Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Jared Rachwalski
- Published on 12 October 2012
Axiom Audio Epic Grand Master 350 Home Theater Speaker System In Use
The speaker system was installed in my main listening room, with blu ray playback handled by a PS3 slim and music playback handled by Foobar on my HTPC. Sources handled by a Denon 4308 AVR with auto-eq disabled. I evaluated the speakers with both the internal amps and a separate Parasound New Classic 5250v.2 five channel amp. My reference speakers, MartinLogan Vista’s are located three feet from the wall, however the M22’s benefited from boundary loading and the midbass response improved when located within 18” from the wall. After level matching and a brief warm up time I commenced the listening.
I began my sessions with Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy testing the bass response. From the start the LFE channel came out in full force, and the EP350 handled most of the bass with ease, however the really deep stuff (25Hz and below) was missing. Completely gone, also missing was any port noise and that made the lack of ultra low extension easier to accept. Without knowing what low frequency content (<15Hz) was present you would not have noticed. What really stood out instead was just how immersive the QS8 surrounds sounded. This made me curious how they would fare with a movie which uses ample directional surround cues.
A favorite movie in our home is the eerie Pans Labyrinth. Director Guillermo del Toro took painstaking care with every scene not only visually but also with the sound. An integral character is an insect guide who enters from behind and buzzes around every scene he is in. There was no lack of directional cues when called for and the blend from front to back was seamless and balanced in tone. At times the upper bass (60-80Hz) lingered too much, especially in the toad scene, Chapter 7. The lower bass was smooth and again free of port noise or other nasty issues. As this problem has never manifested itself with my reference system I took a closer look at the configuration. In my reference system my main speakers (MartinLogan Vista) are crossed over at 60Hz, with the subwoofers (MartinLogan Descent I and Velodyne IC600) handled the bass up to 60Hz and the entire LFE channel. Both of these subs employ equalization and have considerably more power and cone area than the EP350 (and also costs more than $3000 more). I lowered the crossover point for the Axiom system to 60Hz. Replaying chapter 7 the excessive upper bass was gone, however the blend between the EP350 and the M22’s was not a seamless, noticeable with other parts of the movie, as the M22’s do not extend deep enough to adequately cover the 60-80Hz range.
Movies are all well and good, and its easy to hide sonic flaws behind the visual impact of a large screen TV. Next up was the 5.1 Blu Ray version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. On Welcome To The Machine the opening bass noise was handled without issue, there was very convincing panning between front and surrounds. The keyboards had a good sense of space with the rest of the instruments and no noticeable power compression at louder levels. On the title track the opening placement of effects in the rear followed by the guitar was decently blended despite being two radically different designs. The bass guitar and percussions were well balanced, with the vocals being very clean. I was concerned with possible issues due to the VP150’s end mounted tweeters. Namely comb-filtering which could cause gross frequency response variations. Interestingly the only noticeable drawback was with slight nulls in the high frequency response only noticeable when I moved my head left to right. Thankfully this is not a practice that I would normally partake while listening.
Looking for a less forgiving recording I choose Cowboy Junkies Whites Off Earth Now 5.1 SACD. The track State Trooper has what can be referred to as scary dynamics. There was some slight issues with dynamic compression on some instruments, yet Margo's vocals sounded very clean and without midrange bloom as found with other center channels. The brushes on the cymbals were a tad lost under the guitar noises, but otherwise not objectionable. On Forgive Me I was made aware of the short comings of the VP150’s tweeter design with the reproduction of the high-hats. When slightly off axis the high frequencies to get a little shrill and caused slight sibilance. Far off axis resulted in an audible drop in high frequency output. Played back in 2ch mode did not have the same issues.
Moving on to more 2ch media I loaded up Pixies Surfer Rosa on SACD. Gigantic’s opening bass line and vocals sounded well balanced and with good weight. There was some confusion of sound when the whole band rips it up but in the cleaner verses the vocals were clean and easily heard. It was only when driven to loud levels that the vocals get a rough edge.
Where is My Mind starts with a three part harmony tracked in behind the lead vocals from Francis Black with a solid and tight percussion holding it all together. The bass lines were again clean and well defined. There is an open sound to this SACD recording that is sadly lacking on the redbook version, and was well reproduced by M22’s. There were some issues with the complex louder passages when compared to my reference electrostatics.
I don't normally evaluate a surround sound speaker system with gaming; however the sound from Modern Warfare 3 was worth a mention. From exploding mines to overhead airstrikes, RPG’s and helicopter extractions the game designers pushed the envelope of gaming audio. The Epic Grand Master was cohesive, solid and very dynamic. The effects that pan from any direction were flawless. The surround audio in this game is dynamic in the sense that if you turn around the sounds will also pan around the room. There was no lack of bass when required and the sound of bullets whizzing from behind to the front stage was startling. I am seeing more emphasis on gaming in the home theater and was rather startled to hear the improvements in gaming audio.