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September
2002

Reviewed by
Roger Kanno
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2002




Athena Technologies
Audition

AS-F1 / AS-C1 / AS-B1
Home-Theater Speaker System

 

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: AS-F1 speakers
Price: $400 USD per pair
Dimensions: 35.5"H x 9.5"W x 12"D
Weight: 41 pounds each

Model: AS-C1 center-channel speaker
Price: $180 USD
Dimensions: 7"H x 17.75"W x 9.5"D
Weight: 18 pounds

Model: AS-B1 surround speakers
Price: $180 USD per pair
Dimensions: 13.75"H x 7"W x 9.5"D
Weight: 14 pounds each


Description (cont'd)

System Price: $760 USD

Warranty: Five years parts and labor

Features

  • 1" Teteron dome tweeters
  • Injection-molded polypropylene woofers
  • Contoured tweeter bezel
  • MDF cabinet construction
  • Magnetically shielded
  • Removable grilles
  • Gold-plated five-way binding posts
  • Black finish with silver front baffles

Athena Technologies is the latest brand to come along from Audio Products International (API), makers of the well-respected Mirage and Energy brands of loudspeakers. Although they are a relatively new division that has only released a few products to date, they have received many accolades for their innovative SCT (System Creation Technology) line of speakers. Although the SCT lineup offers excellent value, the least-expensive combination of the P1 satellite and S1 subwoofer retails for $825 USD per pair.

The latest products from Athena Technologies are in the extremely affordable Audition Series of speakers, consisting of two bookshelf models, two floorstanders, a center-channel, and two new subwoofers that have only just been added to the line. The Audition Series appears to be well constructed and well designed, and they are very aggressively priced. For this review, I received a pair of AS-F1 floorstanders ($400 per pair), an AS-C1 center-channel ($180), and a pair of AS-B1 bookshelf speakers ($180 per pair) to be used as surrounds. The entire system (without a subwoofer) came in at just $760!

Description

The first thing that you will notice about the Athena Technologies Audition Series speakers is that they seem to be larger and more solidly built than most similarly priced products. For example, $400 is a typical price for a larger bookshelf speaker or small floorstander, but that is the price of the floorstanding AS-F1, which is fairly tall, is very deep, has an 8" woofer, and weighs an astounding 41 pounds! It’s a lot of speaker for the money. In fact, all of the Audition speakers have this same overbuilt quality, and I would have guessed that they cost much more than they actually do.

The Audition Series speakers are finished in a black-vinyl veneer and have silver front baffles that have a slightly convex curve. The removable black grilles are similarly curved, and reveal some of the silver baffle for an attractive contrast in color. The look of these speakers is decidedly modern and purposeful, and is a cut above that of many other budget speakers. The speakers feature drivers that are very similar to those used in the more-expensive SCT line. They have injection-molded polypropylene woofers of varying sizes, and they all feature the same 1" Teteron dome tweeter with a contoured faceplate that is said to control the tweeter’s dispersion pattern. Tapping any side of the speaker will show that the entire cabinet is made of thick MDF that is well braced. The speakers are all ported designs with heavy-duty, all-metal binding posts. They are magnetically shielded for easy placement in a home-theater system.

Down in front

As mentioned, the AS-F1 is a large speaker that features a single 1" tweeter, an 8" woofer, and a front port located about a third of the way up from the bottom of the cabinet. The manufacturer rates the speaker as having a sensitivity of 92dB and a frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz (+/- 3dB). The AS-F1 is the smaller and less expensive of the two floorstanders in the Audition line, but it would not look out of place when compared to the larger and more expensive floorstanders in other manufacturers’ comparable product lines.

Front and center

The AS-C1 consists of the same 1" tweeter flanked by two 5.5" woofers in a sizable cabinet. It has a claimed frequency response of 60Hz to 20kHz (+/- 3dB) and a sensitivity of 90dB. The cabinet has a rear port and is designed so that it can be oriented either horizontally or vertically for use at any position in a multichannel speaker array. Most sub-$200 center-channel speakers have much smaller cabinets and drivers than the AS-C1, and are fortunate if they can reach down to 80Hz. It is pretty remarkable that the AS-C1 can do all this for only $180!

Round back

The AS-B1s, used here as surrounds, were reviewed in SoundStage! as a stereo bookshelf pair and were awarded a well-deserved Reviewers’ Choice recommendation for providing excellent sound quality at an astonishingly low price. It too is a surprisingly large and hefty speaker considering its price. It is a rear-ported design, which has a 5.5" woofer in addition to the 1" tweeter. Most good, budget bookshelf speakers these days are noticeably smaller than the AS-B1s and cost at least $200, with some even pushing the $300 price barrier. While all of the Audition Series speakers offer a lot of value for the money, the $180 AS-B1 speakers are a standout in that they appear to have all the properties of well-designed and well-built speakers, but at a next-to-nothing price.

Reality check

When you add up the price of this Athena Audition Series home-theater speaker system, it comes in at an amazingly low $760. That such a high-quality system with nearly full-range mains, and a center-channel and surrounds with respectable bass response, is available for that price boggles my mind. If you were to add the new 100W AS-P400 subwoofer that features a 10" woofer, which sells for $400, you would have a full-featured 5.1-channel home-theater speaker system that retails for under $1200. In comparison, most 5.1 speaker systems that I’m familiar with, and are similar in design and quality to the Athena Technologies Audition Series system, are priced well over $1500, and many are nearer to the $2000 price point.

Setup

The AS-F1 speakers have excellent bass response on their own. Consequently, I was able to use this Audition-based system without a subwoofer. Granted, the system doesn't reach down as low in the bass as it would with the matching AS-P400 subwoofer in the system -- and that extra bottom-end performance from a sub can be pivotal to a truly complete home theater. Nonetheless, the review system’s output capabilities were sufficient for my moderately sized room.

The mains were situated six-feet apart and toed-in slightly with the center-channel placed atop a direct-view television. The surrounds were placed on stands about two-feet above, and slightly behind and to the sides of, the listening position. I also angled the surrounds slightly towards the back of the room to further reduce localization.

Big speakers . . . big sound

The Athena Technologies Audition Series home-theater speaker system did not seem to have any obvious deficiencies, which is surprising for such an inexpensive product. Whether it was playing back popular music, classical recordings, multichannel music, or raucous movie soundtracks, the Auditions never missed a beat.

Small, budget speakers sometimes distort under the demands of difficult movie soundtracks, or have difficulty integrating with their subwoofers, but the Auditions remained composed and coherent at all times.

A good example of this was the award-winning sound design of Black Hawk Down. This soundtrack features complex battle scenes with very loud effects such as gunfire and explosions, mixed with subtle directional cues and chaotic dialogue. The Audition Series system was able to reproduce every sound cleanly and intelligibly. Frequent musical interludes comprised of popular music or Arabic songs sounded spacious and compelling through the Auditions.

All of the speakers were well matched with a consistent sound from left to right and front to back. For example, in the scene following the opening credits of Desperado, the eerie sound of clapping moved smoothly from the right surround to the left surround, then to the left front speaker. Campa’s guitar-case machine guns panned evenly across the three front channels during the final gunfight. That’s impressively coherent surround-sound performance.

The Audition Series speaker system was able to believably recreate a three-dimensional space such as the interior of the mansion in The Haunting. When Nell first arrives at Hill House, the creaking, groaning, and low-level ambient sounds of the house seem to come from all around you. As she proceeds to walk slowly through the house and Mrs. Dudley utters an impatient, "Ahem," it comes from far off screen as if she is in the room with her, but standing far off to the left. All of this was accurately portrayed through the Audition Series system.

The Mummy, which features a reference-quality music soundtrack, was reproduced with a large soundstage that produced that thrilling sensation of being in a movie theater. Expectedly, the dynamics of the orchestra were compressed somewhat during very loud crescendos, but the system was still able to produce that big, solid sound normally associated with large speaker systems that cost much more than the Auditions do.

Bass extension and accuracy were strong points of the Audition Series system, with the AS-F1s providing enough room-filling bass to nearly shake the walls during the opening credits of The Haunting. They could not quite reproduce the ultra-low, subsonic bass in chapters 10 and 19, but that was not surprising considering I wasn’t using a subwoofer. More musical, yet still very deep bass, such as that in chapter 11 of The Sweet Hereafter, was taut and imaged solidly between the front channels. Even though the speakers were reproducing prodigious amounts of bass and very-high sound-pressure levels overall, they recreated the haunting wind instruments that set the tone for the ill-fated bus ride in this scene with lifelike timbre and good depth. This is no small feat for any system.

It would take an accomplished center-channel speaker to keep up with the AS-F1 mains. I’m happy to report that the AS-C1 is up to the task. On the Diana Krall: Live in Paris DVD, Krall’s vocals were slightly up front, but were powerful and natural sounding and never wavered on such cuts as "A Case of You" and "I Don’t Know Enough About You."

Multichannel-music discs such as the DTS version of Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth [HDS 71021-54430-2-7] sounded excellent, with Lovett’s expressive vocals emanating from the center-channel speaker. The backup singers and chorus impressively filled out the 360-degree soundstage from the other channels.

The AS-B1s are excellent stereo speakers, and they performed equally well as surround speakers. The aggressively mixed soundtrack of Rush Hour 2 is exceedingly well recorded and makes use of all of the channels of the 5.1 audio palette. The precise sound and solid bass of the AS-B1s, used as surround speakers, helped reproduce this soundtrack with a sense of control that gave the music great depth in all directions. The AS-B1s reproduced the ambiance of nearly every scene’s location with uncanny realism.

Comparison

The other speaker system that I had in house for comparison was comprised of five Axiom Audio M3Ti SEs, which would cost $925 if you were to purchase three pairs of these speakers as I did. While the Axioms did have a more neutral and understated sound, they could not match the Athena Technologies Audition Series system in terms of bass response or dynamics. This gave the Axioms the edge on well-recorded stereo CDs, but the tables turned in favor of the Auditions when playing back DVDs.

With movie soundtracks such as The Haunting, low-level ambiance was better served by the Axioms, but the larger Athenas had much deeper bass and were able to play at higher volume levels with less strain. The bookshelf-sized Axioms simply could not compete with the low-frequency output of the much-larger floorstanding AS-F1s, and the frequently ominous rumbling bass of The Haunting was all but missing with the Axioms. The slightly more forward sound of the Athenas also provided more immediacy and excitement to movie soundtracks. Granted, this could make the overall balance of the sound seem slightly tipped up at very high volume levels, but this is a common characteristic of many home-theater speaker systems when playing back movie soundtracks that often have excessive high-frequency energy.

Conclusion

The Athena Technologies Audition Series home-theater speaker system exhibited a big sound with plenty of deep bass, wide dynamics, a large soundstage, and surprisingly little coloration. The imaging was precise and the overall presentation was right up front, which gave movie soundtracks a lot of jump and excitement. This well-designed and well-built speaker system was also able to provide a high-quality sound to go along with the sheer quantity that it could produce.

The fact that it could do all this without a subwoofer, and at a price of only $760, is amazing. And adding the recently introduced AS-P400 powered subwoofer would only increase the system’s price by $400. But either way, the Athena Technologies Audition Series home-theater speaker system represents an incredible value by providing terrific sound at an unheard of price.

Review System
Receiver - Arcam DiVA AVR200
Source - Panasonic DVD-A110 DVD player
Cables - Audio Magic, Analysis Plus, TARA Labs
Monitor - JVC AV-27D201 direct-view monitor
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Audio Products International
3641 McNicoll Avenue
Toronto, ON M1X 1G5 Canada
Phone: (416) 321-1800
Fax: (416) 321-1500

E-mail: supportusa@athenaspeakers.com  
Website: www.athenaspeakers.com  

 


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