Athena AS-B1 speakers

Athena AS-B1 bookshelf loudspeakers

  • Athena Technologies, a Division of Audio Products International (API)
  • $149 USD new, $70-85 USD used
  • 90 db, 2.83 V (1 watt into ohms), @1 metre
  • 13 3/4″ H x 7″ W x 9 1/2″ D
  • 60Hz 20kHz +/ 3 dB
  • 125 watts per channel

A couple of years ago my nephew, the drummer was looking for a small “monitor style” loudspeaker, capable of near full range sound in a compact box that could be used for recording monitor purposes. He was also looking at trying a different pair of loudspeakers than his tried and true DCM TF250 loudspeakers. My sister and brother-in-law have always had reasonably good consumer grade systems, so growing up he has listened to some better than typical stuff. He’s always hung out at my house too, so he’s grown as a listener as I have, and enjoyed many of the same epiphimatic steps toward an “audiophile education” that I have.

So we were in a local pawn shop, and I spotted these speakers. I knew they had been well reviewed on the web, so I suggested he buy them. They were in good cosmetic and functional condition and would provide an easy load for any amplifier to drive. He wasn’t sure what he would be using for monitoring, but I had at the time recently sold him my old Audiolab 8000A integrated amp (a humdinger if you have never heard one), and had given him a Dual CS5000 turntable. He had previously purchased a Marantz cd5000 cd player (by now I guess ya can figure where I got some of the equipment I have reviewed on these pages). A great little system, regardless of which loudspeakers were in place at the time.

Athena AS-B1 speakers

They will fit nicely on pretty much any stand, and my 20″ ones seemed a little low .24″ stands would be much better. The bookshelf moniker is a little misrepresentative, as the rear facing port will not allow actual “bookshelf” placement. I listened to them approximately 3′ from the rear wall, approximately 8′ apart. They were put in my “big rig”, the McCormack pair (DNA 0.5 DeLuxe/Micro-line), Oracle/SME/Grado/PSE lll phono stageturntable combination, and Pioneer CD54 “Elite” cd player, not a typical match based on price. They replaced the much older Musical Fidelity MC-2 loudspeakers that are currently resident in my livingroom.

Athena AS-B1 speakers review

The good, the bad and the ugly:

The ugly: These speakers are capable of “morphing” depending on the equipment that they are paired with. Put a cheap, bad sounding amplifier and source in front of them, and they can make your ears (almost) bleed. Ditto for bad wires, please, these speakers deserve decent wire. (Please no “snake oil comments”). All I’ll say regarding any cabling is that until you experience what better cable can do, you won’t believe it. Knowing what I know now, I would make cables rather than buy them, and a good cable need not be expensive (so no $$$ cable /ft arguments, and all the ABX ,double-blind, blah, blah, blah comments).

The bad: These little speakers are not “transparent, they have a definite sound that could be deemed “additive” in nature, rather than “subtractive”. The little guys are really quite handsome. Not particularly great looking, but a lot better than many speakers that are much more expensive (in relative terms). You be the judge. I have to listen with grills on because I have 5 cats…

The good(s): Beyond all expectations, these little guys are a joy to listen to. For no apparent reason.

Obviously API has used their considerable manufacturing abilities and research (and Canada’s famous NRC Anechoic Chamber, previously Floyd E. Toolers stomping grounds in Ottawa) to good effect. If any of you are unaware, Canada (“my home and native land…”) has a somewhat disproportionate number of quality loudspeaker manufacturers mainly due to the excellent R&D that has gone on at the NRC, and much of the groundbreaking work done by Dr. Toole.

And now for some listening notes….how do they sound?

There is no obvious “veiling”, no obvious “boxiness”, no “laser etched” high frequencies… There seems to be no gross distortions – I’d guess there aren’t many and must be pretty much low in magnitude. The box doesn’t rattle. I found myself listening at much higher levels than I often do. To me a sign that distortions must be pretty low through out the listening range and within their limitations.

The tweeter is not as detailed as my current reference, but it is sweeter. Overall easier to listen too, but with no indentifiable “lack of air.” Spatial cues seem to be there, but not pinpoint imaging . That’s ok with me. A choir sounds like a choir. A homogeneous grouping of individuals, but a group. Not a bunch of individuals who happen to be singing together. (Check out “Never give the heart outright” on the Heart of Stone –Chieftian’s and many others) recording. Size seems a little “short”.

Bass seems a little “short” too, the lowest octave is almost missing in action. But the impression of bass is there, and when listening there is no apparent lack of bass. Only after a direct comparison to loudspeakers with real bass, do you feel like you may have been missing something. The bass that is there is tuneful and fun. Female vocals are almost like carmel, a little thick but so sweet. Very enjoyable. There is no pinching of the female voice, nor no wincing as the singer crescendos (for example Loreena McKinnet in “Marco Polo” from The Book of Secrets). Male voice is pretty convincing too, but there is a slight “chestiness”–John Lee Hooker sounds like a 3-foot wide man., and the power available is evident. But almost too much so. Bob Marley on the other hand (“Stir it Up”) was a real joy to listen to. A mix of highs, lows and a visceral beat . . .

And now a “surprise, surprise, surprise.”

I’d have never believed it but small-scale orchestral music is a wonderful experience as played on these loudspeakers. Of particular note is Handel’s “Water Music,” (Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner-director, Argo ZRG 697, copright.1972). I know I couldn’t eat when I was listening to this. I’d have had to stop eating if the musicians were as good as St. Martin’s, if I had been on the barge with King George l In 1717. Wow.

Are these little Athena’s giant killers? Of a sort I think, much like the Morduant Short MS10i s might be. They are so much better than either they’re new or used price suggests. I never felt like I had to stop listening to these and I spent the better part of a month with these little guys every day. So here’s a recommendation that I feel I can easily give:

“If you have a decent receiver or integrated amplifier and a reasonable source, these guys are a no brainer. If you have a good integrated amp or a good amp/pre combination, these guys are a no brainer. If you spent all your beans on the best source possible, the best amplification possible and are a little cash poor or REALLY cash poor, find a pair of these guys used, use some decent cheap cables and hook it all up, set back and enjoy as you enjoy your music collection as you may have never before.”

If you can’t, go looking for the new AS B1.2 s that should be in a dealer’s inventory. They should be flying off the shelves, at only $180 USD new. I haven’t heard em, but if they are an improvement they should be real find as well.

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from affordableaudio