Athena Micra 6 Speaker System Page 2

Even in a smallish room, about 14 by 11 feet, the M225 had to be pushed to nine on its 10-step volume control to match the speakers' volume during calibration with the Avia Guide to Home Theater test DVD. As it turned out, this was nothing to worry about.

To find out right away what the M225 could dish out, I reached for an old favorite, the Glory DVD, and called up the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg). In terms of graphic violence and shock value to start a movie, Glory is the Civil War's Saving Private Ryan. Although the scene only sets up Captain Robert G. Shaw (Matthew Broderick) as the future leader of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, the chaos of cannon blasts, musket fire, and shocking violence (like someone taking a cannonball to the head) leaves a lasting impression. Sonically, it's a good measure of a surround system's ability to bring home big-screen realism. The M225, whose 30-Hz rating is legitimate, didn't flinch under the weight of heavy artillery. Hardly. The floorboards rattled beneath my chair.

On the more-contemporary but medieval-like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the Micra 6 system reproduced the crisp clang of swords and the snarl of the big-hair wolves in the "Wolves of Isengard" chapter. The sound seemed much more lifelike than the computer-animated wolves, which in the clarity of a progressive-scan DVD player and an HD-ready set, looked more like a video game than wild game.

As for subtlety, the Micra 6 entered No Man's Land—Danis Tanovic's story about Serbs and Croats stuck in a trench between the warring sides in Bosnia that won a best-screenplay award at Cannes in 2001—and discovered nature. In the "Help Is Coming" chapter, as the stranded men await help from U.N. troops, I could hear an injured soldier's breathing in the front speakers and the sound of flies and crickets in the surrounds. It becomes a Tanovic theme: war in the midst of nature's beauty. Thanks for the early tip, Micra 6.

Athena did more than just match the subwoofer to the speakers. It also did a nice job of tonally matching the MC with the MS satellites. If I were handing out MVP awards in this system, they'd go to the M225 and the MC; the MC reproduced dialogue with such clarity and breadth. And that goes for such relatively low-fi material as Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete First Season and its Dolby 2.0 soundtrack.

Smaller sub/sat systems invariably show their deficiencies when shifting from soundtracks to music. Because the satellites are so small, the subwoofer must cover a much larger frequency range. When a sub is a system's main source of energy at 100 Hz, it's asking for trouble. Let's just say that the sub usually gets a little clumsy, just a bit too boisterous. Sure enough, at times, the M225 experienced turbulence. Ewan Vernal's double-bass on "Lord MacDonald's," a traditional Gaelic tune on Karan Casey's Distant Shore (Shanachie), is double trouble for the M225.

Although the sub didn't make a seamless transition into music, all I had to do was drop the volume a couple of steps on the M225's control to restore system balance. In another room, in another system, that step might be unnecessary. With the M225's easy-access volume control, I didn't mind making the adjustment.

Only occasionally did the MS satellites sound somewhat coarse, as on Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater's "Hillbilly Blues" from Rock 'N' Roll City (Rounder), a session with guests Los Straitjackets. (Picture a bluesman in a headdress with a masked backup band, and you'll begin to understand how things can get rowdy.) Not once, though, did I hesitate to give the Micra 6 system some juice. You don't have to tiptoe around this system.

ECM's first SACD, Stephen Hartke's Tituli/Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain with the Hilliard Ensemble, only hints at what's to come from this label, whose close-miked, perfectionist chamber recordings are made to order for a high-resolution format. Even through the tiny Micra 6 system, there's a surprising sense of space and ease in the Hilliard's evocative voice. Nuances like Lynn Vartan and Javier Diaz's cup bells, wood block, and shakers on "Columna Rostrata," the fourth segment of Tituli, are preserved. What this might sound like on a set of full-size, full-range speakers, one can only imagine, but it sounds mighty good here.

Is that Take 6 with a guest spot on Big Phat Band's XXL DVD-Audio (Silverline), singing "It's All Right With Me"? Absolutely, unmistakably Take 6—make that wall-to-wall Take 6 in high-resolution. It's easy to get spoiled by the high-resolution formats. The True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead CD, the classical pianist's interpretations of the rock band's catalog, sounds somewhat emasculated by comparison. You don't hear the decay of notes as you might with a high-resolution recording.

Well, that's not the Micra 6's fault. In a small to midsize room, this is a dynamic little powerhouse of a surround system. For that $1,000 home theater, how about the Micra 6 and Pioneer DV-563A universal player with Onkyo's $299 TX-SR501 receiver that features Dolby EX, DTS ES, and multichannel analog inputs for SACD and DVD-Audio?

But don't stop there. With the Micra 6, you can put together a complete home theater with high-resolution audio and an HD monitor for around $2,000. Just pair the suggested $1,000 setup with the Samsung HD-ready set (or maybe the step-up TXN3098WHF with a DVI connection). That would be an ultra-Micra system—a lot for a little.


• Instant sub/sat integration
• Superb sound for the system's size and price
• Simple, built-in mounting brackets

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