Athena Technologies AS-F2 loudspeaker Page 2
The AS-F2s loved percussion recordings. Their flawless reproduction of low-level dynamic articulation and transients with percussion instruments of all timbres and frequency ranges made them seem to disappear with such good recordings as John Cage's Third Construction (from Pulse, New World/Classic NW 319, LP).
Before firing up the Athenas, I'd suspected that their large cabinets would make it difficult for their soundstaging to compete with that of minimonitors. But after comparing the AS-F2s with three pairs of such speakers, I concluded that my suspicion had been unfounded. With well-recorded classical or jazz such as Stravinsky's The Firebird with Dorati/LSO (Mercury Living Presence/Classic LP, SR 90226), and the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Message to Our Friends (Get Back/BYG GET 328(footnote 1))—recordings that allow components to show off their soundstaging abilities—the Athenas reproduced a wide, deep stage with well-defined images and holographic bodies.
In addition to the AS-F2's low-bass extension and definition, its high-level dynamic articulation also bettered that of any speaker I've heard for under $2000/pair. When I was unable to use my normal reference recordings to detect the Athena's upper dynamic limit, I brought in my SWAT team. First, I cued up Human League's "Don't You Want Me" (Virgin 41612) to disco levels. The synth blasts and drum machines twitched and writhed with nary a sense of strain, and this former Linnie couldn't keep his toes from tappin'. I then reached for the A-bomb: King Crimson's Thrak (Virgin 40313), which I cued to rock-concert levels: well in excess of 100dB. The initial dynamic blast scared the hell out of my dog, who began barking continuously (which I couldn't hear). But with no trace of strain or distortion (or damage, thank goodness), the speakers didn't flinch.
Athena faces a potential marketing challenge in the AS-F2. In order to fully appreciate what these remarkable gems can accomplish in low-bass reproduction and high-level dynamics, the speaker needs to be mated with electronics of higher quality and price than one would normally associate with a $599/pair speaker. At a minimum, I recommend something along the lines of a Creek 5350SE integrated amp ($1500). In fact, I found the AS-F2's performance improved further when mated with my combo of Audible Illusions Modulus L1 line stage? and Audio Research VT100 Mk.II power amp. But even with this "hidden cost," the AS-F2 is a bargain; with the right electronics, the Athenas might compete with speakers costing as much as $2000/pair.
The Polk RT25i's midrange was as involving and natural as the Athena's, with excellent low-level dynamic articulation, but was a shade more transparent and intimate, particularly on vocals and piano, and the Polk's high-frequency reproduction was a bit more articulate and extended. The RT25i couldn't approach the Athena in bass extension or high-level dynamic reproduction, but sounded a bit more natural in the mid- and upper-bass regions.
The JMlab Chorus 706 had an equally intoxicating midrange reproduction, if a hair sweeter, but was a bit more detailed and airy in that region than the Athena AS-F2. High frequencies were a bit more soft and rolled-off through the JMlab, and its midbass reproduction was even warmer than the Athena's, although, once again, its high-level dynamics and bass extension could not compare with the Athena's. Ultimately, the JMlab struck me as more intimate and organic than the Athena, despite its colorations.
The Alón Petite was the most articulate, detailed, and transparent of the pack, particularly in its neutral midrange and extended and detailed high frequencies, but was far inferior to the Athena in bass extension and high-level dynamic authority.
Hats off to our Canadian brethren
I was thrilled to have spent time with Athena Technologies' remarkable AS-F2, which did so little wrong and, in certain areas, far exceeded what I thought possible for its price—or even twice its price. I congratulate the design team of Athena/API for being able to pull this off. My one caveat is that, to fully appreciate the AS-F2, one must not hesitate to spend the necessary dough on associated equipment of sufficient quality to fully realize the speaker's capabilities. In my view, that would be money well spent.
Footnote 1: Available from The Tweak Shop, (707) 575-8626.