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JBL NSP1II vs. Athena AS-B2 Speaker Systems Compared

What does a $1000 home theater speaker system sound like these days? There is a lot of competition in this price range, but here I will examine the popular brand named, JBL speaker system against the lesser-known Athena Technologies speaker system. Both are 5.1 packages which top off just over $1000 MSRP.

JBL Overview
JBL is the industry leader when it comes to professional THX movie theater speaker systems and they have been making speakers for over 50 years. However, I wonder how much of this technology makes it into one of their lowest cost speaker packages? The NSP1II is composed of four N24II satellites, a voice-matched N-CENTERII center speaker, and the PowerBass PB-12 Subwoofer.

JBL Speaker Description
The N24II satellite speakers are not a micro speaker like the Bose cubes, nor are they the size of a small bookshelf speaker. They measure just under 10-inches tall and 6-inches wide which hold a 4″ cone woofer and a 3/4″ titanium-laminate dome tweeter. The N-CENTERII center speaker was surprisingly a lot larger than the satellites at 20-inches wide, holding two 5″ woofers and the same tweeter as in the satellites. Each speaker cabinet is made of durable plastic, which proved impenetrable during an accidental drop. The satellites are remarkably lightweight which leads me to conclude there is not much of a speaker magnet inside.

JBL Subwoofer Shakes It Up
PB-12The PB-12 is no lightweight contender. It’s a 12-inch downward firing, ported 250-watt subwoofer. It’s not too large of a black box, compared to other subwoofers, and could easily be inconspicuously hidden. Only the red or green indicator lights reveal its character. If the sub is hooked up correctly and working, it displays green lights. If the sub is powered on, but in stand-by mode or not receiving a signal, then red lights are displayed.

JBL Setup a Breeze
Calibrating the system proved to be very easy. Since the four satellites are the same, I only had to adjust the level of the center channel down 4db on the receiver. The subwoofer was connected via single RCA cable. You must make sure you set your receiver to the SMALL speaker setting, since the satellites cannot handle a full-range signal. If you forget, you are certain to hear lots of distortion.

JBL System Final Thoughts
My first impression was this system definitely packs a punch. The PB-12 subwoofer is a guaranteed room shaker. The satellites and center speaker are well matched as advertised and they do deliver a fun movie experience. The subwoofer added more realism to explosion and fight scenes, while drawing my attention away from the sometimes, edgy sounding satellite speakers. As an audiophile they are not the best speakers I have heard, but they are sure to please just about any first time buyer.

Speakers

Athena Overview
Athena Technologies is a relatively new Canadian based speaker company. This review takes a look at their line of Audition Series AS-B2 bookshelf speakers, AS-C1 center channel speaker and AS-P400 subwoofer combination. Each speaker is traditionally box-like with a silver baffle giving it a modern, contemporary look. The laminate cabinetry is on par with other speakers in its price range, but its not as well finished as the Aperion bookshelf speakers. Although, I definitely liked the black/silver look of these speakers.

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Athena Speaker Description
AS-P400The AS-B2 is a 2-way bookshelf speaker with a 6-1/2″ Injection Molded Polypropylene woofer and a 1″ Teteron dome tweeter. The AS-C1 center speaker holds two 5-1/4″ woofers and the same tweeter. The AS-P400 is 10-inch front-firing, ported 100-watt subwoofer. This subwoofer is unique in that it has volume and crossover controls on the front of the subwoofer for easy adjustments. It also has a red/green indicator light.

Athena Setup Just as Simple
Calibrating this system was also a snap. I had to adjust the center speaker down 2db to match each speaker level at 85db with the AVIA setup DVD. I also used the SMALL speaker setting with the subwoofer crossover set at 90Hz on the receiver.

Athena Not For Bass Lovers
When I switched from the JBL system to the Athena I first said to myself, “What happened to the bass?”. It was very apparent the Athena AS-P400 is not as powerful or loud as the JBL PB-12. The Athena sub is tinier in size, has a smaller driver, and has a less powerful amplifier so I shouldn’t have been a surprised. I carefully double checked my settings and noticed the sub volume was almost all the way up. It is just not capable of below 40Hz output. Although, for what the Athena sub loses in low-end depth and room shaking boom, it makes up for in tight musical qualities. The AS-P400 is a quick, accurate, non-boomy sub that won’t bother the neighbors.

Athena Satellites Shine
The sound staging and imaging of the AS-B2 and AS-C1 are excellent for a budget speaker system. The AS-B2’s cast an amazingly wide soundstage and can reproduce the subtleties in movies and music. I particularly liked the AS-B2’s with stereo music and DVD-Audio multi-channel surround sound. The speakers are very detailed, demonstrated no distortion, and were a pleasure to listen to.

Cosmetic Comparisons
Both speaker systems come with a 5-year warranty and optional matching speaker stands or brackets can be purchased. The JBL NS1II speakers come in either black or white, while the PB-12 sub only comes in black. The Athena system only comes in black with the silver accent baffle.

The Competition
In order to give some perspective to this review, I can recall comparisons of two other sub/sat speaker systems I have reviewed — the Aperion 5.1 with S-12 ($1499 MSRP) and Polk Audio RM6700 with PSW303 ($1099 MSRP). My ranking for each category is listed below.

Complete System Package Ranking
1. Aperion Intimus 5.1 with S-12
2. Athena AS-B2/AS-C1/AS-P400
3. JBL NS1II with PB-12
4. Polk Audio RM6700 with PSW303

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Subwoofer Ranking
1. Aperion S-12
2. JBL PB-12
3. Athena AS-P400
4. Polk PSW303

Satellite/Center Speaker Ranking
1. Athena AS-B2/AS-C1
2. Aperion 522D-LR/522D-C
3. Polk Satellites/Center
4. JBL N24II/N-CENTERII

Mixed Results
You can see from my mixed ratings, that each system has its positives and negatives. For me, the best bang for the buck is a mix-and-match purchase. I would get the Athena AS-B2/AS-C1 speakers with the SVS 25-31PCi (MSRP $549) subwoofer recently reviewed. Better yet, why not add one or two extra speakers to complete a 6.1 or 7.1 speaker system.

I Pick Athena, You Decide
Your purchase decision also depends on your taste. JBL and Athena offer two very different sounding systems. The JBL system adds more excitement to action movies, but can’t keep up with the Athena system in the music category or tonal accuracy. In my opinion, the Athena system is the better sounding system, even without the deep bass.

JBL Pros JBL Cons
Great for movies Not as good for music
Small in size Lacks detail
Room shaking bass
Athena Pros Athena Cons
Wide soundstage Lacks low-end bass
Accurate imaging
Very detailed

Test system
Yamaha RX-V2300 Receiver
Eighth Nerve Acoustic Room Treatments
BetterCables.com Speaker and Interconnect Cables
Yamaha DVD-C920 DVD Player
Panasonic TU-HDSU20 DirecTV/HDTV Receiver

Remember I am just one man with one opinion. If you own any of these products, or have a comment or question feel free to add your thoughts below.

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Brian Mitchell
Founder & CEO
eCoustics.com

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