HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



June
2001

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada





Axiom Audio
Epic Micro
Home-Theater
Speaker System


Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: MZero Ti speakers
Dimensions: 6.5"H x 5.25"W x 3.75"D
Weight: 5 pounds each

Model: VPZero center-channel speaker
Dimensions: 5"H x 10.75"W x 4.5"D
Weight: 3 pounds

Model: QS2 surround speakers
Dimensions: 5"H x 5.25"W x 4.5"D
Weight: 4 pounds each

Model: Epicenter EP125 powered subwoofer
Dimensions: 14.5"H x 12"W x 12"D
Weight: 20 pounds


Description (cont'd)

System Price: $850 USD

Warranty: Five years parts and labor

Features

  • 3.5" aluminum woofers
  • 1" hybrid titanium tweeters
  • Quadpolar surround speakers
  • 8" aluminum driver (EP125)
  • 125W amplifier (EP125)
  • Adjustable crossover (EP125)
  • Phase switch (EP125)
  • Audio/Video EQ switch (EP125)
  • Boston cherry and black oak

Although Axiom speakers may not be well known outside of Canada, their history dates back to around 1980, and they have won numerous awards in Canada for excellence in speaker design. Axiom put to use groundbreaking research on loudspeakers and human hearing conducted at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Ontario. The subject of this review, the $850 Axiom Epic Micro home-theater speaker system, is the smallest home-theater package in Axiom’s higher-end Millennia line.

Product description

I knew the Epic Micro system would be small judging by the box that arrived, but I wasn’t expecting the speakers to be so small! As well, I expected that the drivers to be on the cheap side, but they sure didn’t look it. Each speaker has an identical 1" hybrid titanium tweeter and tiny 3.5" aluminum midrange/bass driver. Axiom calls their tweeter "hybrid" because it combines a 1" dome with a 1/2" voice coil, unlike most tweeters that have the same diameter dome and voice coil. This tweeter is a step up on that in most budget systems, which usually come with 1/2" tweeters.

The center-channel speaker is configured in the usual midrange/tweeter/midrange array, and the front speakers have the usual tweeter-above-the-woofer configuration. The rear speakers, however, are the most unusual I have seen. Their two tweeters are on 45-degree angled baffles, while the two 3.5" woofers are mounted on the top and bottom of the cabinets. Axiom calls these speakers Quadpolar. It’s incredible that Axiom can cram so many drivers into such a small cabinet. All of the speakers are housed in sealed boxes shaped in Axiom’s trademark wedge. The rear baffle is smaller than the face, with tapered sides for the front speakers and a tapered top panel for the center-channel speaker. Axiom calls their speaker-cabinet design ASW, for anti standing wave. The speakers are shaped this way in order to reduce the effect of the internal back wave produced by the driver, which, according to Axiom, can color the sound. The front and center-channel speakers have high-quality gold-plated five-way binding posts that accept dual banana plugs; the surrounds make do with spring clips.

The subwoofer in the Epic Micro system is the Epicenter EP125. Its 8" woofer is mounted on the front of the cabinet, with two 2"-diameter ports mounted on the lower face. Around back, the sub is well equipped for almost any configuration in which you would need to use it. It has controls for output level, a low-pass filter from 50 to 120Hz, an audio/video bass-boost switch, left and right line-level inputs and speaker-level inputs and outputs. The only connection missing is a high-pass line-level output, which could be useful in certain subwoofer/satellite configurations. The subwoofer has an on/off switch, but in the on position, the subwoofer will turn off automatically when it sits idle for a period of time. When the subwoofer is idle, a slight buzzing can be detected up close, though of course this wasn’t an issue with the sub turned off. The speaker-level connections are the same spring clips seen on the surround speakers.

The build quality is very good. All of the grilles are removable, which can’t be said for many other speakers in this system's price category. The finish on all of the speakers is black vinyl (Boston cherry and black oak finishes are also available), but it looks a lot more refined than usual here. The texture is smoother, with a satiny finish.

Listening tests

Initially, I set up the Axiom Epic Micro system with all five speakers running as "small" and the subwoofer handling the LFE channel. The subwoofer occupied a spot at the front of the room, between the main speakers. I calibrated the system using Video Essentials, and the subwoofer level control remained in the 12 o’clock position and the phase was toggled to 0 degrees. I left the audio/video bass-boost switch on "audio" -- I found that switching over to "video" introduced a fatiguing boominess in my room.

The surround speakers proved to be the only difficult aspect of setting up this home-theater system. With their downward-firing woofer, wall mounting is the most appropriate means of placing this speaker. Axiom includes a mounting bracket to facilitate this procedure. My wife became suspicious when I started checking out the walls in my living room, but I managed to find two mounting screws at the rear of the room, behind the sofa. In this configuration, the speakers were mounted about six feet from the ground, the null points between the tweeters facing toward the front of the room, and the woofers firing up and down.

With the surrounds mounted on the rear wall, I found the surround ambiance adequate, but not to my liking. There seemed to be two distinct surround fields -- one at the front of the room and one at the rear. This was evident in chapter two of the Fight Club DVD, in which Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are in an abandoned office tower. I heard the echoing through the office in front of me and behind me, but I never felt quite immersed in the scene. I improved this aspect of performance by moving the speakers from the walls and angling them over my existing surround speakers. The baffle between the tweeters now faced towards the viewer, and the tweeters pointed towards the ceiling and floor at 45-degree angles.

Mounting the Axiom surround speakers in this manner revealed excellent envelopment. In chapter 15 from Fight Club, I felt the ambiance of the basement fighting room. In chapter 11 of the Gladiator DVD, a gladiator swings a mace around his head in slow motion while waiting for Russell Crowe to make his first appearance in the arena. The sound of the mace cutting through the air was conveyed beautifully by the Axiom Epic Micro system. Panning across the front soundstage was seamless, as was the transition to the surround speakers.

Although the Epicenter EP125 subwoofer does not produce the very lowest notes at the loudest levels, it still had useful bass response down to about the 40Hz range. Even though it gave me a headache, I cranked up the subwoofer volume and I was able to shake the windows in my medium-sized room. If this Axiom system is used in a small room, for which it is intended, I believe that most people would find the subwoofer response perfectly adequate.

Listening to the title track from Mighty Sam McClain’s Give it Up to Love [JVCXR-0012-2], I fiddled around with speaker toe-in to get a mighty good image of Mighty Sam -- directly in the center between the two speakers. I then tried the front channels and subwoofer together as a sub/sat system. I used the speaker-level connections from my amp and the speaker-level outputs to the front speakers. This configuration allowed the tiny front speakers to deal with the higher-frequency signals and allowed the sub to handle the rest. After a bit of experimentation, I set up the system with the subwoofer between the mains, the volume level around halfway to maximum (about 12 o’clock), and the low-pass crossover dialed to the maximum, at 120Hz.

Amazingly, this system did not sound like a budget system at all. The Hammond B-3 organ sounded rich -- closer to what I’m used to hearing from my NHT 2.5i speakers. In the Fairfield Four’s Standing in the Safety Zone [Warner Brothers 9 26945-2], the vocals on the track "Roll, Jordan, Roll" were liberated from the confines of the speakers and floated around and in between the speakers. The sub/sat blend was quite good -- when Isaac Freeman hits the low notes on "Roll, Jordan, Roll," I did not notice his voice leaking into the subwoofer. The high frequencies were smooth, never sounding grainy.

By setting up the system with the low-pass crossover at 120Hz, I sacrificed some low-frequency extension for better blending in the upper-bass region. This was evident in the "Train Song" from Holly Cole’s Temptation [Alert Z2-81026]. The lowest bass notes throughout the song were not produced with the same impact as with my NHT 2.5is. Despite this minor criticism, I was surprised at what a transformation the subwoofer made to the VPZero. I really enjoyed listening to the Epic Micro as a sub/sat system as well as a full 5.1 ensemble.

Comparison

Another small packaged system that I’ve recently auditioned is the Energy Encore home-theater system, and I was able to do a side-by-side comparison of it and the Axiom Micro system. Although the two compete in different market segments (the Energy Encore system lists for $1500), I thought it would be interesting to hear what an extra $650 gives -- or doesn’t. Both systems are similarly sized -- the compact satellite speakers have 1" tweeters and small woofers, and there are 8"-diameter drivers in both subwoofers.

In terms of movies, the Axioms performed well in comparison to the Energys. The Axiom speakers portrayed a similar front soundstage to that of the Energys, but where the Axiom system excelled was in surround envelopment. The Quadpolar surrounds in the Axiom system managed to create a more convincing soundfield, no matter how I oriented the direct-radiating Energy Encore speakers. In chapter four in the New Line Platinum Series DVD of Seven, the Axioms give the impression that the rain is falling all around. I never got the same feeling with the Energy Encores.

When listening to music, the Axioms competed well with the Energys. Both systems did not produce any sound below the lower midrange without the subwoofers, which is understandable given the small woofers. In the upper-midrange region, there was little to differentiate the two systems. In the high-frequency range, the Axiom speakers' treble presentation was slightly less airy than the Energys'.

In comparing the two systems overall, the Energy Encores give more refinement in terms of sound quality, style, and build quality. However, the Axiom Epic Micro did fine in this showdown and makes a compelling case for itself if surround envelopment is what you value most.

Conclusion

Overall, the Axiom Epic Micro system performed extremely well for a budget system. Sounding good with both DVDs and music, its strongest feature is its excellent surround-sound envelopment, which you very rarely get in the budget price bracket. This Axiom system would be geared toward someone looking for his or her first taste of serious home theater. It would perform very well in a smaller room, and its compact size would easily fit in with most décor. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Axiom Epic Micro system, and I recommend taking a listen to this gem of a little system. 

Review System
Processor/receiver - Yamaha DSP-E492
Amplifiers - Kenwood KMX-1000, Arcam Delta 290
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65, Rega Planar 3 with Grado Prestige Silver cartridge
Cables - Kimber PBJ interconnects, AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cable
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 (toll free)
Fax: (705) 635-1972

Website: www.axiomaudio.com

 


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