Bookshelf Speakers

Axiom M3 v3 Bookshelf Speakers

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

Since the M3's are a very similar size and weight as my veteran KEF Q1's currently deployed as my rear channels I decided to use them for a direct comparison for some stereo listening. Both boxes are ported, have a 6.5" driver, a metal dome tweeter (1" vs 0.75") and a cabinet shape that narrows towards the rear with the goal of reducing internal standing waves.

Axiom M3v3 Bookshelf Speakers

Since this review is another Canadian company for me, using Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture seems somehow appropriate in a metaphorical sort of way. The Telarc recording is normally used as a test piece for subs but it works for total dynamic range as well. Even if the performance itself isn't the best example available there are some choir pieces and the usual symphonic mix of strings and brass within the composition that will even work for testing a bookshelf. I found the differentiation and separation of the choir from the orchestra was clearer and more present and with better definition on the M3s. Cymbals ended up sounding cleaner but slightly tinny and the French horns had much more balance and presence on the M3.

On the portions of the composition with prominent representation from the string section the KEFs were more muddied on the higher stings. The cannon shot and timpani were less prominent on the M3s which I ascribed partially due to the range of the M3 speaker but also due to the slightly boomy bass from the KEFs which leaves the M3 sounding more neutral. Going through other music styles trying to narrow down the bass differences I found that it was only in the upper bass that the KEF dominated with their more forward bass presentation and higher efficiency providing the impression of heavier bass. In really bass heavy electronic music the M3 surprised me as the better balanced speaker across the bass range.

Axiom M3v3 Bookshelf Speakers

I was looking for a way to better differentiate the midrange performance between the speakers and ended up with Nina Simone. She really highlighted the differing performance in the midrange between the speakers. The Axiom had already shown itself to be much flatter and this is even more obvious in the midrange where the KEFs feel hollow and so laid back the sound stage starts collapsing - distracting the listener from the performance. At the same time the M3s evidenced a more spacious and airy sound in the treble range. I tend to associate some harshness with a more airy presentation but in this case the opposite was true, the M3's were smooth smooth smooth.

Overall the effect was one of a different presentation entirely. With the KEFs, I was listening to recording of a live performance. With the M3s, I was listening to a live performance – as a member of the audience.

Axiom M3v3 Bookshelf Speakers

Not necessarily their best album, nonetheless Sgt. Pepper's simplicity and production techniques can be revealing on its own, more so when listening to the new(ish) re-release in mono. (Take that 9.1 surround!) That and this album was probably my first "proper" transfer of an LP to cassette so I listened to it over and over and over.

On "Being for the benefit of Mr Kite!" the bass guitar combined with the organ tones were less prominent but also less distinct on the M3s. One thing that surprised me a little was the dynamic range of the speaker. I know they are rated to 175W but from such a "small" speaker you don't really expect them to be able to rock at potentially hearing damaging levels without breaking up. But they can. Huh! I cranked up Good Morning and there it was: cheap distortion, limited arrangement, apathetic band members, barnyard animals - the whole works!

Axiom M3v3 Bookshelf Speakers

While some folks will undoubtedly use the M3's as mains for a dedicated home theatre for me they really came into their element more in our secondary system upstairs for casual music listening. That being said, using the M3 speakers to stand in for my towers was an interesting experiment. Not because they didn't suffice, (I upped the crossover to 80 Hz in my receiver to give them some breathing room) as they were surprisingly good in this role but because I was never really happy with the timbre matching during sound pans from center to left or right even after forcing some parameters on the receiver room EQ.

Without room EQ (but with level matching), there was an obvious and distinct transition to and from the center channel. For example: in the big dog pack / chase scene toward the end of the movie "Up" it sounded like a there was a whole second pack of dogs coming to join the party. With room Eq. on and forcing the rest of the speakers to match themselves to the M3s everything started sounding too compressed while still never fooling the ear into believing there was a seamless transition. Just goes to show if you really want seamless sound in your surround – get matched speakers and save the heroic Eq. efforts for your room.