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Product Review

Axiom M80ti Floor-Standing Speakers
September, 2002

Steve Smallcombe

 

Specifications:


• Drivers: Two 1" Titanium Dome Tweeters, Two, 5 1/4 Midrange, Two 6 1/2 Woofers; Ported Enclosure

• MFR: 34 Hz - 22 kHz ± 3 dB

• Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
• Sensitivity: 95 dB/W/M (Room)
• Size: 39 1/2" H x 9 1/4" W x 17" D
• Weight: 57 Pounds Each
MSRP: $1,100/Pair

 

http://www.axiomaudio.com

Introduction

While most recently my interests have been in tweaking video, I have a much longer history of playing with loudspeakers, building them, tweaking them, using Fourier Analysis with sub-octave filtering to optimize equalization and placement within the room, and of course, just plain old listening to music. So when the editor asked me if I would be interested in reviewing a pair of Axiom M80ti(s), my first response was, "Sure, I’ll take these home and measure their response and tell you what I see”. John said, “No, I’ve done all that, just listen to them and tell me what you hear”.

This was an intriguing challenge, as I enjoy technology and the Axioms looked like very interesting technology, with two of just about everything, except ports, of which there were three. But the thought of not using technology to analyze the speakers was a bit intimidating, since I was going to have to listen and write down what I heard, and make subjective judgments, etc.

Fortunately, I have recently been doing a fair amount of music listening in the process of tweaking my reference speakers, and so the chance to compare my speakers to a recent example coming from the speaker design Mecca, located in Ontario Canada, seemed too good to be true. (Axiom is one of several loudspeaker companies located in the Ottawa area, and Axiom Audio's founder, Ian Colquhoun worked directly with Dr. Floyd Toole at the nearby National Research Council lab where many innovations in modern loudspeaker design and analysis have been made.)

The reference speakers I used for the listening test are the speakers I use up front in my Home Theater - Velodyne DF-661(s) (no longer available), I also typically use a Velodyne 12” subwoofer for both music and Home Theater purposes. Out of the box, the DF-661 speakers are a bit too bright, in my opinion, and for years I had tamed this with a bit of equalization. The recent addition of DVD-Audio to my system, where the EQ is bypassed, caused me to seek alternatives to equalization, so I recently modified the crossover to bring down the treble and midrange a bit relative to the bass. For this reason, I was looking forward to a chance to compare my recently tweaked Velodynes to the Axioms.

Hardware

The Axiom M80ti is an impressive looking tower speaker with two 6.5” woofers, two 5.25” midrange drivers, and two titanium 1” dome tweeters. The drivers are mounted in an Anti-Standing-Wave cabinet that is narrower at the back than in front. The manufacturer's specified frequency response is 34 Hz - 22 kHz ± 3 dB with a sensitivity of 91 dB and a nominal impedance of 4 Ohms. The recommended amplifier requirements are from 10 to 400 Watts.

All of the above information should tell you that these speakers should be capable of being played at high volume levels without much stress on the drivers, except perhaps at the lowest frequencies.

The binding posts are of good quality and have the common spacing. I had no trouble hooking up my speaker wires to them. Removable jumpers support bi-amping or bi-wiring if that is required or desirable.

The Axiom M80ti(s) are available in three simulated wood grain vinyl finishes: Maple, Black Oak, and Boston Cherry. The speakers I reviewed had the Cherry finish, and I found the general fit and finish to be excellent. The ports are lined with a leather-like material that has an interesting fluted shape, presumably to reduce port-noise. I thought that the speakers looked great without the front grilles, and that is certainly the way I would (and did) use them. The Axiom M80ti are listed at $1,100 a pair.

Setup

I placed the two M80ti(s) in my Home Theater about 4 feet from the acoustically treated front wall, and about 2.5 to 3 feet from the sidewalls that also had high frequency absorbing drapes and tapestries to the sides of the speakers. This placed the two speakers 6.5 feet apart and 12 feet from my listening position. My HT, a.k.a., the family room, is a live end/dead end design with extensive absorbing materials in the ceiling as well. There is also a fair amount of dispersion at what I believe are appropriate places. The amplifier used in the listening tests was an Acurus 200x3 that is capable of delivering 200 Watts to 3 channels at 8 Ohms, and likely twice that to 2 channels at 4 Ohms according to the tests I have seen.

The Music

Over the years, I have purchased many speakers, and helped a number of friends do the same. I have found a few tracks on a few favorite CDs that can be helpful in the selection process. Listening to music, as you know well, can tell you a lot about a speaker's overall characteristics and how well you might like a speaker, or other component, in the long run.

So, the CDs I use to evaluate the M80ti are as follows:

Jennifer Warnes – Famous Blue Raincoat – Cypress Records DX 3182

Track 2, Bird on a Wire, has great drums and other percussion instruments, and a complex vocal image with various voice-overs, etc. I have found that with good speakers the image across the soundstage is very full and complex, but with each voice or instrument well placed at various locations between the two speakers. Track 3, Famous Blue Raincoat, is quite different. Here we have an occasional saxophone and then Jennifer’s unaccompanied voice. This is a very simple image, but when well reproduced, the voice and the sax are very detailed and rich, and with a stable centered image. Listening to these two tracks with their very different presentations, back to back, can be quite revealing. Bass response, clean treble and midrange for the female voice, and imaging are keys here.

Natasha – Chesky JD48

Whether you call it Rock or Jazz or Blues, this CD has a very up front in-your-face presentation with both good vocals and instruments. I like the music and listen to it to see how naturally the voice and the music, and the club ambience are reproduced. The first track, NightBird, is as good as any for this.

Kiri te Kanawa – Verdi and Puccini – CBS Records MK 37298

This has long been one of our favorite CDs for just listening to beautiful music. It may not as “pure” as listening to the whole opera, but this CD gives the best arias from a number of Verdi and Puccini Operas and Kiri is certainly one of the best at delivering them. It’s sort of like only eating deserts and not getting fat. Track 9. O mio babbino caro, has been used in various advertisements and is very popular, although it is from a seldom performed opera. When you first listen to this CD, you will tend to turn the volume control up quite a bit, e.g., 10 dB, as the recording level seems rather low. This is not a mistake on the part or the recording engineer, he or she was just saving the most significant bits of the digital format for the tremendous dynamic range of Kiri’s voice. When I first listened to this CD many years ago, I was impressed at how “loud” some of the passages sounded. Then I learned it was my amplifier clipping. Properly reproduced, the loud passages don’t sound loud at all, but clean and alive instead. This CD will test midrange and tweeter power handling and distortion in these same areas.

Bizet.Grieg – Carmen, Peer Gynt – Telarc Digital CD-80048

The passages on this disk are entirely orchestral. Track 1, from the Carmen Suite, the Prelude to Act 1, starts with massed strings and properly reproduced, gives a very detailed image with the strings spread evenly across the entire front soundstage. A bit later on this track, there is a transition or crescendo with enough impact to startle the unsuspecting, and really test the system’s dynamics. The sound here should be big and wide. Later tracks contain both subtle and powerful passages.

Listening Tests

I started my evaluation of the Axioms by listening to the tracks of interest with my reference speakers. I then moved the reference speaker cables to the Axioms, which were placed at the location mentioned above and toed-in to point just behind the listening area. I also turned off the subwoofer and set my speaker choice to large in B&K Ref 30 preamp so that the Axioms would get a full-range audio signal. Test tones showed the Axioms to be 3 dB more sensitive than my reference speakers, and I adjusted the volume of the various passages accordingly. The pink noise signal sounded decidedly brighter than my reference speakers.

I started with the Carmen Suite, 1st track, and the massed stings seemed to come from either the left or the right speaker locations, instead of being well distributed across the front of the room. The strings also seemed a bit strained or strident. Not a good start.

Natasha sounded harsh and nasal. It was too much in my face.

Then I put on Jennifer Warnes, probably the music I know best, and my first thought was that something was missing from the high end but, at the same time, the presentation seemed very forward and bright. Her voice had a bit of grain or nasal quality that I was not used to hearing on this track. With Bird on a Wire, the drums had good definition, but they were not as solid as with my reference system (with a subwoofer). The cymbals sounded brittle. In Famous Blue Raincoat, Jennifer’s voice again had a harsh quality and was a bit diffuse.

I did try the Kiri CD, and the power handling was fine, but it did not sound as sweet as with the reference system.

I thought that perhaps the problem was in fact with my reference system. Perhaps expecting another pair of speakers to sound as good to me as I was the ones I had tweaked to my own taste was a bit naïve. In a way, I guess I went to bed that evening pleased that my old Velodynes sounded as good as they did in comparison.

The next day, I decided to give the Axioms another chance. After a few trials listening to pink noise, the next music listening tests were conducted with the speakers moved a bit closer to each other and pointed straight ahead, instead of toed-in. I also hooked up the subwoofer so that it would be more of an apples to apples comparison. When I tried Bird on a Wire, my first reaction was “Wow”. The overall sound was now much more balanced, the imaging greatly improved. The drums were well presented and well positioned, with good impact, perhaps even better than with my reference speakers. All those drivers in the Axioms were paying off after all. Famous Blue Raincoat also sounded much better as well, but I’ll have to say that there was still a bit of graininess to Jennifer’s voice in both tracks that I was not use to. But now it was a bit harder to say which presentation was right – the Velodynes or the Axioms. Both were very good.

The imaging and tonal quality with the Puccini arias was also much improved with the speakers in this orientation, and there was no doubt that the Axioms handled the dynamics of the loud and demanding passages without any sign of strain.

The massed strings with the Carmen Suite were now much better imaged and, yes, the oomph was definitely there when called for. The image was also very stable as I changed seating positions or walked around the room. It was amazing to me, how much difference the orientation made, and I also think it helped to have the high frequencies balanced by the use of the subwoofer to extend the bass to the lowest frequencies. The Axioms now sounded very good, perhaps not quite as clean and sweet as my Velodynes, but very good indeed.

Since my reference speakers were considerably more expensive than the more modestly priced Axiom M80ti(s), I decided to get a third set of speakers involved in the comparison test, speakers more similar in price. I had a pair of Paradigm Monitor 7 v2 speakers that I use in another room for music listening, and so I dragged them into my HT for a bit of more critical listening. (The Paradigms use two woofers and one tweeter in a tower of a similar size to the Axioms. Paradigm is also located near Ottawa.) I must say that Jennifer or Kiri on the Paradigms sounded more like Jennifer or Kiri on my Velodynes, rather than the somewhat grainier Jennifer or Kiri of the Axiom’s presentation. This might suggest that there is some over-emphasis in the upper midrange or lower treble with the Axioms, perhaps at the crossover, but it is likely very directional, and there is no doubt that the placement and orientation of these speakers can have a major effect on how it is perceived. In general however, I though that the Paradigms sounded a bit heavy compared to the Axioms, while lacking much of their impact and definition in the more dynamic passages. (I didn’t try multiple placements of the Paradigms.)

Home Theater

I did not try the Axioms for multi-channel HT listening. I don’t think that they would blend too well with my center speaker, a vertically oriented DF-661. However, I have no doubt that their dynamics and power handling capabilities would make the Axioms very well suited to the HT environment if combined with a center speaker and surrounds of similar design.

On the Bench (JEJ)

Below is shown the measured frequency response, using MLS techniques. The microphone was placed at a distance equal to the distance between the top edge of the top tweeter and the bottom edge of the bottom woofer. The peak at 4 kHz and rise above 10 kHz may explain Steve's impression that they can be somewhat bright.

The test results from the distortion analysis are shown below. Except for the 50 Hz test, all distortion results were lower than 1% THD. The tweeter produced second, third, and fourth harmonics of the 5 kHz input fundamental, with the third being the largest. At 1 kHz input fundamental, the midrange driver produced several harmonics, the third being the largest, and also some IM peaks, including two that can be seen just on either side of the 2 kHz harmonic.

At 100 Hz input, the second harmonic was the largest one, and there are a few IM peaks as well.

With a 50 Hz input, numerous harmonics were produced, and the third harmonic was the largest.


Conclusions

I found that the overall sound quality of the Axiom M80ti(s) was very good, but only after careful orientation and positioning within the room. They have excellent dynamics and power handling, and should serve anyone well for either music or HT purposes. I do recommend, however, that you try them before purchase, and see if you like the sound of the Axioms in your environment. They can be a bit bright. Do try several placements and orientation, and chances are, you will find one that works very well.

Equipment Used

Denon 1600 DVD player (for playing CDs)
B&K Ref 30 preamplifier
Acurus 200x3 amplifier
Adcom Power Center
KimberCable interconnects and speaker wire



- Steve Smallcombe -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Speaker Primer
Misunderstood 0.1 LFE Channel Nature of Equipment Reviews
A Big Dig into Bass Reflex What we Hear
Big Bass in Small Places High Fidelity
Equalizers Accuracy, Distortion, and the Audiophile
 

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