Sugg. Retail: $2200 (CAN) Silver, $2400 (CAN) veneers
Size: 41″H x 8 1/2″D x 6 1/4″W
Distributor: Audiopathic, 10692 Yonge Street,
Richmond Hill, ON L4C 9K6
(905) 886-7810 FAX 886-6920
(Reprinted from the Spring 2002 Audio Ideas Guide)
Amphion is a speaker line from Finland that has now entered the Canadian market, with some stylish models that claim to be “phase linear throughout the whole hearing range”, with “perfectly aligned voice coils”. They also are designed for “controlled directivity for minimizing room reflections.”
The Athene is a D’Appolito-configured 2-way system in a tall slim cabinet using a 4″ polypropylene woofer/midrange driver pair and a titanium tweeter, which is contained within a circular lens in the front baffle which helps even and control dispersion.
The cabinet is ported at bottom rear, and the bi-wire gold-plated binding posts are near the cabinet’s top. The port can be stuffed with a foam plug that is supplied when using a subwoofer. Crossover is said to be at 1500 Hz, and the nominal impedance 4 ohms. Two substantial flat steel anchors about 9″ long are bolted onto the bottom of the tall slim cabinet to keep it stable, since it would otherwise be quite tippy. Cabinet finishes in veneers are impeccable, while our review sample came in a stylishly Scandinavian matte silver.
As I measured the Athene, I started to realize that I was encountering something quite special in speakers. From the first Pink Noise Sweep (PNS) to the last Impedance/Phase measurement, I could see evidence of exceptional engineering effort and skill. Now, we measure speakers well away from boundaries in order to approximate anechoic conditions, and this could be said to be a little unfair to some designs like this one, which depend on boundaries for bass reinforcement. Thus the gentle rolloff below 200 Hz is a little deceptive. But above that frequency the Athene is +/-1 dB right up to 10 kHz, one of the flattest speakers we’ve ever measured. In fact, the quasi-anechoic curve just below is to the same tight tolerance except for a 3-dB bump at 6 kHz on axis, which can be seen to pretty much be gone by 30o off axis in the axial curves at bottom. And these add up, in the Summed Axial Curve (SAR) overlaid on the PNS at top, to an almost perfect match, which is yet another sign of good design; the only departure is a dip in the midrange, which is caused by a good thing, the control of dispersion at 60o off axis.
Returning to the bass PNS curves, the lower one is with the foam plug in the port, and it can be seen to roll off response by a couple of dB, its effect doubled to 4 or 5 dB below 40 Hz, the main port output range. With the plug out, response is 5 dB down at 70 Hz, and 10 dB at 40, but with appropriate placement these speakers can yield very smooth and extended bass, which is what we heard in listening tests. More on this below.
The impedance measurement is one of the smoothest I’ve ever seen, too, with the high in the mid-bass at 9 ohms, and the low at crossover about 4 1/2 ohms. There is very little phase shift through crossover, indicating the likelihood of excellent imaging, and the assurance of a very easy load to drive.
I would say that it’s better to be swayed by good measurements than by entirely subjective listening tests, since a speaker cannot sound good if its measurements are really bad, and, conversely, it is seldom going to sound bad if its measurements are good. Occasionally, one aspect of a set of tests can have a significant effect on the sound quality of a given speaker, something I’ll come back to, but I believe it is better to be prejudiced by good measurements than to be swimming in subjective silliness when one reviews a speaker. Sound quality is all, but I make measurements first, so that I know what to listen for with the insight of them when music raises its beautiful head.
That said, the Athenes sounded simply wonderful. Moved back and closer to the corners of the room, the bass response was simply amazing, with powerful pedal down into the 30-Hz region, and the imaging was extraordinary, with minimally miked recordings showing a soundstage well outside the speakers. These speakers will not play really loud, especially with extended bass recordings, but they’ll do very well at most reasonable listening levels.
The accuracy shown in the phase measurements could be heard in an unusually natural attack on transients, with a very coherent follow through that was immensely musical. The flow of the music, as well as the quickness and dynamics, are well served with the Athene, microdynamics and big stuff reproduced cleanly and powerfully. I cranked our Debussy Preludes, the Bach Cello Suites, and our Bellingham Sessions jazz recordings to levels even I wouldn’t normally listen at, and these Amphions just ate them up and sounded clean and powerful.
And the Athenes are very revealing, their resolution marking them as true high end reproducers: ambient fields flowed into the room, this a result of the exceptional phase accuracy and driver alignment, the result unusual realism with all kinds of music.
It should be noted here that the tall, thin baffles and the tweeter lensing eliminate diffraction, so here is a dynamic speaker with a dome tweeter that definitely does not need our Imagers, but does soundstage impeccably. I would recommend not aiming them in directly at the listener for a very important reason: because of all the other things that the Athene pair do so well, that little bump at 6 kHz on axis kind of sticks out, as the quasi-anechoic measurement shows. Therefore, they should be fairly widely separated, taking advantage of corner bass enhancement, and faced straight ahead so that you get a listening angle at centre of closer to 30o, where they are much smoother in the upper midrange. Then you can play with the angle to get the best balance of upper mids and high frequency extension, both of these also dependent on how live the room is.
In conclusion, the Amphion Athene is a true high resolution music reproducer in a compact package with a minimal footprint and a maximum soundstage in a typical listening room. And to refer back to my comments about technical design expertise, only the level of engineering and build quality we see and hear here could bring us a speaker that seems to have been bestowed by a goddess.