For floorstanders in the $500 and below catagory, they are a great speaker. Very efficient, plenty of strong bass, not bad looking, and quite listenable- never harsh even with solid state amps. I think you will be quite happy with them on that budget.
I would say no they are not for real.
In that price range ... I'd say they are for real. I also like the PSB Image 4T and 5T in your price range. Never heard them A-B with the Athenas though. Give them a listen if you can. (By the way, thats very good equipment you would be mating the Athenas with. I have owned the Azur 640C and feel it is a real bargain in digital playback, well balanced and musical. Id bet you will go through many speaker upgrades before you will feel the need to upgrade the rest of the system.)
A good, but cheap, friend of mine has the Athenas and likes them a lot. (Cheap is a bit harsh ... call him
reluctant to fully enjoy the wealth he has accumulated.) We did A-B comparisons between the Athenas and my Paradigm Reference Studio 100 V2 speakers (when I had them) and my current Von Schweikert VR-4jr speakers. Were the Paradigm and Von Schweikert better? Hell yes!! But, given the price difference I found the Athenas pretty amazing. We tried the Athenas against the Paradigms using a Cambridge Audio 640C into a B&K Ref 50 HT processor as a pre-amp into a Krell KSA-50S, Adcom GFA-535 II, B&K AV-6000, and Consonance M400 EL34 mono blocks. And later against the VR-4jrs using a Consonance CD-120 into: 1) B&K Ref 50 into a Krell KSA-50S, and 2) Sound Quest SQ-88 KT-88 integrated tube amp. The Athenas worked well with all of these combinations, with my friend favoring the Krell and I favoring the tubes. He uses an Integra DTR-7.3 HT receiver at home fed by an inexpensive DVD player used as a transport. His setup sounds quite good and suits him (see below).
On the Athena, I agree with Bigshutterbug on most points, Very efficient, plenty of strong bass, not bad looking, and quite listenable. But I will disagree a bit on the never harsh part. They do not play as loudly as the Paradigms or VR-4jr before getting compressed and hard
but they can play louder than most folks will ever need. I did find them a bit grainy and harsh at times, especially at high volume, but they were not as smooth as the other speakers, especially the VR4-jrs, even at low volume. My friend likes that though
or is at least used to that as he has spent years listening to loud rock bands in bars. When his system plays he wants it to sound like the live music he is used to hearing. He also has what he calls old fart ears, hearing rolled off in high frequency sensitivity. He only really likes my Vr-4jrs when the ambience tweeter is set at 10. When pressed, my friend admitted that the VR-4jrs are better than his Athenas and that hed like to have a set in his home
but only if they cost $1100 as he felt they were only a couple times better than the Athenas, not 8 to 10 times better. :-)
[Side note on the VR-4jrs - The Von Schweikerts amaze me in their ability to not get hard or harsh sounding when the volume goes up. They just play louder and, to my ear, keep pretty much the same smooth sonic signature as at lower volume levels. My young daughters were always holding their ears and telling daddy to turn it down when I cranked up the Paradigms. With the Von Schweikerts the girls dont complain until about the same volume level that daddy does. :-) ]
Great speakers for the money.
After talking with my friend about his Athenas, he reminded me that I should have said something about the 2nd set of speakers he purchased. He wanted me to pass on this information to you. Our past listening tests confirmed his findings. Please take his advice when purchasing. Here is what he wrote:
I have two pairs of Athena ASF-2, both ran about $400. One set is great, a terrific buy that compares with anything I've auditioned up to $1000 or more. They sounded way better at home than in any of the stores. I have them set up on short pile carpet w/o the standoff cones. They are more stable, with a cleaner sound, than with the cones. I expect that weighting or a firmer base would sound even better.
The big plan was to get a matched 2nd set for a dynamite surround system. Didn't quite work out that way. The 2nd set was a disappointment from the first listen, and didn't come up to speed even after weeks of break-in. The 2nd set is fair at best, about on par with other sets in the $300 - $400 range. This huge difference could explain the different user comments.
The cabinets and drivers on the two sets look identical, but the insulation is radically different. My "1" set has thick, mottled dark felt insulation that is stapled over most of the inside, except the corners. The "2" pair has loose, yellow fiberglass insulation hanging on the walls, even covering part of one port. I may try reworking them to match the "1" insulation, or maybe just sell 'em. Right now, my "2"s are big end tables. So, take a look in those ports when you buy, and make sure you get the good ones.
Also, he purchased the "1"s at the local Best Buy and the "2"s were from an on-line seller who frequently discounts them.
They are NOT the miracle speaker they are cracked up to be.
They were tested in Sound and Vision and found to have a horrible high freq response.
They are just plain hard and fatiguing sounding.
I would avoid them like the plague!
Hint... they are discontinued ??
I went to the Sound and Vision web site and found the article I believe you are referring to here: http://www.soundandvisionmag.com/article.asp?section_id=1&article_id=511&page_number=1
Nowhere does the article imply that the Athenas are "just plain hard and fatiguing sounding". I admit that the Sound and Vision measurements show a rough treble range. Have you listened to the speakers or are you basing your statement on the Sound and Vision measurements?
As stated above, my friend has two sets of the F2. One set does sound hard and fatiguing. When he had them in his system, before they became his "big end tables", he did not enjoy the music and hardly listened. When he put the good set back in the system he enjoyed the music and found that he was listening to music all the time. I have listened to both sets and concur with that one set is very fatiguing and one is not. Anyone purchasing should examine the speakers and make sure they are "the good ones".
Can I listen to even the good set as long as I can my Von Schweikert VR-4jr? No I can not, because the Athenas are fatiguing to me compared to the VR-4jr. But, without naming names, there are plenty of speakers in the same price range as the VR-4jr that I would say the same thing about.
If my budget were limited to less than $500, either by circumstances or choice, I could easily live with the Athenas. And my friend could easily afford a system well in excess of the cost of mine and he is happy with the Athenas.
Thanks for all the input on the above. I finally bought a pair. I'm currently residing in Vancouver now and came across an "open box" pair at Future Shop (sister company to Best Buy) for $299 CAD!! How can I pass up on this excellent deal. My speaker cables alone cost me about that much. Just as a sidenote, my current system has replaced the following: Mirage OM7 speakers, Sonographe SA-250 amp, Sonic Frontiers SFL-1 Signature preamp, EAD T1000/DSP7000mk3 digital front end. On that end, I wasn't really looking for the Cambridge/Athena combo to be anywhere near the performance of my previous set up but after further burn in of the Athenas, I am quite impressed with the sound. For $300 CAD, I don't think I can do any better!!! Full sound with natural mids, above average imaging and soundstagin, and excellent low end. The highs could sound a bit tizzy at times, but hey, for the money I spent, I can't complain. Bravo to Athena!!!!
Sounds like a great price! I am glad, but not surprised, that you are happy with them.
I am curious ... What type of insulation do you see when you look in the port?
They are for real....the problem that people have with the speakers is that to get the most from the speakers you must use "high-end" fronts.....believe it or not. The Athena's present an enigma of sorts, A low cost speaker....$399.00 with free shipping from audio advisor....should not sound so good with high end amps. Well....I purchased them for $399.00 to run off a teac receiver....garage music. They sounded terrible. But I had read the tech info so I hooked them up to a pair of Legacy ultra mono blocks with their stream pre-amp and my venerable Rega planet 2000....and the sound was.....miraculous?.....yes. I run Legacy Focus 20/20's on that system. were they as good as the legacy's? NO. But...they were better than they should have been! The problem is.....what person would run an $10,000 front end into $399.00 speakers..???? NO ONE! But, with that said, hook them into a Prima Luna prologue one and the magic returns!!!!!! A $1000.00 integrated amp!!! They are an excellent bargain in Hi-Fi....probably the best. Thanks, Mike
Now a stereophile recommended speaker....
they sound fine with nad, creek, and lots of inexpensive gear. unlike lots of far more expensive speakers, they are well designed.