It is now awfully easy to find a nice compact 5.1 speaker package
for under $1,000 US. However, with more choices comes one problem: more
choices. Sure it is easy to find good sound, but it is not so easy to find
great sound. At this low price, you must wade through lots of brands
and models to find that
The Athena Technologies Micra 6 is an entire 5.1 speaker system that costs less than $550
Therefore it is very important to keep one little thing in context while
listening to these speakers – the price! I could easily point out many
things that I would have liked better, but at this price I cannot nit-pick.
Sure the sub doesn't reach 25 Hz, the speakers are light in the mid-bass, and
the center wavers at high volumes. Still, for less than the price of a
decent receiver you get an entire 5.1 setup!
What I was impressed with was
the smooth and clear sound the speakers produced with both music and movies
at moderate volumes. I was floored by the compact 8” sub that performed
impressively in my large open room. Read on.
Fit and Finish
Lets start with the swivel type mounting brackets that are thoughtfully
included on the center and satellites. The center's mount runs the entire
length of the speaker, pivoting at either end where it attaches.
keyholes it allows you to mount the speaker against the wall above your
plasma TV (as the advertisements suggest). Personally, I used the mount to
angle the speaker up slightly while having it sitting on my center channel stand.
Found on the Satellites are similar brackets with two wall-mounting options.
One keeps the speaker parallel to the wall, while the other angles the
speaker down. Each bracket is tightened with an extra large slot screw. The
solid mounts with their flexible designs are a big plus for a speaker in
The shapely designed center and satellites are constructed of
injection-molded resin. They only have spring clips but surprisingly they
accept 14 gauge bare wire. Overall these speakers are tasteful, in a plasma
TV kind of way.
Next is the very impressive little sub. It doesn't
extend down to 25 Hz, and it does exhibit some port noise – but let's put
things into perspective here, this is a clean sounding sub that integrates
very well with the satellites (not to mention that it is included in the
$550 package). The sub did fall behind the satellites at rather loud
volumes, however the quality of the bass from this little 8” sub really surprised
me. It was the definite highlight of the system - Athena
engineers scored a big win with this unit.
Located on the front of the sub is a lone output level control, interestingly they
opted out on including a crossover control. The system was designed for
easy set up, with the idea being that you just connect everything together
and watch movies without worrying about crossover frequencies. The designers decided that
they would set it at a point that matched well with the satellites.
Unfortunately, this means that you may overlap the crossover in your
receiver with the subwoofers, so turn your receiver's crossover to
its highest position.
Obviously, these speakers, by design, are not to be played without the
subwoofer's help. At only 7” tall and employing only a 3˝-inch ‘woofer', one
shouldn't expect much low end out of these speakers. Fortunately Athena
found the right integration between the sub and the satellites, and they
complement each other very well. It is hard for any set of speakers this
small to achieve decent mid-bass. Therefore the sub is required to play
frequencies that are directional – which also warrants keeping the sub up
front. I was defiantly impressed with the solid center image the speakers
presented with two-channel music. As for depth and imaging, good definition was
present between the speakers, although they did not extend too far beyond
An important part of believable and enveloping surround is the positioning.
With their adjustable built in mounts, these are very easy speakers to install
in even a “less than perfectly designed” room. Every room is
different, and there is no rule to achieving the best sound. I found they
sounded best located just behind my couch, aimed towards each other and
slightly toed in to the front. The supplied mounting brackets made this very
easy to attain.
The MC center was decent at mid to moderate levels, but felt strained at
more aggressive volumes. It's strongest area was how it blended with the
mains. Panning across the front never sounded choppy. My only big complaint
was the presence of slight sibilance, noticeable during Return of
the King (present at loud volumes and at difficult passages).
The center speaker has two mids flanking a tweeter. On the
back are spring clips, and attached to either end is the mounting bracket.
This proved very useful when aiming the speaker while it was seated on my
center channel stand.
Accompanying my set were two pairs of optional stands specifically designed
for use with the satellites. Constructed of aluminum and steel, the stands
are hollow with holes to run speaker wire through them. On the top is a
mounting hole specifically for the built in bracket on the speakers. They
complement the speakers very nicely and bring the tweets up to perfect
height (right with my ears).
Some stands are hollow, and designed to be filled with either sand or lead
shot. This can help to stabilize the speaker stand, and improve bass
response. While these speaker stands are not designed this way, the speakers
would benefit very little from that. Due to their small size and limited
bass reproduction, it is not necessary.
The Sound of Music
For critical music listening, I use only a select few discs chosen based
upon sound quality, detail, familiarity, and of course enjoyment. For mid-bass
reproduction, I use Pork Soda, by Primus. Les Claypool's splendid lead bass
and Herb's tight drum work can easily outline poor mid-bass reproduction. For
detail, dynamic range and sound quality I use Free Fall, by Jesse Cook. This
is a highly infectious album full of intricate guitar work and some deep
down bass. For imaging and just plain fun, I turn to Rain Dogs, by Tom Waits.
And the last disc, (and most recent addition) is Rated R, by Queens Of The
Stone Age. This album begs to be turned up – at which lesser speakers can
get muddy. This album is full of detailed guitar work, which all too often
gets lost in the mix at high volumes.
With Jesse Cook, I definitely noticed port noise on track 8, however there
have not been many subs that have not had difficulty with this track. The
center image was very solid, and the stage was defined, albeit rarely
extending beyond the two speakers.
Pork Soda brought out the biggest flaw in the system - ahem, this $550
system. Mid-bass was slimmer and had less impact than I prefer, but this is
difficult to achieve with small midrange drivers. Most of the ‘punch' people
attribute to a fast subwoofer is actually the mid-bass from the midrange
drivers. Granted, they do provide better mid-bass than my old Energy Take 5.2
system and for the price I cannot complain.
Rated R did what it usually does: at high volumes, detail became a little
smeared. Keep in mind I do enjoy turning this whole album a little too loud.
Again, my attention was turned to the sub. Persistently filling the room and
pounding out sound larger than its size suggests, it constantly impressed
me. Honestly, this album is less for sound quality and more for
Going to the
Return of the King is a delightfully engrossing movie, filled
with emotional dialogue intertwined with sword fights, sounds of destruction,
and utter chaos. At modestly loud volumes, every speaker sounded great, each
blending with the other. It was only at real loud volumes that the center
had some trouble keeping up with the effects. The center handled the
frequent sharp sounds of swords being drawn very well, yet exhibited some
sibilance when the Morgul lord was talking.
Se7en was the next movie I used. It relies heavily on the music and
effects to create the downright creepy mood. The system's strong blend
between all speakers was evident again with the many rain-drenched scenes.
As usual, the sub delivered most effects with wonderful energy.
The system generally performed very well for movie watching. The speakers blended
with each other and the subwoofer. Naturally, due to their small size and
power handling, they are best suited for a smaller room.
Throughout this review, examining and testing the pleasant quality of this
system, I had to remind myself of its low price. Sure, the system shows its
limits in larger rooms and at higher volumes, but in smaller rooms and at
moderate levels, it sounds wonderful. Most impressive, for me, was the
consistently solid little subwoofer. Athena has continued their tradition of
providing an excellent value with a great system at a price both you and
your spouse will
- Jared Rachwalski -