HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



November
2006

Reviewed by
Anthony Di Marco
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


Axiom Audio
M22 v2/VP150 v2/M2 v2
EP500 v2
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: M22 v2 bookshelf speaker
Price: $460 USD per pair (standard finish)
Dimensions: 19.8"H x 7.3"W x 8"D
Weight: 16 pounds each

Model: VP150 v2 center-channel speaker
Price: $400 USD (standard finish)
Dimensions: 27.5"W x 7.5"H x 7.5"D
Weight: 21.8 pounds

Model: M2 v2 surround speaker
Price: $290 USD per pair (standard finish)
Dimensions: 11.5"H x 7.5"W x 8.5"D
Weight: 11.2 pounds each

Model: EP500 v2 subwoofer
Price: $1200 USD (standard finish)
Dimensions: 19.5"H x 15"W x 19.5"D
Weight: 72.6 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor.

System Price: $2232.50 USD (price reflects standard finishes and Axiom Home Theater System discount; custom finishes available at additional cost)


Features

Speakers:

  • 1" titanium tweeters
  • Aluminum woofers
  • Anti-Standing-Wave (ASW) cabinets
  • Vortex Ports
  • Gold-plated binding posts
  • Video shielded
  • Standard finishes include Boston cherry, maple, beech, black oak; custom finishes available

Subwoofer:

  • 12" aluminum woofer
  • 500W amplifier (manufacturer’s rating)
  • Single-ended (RCA) input and output
  • 3"-diameter dual voice coil
  • Balanced (XLR) input and output
  • Speaker-level inputs
  • Intelligent XLF DSP
  • Variable crossover
  • USB connection for software upgrades and optional light
  • Detachable power cord

Life often throws you a curve. The money and/or space you thought you might have had for that top-of-the-line surround-sound system vanishes, and you have to compromise. A few months ago, I found myself in just this position. I had to come up with a system that took up less space and cost less money than what I’d been planning on.

I began by choosing an NAD T763 surround-sound receiver and T562 CD player and an Oppo Digital OPDV971H DVD player. At about the same time, Home Theater & Sound’s senior editor, Jeff Fritz, asked me if I’d like to review a multichannel home-theater speaker system from Axiom Audio. The M3Ti and M22Ti (now replaced by the M3 v2 and M22 v2, respectively) are among the Axiom speakers highly regarded by SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider and several SoundStage! reviewers.

I got on the phone with Axiom’s technical guru, Alan Lofft, to discuss my space and price limits. Eventually we agreed that what would make the most sense was a system comprising Axiom M22 v2 front left and right speakers, a VP150 v2 center-channel, M2 v2 surrounds, and an EP500 subwoofer. I chose the M2 v2 over Axiom’s QS8 because the rear speakers would have to be placed within a foot of the rear wall, and a window valance might smother the QS8’s wider dispersion. The M2 v2’s narrower dispersion and precise timbral match to the M22 v2 promised good surround fill while reducing reflections of sound off the wall and valance.

I decided to have the speakers clad in a natural cherry VaSSallo wood finish -- except for the VP150 center, which remained in black vinyl to match my television stand. (The custom wood finish adds four to six weeks to the delivery time.) The system’s total cost, including the VaSSallo finish, was $3120; the standard vinyl finish costs $2350 (if purchased as a complete system, Axiom discounts the standard-finish price to $2232.50 ). The prices do not include Axiom’s FMS16 stands ($190/pair) for the M22 v2s, or their Full Metal Brackets ($39/each) for mounting the M2 v2 surrounds on the walls.

They arrive

Every Axiom speaker sporting a VaSSallo wood finish is protected by a velvet sock; the vinyl-clad VP150 v2 came in a basic plastic bag. Shipping protection came in the form of Styrofoam inserts and medium-gauge cardboard boxes. It’s doubtful this packaging would survive more than a couple of uses. Still, all of the speakers arrived undamaged.

I was immediately impressed by the VaSSallo finish. The smooth, perfectly applied, real-wood laminate’s rich-looking grain perfectly matched our living-room décor. Each cabinet, especially the EP500’s, was solid and apparently free of resonances. The black speaker grilles, which are framed in molded plastic, fastened onto each cabinet with a reassuring snap, and the quality of the five-way binding posts matched or exceeded that of more expensive loudspeakers I’ve had in my home.

Axiom knows that small details make a big difference in the perceived quality of a product, and some very-high-quality accessories raised this system’s perceived quality several notches. At this price I expect thin, 0.25"-diameter floor spikes coated in black powder. What I got were precision-machined spikes as thick as my thumb that tapered to formidable points. And to adjust the spikes’ height, Axiom provides heavy, nickel-size discs instead of cheap, 0.25" hex nuts. Nor are buyers who have hardwood or tile floors shortchanged -- the spikes can be replaced with silver-dollar-sized, screw-in, rubber-backed metal feet, also provided.

Each Axiom speaker uses the same 5.25" aluminum midrange driver and 1" titanium tweeter; the EP500 subwoofer sports a massive 12" aluminum woofer driven by a 500W amplifier. The M22 v2 is a three-driver, two-way design, the M2 v2 a two-driver two-way. The two-way VP150 v2 has three woofers flanked by two tweeters.

The only accessory that didn’t exceed my expectations was Axiom’s FMS16 stand ($190/pair). No matter what I did -- including filling each stand with Axiom’s own rubberized steel balls -- the FMS16 didn’t feel as substantial or as stable as a pair of Sanus Steel Foundation stands ($150/pair), and wobbled a fair amount when supporting the M22 v2s. I attributed this to the stand’s thin top plate and the right-angle tabs used to secure the speaker. Machine screws on the rear two tabs squeeze the M22 v2’s base against a single front center tab, but the tabs bent under the torque I applied to the screw. Having to use a screwdriver may have been part of the problem -- it was too easy to overtighten the screws. Thicker-gauge tabs and finger-friendly knurled knobs in lieu of Phillips-head screws would probably help.

I had no such criticism of the Full Metal Bracket. Each heavy-duty bracket has serrated teeth with set screws at each pivot point. These allow adjustments to be made without having to constantly tighten and loosen the bracket. The Full Metal Bracket ($39/pair) easily outperformed the more expensive OmniMount ball-joint bracket ($49/pair).

Setup

Well-designed products are nothing if they are not accompanied by well-written instructions. The Axiom system came with a leather folder containing product information and setup instructions that did a comprehensive job of guiding me through speaker setup. The M22 v2s ended up 7’ apart and about 1’ from my wall unit, toed-in about ten degrees. The VP150 v2 sat in the television stand below my Mitsubishi WD-52528 LCD display, while the M22 v2s were mounted on the walls to the sides of my listening seat. The substantial and handsome EP500 sub sat beside my sectional sofa, firing across the bows of the M22 v2s. I used Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cables for the M22 v2s, VP150 v2, and M2 v2s, and a single Sub Oval interconnect for the EP500.

Setup was a cinch, with the exception of the EP500’s oversensitive gain control. I barely had to rotate the dial to its first tick mark to fill my room with bass.

Forgetting my fears

Smooth and clean was my first impression of the Axiom system, and over the ensuing weeks it was difficult to hear any faults. The Axioms delivered the detail and emotion of every soundtrack I pumped through them. Hellboy has become my reference for well-produced surround sound. The opening chapter of this epic monster movie is full of seamless audio pans and concussive sound effects. The Axioms never lost track of dialogue or detail during chaotic scenes. The sounds of Grigori Rasputin opening the portal to Hell, a camera shutter’s snap, a cocked pistol, or infantry boots negotiating thick mud, were never drowned out by the whirling Nazi machine. And when a grenade takes out the rotating portal and the hellhole collapses, the sucking sounds of Grigori’s liquefying flesh and folding torso were delivered with a grotesquely satisfying snap.

The EP500 demonstrated its considerable accuracy and power when the hammer in chapter 22, "Something Big," lays waste to a red shirt and an annoyed reanimated corpse. Some subs moosh together room-shaking bass and those upper-level harmonics that give scope and space to a recorded venue. The EP500’s control allowed it to separate the distinct qualities of the hammer’s whoosh and slam, convincingly conveying to my room a sense of the immense subterranean chamber’s depth.

I’d originally planned to use M3 v2s for the surround channels, but Axiom’s Alan Lofft told me the M2 v2 would be a better choice because it is, technically, the M22 v2 with one fewer midrange driver. I’m glad I took his advice -- the result was an absolutely seamless soundstage. Ambient cues moved unimpeded from speaker to speaker, with no dropouts. The system’s extremely smooth high frequencies delivered a slightly velvety quality to such atmospheric details as the sounds of cornstalks in chapter 9 of Signs. After initial setup, however, I heard a slightly suffocated, nasal quality from the VP150 v2 center. A call to Axiom’s excellent customer-service department revealed that the speaker’s high-frequency dispersion might be affected by my room’s furnishings. I flipped the VP150 v2 on its sloped head, which tilted the drivers toward my listening position. From then on I heard no discontinuities in dialogue or sound effects across the front soundstage created by the M22 v2s and VP150 v2.

The Axioms’ lack of coloration was their greatest asset. Bass sounded natural, with satisfying, well-damped punch. Mids didn’t sound forward or artificially warm, and high frequencies weren’t grainy or harsh. I suppose "natural" is the best way to describe the Axioms’ personality; natural, and musically transparent without being too sensitive to the deficiencies of poor recordings. The EP500 was impressive in the way it reproduced bass without bloat or synthetic warmth. It reminded me of the SVS PB12-Ultra/2’s power and finesse, on a slightly smaller scale.

Two-channel, music-only recordings were very enjoyable through the M22 v2s -- a snappy, athletic quality to the presentation made the music hover in midair. On their own, the M22 v2s didn’t produce bottomless bass, but what bass they did put out was exceedingly clean and perfectly weighted. The recordings I listened to, including Colin Hay’s well-recorded Transcendental Highway [Mushroom 13865] and New Order’s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call [Warner Bros. 49307-2], flowed without the equipment getting in the way. The stereo image fell mostly between the speakers and was on the shallow side, but the height and overall "picture" of the music and performers was so lucid and musically enjoyable that I didn’t care.

Comparison

Prior to the Axioms’ arrival, I had a full home-theater array of NHT speakers: the new Classic Three ($800/pair) at the front, a Classic Three Center ($600), Absolute Zeros ($400/pair) for surround duty, and a Twelve subwoofer ($600).

The NHTs are built to a very high standard. Each cabinet is rock-solid, and NHT’s high-quality binding posts are the equal of Axiom’s. All of the Classic Three’s drivers are made of aluminum: 6.5" woofer, 2" dome midrange, and 1" dome tweeter. The Classic Three Center has the same mid/tweeter assembly, flanked by two 6.5" aluminum woofers, and the Absolute Zero has a 5.25" polypropylene bass driver paired with a 1" aluminum tweeter. The Twelve sub’s 12" aluminum woofer is driven by a 250W class-G digital amplifier. The NHT speakers have sealed acoustic-suspension enclosures, while the Axioms have tuned bass-reflex cabinets.

The bass produced by the NHT Classic Threes and Absolute Zeros sounded punchier and appeared to go a little deeper than that created by the Axiom M22 v2s and M2 v2s. The Axioms sounded more consistent and flat across the frequency range, while the NHTs seemed to highlight the midrange frequencies, and couldn’t play to ear-bleeding levels as well as the Axioms. Imaging and naturalness were, hands down, better through the Axioms -- the NHTs sounded a bit mechanical -- and the Axiom system delivered a much more seamless surround image without being affected by my room’s walls. The NHT Classic Three Center did a better job with vocals, and delivered more uniform dispersion no matter where I sat. But the Axioms sounded more nimble and open overall, the NHTs favoring a warmer tonality.

The subwoofer contest was no contest at all. The Axiom EP500 v2, almost three times the price of the NHT Twelve, beat it in terms of bass depth, detail, and power. Still, the NHT’s bass was very musical and punchy.

On the basis of appearance alone, I love the NHTs. Compared to the Axioms’ more traditional boxy shapes, the NHT Classic Threes’ voluptuous curves remind me of much more expensive speakers -- say, EgglestonWorks monitors. But my wife appreciated the Axioms’ wood finish. I preferred the look of the Axioms with their grilles off, though that did accentuate sibilants; the NHT’s handsome array of aluminum drivers sound about the same with or without their grilles.

Freeing myself from audiophile preconceptions

The Axiom Audio M22 v2/M2 v2/VP150 v2/EP500 v2 system is a very good value. The Axiom team has created a capable line of affordable, extremely well-made loudspeakers with very few sonic faults, and a subwoofer that demonstrates amazing performance for $1200. During my time with the Axioms, I spent fewer hours analyzing and more time getting lost in film stories and tapping my foot to the music of my favorite artists. It’s very easy to lose track of what this hobby is all about; these Axiom loudspeakers have allowed me to reacquaint myself with the musical medium, not the means.

Review System
Receivers - NAD T763, Arcam AVR350
Sources - NAD T562 CD player, Oppo Digital OPDV971H DVD player
Cables - Analysis Plus
Power Conditioner - APC S15BLK
Display Device - Mitsubishi WD-52528 rear-projection LCD television
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Axiom Canada Inc.
Box 82, Highway 60
Dwight, Ontario P0A 1H0
Canada
Phone: (866) 244-8796 (toll-free), (705) 635-3090
Fax: (705) 635-1972

Website: www.axiomaudio.com


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