Athena Micra 6 Speaker System

Athena's on the money with a petite 5.1 system.

It's called Micra—as in micron and minute—but Athena Technologies really didn't have to be so modest when naming their latest, and smallest, home theater speaker system. Micra, although dead-on accurate, somehow doesn't do justice to this rockin' little package. Visually, it's Micra. Monetarily, it's Micra. But sonically, it's definitely maxi, as in maximum volume. . . and maximum value.

The Maxi Micra? Whatever, let's just call the Micra 6 the groundwork for assembling an authentic home theater for around $1,000. With the Micra system, Athena has entered an area virtually ignored during the stunning wave of HTIB success—serious, affordable, and small home theater speaker systems that sell for about $500.

Energy Loudspeakers—which is, like Athena, a division of Canadian speaker giant Audio Products International—brought the compact, six-speaker package to prominence in the mid-1990s with the Take 5 system. In that spirit, the Micra 6 is even smaller and, at $549, less expensive. And don't think that an HTIB is that much easier to set up. With the Micra 6, fittingly, it's no big thing.

Athena, and specifically chief engineer Gord Van Kessel, has hit upon a balance of style, function, performance, and price—the fab four of budget-speaker design—with the Micra 6. Athena sends their Micra speaker designs to China for manufacturing but produces the subwoofer at their Toronto plant.

Here's what came out of API's research facilities, which include access to the National Research Council of Canada:• Four MS satellites not much bigger than a cantaloupe: 7 inches high, 4.5 wide and deep, and about 2.5 pounds each.

• The MC center-channel speaker, a low-profile variation of the MS that's been stretched to 11 inches wide but weighs a little less than 5 pounds.

• The M225 subwoofer, the Micra's muscle, which is built more like a svelte tower than a traditional boxy sub. It reaches almost 17 inches, yet it's only 9.4 inches wide and about 14 deep. At 22 pounds, it's about 1.5 times the weight of the rest of the system.

The satellites' contemporary silver cabinets, made of injected-molded resin, are impregnated with a 3.5-inch, polypropylene cone driver (yes, the cabinets bloat at the midsection) that uses a 9-ounce magnet, a substantial endowment for a driver of this size. The tweeter is a 0.5-inch textile dome with a neodymium magnet.

The MC adds a second 3.5-inch driver that flanks the center-mounted tweeter and thus requires a double-bloated midsection. Flat-screen owners, take note: This roller coaster of a center-channel speaker has lots of curves and would make a nice fashion match for an LCD or plasma TV. Also note that each speaker is adorned with a sliding, metal mounting bracket that allows for easy placement on the wall or ceiling, with a single screw for the satellites and two for the center channel. It's the simplest mounting system I've seen. (Optional MS-STB-1 stands for the satellites are also available.)

The M225's distinctive cabinet is black with a long, silver face that features a gaping port, a volume control the size of a silver dollar, and a power-on/standby LED. The M225 stands on four plastic, silver cones that look good and help control resonance. Inside the walls of medium-density fiberboard (0.75 inches thick on the sides, 0.5 inches on top) are an 8-inch, down-firing, molded poly cone driver with a 20-ounce magnet and a 75-watt Class AB amplifier that's purportedly capable of 225-watt peaks. Looking at the sub's backside, I can almost hear the sighs of relief from prospective buyers. It's a model of simplicity, with a low-level RCA input finished in gold, spring-clip speaker-level inputs, an on/off switch, and a power cord. Run a single RCA interconnect from your A/V receiver to the M225, adjust the volume to your liking, and you're in business.

With a bottom end so limited (rated at 100 hertz), the little satellites need, and receive, a hall-of-fame performance from the M225 to make the Micra 6 system sound so big. The fact that the M225, a simplified son of Athena's Audition Series AS-P300, purportedly delivers bass down to 30 Hz (excellent, at least by sub/sat standards) is only part of the story. The M225 also sonically blends with the satellites without human assistance. Athena retreated to an anechoic chamber to custom-tune the subwoofer's crossover circuit, developing a filter system that specifically complements the satellites. This way, there's no messing with a set-it-yourself crossover-frequency control.

With the Micra 6 system only visiting, I didn't use the satellites' mounting brackets. Instead, I placed each satellite on a stand (not the MS-STB-1). The MC sat atop a Samsung TXN3071WHF widescreen HD monitor. All of the speakers are magnetically shielded, so placing them near the TV wasn't a problem. Athena includes clearly marked cables for each speaker but no RCA cable for the subwoofer. I chose to stick with my own cables and suffered the consequences. I wrestled with the tiny spring-clip speaker terminals before the front speakers accepted the funky banana plugs on my Analysis Plus Oval 9 cables. The MC kept spitting them out, so I finally used bare wire. The satellites accepted conventional dual-banana plugs fed with Straight Wire Rhythm cable. Still, a lesson learned: Most Micra 6 owners will be perfectly satisfied with the supplied cables.

I matched the Micra 6 system with other exemplary budget components: Pioneer's $249 DV-563A universal player (this progressive-scan DVD player also accepts DVD-Audio and SACD discs) and the 30-inch Samsung HD monitor, which has an MSRP of $1,099. I also used a slightly aged but still active Marantz SR7000 A/V receiver.

Athena Technologies
Micra 6 Speaker System
(416) 321-1800