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Athena Audition Series Speakers

 Athena Speaker Impressions

The Athena’s 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 before break-in was grating and hard on the ears.  Dialog was often unintelligible. 

I loaded up some CD's and let them run as often as I could for about a week, and the sound of the Athena’s 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 F2's is very strong, and the R1's 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.  The only weakness I can note is that at low volumes, I often feel the need to use the loudness function on the receiver to get adequate highs and lows.  To be honest, even with my limited knowledge I suspect this is more a limitation of the Pioneer receiver than the speakers (my next upgrade will probably be a Denon receiver).

I'm still a little overwhelmed by what these speakers do with movies.  The power and detail is quite a step up from the Onkyo's.  I once read a review that talked about the scene in Blackhawk 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.  On the Athena’s the effect is more of a three-part hiss-snap-twang with details I never new existed. 

At times, the AS-F2's 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 still 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 F2's...or at least increase the degree of dispersion to accommodate listeners outside the hotspot.

5/3/2004 - 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."

7/12/2004 - After weeks of experimentation with the AS-C1 I still have found that the 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 inline design.  

After learning of this issue with some horizontally placed centers, I placed 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 fuller sound to the system.

The AS-R1's seem to be fine speakers.  Effects and music are clear and sharp, and the Athena's 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 Onkyo's I now understand why Dolby recommends 2-3 feet above ear level.

 Overall, I find the Athena's to be a major improvement over the Onkyo speakers, even though I still feel the Onkyo's are a fantastic value for beginner speakers.

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