HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



December
2003

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2003


Axiom Audio
Epic 60
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: M60ti speakers
Price: $800 USD per pair
Dimensions: 37.5"H x 9.25"W x 15"D
Weight: 47 pounds each

Model: VP100 center-channel
Price: $220 USD
Dimensions: 17"W x 7.5"H x 7.5"D
Weight: 11 pounds

Model: QS8 surrounds
Price: $470 USD per pair
Dimensions: 11"W x 8.25"H x 6"D
Weight: 11 pounds each

Model: EP350 subwoofer
Price: $620 USD
Dimensions: 20.25"H x 15"W x 16"D
Weight: 39 pounds

System Price: $2005 USD ($2110 if models purchased separately)

Warranty: Five years parts and labor, speakers; one year, subwoofer


Features
  • Aluminum woofers
  • 1" titanium tweeters
  • Anti-Standing-Wave (ASW) cabinets
  • Vortex Ports
  • Quadpole surrounds
  • 12" cast-basket aluminum woofer (EP350)
  • 200W amplifier (EP350)
  • Adjustable crossover (EP350)
  • Phase switch (EP350)
  • Gold-plated binding posts
  • Video shielded
  • Standard finishes include Boston cherry, maple, beech, black oak; custom finishes available

I have been extremely impressed with Axiom Audio’s offerings over the years. The company, based in Ontario, Canada, has been making speakers since 1980, and has made quite a splash in the last few years with its Millennia series. Ian Colquhoun, Axiom’s founder and chief engineer, researched speaker design at the National Research Council, in Ottawa, where he and other engineers made groundbreaking discoveries in psychoacoustics and loudspeaker testing. Colquhoun has incorporated into Axiom speakers many innovations discovered during that research.

The speaker system reviewed here is the Axiom Epic 60: two M60ti towers, a VP100 center-channel, two QS8 surrounds, and an EP350 subwoofer. The system is priced at $2005, right in the middle of a hotly contested price bracket.

Appearance and design

One thing common to all Axiom speakers is their metallic drivers, which the company uses because they are lighter and stiffer than drivers made of other materials, such as paper. While all Axiom drivers may look the same, many are in fact slightly different internally -- Axiom takes pains to optimize its speakers’ components. The M60ti’s driver complement is a 1" titanium-dome tweeter, a 5.25" aluminum midrange, and two 6.5" aluminum woofers.

Also common to all Axiom speakers is the company’s Anti-Standing-Wave (ASW) cabinet design. An ASW speaker is wider in front than in back, which gives it a wedge-shaped cross section. As the name implies, ASW cabinets are designed to reduce standing waves within the speaker cabinet; the wedge shape helps dissipate the drivers’ back soundwaves, thus diminishing distortions. The M60ti is 9" wide, tapering to 7" in the rear, and is 15" deep and 37.5" high -- just 2" shorter than the top-of-the-line Axiom M80ti.

All Axiom speakers designed for front-channel duties feature what Axiom calls Vortex Porting. These ports are unusual in having a bumpy surface texture, which increases the surface area and lessens the chance of audible port chuffing, or noise. The M60ti has three ports: one on the lower front, two on the rear.

The VP100 center-channel speaker looks a bit out of place in this system -- though it, too, has an ASW cabinet, this one tapering from 7.5" in the front to 5.5" in the rear; the VP100 is just a bit small compared to the M60ti. The VP100 has the usual woofer-tweeter-woofer driver configuration seen in most horizontal center-channels: two 5.25" woofers flank a 1" tweeter. And the cabinet is sealed: no Vortex Porting.

The QS8 surround speaker is another unusual Axiom design. It features six drivers in a compact (11"W x 8.25"H x 6"D) ASW cabinet: two 1" tweeters on each angled baffle, and 5.25" woofers on the top and bottom. Like the VP100, the QS8 is a sealed design. Axiom calls this speaker a Quadpole, since it fires sound, in phase, in four directions. Conventional speaker stands can’t be used with the QS8 -- the bottom woofer would be resting on a solid surface -- but the speaker can be mounted on a wall (hardware is included) or on dedicated Axiom stands with a circular cutout in the base.

The Axiom EP350 subwoofer is the most conventional-looking element of the Epic 60 system. Not huge as subs go (20.25"H x 15"W x 16"D), the EP350 is not a miniature either. Its 12" aluminum woofer is on the sub’s front, above two Vortex Ports. On the rear are the amplifier module and control panel, which has adjustments for volume, a low-pass filter (50-120Hz), and an Audio/Video bass-boost switch. The connections are comprehensive, with left/right speaker inputs and outputs and left/right RCA inputs. The EP350’s auto shut-off feature turns the sub off when it has not received a signal for several minutes.

Axiom rates the in-room efficiency of the Epic 60 system quite high -- the M60ti is rated at 93dB/W/m. Combine such efficiency with nominal impedance ratings of 6 ohms and above, and you have a speaker system that should be easy to drive. During the review period, I found that the Epic 60s were easy loads for most modern receivers.

My review samples were finished in a handsome black-oak vinyl veneer. Other standard finishes are maple, beech, and Boston cherry, with many matte and high-gloss finishes available at extra cost. You can order custom grille colors, too. For a nominal charge, Axiom will send you samples of the other custom finishes.

Setup

I placed the M60ti main speakers 6’ apart and 8’ from my listening seat, with the backs of the main speakers 2.5’ from the front wall. The center-channel was placed on a low stand below my front-projected image, 8’ from my listening seat. The QS8 surrounds were placed on homemade 3’ stands with a circular hole in the top so that the bottom woofer could breathe. They were placed to the sides and slightly behind my listening seat, about 120 degrees from the center-channel. The EP350 subwoofer was placed in the front left corner, aimed straight into the room.

Listening

I had this system for evaluation for several months, and one of its lasting impressions was its coherence. By coherence I mean the way the speakers matched, tonally and spatially. Spatially, all of the speakers simply worked together; I was hard-pressed to hear any gaps between them. One DVD with fantastic sound is The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Special Extended Edition). Chapter 8 has a scene in which a Ringwraith whispers "Shire" and "Baggins." As the voice traveled seamlessly from front to rear, it showed that the QS8’s and M60ti’s tonal balances matched nearly perfectly, and sent a chill down my spine.

I’m familiar with the QS8, having reviewed it as part of the Axiom Epic 80 system -- it is one surround speaker that can do it all, perfectly performing the contradictory requirements of discrete effects and surround envelopment. A good example of discrete effects is in chapter 7 of the DVD of The Others, in which Nicole Kidman’s character is annoyed by the disturbing footsteps above her as she does her needlepoint. The footsteps begin in the left rear and end up in the front center. Again, there was no shift in tone from the QS8 to the VP100, and the discrete footsteps in the left rear scared me so much I jumped.

Going back to The Fellowship of the Ring, a good example of surround envelopment is in chapter 15, when Frodo goes to meet Gandalf in the Village of Bree. When he and his friends arrive, the rain is falling. The QS8 did a great job of immersing me in the scene -- it felt as if the rain was falling around me.

The VP100 center-channel is so much smaller than the other Epic 60 speakers that I feared it wouldn’t be able to keep up with the rest of the system. Those fears were put to rest when I listened to Cate Blanchett’s narration throughout The Lord of the Rings. Her voice was reproduced cleanly, with a presence as big as the M60ti mains’, and tonally nearly identical to the M60tis in side-to-side pans. There was just a hint of the boxy coloration that I hear from most horizontal center-channels, but for the most part it wasn’t bothersome.

The M60ti provided a solid foundation for my home theater. With the bass management in today’s home-theater receivers and processors, you can have a satisfying home theater using small speakers and a subwoofer. However, there’s something gratifying about having full-range tower speakers for the front left and right channels. With the M60ti, that gratification came in the form of a meatier sound in the front soundstage. This was illustrated by Punch-Drunk Love. In chapter 1, a car crash pans from the front center to the front right, then to the rear. The crash had more impact with the M60tis than when I substituted bookshelf speakers. In chapter 7, drum and percussion music is prominent in the front left and right channels. The M60tis sounded punchier than the bookshelf speakers. Music plays an important role in this film, which features orchestral strings throughout. Tonally, the M60ti was fairly neutral from the bass region to the highest frequencies, with a clear midrange.

The EP350 subwoofer really punched out the bass. In fact, at only $620, it’s a steal. The explosions throughout chapter 22 of Pearl Harbor were reproduced tightly and cleanly by the EP350. There was a bit of overhang in the bass, but not enough to be of concern. My usual subwoofer stress test is chapter 3 of disc 2 of Das Boot: Director’s Cut; again, the bass quality and quantity were satisfying, with the sound being satisfyingly taut, and quite loud when needed.

Comparison

I also had on hand a Mirage home-theater speaker system consisting of Omni 260s, Omni CCs, Omni FXes, and an OM-200, which retails for $2850 vs. the Axiom Epic 60’s $2005. The Mirage Omni system is unique in directing sound in a 360-degree radiation pattern, to mimic what Mirage claims is a true-to-life sound experience.

Comparing the Axiom M60ti tower to the Mirage Omni 260, I immediately noticed the designers’ different imaging philosophies. Whereas the Axiom M60tis were pinpoint-precise, the Mirage Omni 260s were quite diffuse. This isn’t to say the Mirage Omni 260s didn’t have any ability to image, but that they used the room boundaries to a greater extent to give a more three-dimensional image. These characteristics were illustrated by chapter 34 of the DVD Drumline. During this drum "battle," in which the drummers circle on the screen, the Mirage Omni system presented a larger soundstage than the Axiom Epic 60. The Axiom M60tis and VP100 had a closer perspective in the front soundstage. Tonally, the Axiom M60ti was more balanced, whereas the Mirage Omni 260 was a bit thin in the midrange. Through the M60tis, the drums sounded punchier in the midrange and midbass.

I then compared the center-channel speakers. The Axiom VP100 and Mirage Omni CC both matched well with their respective mains. When I watched Punch-Drunk Love, the Omni CC had the uncanny ability to "disappear" -- the voices did not seem to emanate from the speaker itself. With the Axiom VP100, dialogue was firmly anchored to the speaker. I never had to strain to hear dialogue with the Axiom VP100, but there were a few instances with the Mirage Omni CC where I had difficulty following what was being said.

Both the Axiom QS8 and the Mirage Omni FX were great examples of how surround speakers should sound. They both provided immersive listening experiences that drew me into the movies. In terms of surround envelopment, both speakers handled diffuse effects equally well, such as the rain scene in chapter 15 of The Fellowship of the Ring. When listening to discrete effects, such as the footsteps in chapter 7 of The Others, I felt that the sounds were more firmly located in space with the Axiom QS8 than with the Omni FX, thus making the scene scarier.

The Mirage Omni OM-200 subwoofer, with its two 8" woofers, provided a more even bass presence in my room than the Axiom EP350. The explosions in chapter 22 of Pearl Harbor packed a weightier punch with the OM-200, and with a deeper bottom end. The Axiom EP350 was a very capable performer, though at a price of $620 compared to the Mirage subwoofer’s $1000, the comparison wasn’t exactly fair. Still, the Axiom EP350 rattled my walls throughout Pearl Harbor.

Conclusion

Axiom’s Epic 60 home-theater speaker system is a remarkable value and a well-balanced system. This is my second time auditioning the QS8 surround speaker, and I continue to be amazed by its reproduction of discrete and diffuse sound effects -- it is one of the very few surrounds that can pull off both requirements equally well. I found that the M60ti provided most of the strengths of the Axiom M80ti that I like so much, but was easier to set up and live with than its top-of-the-line sibling. Both the VP100 and the EP350, too, were capable performers in their own right.

This Axiom speaker ensemble performs exceptionally well, especially considering its more-than-fair price. If you’re shopping for home-theater speakers, these should definitely be on your must-audition list.

Review System
Receivers - Outlaw Model 1050, Sony STR-DA5ES, Onkyo TX-SR800
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player, Sony DVP-NS650V SACD player
Cables - Sonic Horizons, TARA Labs
Monitor/Projector - JVC 32" direct-view TV, InFocus X1 front projector
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Axiom Canada Inc.
Box 82, Highway 60
Dwight, ON P0A 1H0
Canada
Phone: (866) 294-6688 (toll free) or (705) 635-3090
Fax: (705) 635-1972

Website: www.axiomaudio.com

 


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