Athena Technologies AS-06
Last spring, as
the weather warmed up and the academic year ended, I began to prepare for the long, hard
days of lying in my backyard hammock and grilling on my patio. Only one thing seemed to be
missing: music. Sure, I could, and do, use my Nomad Zen and HeadRooms Total BitHead
portables, but that wasnt going to cut it when we had friends and family over for
parties. Luckily for me, the Athena Technologies AS-06 outdoor speakers arrived ($299 USD
per pair). They would certainly solve my backdoor music needs, but could they live up to
my audiophilic sensibilities? I was skeptical of the sound quality that any outdoor
speaker could provide. I was also ready to try them out.
Features and setup
The design of the Athena AS-06 is clearly dictated by its
outdoor application. The speaker measures 13.125" x 8" x 8.375", and its
rounded corners taper slightly to a curved back. It weighs roughly eight pounds. The
enclosure is of hard plastic; the front grille is of metal and cannot be removed. The
input connectors are at the bottom of the speakers rear, protected from the elements
by a plastic enclosure that covers the top and sides. The connectors are push-in types:
you press the connector, slip your speaker wire through the exposed opening, then let go.
The AS-06s tweeter is Athenas 1" Teteron
dome, the woofer a 6.5" injection-molded polypropylene cone with a rubber surround.
The speakers rated impedance is 8 ohms, its sensitivity 89dB, and it can handle up
to 125W. The product literature states that the AS-06 will work fine in hot and cold
temperatures, and even under humid conditions. The instructions do warn, however, not to
expose the speaker to direct rainfall.
The Athenas come with metal mounting brackets and all the
hardware youll need to secure them to walls. Athena suggests you make sure the
screws will be driven into the wall studs; otherwise, the weight of the speakers might
tear the screws through the drywall. The brackets attach to the AS-06s top and
bottom and allow them to be rotated from side to side.
The mounting brackets are easy to install. Youll need
a drill and a screwdriver for the actual mounting, and a tape measure will ensure that the
speakers are placed at the same height off the ground. (Remember to measure twice and
drill once -- you dont want extra holes in your exterior walls.) Once the brackets
are in place, the speakers are easily mounted to them, and easily removed for the winter
or the occasional storm. In general, though, theyll survive the elements and make
cleaning up after parties that much easier. The colors of speaker and bracket are matched:
matte black or matte white.
A quick look at the competition at a local Best Buy made it
clear that the AS-06 is on the large side for an outdoor residential speaker. Its
big enough that its placement needs to be thought out -- in the wrong locations, a pair of
them could stick out. Whether or not such décor is right for your house is up to you.
I attached the AS-06s to a classic Marantz 2238B receiver
that I have in the basement, along with a Sony SCE-775 SACD player. This allowed me to
easily feed the speaker wires through a basement window and into the backyard. Bare wire
makes the easiest connection with the AS-06s push-in connectors. Luckily, I had two
25 lengths of generic speaker wire from an old home-theater installation (I knew
theyd come in handy someday). I was a little concerned that the spring mechanism
wouldnt be as secure as a screw-on, but the connection ended up being nice and
tight; I didnt worry about it coming loose at all.
When I installed the Athenas outside, I wanted to be able
to control what I was listening to without going back indoors, so I connected an
inexpensive FM transmitter to my Creative Labs Nomad Zen portable digital player. Such
transmitters can be bought at places like RadioShack and Best Buy for around $15 (Belkin
sells a more expensive one for $40). I found them in the MP3 section of Best Buy, labeled
for use in cars with digital music players. This wasnt the most hi-fi of choices,
but the convenience was hard to beat.
I was able to set up playlists and change music on the fly
in my backyard, which turned out to be a lot more fun than Id thought it would be.
It was great to be able to go out in the yard and play just about anything I wanted to
hear. My son and I could play soccer with the Beach Boys serenading us, then we could
immediately change to a playlist of the mellow Brazilian music he likes to read books by.
Through the Marantz receiver, my Sony SACD player provided better sound than the
portables, but not nearly the convenience. I also thought that while the sound was better
with the wired connection through the SACD player, the Athena AS-06s sonic signature
When I was assigned this review, what first came to mind
were memories of the bad PA speakers of my youth. But the Athenas performed much better
than I expected -- the sound was full and fun. Still, its important to keep in mind
that some of the things audiophiles strive for in their stereo systems simply cannot be
delivered by speakers designed for outdoor use. I would never use the Athenas to become
totally engrossed in music while sitting alone in my listening room, but they did provide
lively accompaniment to outdoor social functions.
For example, while I was listening to the Beach Boys Little
Deuce Coupe/All Summer Long [Capitol 31516-2], the Athenas displayed a lively, punchy
sound that fit well with what I wanted from them. Wherever I wandered into my backyard,
the Athenas were able to throw their sound sufficiently to keep the music present. I could
have easily annoyed all of my neighbors, but I followed Rule No.1 of suburban partying:
Always invite the neighbors! The AS-06s played loudly enough that, even during relatively
large gatherings, the sound was not drowned out by the bodies of all of my milling,
But the Athenas can be used for more than just party music.
One thing that Id hoped to do with them was to set up a backyard movie theater.
Along with a DVD player, a projector, and some long cables, the Athenas could make my
backyard the neighborhoods new movie theater. I never got my act together to do
this, but, if you do, expect your neighborhood approval rating to skyrocket.
The Athena Technologies AS-06 speakers sound good outdoors
and, I bet, sound better than many speakers that people end up with when they buy an
inexpensive home theater in a box. They cant do double duty as part of a serious
listening system, but their sound is probably better than anything you ever expected to
hear in your backyard. Their performance, combined with their attractive price and
intended function, make them easy to recommend. As long as theyre here, I look
forward to some bossa nova brunches, rockabilly barbeques, and outdoor dinners accompanied
by my favorite jazz performances -- all in my backyard.
...Eric D. Hetherington
Price of equipment reviewed