Athena Technologies S3 Satellite / P3 Subwoofer / P1 Subwoofer / C1 Center 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Brian Kahn   
Thursday, 01 June 2000

Athena Technologies S3/P3, P1/C1
Athena Technologies is a new line of speakers from API, the company that brings you the Mirage and Energy speakers. Athena’s pedigree is very solid and the Athena line fits in nicely between Energy and Mirage. The speaker combination I reviewed consisted of the top-of-the-line subwoofer/satellite combination for the four corners, with the smallest subwoofer paired up with their center channel. The retail price for the system I selected was a very reasonable $4,125 (C1 $250 each, P1 $275 each, S3 $600 per pair, P3 $600 each). Several finishes are available. The cherry wood review samples were well finished and aesthetically pleasing. The S3 is a three-way satellite with a 1" tweeter, 5 _" midrange and 8" woofer. The P3 subwoofer is a 150-watt amplifier driving a 10" driver in a ported enclosure.

The Athena lineup consists of three subwoofer options, the P1, P2 and P3, three satellite options, S1, S2 and S3, and one center channel, the C1. What makes this system so unique is its ability to mix and match to create something that fits your needs and your budget. The satellites are purchased in pairs, while the subwoofers can be purchased individually. The satellites can be used with or without the subwoofers. The S2 and S3 can be used with either the P2 or P3. The P1 and S1 can only be joined to one another. A large variety of mix and match options are available to fit just about any room. The Athena website has an interactive page (www.athenaspeakers.com), allowing web browsers to try out different combinations and see the resulting retail price. When the satellites are used with the subwoofer, they are docked together both physically and electronically. Kudos to designer Gordon Van Kessel for this creative and well-thought-out design. The satellites dock to the top of the subwoofer through a conductive rail system, which not only physically locks them together but also transmits the signal from the subwoofer to the satellite.

Set-Up
Connecting and disconnecting the speakers is quick and easy. After the speakers are physically joined, you have your choice of hook-up options. The easiest and probably most common method is to run a single length of speaker cables to the subwoofer. Other options include separate runs of speaker cable to both the subwoofer and satellite, or speaker cable to the satellite and line level connection to the subwoofer. If the single speaker level connection is utilized, some other innovative features come into play. In this configuration, the speaker cables are hooked up to the subwoofer but the jumpers are left in place, allowing the signal to run through the filter system, up through the docking rails and into the satellites. The filter system is the part that got my attention. Anyone who has set up a subwoofer satellite system knows the difficulty of blending the subwoofer with the satellite. To achieve the proper results, it is possible to spend hours adjusting, phase, crossover and level controls. With the Athena system, you simply connect the wires, set the switch on the subwoofer to the appropriate satellite and adjust the level to taste. Setting the switch to the satellite automatically contours the crossover and phase, saving much time at the controls and getting you into the listener’s chair that much sooner.

Current satellite owners are not left out. Even when the unique matching ability of the Athena system is bypassed, the subwoofers can be used with other brand satellites. The subwoofers have a continuously variable crossover and a two-position phase switch in addition to the aforementioned level control.

Music and Movies
I began my review by listening to two-channel music. The Athenas immediately impressed me with their subwoofer/satellite integration. My prior experiences with subwoofer/satellite combinations were time-consuming and often frustrating. There is usually a good deal of adjusting the controls to obtain the proper blend, with no bloated overlap, and no voids in the lower mid-bass. With the Athenas, there were no such worries. A few minutes of fiddling with the subwoofer level controls and I was ready to rock. I began my listening with an old favorite, Van Halen’s ‘Live: Right Here, Right Now’ (Warner Bros.). From the opening licks of "Poundcake" to the relatively mellow "Love Walks In," the Athenas impressed me with their rendition of male vocals and guitar. The Athenas were very easy to listen to and non-fatiguing, even with the high- energy rock and roll. Upon further listening, I concluded this is most likely due to the Athenas slightly rolled-off highs. This compromise in voicing the speaker makes many bright rock / pop CDs and movie scores much more listenable, albeit at the loss of high- frequency extension. After Van Halen, I needed to unwind a bit before bed and did so with Bill Berry’s ‘For Duke’ (Realtime Records).

I found myself in awe of the imaging capability of the Athenas. The soundstage was fairly wide, with the various instruments firmly placed. There was no sense of floatiness - everything was solid and grounded, making for a believable and enjoyable listening experience. My only quibbles with the imaging characteristics were fairly minor. The Athenas were not as transparent as my reference Martin Logans are and the soundstage was not particularly deep. What was notably interesting about the Athenas’ soundstage was its height. It extended vertically up above the tops of the speakers. In addition to excelling in imaging capabilities, the Athenas’ bass response was phenomenal. I am a firm believer in multiple subwoofers and the Athenas clearly demonstrate the advantages thereof. With multiple subwoofers, the bass load is split, reducing the workload and distortion of the individual speaker. Furthermore, multiple subwoofers, properly placed, can work wonders in reducing nulls that would otherwise occur in the listening room. In other words, with multiple subwoofers, you can avoid the phenomenon that causes the bass energy to be overbearing in one part of the room, yet nearly nonexistent just a few feet away.

The Athenas performed very well with two CDs I have been using lately to evaluate a system’s low-end reproduction: Janet Jackson’s ‘Velvet Rope’ (Virgin Records) and Lyle Lovett’s ‘Joshua Judges Ruth’ (DTS). Jackson’s "Go Deep" was easily reproduced almost up to concert level loudness. Only at extremely loud volumes was any distortion noticeable. The Lovett album has great, detailed low bass throughout. This album is also recorded in 5.1 channels (I set my processor to send the .1 channel to the main front speakers) and was my first taste of surround sound through the Athenas. The Athenas were able to effortlessly place me in the middle of the recording. The imaging was just as convincing as a two-channel source.

I watched several movies with the Athenas, including ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ on laserdisc, ‘Last Man Standing’ on DTS laserdisc and ‘The Mummy’ on DVD. The Athena system had more than enough bass extension and dynamic range, even though I utilized the front main speakers to handle the .1 channel chores. ‘Phantom Menace’ had a number of battle scenes that had me ducking Imperial Cruisers and droid laser blasters. The center channel was matched fairly well by the main speakers. Only the most critical listening of panning from side to side would reveal the differences. ‘Last Man Standing’ and ‘Mummy’ also have some great sound effects that completely enveloped me. The Athenas never sounded congested or hard, even in the midst of the fierce gun battles in ‘Last Man Standing.’ The surrounds are not as diffuse-sounding as dipole/bipole designs, but were more than adequate for movies and great on 5.1 music mixes. This was my first experience in my theater with full-range surrounds. I found that it was quite beneficial to have that capability in the rear channels. Having the full range surround capability added to the system’s ability to envelope the listener when the soundtrack called for dynamic low-frequency sounds from the rear. In the past, I thought small surround speakers were adequate, but the Athena system has made me well aware of the compromise inherent in small rear speakers.

The Downside

The system is very versatile and well-balanced. Significant flaws are hard to find, although I would prefer to see a more extended high end. This would have to be done carefully in order to keep the speakers from becoming fatiguing on brighter mixes. The imaging was great, but I would have liked to have heard a bit more depth to the soundstage. The soundstage width was good, but the depth seemed a bit compressed. Finally, the Athenas lack ultimate transparency. They are good but, every once in a while, you hear the speaker instead of the music. I know that these are minor points of contention, but they do exist and are noticeable with extended critical listening in comparison to my reference Martin-Logan ($2000 per pair) Scenarios.

Conclusion
The Athena system provides a great many options. It is versatile to match the needs of just about any theater. The piece-by-piece system building approach allows those tight of budget to purchase the various components in stages, without making any sacrifices. The end product both looks and sounds good. As a reviewer, I often have new speakers in my house. The Athenas drew more positive comments from my non-audiophile buddies than any other speaker recently in my home theater system. The audiophile friends also seemed to enjoy what they heard from the Athenas.

The Athena provides high-quality sound in a manner tailored to fit your system and does so at a very reasonable price. There are combinations in the Athena lineup to fit just about any need. They deserve a close listen.
Manufacturer Athena Technologies
Model S3 Satellite / P3 Subwoofer / P1 Subwoofer / C1 Center
Reviewer Brian Kahn





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