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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
$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.
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.
Energy Take 5 speaker system, w/ EPS 12 subwoofer
Paradigm System 3
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