AS-F1 / AS-C1 / AS-B1
Home-Theater Speaker System
|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.
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
System Price: $760
Warranty: Five years parts and labor
- 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
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!
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! Its 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 tweeters 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
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!
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.
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 Im 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.
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
systems 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
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. Campas
guitar-case machine guns panned evenly across the three front channels during the final
gunfight. Thats 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 wasnt 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. Im happy to report that the AS-C1 is up to the task.
On the Diana Krall: Live in Paris DVD, Kralls vocals were slightly up front,
but were powerful and natural sounding and never wavered on such cuts as "A Case of
You" and "I Dont Know Enough About You."
Multichannel-music discs such as the DTS version of Lyle
Lovetts Joshua Judges Ruth [HDS 71021-54430-2-7] sounded excellent, with
Lovetts expressive vocals emanating from the center-channel speaker. The backup
singers and chorus impressively filled out the 360-degree soundstage from the other
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
scenes location with uncanny realism.
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.
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 systems 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.
|Receiver - Arcam DiVA AVR200
- Panasonic DVD-A110 DVD player
|Cables - Audio Magic, Analysis Plus,
- JVC AV-27D201 direct-view monitor