HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



August
2005

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2005


Axiom Audio
EP500 Subwoofer

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: EP500

Price: $1150 USD
Dimensions: 19.5"H x 15"W x 19.5"D
Weight: 70 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor


Features
  • 12" aluminum woofer
  • 500W amplifier
  • Single-ended (RCA) input and output
  • Balanced (XLR) input and output
  • Speaker-level inputs
  • Front port
  • XLF intelligent DSP
  • Variable defeatable crossover
  • USB connection
  • Detachable power cord
  • Available in Boston cherry, black ash, Mansfield beech, and light maple finishes

Axiom Audio continues to compete successfully for the highest bang-for-the-buck in audio and home-theater equipment. This Canadian-based manufacturer of speakers and subwoofers achieves this with no dealer network, relying instead on sales through their website. Word of mouth and a generous return policy have created a good reputation for the company.

At first glance, the EP500 subwoofer seems to deviate from the high-value philosophy that has served Axiom well in the past. In fact, they have another 12" subwoofer, the EP350, at half the price of this one. But, as I found out, price is in direct proportion to performance. The Axiom EP500 is a bargain among high-end subwoofers.

Description

The Axiom EP500 is large: 19.5"H x 15"W x 19.5"D. I like the fact that it’s only 15" wide, which increases your placement options. It’s a heavy beast at 70 pounds -- more than its size would indicate. The EP500 has a 12" aluminum cone with a huge magnet and a 3" dual voice coil, with which it can move a lot of air. The woofer is front-firing, with a large rectangular downward-firing port. The cone and port are covered by a removable grille.

There are many ways of connecting the EP500, most commonly with an RCA input from the LFE output of a receiver or processor. Another way is to attach it to your receiver’s speaker outputs. One clue to me that Axiom means serious business with this sub is the inclusion of balanced (XLR) input and output connections. XLRs are usually seen only on multikilobuck amplifiers and processors; Axiom evidently expects the EP500 to find its home in a high-end home-theater system.

The EP500’s controls are as comprehensive as on any subwoofer I’ve seen. There is a volume level control, a phase switch that toggles between 0 and 180 degrees, and a crossover control variable from 40Hz to 100Hz, or able to be bypassed altogether. One item not normally seen on a sub is a USB port. Axiom sells a lamp that can be plugged in here so you can see what you’re doing while adjusting the controls in the dark during a movie. The port can also serve as a means of upgrading the DSP algorithm, should there be a need to do so.

Axiom calls its DSP chip the XLF (for eXtreme Low Frequency). The DSP software exerts tight control over the cone’s movements so that it can’t be overdriven by the amplifier and distort. The EP500’s digital amplifier, rated at 500W, is coupled to an analog power supply, used instead of a digital switching supply because the analog supply has more headroom. According to Axiom, this permits the digital amplifier higher dynamic power peaks, thus reducing distortion even further.

The EP500’s other unique control is its Trim adjustment, with settings for Remote, Flat, Half, Full, and Load. Remote would work through the USB port to allow for future external remote control of the subwoofer. Flat means that the subwoofer will not boost the LFE signal in any way. Half means that the subwoofer will boost the bass signal above 33Hz in an attempt to even out the bass in a smaller room. Full does the same as Half, but boosts the signal more. Finally, Load allows Axiom to access the DSP for troubleshooting and uploading new firmware.

The EP500 Axiom sent me was finished in a handsome Boston cherry finish. Other standard finishes are black ash, Mansfield beech, and light maple. Also available are myriad custom finishes, though these cost more.

Setup and performance

I first set up the EP500 in my usual sub spot: on the left side of my room behind the front left speaker, about 11’ from my listening seat. I wasn’t completely satisfied with this location, though -- the EP500’s massive output made the bass too boomy from that position. I found a satisfactory position in the corner of the right side of my listening room, about 10’ in front of my listening seat. This side had more space around the subwoofer, so this is where I left it for the duration of my audition. I left the crossover setting on Bypass and the trim control set to Flat, which worked best in my room.

One thing I learned during my review of the Epic 80 home-theater speaker system is that Ian Colquhoun, founder of Axiom Audio, likes his speakers to play really loud -- he strives to design models that can realistically reproduce concert-hall sound levels. For the Epic 80 system he achieved this through the use of multiple drivers capable of high power handling that could be driven hard without distortion. From the evidence of the EP500, I’d say that Colquhoun has not abandoned that philosophy. This sub has prodigious output -- unless you live in a concrete bunker, your walls and floors will shake.

To get an idea of what the Axiom EP500 could do in my room, I used the test tones from an Infinity subwoofer test CD. This is a torture test for any subwoofer, but I discovered that the EP500 goes really deep. From 100Hz down to 20Hz, it produced more bass than I could stand. My reference level for these tones was about 95dB, and at 20Hz the woofer was moving like crazy and still producing sound, unlike subs that drop off rapidly below 25Hz. At 20Hz, however, I also heard some nasty, fluttery, pulsing noise as the DSP cut in and pulsed power to the cone. This shouldn’t happen in most real-world situations -- the test tone is one minute long, which is much longer than most musical notes or sound effects with constant 20Hz tones. Nevertheless, when I felt my walls, they were pulsing.

I got a good sense of the Axiom EP500’s substantial output while watching the DVD The Phantom of the Opera (2004). In chapter 2, an organ plays suddenly. The EP500 conveyed these notes on the scale of a massive church organ, not an electric organ as lesser subs have. When I cranked the volume up to obscene levels, the EP500 filled my room with bass. I couldn’t hear any distortion from the 12" cone no matter how much I increased the volume -- just solid, deep, room-shaking bass.

In terms of bass transients, the EP500 was a star performer. The XLF DSP showed what it could do in chapter 1 of the DVD of Punch-Drunk Love. The car crash in this scene had more realism with the EP500 than with other subwoofers I’ve heard. The 12" driver was deft enough to match the transient response of my main speakers, resulting in a single explosive sound. With other subwoofers I’ve auditioned, the bass plodded along a split second after my main speakers, reducing the scene’s impact.

The EP500 blended well with all sorts of speakers, but did best with speakers with good bass response, such as the Mirage OM-9. It was tricky getting the Axiom to blend just right with smaller speakers, such as the Infinity TSS-SAT4000 system, which has no bass response below 120Hz. An extreme example of this was "Train Song," from Holly Cole’s Temptation [CD, Alert Z2-81026], which has some pretty strong low bass. When using the Infinity speakers, low bass played through the EP500 was a bit overwhelming when I got the upper bass blended to my satisfaction. I think it would be a shame to use the Axiom EP500 with truly bass-deficient speakers, because it is exceedingly good in the very lowest octaves. However, the Axiom EP500 should excel with speakers with good bass response to 80Hz.

Comparison

I’ve had other good-performing subs in my room; two that spring to mind are the Paradigm Reference Seismic 12 ($1700) and the Outlaw LFM-1 ($579). Like the Axiom EP500, the Seismic 12 can plumb the bass depths down to the 20Hz region, though it can’t quite match the Axiom’s maximum loudness at that frequency. In terms of real-world performance, it would be difficult to say whether there were any notable differences between these two subwoofers in my room. With either subwoofer, chapter 10, "Creaking Pipes," of The Haunting was a frightening scene with wall-shaking bass.

Unlike the Axiom EP500, the Outlaw LFM-1 is not designed to hit below 20Hz. However, the Outlaw sub matches the Axiom in the quantity of bass from 25Hz up. When I listened again to chapter 10 of The Haunting, the Axiom provided a deeper, more visceral presence that the Outlaw could not match. The Axiom’s realm was clearly the lowest frequencies.

Conclusion

Although Axiom Audio is moving upmarket with the introduction of the EP500, it provides the same exceptional value for money as the rest of their line. I’ve heard only a few other subwoofers that can provide true output down to 20Hz at triple-digit sound-pressure levels; for Axiom to do this for only $1150 is a phenomenal achievement. EP stands for Epicenter, as in epicenter of an earthquake. That pretty much sums up what the Axiom EP500 felt like in my listening room.

Review System
Speakers - Mirage OM-9 (mains), OM-C2 (center), OM-R2 (surrounds), Infinity TSS-SAT4000 system; Mirage OM-200, Paradigm Seismic 12, Outlaw LFM-1 subwoofers
Receivers - Outlaw Model 1050, Sony STR-DA5ES
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player, Sony DVP-NS650V SACD player
Cables - Sonic Horizons, TARA Labs, Nordost
Monitor - InFocus X1 front projector
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Axiom Canada Inc.
Box 82, Highway 60
Dwight, Ontario P0A 1H0
Canada
Phone: (866) 294-6688 (toll-free in North America), (705) 635-3090 (rest of world)
Fax: (705) 635-1972

Website: www.axiomaudio.com

 


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