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November
2002

Reviewed by
Roger Kanno
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2002


Athena Technologies
Audition AS-P400 Powered Subwoofer

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: AS-P400 powered subwoofer

Price: $400 USD
Dimensions: 18.5"H x 11.4"W x 15.4"D
Weight: 32 pounds each

Warranty: One year parts and labor


Features
  • Front-mounted controls
  • Auto on/off (with dual-LED indicator)
  • Adjustable bass level
  • 10" injection-molded polypropylene driver (with rubber surround)
  • 100W MOSFET amplifier
  • Front-ported design
  • High-level (speaker) connections
  • Mono line-level input
  • Direct Input to bypass crossover
  • Internal protection circuitry
  • Anti-clipping circuitry

A welcome audition

The Athena Audition speakers are an incredible value for both home theater and stereo, but the product line initially lacked one thing: a subwoofer. Athena has remedied this with the introduction of the AS-P400 powered sub.

I actually reviewed the Reviewers' Choice-awarded Audition speaker system without a subwoofer and found the sub-less system to have impressive bass on its own, but the addition of the AS-P400 has turned that system into a truly formidable home-theater array that rivals some much more expensive systems. At a price of only $400 USD, the AS-P400 seems to offer as much or even more value as the rest of the already high-value speakers in the Audition line.

More than just a black box

Like the other Athena Audition speakers, the AS-P400 is a rugged unit that looks much more expensive than it is. It, too, is finished in black vinyl veneer with a silver front baffle and a removable black grille. It has a front-mounted port situated just below the heavily built 10" driver - the positioning of the port should ease placement concerns by eliminating the back-wall interaction that rear-mounted ports can cause. The grille covers nearly the entire front baffle, but reveals a slight accent of silver around its edges. This is a refreshing change of pace from the usual all-black design of most budget subwoofers. The AS-P400 is also shaped a little differently than most subs. It is relatively deep, but is much higher than it is wide, giving it a rather tall and slender-looking profile. Large cone-like plastic feet raise the unit up and effectively decouple it from the floor, even from the thickest carpeting. All in all, this is a refreshingly good-looking and solidly built sub for the money.

The AS-P400 does not have a lot of bells or whistles, but it has the requisite low-pass frequency (crossover) and level controls mounted conveniently at the top of the front panel for easy access. Around back are speaker-level inputs and outputs on decent-quality binding posts that are a definite improvement over the tiny spring clips found on many budget subs. The high-level outputs that are provided are full range and not filtered. They are included for ease of hookup: the subwoofer and speakers can be "chained" together so separate speaker cables do not have to be run from the receiver to both the speakers and subwoofer. There is also a single RCA line-level Sub Input as well as a Direct Input for use with the LFE output of a surround-sound receiver or processor. The Direct Input bypasses the subwoofer’s internal crossover.

The crossover frequency is variable from 40Hz to 120Hz (the sub’s claimed frequency response being 23Hz to 150Hz). A convenient feature of the crossover control is that it is marked to indicate the position that matches each speaker in the Athena Audition line as well as Athena's Point 5 satellite speakers. For example, the position for the AS-B1 is marked at approximately 65Hz while the AS-F2 is marked at the control’s lowest setting.

The manufacturer rates the AS-P400’s amplifier at 100W continuous and 400W of peak power, which should provide plenty of reserves for even the loudest of sound effects. There is no power switch, but there is an auto-sensing feature that turns the AS-P400 on when it senses a signal and turns it off when no signal is present. Like many budget subs, the AS-P400 lacks a phase control.

Setup

I logically chose to use the AS-P400 with the Athena Audition home-theater speaker system that I had on hand, which included the AS-F1s as mains, the AS-C1 center-channel, and AS-B1s as surrounds. I also used it in a system comprising five Axiom M3Ti SE bookshelf speakers. Because of the somewhat limited bass-management options of my Arcam AVR100 receiver and the AS-P400’s mono line-level input, I connected via the high-level inputs.

Setup was relatively painless. I have an area just inside the right front speaker where I can situate a sub and move it backwards and forwards or left to right by a foot or so. My room also seems to have a fairly smooth interaction with bass frequencies, so positioning most subwoofers somewhere within this space usually results in good integration with the other speakers. Utilizing the indicators on the crossover control for the various Athena Audition speakers was a good starting point for setting the low-pass filter. However, a little fiddling with the crossover was necessary to achieve optimum results. Nevertheless, the markings on the crossover control for the Athena speaker models are a good starting point and will be much easier to understand for most novice users than the usual frequency measurements in "Hz" that may have little or no meaning to them.

Some serious subwoofin’

Subwoofers have come a long way with smaller and less-expensive models offering performance that was unheard of just a few years ago. Today you can expect a good $500 subwoofer to be able to reach down to about 30Hz or so and fill a mid-sized space with enough sound pressure to energize the entire room while producing relatively little distortion. The Athena AS-P400 is just such a sub and yet it is priced at only $400. And like the other speakers in the Athena Audition line, the AS-P400 subwoofer performs as well as (or better than) many of its higher-priced competitors.

The AS-P400 played very loud without exhibiting any signs of distress such as port chuffing or mechanical noise, but even more impressive was its ability to do so with very little distortion. Some inexpensive subwoofers (and speakers for that matter) will tend to sound somewhat boomy when playing back music or movie soundtracks with a lot of energy in the lower-to-mid bass range, which results in a homogeneous or "one note" type of sound. The better ones will be tighter and more responsive and actually differentiate pitch within these bass frequencies. This was the case with the AS-P400, which articulated the attack and decay of very deep bass from kettledrums and bass guitar while maintaining the sharp rhythm of instruments like the snare drum. And it was able to do so while integrating smoothly with a wide range of speakers and home-theater systems.

The Athena Audition speaker system consisting of the AS-F1 floorstanders, AS-C1 center-channel, and AS-B1 surrounds is an impressive home-theater speaker system in its own right, but adding the AS-P400 transformed it into a truly awesome budget home-theater system. The AS-F1s used as mains have very respectable bass on their own, but adding the AS-P400 smoothed out the bass response and really filled the room with a lot of low-frequency energy. For example, in chapter 9, "House of Pain," from the Blade 2 DVD, the thundering bass of the techno music made me feel as though I was sitting in the middle of a dance club with throbbing, pounding bass all around me.

Not only was there a lot of deep bass, but there was also solidity to the mid- and upper-bass regions that provided a very big and coherent sound. This showed just what a capable subwoofer can add to even a large set of main speakers that already have good bass response. The Mummy: Ultimate Edition, which features a very aggressive sound design and a wonderfully recorded orchestral score, was conveyed with a weightiness that was extremely visceral. During the many action scenes, the AS-P400/AS-F1 combination had the bottom end to provide a solid foundation to the sustained music score, yet still had enough reserves for the huge dynamics of the various crashes, explosions, gunshots, and other sound effects.

The AS-P400 also mated wonderfully with the five-speaker Axiom M3Ti SE array. The taut and responsive bass of the AS-P400 complemented the refined midrange and treble of the Axioms. Whether it was stereo or multichannel music or movie soundtracks, the Athena subwoofer was able to blend almost seamlessly with the Axiom bookshelf speakers. A good example of this was the a cappella cover of the Beatles’ "Yesterday" from the DTS release of Boyz II Men’s II [Motown/DTS 71021-51001-2-8]. Although this track consists of only the human voice, it is an excellent test for bass and bass integration. With the AS-P400 and M3Ti SEs, the low-pitched vocals were always very clear, precisely placed at the front of the soundstage, and well integrated with the rest of the vocals.

Going back to "House of Pain" from Blade 2, there was plenty of bass, but also some subtle distinctions in its character. In one particular scene where Nyssa moves away from the dance floor and deeper into the building, the quality of the bass changed from a very immediate and precise pulsating beat to a more indistinct droning which gave the sense that the sound was actually coming from another room.

Ultimately, the AS-P400 did lack the very deepest of bass, such as the subsonic frequencies that you feel more than you hear. An example of which is in chapter 10, "Creaking Pipes," from The Haunting. But that’s not what you find in most DVDs.

The slightly higher 30-to-40Hz range is much more prevalent in both movie soundtracks and music, and therefore it is critical that these frequencies be reproduced with authority and precision. For example, the roar of pod racers from Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace and the massive footsteps of the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III were solid, well defined, and could be played back at very high volume levels with little distortion. Music such as the textured, multiple bass lines of Peter Gabriel’s Up [Geffen 0694933882] had a lively and expressive quality that unraveled complex rhythms while still providing plenty of deep, satisfying bass.

Comparison

As previously mentioned, there are now some excellent budget subs in the $500 price range such as those from Paradigm, Axiom, Hsu Research, and even from Athena’s sister companies Mirage and Energy.

However, of the budget subwoofers that I have auditioned, the AS-P400 seemed to have the cleanest and tightest bass response that I can recall. This gave it a very fast and punchy sound, especially on music. For instance, on "The Barry Williams Show" from Peter Gabriel’s Up, the driving bass changes pitch during each pulse, which the AS-P400 was able to convey with both power and control.

Subwoofers such as the Paradigm PDR-12 ($419) and the Mirage LF-150 ($500) were also able to differentiate this change in pitch, but not to the same degree. The Paradigm, with its larger 12" driver, and the Mirage, with its greater power of 150W, did seem to be better at filling the room with rumbling bass, which was most noticeable on movie soundtracks. The tighter sound of the AS-P400 sounded slightly leaner than those two other subs when playing back The Haunting, which subjectively made it sound like it was producing less bass. But whereas the Paradigm and Mirage subs were better able to energize the entire room, their sound was slightly indistinct when compared to the Athena.

The slightly more diffuse sound of the Mirage and Paradigm subs sometimes made them seem as though they were integrating more smoothly with the various satellite speakers than the Athena, but these differences were quite minor. The performance of these three subwoofers in terms of low-frequency extension, maximum output level, and sound quality was actually more similar than not, but I kept coming back to the Athena for its faster and more agile sound, which I found to be especially pleasing with music.

The bottom line

Whether it is used to augment a pair of stereo speakers or a full 5.1-channel home-theater speaker system, the AS-P400 will be an excellent addition to any budget system and it would not be out of place in even some more expensive mid-priced systems.

I thoroughly enjoyed the controlled sound of the Athena AS-P400 subwoofer. I also admired its handsome but understated looks and excellent build quality. But most of all, I liked the surprisingly low price, which makes it an outstanding value.

Review System
Speakers - Athena Audition AS-F1 (mains), Athena Audition AS-C1 (center), Athena Audition AS-B1 (surrounds), Axiom M3Ti SE (mains, center, surrounds)
Receiver - Arcam DiVA AVR100
Source - Panasonic DVD-A110 DVD player
Cables - Audio Magic, Analysis Plus, TARA Labs
Monitor - JVC AV-27D201 direct-view monitor
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Athena Technologies
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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