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Athena Audition Series Speakers
AS-F2, AS-C1 and AS-R1

Athena Speaker Impressions

The Athenas have taught me a lesson about speaker break-in.  Athena recommends 50-100 hours of break-in before critical listening, and they aren't kidding around.  After hookup and calibration, the Athena’s were extremely harsh sounding.  Attempting to watch the Lord of the Rings (DTS) before break-in was grating and hard on the ears.  Dialog was often unintelligible. (Note: Replacing the AS-C1 center speaker with an AS-B2 bookshelf speaker greatly improved the sound of my system, reducing brightness and providing greater dialog clarity. See details below.)

Athena AS-F2

Athena AS-C1

Athena AS-B2

Athena AS-R1

AS-F2
Floorstanding Speaker

AS-C1
Center Speaker

AS-B2
Bookshelf Speaker

AS-R1
Bi-pole Surround

I loaded up some CD's and let them run as often as I could for about a week, and the sound of the Athenas has improved dramatically.  I don't think I've reached 100 hours yet, but I'm certainly within the 50-100 hour range.  Music is now quite detailed, and these speakers are powerful.  Highs are perhaps still a tad harsh to my ears, but I'm hoping this will mellow with further use.  Bass from the AS-F2s is very strong, and the R1s sound better with music than I had anticipated.  I'm no audiophile by any means, but to me, the Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits CD sounds terrific on these speakers.

I'm still a little overwhelmed by what these speakers do with movies.  The power and detail is quite a step up from the Onkyos.  I once read a review that talked about the scene in Black Hawk Down in which two soldiers are trying to determine if they are being shot at (discussing the difference between a hiss and a snap).  The sound of the bullet at this point sounded like a twang on the Onkyo speakers.  Through the Athenas the effect is more of a three-part hiss-snap-twang with details I never knew existed. 

At times, the AS-F2s seem to greatly overpower the AS-C1 center channel.  From dead center listening position, it's fine, but moving to a seat out of the prime location creates some dialog intelligibility issues.  I'm still experimenting with speaker levels in an attempt to clarify this issue, but I wish Athena would create a larger, more powerful center that would better match the strength of the F2s...or at least increase the degree of dispersion to accommodate listeners outside the hotspot.

May 3, 2004 - I emailed Athena to see if they had any plans to release a larger center channel.  Their reply:
"We haven’t received a single bad press review on the AS-C1 since it was introduced. All of the press said it more than adequately kept up with the high output AS-F2’s. In circumstances where it was getting compressed or being drowned out, the usual culprit was the center channel amplifier in the receiver. We use a Denon 5700 here at the office in a 19 x 25 foot test room. And the AS-C1 seems to keep up fine.

Make sure that at least 100 hours of time has expired as the break in ritual changes the tone of the speakers dramatically.

Maybe you could check the settings again, re calibrate the system a bit.

Other than that I have no suggestions for you right now. There are no plans to offer a larger center channel or a different model in the coming future. The drivers in the AS-C1 are the same as the award winning AS-B2, so I wouldn’t know what to change."
July 12, 2004 - With Athena hinting that poor center channel amplification could be to blame for my problems, I tried a Denon AVR-3805 receiver (reviewed here).  Though a fine receiver, it was not the answer to my problem.  After weeks of experimentation with the AS-C1 I continue to find that poor horizontal dispersion causes considerable problems with dialog clarity for seating outside the hotspot.  I've read that this is not an uncommon problem with some center channel speakers that have a horizontal woofer-tweeter-woofer inline configuration, and is the reason many manufacturer's have designed their center channels with the tweeter raised above the horizontal center axis of the woofers, allowing them to move the woofers closer together and reduce the cancellation issues inherent in the MTM (midwoofer-tweeter-midwoofer) design.  An article that better explains this "lobing" can be found at:

http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_8_3/diy-13-audax-center-channel-speaker-9-2001.html

Lurking in the lab results page of Sound and Vision's review of the Athena speakers is note of "the heavy lobing of the AS-C1 center speaker at listening angles wider than 15 degrees."

After learning of this issue with some horizontally placed centers, I tried the AS-C1 in a vertical position (like a bookshelf speaker, which the AS-C1 basically is) and adjusted the calibration of my system.  The results?  Greatly improved clarity of dialog in the off-axis areas.  This simple adjustment basically solved the off-axis problem. I still feel the C1 is a bit thin-sounding compared to the AS-F2s, so I recently ordered a set of AS-B2 bookshelf speakers, and intend to try one as a center channel.  It's my hope that the improved bass response of the 6.5 inch bookshelf will provide a richer sound.


August 10, 2004 - I've been using an AS-B2 bookshelf speaker as a center channel for a couple of weeks now.  Though not quite as detailed as the AS-C1, it does provide a richer sound and has tamed the "brightness" I noted in my system.  I also tried these straight out of the box as main speakers - very impressive and very similar in sound to the AS-F2 floorstanding speakers.  The AS-B2s are an exceptional bargain in my opinion, and I would not hesitate to buy three pairs of these for a 6.1 system.

The AS-R1s seem to be fine speakers.  Effects and music are clear and sharp, and the Athenas are displaying the imperfections in my placement of the rear surrounds.  I have them as high as my speaker stands will go, which is a little higher than ear level, but with the increase in power and detail over the Onkyos I now understand why Dolby recommends 2-3 feet above ear level.  I'm hoping to remount these from the ceiling and add another pair for sixth and seventh rear channels. (Note:  I eventually hung one AS-R1 on the wall using the built-in brackets, and two using macromounts)

Conclusion
Overall I have found the Audition series to be an amazing value.  The sound quality per dollar is very high, especially with the reduced pricing now found on these speakers.  Powering these speakers with a high quality receiver such as the Denon AVR-3805 takes the performance to an even greater level.  Though I was not impressed with the AS-C1 center speaker, I have read numerous forum threads posted by satisfied owners.  On the other hand there are those of us out here that are less than pleased with its performance.  

If I could advise the Athena company, I would say to 1) redesign the AS-C1 to minimize the lobing effect.  2)  After improving the AS-C1, develop a more powerful AS-C2 to mate with the larger speakers in the line, and 3) to put icing on the cake, develop a larger AS-R2 surround speaker to match the larger front speakers.  With the 6.5 inch driver in the AS-B2 they already have all the parts needed to extend the audition line.  Add a little of the design magic that inspired the creators of the AS-F2 and AS-B2 and Athena could take this series to a whole new level of performance...and sales.

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