Go to Home Page

Click Here to go to Index for All Speaker Reviews

 

Product Review
 

Athena Home Theater Speaker Set Using Five Identical AS-C1 Speakers and Two AS-P400 Subwoofers

July, 2003

Jared Rachwalski

 

Specifications:


AS-C1:

One 1" Teteron Tweeter

Two 5-1/2" Injection Molded Polypropylene Mid/Bass
    Drivers

X-Over: 2nd-Order at 2.5 kHz

MFR: 60 Hz - 20 kHz ± 3 dB

8 Ohms Nominal

17 ¾" x 7" x 9 ½" (H,W,D)

 

$180 per speaker (USD)
$230 per speaker (CDN)

 
AS-P400:

1 - 10" High Excursion Bass Driver
Variable Low Pass Filter, 40 Hz - 120 Hz
100 Watt (RMS) Amplifier
18 ½" x 11 7/16" x 15 3/8" (H,W,D)

$400 (USD)
$550 (CDN)

Athena Speakers

www.athenaspeakers.com 

Introduction

Our Canadian Editor Brian Florian had an interesting idea: instead of reviewing a conventional home theater speaker system (two floor-standing fronts, two bookshelf surrounds, a center, and one subwoofer), he suggested we try using five identical speakers and dual 10” subwoofers. This was an especially timely concept, since we have received questions about using identical speakers for all channels.

The speakers he wanted to use were five Athena Technologies AS-C1 center channel units and two AS-P400 powered 10” subs. These are part of Athena’s Audition line, which will soon be available through Best Buy (although they have been available at the Canadian equivalent, Future Shop for some time now).

Athena does not currently offer any dipole or otherwise dedicated surround speakers, so this is the reason we used five center channels.  This is only recommended when the center speaker works both horizontally and vertically – some center speakers can work this way.

The idea behind using two subs is somewhat complex, involving room-loudspeaker interaction, but the end goal or point of it to achieve a more faithful reproduction of the signal for everyone in the room, not just one individual in one spot.

And the Fun Begins . . .

So, the speaker system we had for review consisted of five identical speakers, each with two 5½” mids flanking a 1” tweeter, and two separate powered 10” subwoofers to round out the low end. A combined total for all this hardware is only $1,700 US.  You could get away with just one sub, and that would drop the price to $1,300 – but the system is so economical, let's go for two subs and see what happens.

The AS-C1 center channel is a medium sized rectangular black box with a nice silver baffle. The grilles are raised about ½ inch from the front of the speaker, creating a silver frame around the black grille. These speakers are designed to be either on their sides (horizontal) or on their ends (vertical). This allows you to use them as both a center speaker and mains/surrounds. Placing them on their ends gives you what is referred to as an MTM style speaker (Mid-Tweeter-Mid), a la D'Appolito.

The two Athena subwoofers are standard black ash veneered MDF boxes that have the same silver front baffle and surface mounted grilles. Removing the grille shows a rather large port and a substantial 10” driver. On the front, the subs have dials for adjusting the output and the crossover frequency, but also have front mounted LEDs. The LED shows you just how sensitive their auto on/off circuit as it glows red until the subs spring to life, at which point they change to green. Frequently throughout movies the subs will shut off, but fortunately they never seem to miss any action. These are pretty solid subwoofers for the price.

They never make it easy.

Setting up the main speakers was easy, but setting up two subwoofers . . . now that was not so easy. One sub is hard to get right; two subs are exponentially more difficult. During my time with these speakers I tried no less than eight different positions for the pair of subs (which adds up to sixteen different positions in total). The worst location proved to be directly under the front speakers. As cool as it looked having the AS-C1s stacked on top of the subwoofers, it just did not do them justice. I ended up turning the subs on their sides and stacking them beside the equipment rack. This way, they did not stand too tall nor call too much attention to themselves. Subwoofers are very room-dependent, and require a lot of trial and error.

Music comes first.

If I could afford to, I would have two separate systems, one for the home theater system, and a music-only system. However, I must be realistic and settle for using the same system for both music and movies. This requires the sole system to be equally strong for both mediums. This is one area that the Athena system did not totally impress me; it is defiantly a movie first setup. These speakers do sound good; in fact they are very impressive – when watching movies. For critical music listening they lacked something, and it did not take me long to pick out what it was . The high-end was too laid back. It is more of a personal preference, but honestly most of my friends were not bothered by it.

First, let me talk about what I did like. The bass was wonderful; there was never a lack of low-end info. These subs dug much deeper than my previous subwoofers,  with bass that was full and clean. They had no exaggeration of the upper bass info (no boominess), and they had ample output (once properly dialed into the rest of the system). I must admit though that I was able to hear some port noise during a very hard piece of music from Jesse Cooks’ Free Fall disc. I had not heard this with either of the last two subs – possibly because they just dropped off before that point. This selection has some very heavy low bass information that is rather startling when reproduced correctly. I do not like port noise, and luckily that was my only musical track that exposed the problem. Port noise is maximum at the tuned frequency, when the cone is moving the least with respect to how much air is coming out of the port.

The mid-bass from the mains was also solid with all the music I threw at it. This coupled nice with the subwoofer bass and proved to be rather enjoyable. The system never lost its composure, even at high volume. They did not break up or get muddy.

The biggest complaint I had about the system was with the tweeters. I found cymbals and other higher-toned instruments to be subdued . . . almost in the background. This is not where I like them. I do prefer a more forward top-end, and these speakers are more laid back. Keep in mind that your tastes may vary, and this is one thing to consider during your own audition. Some consumers like a recessed high end. That is the nature of variety and choice in the market.

Movies are not to be taken lightly.

With movies, the Athenas had lots of punch, incredible tonal matching, seamless panning effects, and dialogue that was spot-on.

In regards to the bass, one scene in particular that I use to test subwoofer response is the asteroid chase scene in Star Wars Episode II. With a previous subwoofer, I had been disappointed, the bass just rolled off too soon during the seismic charges. Not so with the Athena subs. They dug down deep and really shook up the room. Just as impressive was the firework scene in The Fellowship of the Ring. The real fun was when the Dragon fireworks were set off, creating deep lingering bass. Again, the previous sub just would not have put out the real low info. The Athena’s did not disappoint me here. They stuck with it to the end. Though later on in the movie, while the Shadow/Fire beast is chasing the fellowship, I did hear more port noise. This was the only disappointing issue that I found. Keep in mind that this is the only scene where I had detected it. Also, note that we have two subwoofers here, rather than the single previous one, and that makes a difference.

With this system I was interested to know if I would enjoy using direct speakers in the rear again. I was spoiled with the Paradigm ADP 170 adaptive dipoles that I was last using. The rear effects with the Paradigms were very diffused and created a realistic ambiance. I was sure I would notice differences with the Athenas. The biggest difference soon became apparent - the sweet spot had shrunk. Due to my room shape, there is only one good seat when using direct speakers, and three good seats when using dipoles. Such is life. Never did the Athena speakers draw my attention directly to them, something that can occur with lesser direct rears.

As mains and rears, the AS-C1 speakers performed admirably, but first and foremost this is a center channel design. The center channel has a very important role in movie watching because it must be able to reproduce a wide range of volumes and frequencies (with the emphasis being on midrange) and it must keep the dialogue on screen. As a center speaker I was quite impressed with the AS-C1. Dialogue never sounded strained or shrill. Most importantly, I heard the sounds from the screen and not the speakers. All in all, it did everything I want a center to do.

As with music, my main complaint was with the higher frequencies. It may just be my personal preference, but I still felt like the tweeters were not on par with the rest of the system. I did notice slight improvement with the grilles removed, but not enough though to risk possible damage caused by curious pets or kids. The flawless panning from one speaker to another quickly made up for any other minor flaws. In essence though, this center channel speaker worked very well as mains and rear surrounds.

Conclusions

For $1,700, you will be hard pressed to find a more solid system with this much low-end power. If my sole intention for a new system were movies, then this Athena system would be a definite contender, and having the five identical speakers all the way around the room was fine. However music is important to me and my appetite was not totally fulfilled. A system this economical would make it very easy to build two dedicated setups.

As with most audio purchases you must audition the speakers yourself to get a true sense of how they perform. Everyone likes different aspects of sound. I enjoy forward treble (some people negatively refer to that as bright), deep bass, and clear midrange. Some people would be content without the deep bass that this system provides (then only get one sub and save yourself $400). I was disappointed to not have both exceptional bass and glorious treble, but for only $1,700 one must make some compromises.

 

- Jared Rachwalski -

Reference equipment:

Energy Take 5 speaker system, w/ EPS 12 subwoofer

Paradigm System 3
Totem Arrows
Denon POA 5000 amplifier
Marantz sr 5200 a/v receiver
Panasonic RP-32 dvd player
JVC cd player
Prolink speaker cable, Quest digital cable, Schocshe interconnects
Proscan 52” RPTV

 

 

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Speakers

 

 

© Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

Return to Table of Contents for this Issue.

Go to Home Page

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use