Athena Technologies S.5
Loudspeakers and P.5 Subwoofer
Gord Van Kessel, chief engineer at Athena Technologies,
would like his company to be known for offering the "best-built, best-sounding
product, and, dollar for dollar, the best speaker value available today." A lofty
goal to be sure, but Athena's first products, the innovative System Creation Technology
(SCT) loudspeakers, which featured powered subwoofer sections "docked" to
different midrange/treble satellites, provided both system flexibility and excellent
Athena's second series of products, the Audition line, was
more conventional. These affordable speaker designs compete with the high-value offerings
of their competitors in the budget music and home-theater market.
The subjects of this GoodSound! review, the S.5
satellite speakers and P.5 subwoofer, share the same nomenclature and look, as well as
some of the basic design features, of the SCT series. However, they lack the docking
ability, hewing instead to the more common subwoofer/satellite configuration.
Sub/sat systems like the S.5/P.5 make a lot of sense for
people who have limited space, yet want a full-range or nearly full-range speaker system.
Also, having the bass reproduced by a single subwoofer rather than two large stereo
speakers is simply more cost effective. Most subwoofers these days are powered (they
contain built-in amplifiers), so the amplifier or receiver driving the satellites is
relieved of reproducing the bass frequencies, which, theoretically, should result
in a cleaner and more accurate sound through the midrange and high frequencies. Athena
Technologies also has available the C.5 center-channel speaker (which was not submitted
for review), which can be combined with two pairs of the S.5 satellites and the P.5 sub
for home-theater applications.
The S.5 satellites are small and retail for $175 USD per
pair. On the back panel, the speaker sports a small port, two widely spaced five-way
binding posts, and a bulbous protrusion for the attachment of a mounting bracket. A simple
bracket system is included for wall mounting, which allows the speakers to be easily
angled both vertically and horizontally. I utilized the optional 32" metal stands
instead, which were quite sturdy. The stands retail for a reasonable $89.99 per pair.
The S.5s have individually removable grilles for the
tweeter and bass/midrange drivers, and are available in black gloss with a silver front
baffle, cherry with a black-gloss baffle, or black gloss all around. The S.5s have a
modern look and a hefty feel for such an economically priced speaker.
The S.5's tweeter is a 1" Teteron dome with a
dispersion pattern, which, Athena claims, is enhanced by the contoured front baffle. The
bass/midrange driver is a 4" injection-molded polypropylene cone. The shielded
cabinet measures only 8.5"H x 5.75"W x 6.25"D, yet the S.5 still weighs in
at an impressive six pounds. Its sensitivity is rated by the manufacturer at 89dB with a
claimed frequency response of 60Hz to 20kHz (+/- 3dB) and an "8-ohms compatible"
impedance. I assume this means the S.5 should be an easy load for even modestly powered
receivers and could even be used without a subwoofer if deep bass response is not a
The $275 P.5 subwoofer is also a compact unit, measuring
only 13.25"H x 10"W x 13.5"D. Its sides are covered with stretched fabric
and its top and rear panel sport a heavy-duty vinyl veneer. It employs a single 8"
down-firing woofer. The back panel features a power switch, left and right high-level
speaker inputs on spring clips, and a single line-level RCA input. A large flared port is
located just below the front control panel, and large rubber feet are provided to raise
the unit off of the floor to provide adequate clearance for the woofer. There is a 75W
The P.5's front panel has controls for output level and
"Bass Range" (high-frequency cut off), as well as switches for "Mode"
and "A/V." The A/V switch can be set for Audio (flat frequency response) or to
Video, which "enhances the bass frequencies response for the thump and
excitement of home-theater soundtracks." The P.5s Mode switch can be set to
provide the optimum crossover characteristics for an appropriate Athena Technologies
satellite speaker, which in this case is the S.5. When the switch is set to this position,
it overrides the Bass Range control and the user need only adjust the output level of the
sub to match the volume of the S.5 satellites. Blending satellite speakers with a
subwoofer can sometimes be a frustrating process of finding just the right balance of the
crossover frequency, output level, and perhaps even placement of the sub. I appreciated
having the "S.5" setting for the Mode switch, which greatly simplified this
I did most of my listening to the S.5/P.5 system with a
Blue Circle CS integrated amplifier, NAD 502 CD player, Audio Magic Xstream interconnect
and power cable, and Analysis Plus Clear Oval speaker cables. The S.5/P.5 system also
spent some time mated to an Arcam DiVA AVR200 receiver and a Panasonic A110 DVD player
with TARA Labs Prism cables.
As Gord Van Kessel points out, the P.5 subwoofer will
typically be connected to surround receivers with a mono LFE output or used with a stereo
receiver or integrated amplifier that does not have preamp outputs, so stereo line-level
inputs would be largely unnecessary. Consequently, I connected the P.5 via the
speaker-level inputs, set the Mode switch to "S.5," and adjusted the output
level with bass tones from a test CD to achieve a smooth frequency response. Set up turned
out to be a snap and the sub did not seem overly sensitive to placement. I ended up
situating the sub just inside one of the speakers, which were placed on the stands about
6 apart and toed-in slightly.
When I first connected the S.5 satellites, I was amazed at
how clean and open they sounded, and how capable they were at throwing a huge soundstage.
Even without a subwoofer, the S.5s provided enough bass on their own to make listening to
most kinds of music extremely enjoyable. However, adding the P.5 subwoofer to the
satellites transformed them into a near-full-range speaker system with surprisingly
well-integrated bass. The system retained the excellent imaging characteristics of the
satellites, while the subwoofer added solid, well-blended bass of the sort normally
associated with good floorstanding speakers.
Unlike many small, relatively inexpensive sub/sat systems,
the S.5/P.5 combo did not suffer from an obvious hole in the upper bass, nor did it
attempt to compensate for its small size with an excessively boomy low-frequency response.
Instead, the entire frequency range seemed quite smooth and natural. The kick drum on
"Somewhere Down the Crazy River" from Robbie Robertsons eponymous album
[Mobile Fidelity UDCD 618] was taut, yet full bodied, imaging solidly between the
two satellites. The deep, richly textured bass lines from his later album, Music for
the Native Americans [Capitol C2 724382829522], was well delineated, and its complex
drum rhythms were reproduced with very little overhang or smearing. In fact, the P.5 did
an incredible job of reproducing the lower frequencies for such a small and
inexpensive subwoofer. I would guess the in-room response extended solidly down to 40Hz --
and there was usable response into the 30Hz range.
I cannot emphasize enough that it was the quality and
integration of the bass from the S.5/P.5 system that impressed me the most. For
instance, the upper bass of the synthesizer chords on "Broken Arrow" from
Robertsons first album were powerful and had plenty of body, as did his gravelly
vocals. It was the system's smooth transition from bass to midrange that provided a
solid foundation to the sound, which tied together vocals, keyboards, guitars, and
percussion with a cohesiveness often lacking in small sub/sat systems.
The S.5/P.5 system was also an imaging champ, placing the
various elements of recordings accurately within the sizeable soundstage. Instruments had
plenty of space around them too. The soundstage was spread evenly between the two
satellites, and extended beyond them with good depth and even a sense of height. The
imaging was not overly precise and holographic, but rather, it had a slightly diffuse
quality that made the images seem a bit more relaxed and natural. A perfect example of
this was "People Get Ready" from Eva Cassidys Live At Blues Alley
[Blix Street G2-10046]. At the beginning of the song, I could almost picture her standing
slightly back from the edge of the stage with a clear sense of the recorded space around
her. Later on in the track, the drums and bass were tight and punchy, and placed farther
back and to the sides of the soundstage, as was the guitar, which had plenty of air around
it. Nothing got lost in the mix, and Ms. Cassidys vocals remained powerful and clear
throughout while not being masked by the instrumentation.
The Blue Circle CS integrated provided plenty of power,
making the S.5/P.5 system sound authoritative and controlled -- but even a surround
receiver, such as the Arcam DiVA AVR200, was able to make it sound nearly as good. I
suspect that, because the S.5 satellites seem quite efficient, and because the P.5 powered
subwoofer reproduces the hard-to-drive low frequencies, any moderately powered,
high-quality integrated amplifier or receiver would be a suitable match for the S.5/P.5
S.5 Loudspeakers and P.5 Subwoofer
The Athena Technologies S.5/P.5 system provided the best
(and easiest) blending of subwoofer and satellites that I have experienced with such a
small, inexpensive system. Compared to the floorstanding Athena Technologies AS-F1s ($499
per pair), the very open sound of the S.5/P.5 system could be considered a little lean,
especially when placed in a large room, but they were otherwise amazingly balanced and
The little P.5 sub simply could not keep up with the AS-F1s
in terms of output level, but it could go nearly as deep. It distinguished itself by
having a very quick response, especially in the critical midbass region, where a lot of
musical information is present. For example, with the pipe organ from Pictures at an
Exhibition [Dorian DOR-90117], the S.5/P.5 system could not shake the room like the
AS-F1s, but it still did a credible job. With recordings such as Robertson's Music for
the Native Americans, the S.5/P.5 system seemed to produce less bass, but what bass
was there seemed more precise. The S.5/P.5 system more readily defined the varying pitch
of the drums on tracks such as "Mahk Jchi" and "Vanishing Breed."
Overall, the articulation and balance of the bass
presentation, as well as the soundstaging abilities of the satellites, were better than
anything Ive heard in the $500 range, even when compared to the AS-F1.
Some people would rather choose a floorstanding speaker to
avoid the difficulty of integrating a sub/sat system. However, the benefits of the Athena
Technologies S.5/P.5 system are obvious. The small satellites provide the enormous
soundstage and excellent imaging qualities that good minimonitors are known for. The
subwoofer extends the bass to make the system sound like a floorstander. And together they
integrate wonderfully, which is a huge accomplishment. I cannot think of another
sub-$500 speaker system that I would rather have, be it bookshelf, floorstander, or
Price of equipment reviewed