HarmonicDyne Athena Headphone Review

Athena is the newest HarmonicDyne headphone and it features a sleek and shiny all-black look, and comes in at $179 and is available on Linsoul.com, who supplied me with this review unit.

The Athena delivers sound using a 50mm metal/ceramic driver within an all-black, mostly plastic shell. The headphone can easily be mistaken as a closed-back headphone, but there are several vents and ports on the side of each cup, making this more of a semi-open back, as you can hear outside noise with this on, and it does bleed a little bit of audio to the outer world as well.

The headphone comes with very comfortable suede-like cloth pads. The opening comfortable for my ears, but it is probably on the medium size, and perhaps larger ears may find it less comfortable. The ear pad opening is a symmetrical oval, and its a flat shaped design. 

The included cable is a brown-cloth braided cable with silver colored metal connectors. The connectors are all 3.5mm and it comes with a 1/4 inch adapter. The overall cable quality is pretty solid. It looks premium and feels good, and I don't have any complaints with it.

Sound Impressions

I am going to be a tad critical on this review, and that is because I feel like this item is poorly marketed, and misleading, and although it sounds fine -- You can do a lot better for the same or less price nowadays with headphones such as the Sennheiser HD560S or the Hifiman HE400SE. 

The marketing page for this headphone says its a neutral reference sound with a graph that is posted showing a near perfect frequency response graph (in my opinion). It even has a description of the sound profile, and comparing it to my own measurements is no where near the same. And I've seen a few other graphs too, and they align with mine more so than others. Of course, I don't know which measurement rig was used for the marketing promotional material, but the differences between a B&K 5128 and a standard IEC 60318-4 type coupler for over-ear headphones isn't significantly different enough to be this far off.

I won't post the marketing image, but if you look at my Antdroid Target curve in gray, it's pretty close to that. While measurement differences can occur in the treble range, the lower end should have much less variation, once fit is established. My graph is the average of several rounds of measurements with different positions, and throwing out anomalous individual measurements.

So, with that said, I'll go into talking about the headphone sound impressions as I hear them on this set.

I found the Athena to have a warm, bold, low end, with a slightly recessed mid-range, and treble that was not smooth and had occasional peaks that actually became a bit jarring and fatiguing. I had made these observations prior to any measurements, and then my measurement actually confirmed the occasional bright peaks that I was experiencing watching videos and listening to music.

The bass range comes across a tad mushy and not very well defined. It has a nice, warm quality to it, that isn't overly bloomy, but it does lack a bit of dynamics, and there's not much slam or real sense of rumble - it is less than I'd expect for something so warm-tilted. Impact is softened for being a bassier set too. For the most part, I felt like I was hearing a lot of resonance that was distinctly different than good bass decay. It was more like the headphone sounded like it was notes deflecting off the back of the cup interior than natural decay of the driver.

The same goes in the treble range. When I listened to acoustic bluegrass or jazz music, with a lot of strings, there's a false resonating sound that peaks quite high at times. This caused me a bit of listening fatigue, and I had to dial back what I was listening to. For music that doesn't centralize in this, it may not be as off-putting.

If you take away those flaws, the Athena is generally smooth, and pleasant. It's very warm, especially compared to my other headphones which are more neutral in tonality. It's closer to my Fostex/Emu TH600 series headphone, which is warmly tuned with also a large 50mm driver. That one also has some natural wood resonance going on in it, but it's not as overly distracting as the Athena is, and the bass is much more controlled and impactful.

One thing I do like about the Athena is the good soundstage distance and separation. I think it does present music very naturally in this case -- not too forward, and not too distant, despite it having a bit of a mid-range suck out. Besides the reflections issues, it does manage to do a good job of separating instruments clearly and notes don't become jumbled up.

When I compare it to the Emu Walnut, I also found the Walnut to be a more pleasant listen overall, with similar quality and resolution. The Walnut and it's sibling, Creative Aurvana Live, are a fraction of the cost of the Athena as well, with similar and improved sound in my opinion.

And when you compare it to other top performers in this price range, I have to pit it up against my Hifiman HE400SE, and it falls to pieces quickly. The HE400SE is a lot more resolving, more tightly controlled, extends deeper, impacts more (somehow), and smoother in general with a larger soundstage. The Athena only best it with a warmer and meatier sound that feels more like the feeling of warm burning embers than the cooler and more neutral Hifiman sound.

Final Thoughts

The Athena is okay. I think it has potential. I have not tried to take it apart and modify it yet. It could use some dampening, or something, to help with the fatiguing I am experiencing listening to it. With that said, I also do feel like it is already a bit dampened, and perhaps EQ would help as well.

The item looks pretty good, and feels better in hand than it may originally look. It is comfortable and the cable is nice, but I don't know if I can truly recommend this headphone at this price. Maybe a few years ago, this would be a decent buy, but for a little more, you can get a Sennheiser HD6XX, or for a little less, a Hifiman HE400SE, which both provide a better listening experience in my opinion.