HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



October
2001

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2001




Axiom Audio
Epic 80
Home-Theater
Speaker System


Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: M80Ti speakers
Price: $1100 USD per pair
Dimensions: 39.5"H x 9.25"W x 17"D
Weight: 55 pounds each

Model: VP150 center-channel speaker
Price: $350 USD
Dimensions: 7.5"H x 27"W x 7.5"D
Weight: 21.5 pounds

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

Model: Epicentre EP350 subwoofer
Price: $350 USD
Dimensions: 20.25"H x 15"W x 16"D
Weight: 40 pounds


Description (cont'd)

System Price: $2390 USD

Warranty: Five years parts and labor

Features

  • Anti-Standing-Wave cabinets
  • Vortex ports
  • 5.25" and 6.5" aluminum drivers
  • 1" titanium tweeters
  • "Quadpole" surround speakers
  • 12" aluminum driver (EP350)
  • 200W amplifier (EP350)
  • Audio/Video switch for bass (EP350)
  • Phase adjustment (EP350)
  • Adjustable crossover (EP350)
  • Gold-plated binding posts
  • Video shielded
  • Available finishes include Boston cherry, maple, and black oak (some finishes only available on certain models)

If you’ve been reading Home Theater & Sound and the SoundStage! Network of publications, you’ll notice that many of the reviewers have been impressed with the sound quality of Axiom speakers. Having myself been smitten with Axiom’s smallest home-theater system, the Epic Micro, I immediately put in a request to have a listen to Axiom’s top-of-the-line Epic 80 system.

Product description

In terms of size, the Epic 80 system provided a huge contrast to the Epic Micro. Whereas the Micros came in one box (about the size of the EP350 subwoofer box alone!), the Epic 80 was shipped in five cartons. However, Axiom maintains the same design philosophy from the smallest system to the largest, for which they should be applauded. The Epic 80 system sports the same Anti-Standing Wave (ASW) cabinets as the Mzeros, as well as similar Quadpole surround speakers. Also seen in the Epic 80 system are aluminum-cone drivers in various sizes.

Axiom’s ASW cabinets are not the usual square boxes seen with most other speakers. They taper from the front to the rear baffles. The M80Ti is 9" wide across the front baffle, shrinking to 7" in the rear. The M80Ti sports an unusual driver configuration, with two titanium tweeters mounted one above the other near the top of the front baffle to handle the high frequencies. Two aluminum-cone woofers handle the midrange, and two aluminum-cone woofers serve the lowest frequencies. If the two tweeters weren’t enough, the M80Ti also has three ports, one in the front, near the bottom of the speaker, and two in the rear -- by employing multiple tweeters, midrange drivers, woofers and ports, Axiom has designed a speaker system capable of high power handling. Ian Colquhoun of Axiom told me that the M60Ti sounds essentially the same as the M80Ti, except that the M80Ti will play substantially louder. The M80Ti has also reportedly been designed for good on- and off-axis response. It is a large speaker, but the tapered, relatively thin profile made the speaker appear less imposing in my room.

I was fortunate enough to receive the first production sample of the newly configured center-channel speaker, the VP150. Instead of the usual midrange-tweeter-midrange array, this center-channel also has an unusual driver configuration, with three aluminum-cone woofers mounted horizontally in the middle of the front baffle, each separated from the next by a titanium tweeter. The VP150 is a sealed-box design utilizing ASW as well.

Moving on to the QS8, we see Axiom’s trademark two-woofer/two-tweeter surround-speaker arrangement. The aluminum-cone woofers are mounted on the top and bottom surfaces of the speaker. Looking at the QS8 from the top, the front baffle forms half of an octagon, with tweeters mounted on the 45-degree-angled surfaces. Although this is Axiom’s top-of-the-line surround speaker, it is much more compact than I anticipated.

The subwoofer supplied was the Epicentre EP350. This sub has a front-firing woofer with two ports mounted on the lower front face. The sub’s comprehensive controls and connections reside on the back. You can leave the subwoofer on all the time, because it will shut off automatically after it sits idle for a period of time. My usual subwoofer does not have this delightful feature, and I always forget to turn it off. I noted in my review of the Axiom Epic Micro system that when my sample of the EP125 subwoofer was in idle, a slight buzzing could be detected up close. I didn’t have the same problem with the EP350, which was dead quiet.

As expected from Axiom, the build quality is very good. All of the speakers have gold-plated five-way binding posts, and the M80Ti can be biwired or biamped. My system came with a high-quality black-oak vinyl veneer, but the M80Ti can be ordered in Boston cherry or light maple and the QS8 can be ordered in eggshell white.

The home theater

Since the Axiom Epic 80 system is of comparable size to my Paradigm system, my starting point for set up was easy, since I just replaced my existing speakers with the Axioms. I tweaked the toe-in of the M80Tis slightly, and moved them forward into the room to alleviate some boominess. A little care should be used when setting up the M80Tis or the midrange may sound a little forward. I stand-mounted the QS8 surround speakers, minimizing the amount the downward-firing woofer was impeded by the stand. For a permanent QS8 installation, I would recommend wall mounting or purchasing from Axiom the stands that will allow the bottom-firing woofer to breathe. The null point between the two tweeters fired directly at my listening seat. The VP150 sat in the usual location above my 32" TV. I raised the rear of the speaker slightly so that it would fire more directly at my listening seat.

Once I settled down and watched some DVDs, the Axiom Epic 80 system proved to be immensely satisfying. I can confirm that Axiom’s goal for a system with high dynamic capability has been achieved. Man, do these speakers play loud, and they do it cleanly.

In chapter 2 from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a gunshot fires from the center channel to the left rear speaker. On the Epic 80 system, it absolutely startled all of us watching the DVD. In chapter 13 of the same movie, there are several cracks of thunder that shook the floor for a few seconds. The dynamic impact of the Epic 80 system added immensely to the movie-watching experience. All the movie's sound effects sounded a little more realistic than with other systems I’ve heard. This ability to play loudly and cleanly was not restricted to the lower frequencies, but extended throughout the frequency range.

Because of the high efficiency of all of the speakers in this system, I was able to achieve high sound levels with only 60W to the front and the rears! Amie Colquhoun of Axiom warned me that the Axiom Epic 80 system in her house shattered glass, and if I didn’t believe her before auditioning this system, I sure did afterwards.

Another great performer in the Epic 80 system is the QS8 surround speaker. The QS8 achieves a near-ideal presentation of both directional and ambient surround effects. This was evident in chapter 37 of The Devil’s Advocate. Al Pacino’s voice bounces from left rear, right front, left rear, and finally left front. His voice is heard distinctly in the left surround speaker. Excellent surround envelopment is shown in chapter 4 of Seven Years In Tibet, during the avalanche scene, where you are surrounded by the sound of the driving wind. A direct-radiating speaker would localize Al Pacino’s voice a bit better, and a dipole surround speaker would be more diffuse. But in my opinion, the QS8 strikes the ideal compromise between a monopole and a dipole surround speaker.

In addition, with the tweeters mounted on 45-degree angled baffles, some of the surround signals are directed behind the listener for a near seamless surround soundfield. This was most noticeable throughout the DVD A Perfect Storm, where waves crash to the front, sides and to the rear of the room.

The EP350 provided floor-shaking bass without sounding too boomy, and it was a good match for the rest of the Epic 80 system. It sounded reasonably tight, with good transient response that matched the dynamic ability of the M80Ti. In chapter 3 of Mission Impossible: 2, the staccato steps of the flamenco dancers were rendered sharply. In chapter 3 of Das Boot: Director’s Cut, the depth charges shook the room through the EP350. There are other subwoofers that will go deeper and louder, but in my medium-sized room, I found the bass quality and quantity more than adequate.

Rounding out the Epic 80 system is the VP150 center-channel. With two tweeters and three woofers, the VP150 approaches the M80Ti in power-handing capabilities. The VP150 proved to be a good match with the M80Ti. This was evident in chapter 2 of Man on the Moon, where Jim Carey’s voice pops from the left front into the center channel. After repeatedly listening to this scene, I could not detect a tonal shift from the M80Ti to the VP150. Pans across the front soundstage were seamless as well.

Stereo listening

I initially plunked down the M80Tis where my NHT 2.5is sit, but this caused bass to be a bit boomy. After moving them out into the room a bit further, the bass smoothed out, and the imaging was a lot more specific. On "What Child is This" from Cyrus Chestnut & Friends’ A Charlie Brown Christmas [Atlantic CD 83366] (in July!), the vocals of the Manhattan Transfer floated across the front soundstage. On "What a Waste" from Leonard Bernstein’s New York (various artists) [Nonesuch 2 79400], the vocalists were beautifully presented with the M80Ti. Donna Murphy occupied the left side, Richard Muenz was located squarely in the middle, and Dawn Upshaw was located on the right side, with the orchestra nicely layered behind.

Tonally, the M80Ti is fairly neutral, with just a hint of brightness in the treble region. In "Wrong Note Rag" from Leonard Bernstein’s New York, the brass instruments had a bit of a bite to them.

The M80Ti showed off its bass prowess in the "Train Song" from Holly Cole’s Temptation [Alert Z2-81026], hitting the very lowest notes of the acoustic bass. Most of the time, the bass quantity and quality were perfect in my medium-sized audio room, but at times the bass could be a little too thick and resonant.

One would never call these speakers laid-back -- vocals, both male and female, were thrust slightly forward in the soundstage. But I found this detailed and intimate presentation very enjoyable.

Comparison

A good comparison to the Axiom Epic 80 system is my Paradigm Monitor 9 system. Although the Epic 80 system competes in a slightly higher price bracket, they are both large tower, high-value systems.

The Paradigm system has dipole surround speakers as opposed to the quadpole speakers in the Axiom system. The differences in these two speakers were most apparent in chapter 37 of the DVD Devil’s Advocate. Al Pacino’s voice was a little more vague with Paradigm’s ADP-350 surround speakers. In terms of ambience, both systems were equally adept at portraying the stark jail hallway in The Green Mile. The Axiom QS8 was able to deal better with the varying demands placed on home-theater surround speakers, performing well with both diffuse and direct sounds.

Both systems have center speakers that are a good match for the mains. Side-to-side pans were handled equally well by the Axioms and the Paradigms. Typically, when horizontal center-channel speakers are placed on top of a TV, the screen of the TV will add a minor coloration to the sound. Neither the Axiom nor the Paradigm center-channel was immune to this, but the coloration in both cases was minor.

Comparing the main speakers, tonally the Axiom M80Ti is a forward-sounding, dynamic loudspeaker, whereas the Monitor 9 is warmer and more laid-back. As a result, the Axiom M80Ti is less forgiving of poor recordings, yet it rewards you with a more honest-sounding rendition of great recordings. The M80Ti will also play louder without a hint of strain at high volume levels. This high dynamic capability makes the Axiom M80Ti a standout in the home-theater environment.

Conclusion

I can’t say enough good things about the Axiom Epic 80 system -- it does so many things well with so few compromises. This system does not require a lot of amplifier power to deliver gut-wrenching, room-filling sound. The Axiom QS8 is one of the best, most versatile surround speakers I’ve heard, managing to sound diffuse or directional as needed. My only caveat is that this system needs at least a medium-sized room to sound its best. For people looking for a high-end, high-value system, look no further than the Axiom Epic 80 system.

Review System
Speakers - Paradigm Monitor 9 (front), Paradigm CC-350 (center), and Paradigm ADP-350 (surround), Denon SW-10 (subwoofer), NHT 2.5i
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65, Rega Planar 3 with Grado Prestige Silver cartridge
Receiver/processor - Yamaha DSP-E492
Amplifiers - Kenwood KMX-1000, Arcam Delta 290
Cables - Sonic Horizons Hurricane speaker cables and interconnects
Monitor - JVC 32" direct-view TV
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Axiom Canada Inc.
Box. 82, Highway 60
Dwight, ON
Canada
P0A 1H0
Phone: 1-877-TO AXIOM
Fax: 1-705-635-1972

Website: www.axiomaudio.com

 


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