premium hi-fi set-up but don’t have a large space – their compact footprint means they should be easy to accommodate in most rooms that aren’t cavern-like halls.

The last time we reviewed a Petite speaker was the fourth-generation Petite SX in 2010 and, apart from the size of the cabinets, pretty much every other aspect has been changed. Neat revived the Petite model for its 30th anniversary in 2021, and it's the upgrades made to this limited edition model that have made their way to the current Petite Classic speakers. They remain a two-way design, with a new AMT ribbon tweeter that claims to deliver better high-frequency performance and a 15cm mid/bass driver with a cone made of mineral-loaded polypropylene. Neat says that despite being a smaller diameter than the original (which was 16.8cm), this mid/bass unit should produce deeper bass thanks to a more powerful motor. 

Neat Petite Classic tech specs

Standmount speakers: Neat Petite Classic

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Type Standmounters

Drive units AMT ribbon tweeter, 15cm mid/bass cone

Ported? Yes (rear)

Bi-wire? No

Impedance 6 ohms

Sensitivity 87dB

Dimensions (hwd) 30 x 20 x 18cm

Weight 7kg

Finishes x 4 (textured black, satin white, oak and walnut)

Internally, there is a new crossover network with updated, high-quality components, and you only get single-wire terminals now instead of the bi-wire terminals of previous generations. 

The cabinet is well-made, and although there’s nothing particularly luxurious to shout about, we like that there are no visible fixings or bolts around the drivers, leaving a minimalist, clean fascia. It perhaps doesn’t exude the perceived value you’d expect from a premium pair of standmounters, but we have no complaints whatsoever about the fit and finish of the Petite Classic. Passing our hand over the cabinet surface, we like the quality of the wood grain finish of our oak review sample.

These Neat speakers are available in four finishes: textured black, satin white, oak and walnut. You do pay a £305 premium for the wood finishes, though. 

At this new £1995-£2300 price range, the Petite Classic have formidable rivals to contend with, such as the larger KEF R3 Meta (£1999), the long-running ATC SCM 19 (£2400) and the pricier ProAc Response D2R (£3000).

Compatibility

Standmount speakers: Neat Petite Classic

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

It may be tempting to put these small speakers anywhere, but take some time and care with positioning and you’ll be richly rewarded.

We experimented with a few positions in our listening room, and found the speakers sounded best when placed on dedicated speaker stands (a must), set roughly 30cm from the back wall, and toed in slightly to our listening position to get the best stereo imaging. 

Neat also includes two staggered bass ports at the rear of the speaker. These are of different sizes and tuned to different frequencies, so you can adjust the amount of bass on offer to the size of your room. The recommendation in most cases is to plug the larger port with the included foam bung and keep the smaller port free. We find this combination works well in our listening room – it helps to keep the bass more controlled and reined in; otherwise the amount of bass is just a bit too prominent and a touch boomy. We would recommend trying out a few combinations of port-blocking and positioning for yourself to find a balance that you’re happy with.

For our review, we plug the Neat Petite Classic into our reference set-up of the PMC Cor integrated amplifier and Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition music streamer. We also pair the speakers with the Naim Nait XS 3 (£2499) as a more price-appropriate partner. This Neat/Naim partnership is one we’ve recommended before, and we’re glad to find it still works a treat.

Sound

Standmount speakers: Neat Petite Classic

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

We could, quite honestly, quote portions of our Petite reviews from 1992, 1993 and 2010, and the words would apply just the same to the current model. Terrific rhythmic ability, wide and rock-solid soundstage, great interplay between vocals and instruments – these are traits of the Petite model that have remained consistent throughout the decades. 

We applaud any brand that has managed to keep its sonic identity consistent throughout its existence, and the pure musical joy that these mini monitors deliver is worth the expense. 

These speakers are just fun. Toe-tappingly, grin-inducing fun. Their rhythmic ability is stunning – it’s infectious, agile, precise and zippy. There is a sure-footed handling of every beat and note in a song that is endlessly enjoyable to listen to. 

That precision with timing means the speakers are a dab hand with any genre you play through them: we play The Beatles, Dr Dre, Major Lazer, Massive Attack, Agnes Obel, John Williams, Led Zeppelin, Elliott Smith, and many more from our test track collection – and the Petite communicate the inherent musical composition and message of most songs with ease. That’s a difficult quality for any speaker to manage successfully, and it’s even more impressive coming from these small boxes. 

The Petite Classic do have a slightly smoothed-off treble that makes listening a tad “nicer”, and coupled with fairly low distortion levels, it means we don’t have any problem cranking up the volume and getting fatigued with any brightness over time. They’re just as tuneful and hold our interest when the volume levels are low, too. 

We’re not expecting lashings of bone-thudding bass here, but the low end on offer is tuneful and grippy. It underpins and drives the beat to Massive Attack’s Paradise Circus, while Pon De Floor by Major Lazer has punch, attack and zeal. This is further emphasised by a sound that is extremely solid – there’s a beautifully grounded quality to every note that’s rather astonishing for speakers of this size. 

Standmount speakers: Neat Petite Classic

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

There’s ample detail here too, with a particularly lovely way with voices. The delicate folk qualities of The Unthanks are relayed with a lightness of touch while Eminem’s intense, aggressive rapping has the requisite crackling spitting rage. The speakers aren’t the last word in refinement and analysis – these are for those that simply want to enjoy the music rather than inspect every element with fervour.

That being said, the Neat speakers are considered enough to know when to rein in that liveliness and deliver the more contemplative and meditative moods of, for instance, the Theme For Schindler’s List or a sombre Nick Cave track well.

Give the speakers a few days of running in, and you’ll find they breathe more freely. They pump out quite a decent spread and volume from their compact dimensions, and the stereo imaging you get is top-notch when positioned with care. They don't sound as large-scaled as the bigger KEF R3 Meta speakers, granted, though it’s only really obvious when playing more complex and grand orchestral pieces. 

If absolute tonal neutrality and transparency are your priorities then you’ll want the ATC SCM 19 speakers at this level, while those wanting subtler insight and greater dynamic contrast should look toward the ProAc Response D2R. Again, it’s that knack for spot-on timing and cohesion that is the Neats’ crowning glory – these are eminently likeable and fun speakers that put enjoyment above all else. 

Verdict

Standmount speakers: Neat Petite Classic

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

If it isn’t clear by now, these Neat speakers are delightfully good fun. They do have a specific balance and a specific purpose, and if you go in knowing full well the restrictions of these “Petite” boxes, then you’ll have a grand time. 

They may look unassuming and the fairly high price tag will raise eyebrows, but pair them with high-quality tracks and a good partnering amp, and their inherent musicality will keep you entertained for many, many years.

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Build 5
  • Compatibility 4

MORE:

Read our review of the KEF R3 Meta

Also consider the ATC SCM 19

Read our ProAc Response D2R review

Best speakers: budget to premium hi-fi speakers tested by our expert reviewers

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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  • Combat
    They look really ugly though. I'm sure there are some who don't care but Kef have gotten to where they are by producing great looking kit as well as great sounding kit. There's no way a speaker that looks like this should get 5 stars.
    Reply
  • Gray
    Combat said:
    They look really ugly though. I'm sure there are some who don't care
    I might care if I thought it looked ugly - but I think it looks more than OK.

    When I had it at home for a listen, I was more concerned with the price and the fact that, at that time, it was available in plain black or white finishes only.

    Unlike you, I wouldn't expect them to deduct stars, even if they thought something was ugly.

    It should be about the sound - which I found to be good.
    Reply
  • cstanwhf
    The wood finish definitely looks better than the black.

    Would have gone for this finish (from the review) if it was available then.
    Reply
  • Gray
    cstanwhf said:
    The wood finish definitely looks better than the black.
    Wood would be my finish of choice - but, under no circumstances could I bring myself to pay the extra £305 for the 'privilege'....on such a small speaker - that already costs 2 grand.
    Reply
  • djh1697
    Sadly, since Derek left Neat to start producing speakers with Kudos, the quality of Neat speakers has not changed very much, IMHO
    Reply