The Amazing Axiom Audio
Review By A. Colin Flood
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A quick glance at the Axiom M3Tis shows them to be classic two-way bookshelf loudspeakers. This style is the foundation for millions of American audio systems. They are the family four-door sedans of the audio market - lots of features and value for the money. The $275 Axiom M3it pair adds a few of their own smart details to the standard tweeter and woofer configuration to distinguish them from the crowd. Music is hidden in those details.
Normally, I could care less about the construction of a loudspeaker - the sound comes first - but these little charmers sound so good, I want to go over some of the reasons why they do:
First off, there is no crossover element on the woofer, a feature of more esoteric audiophile fare. The woofer runs free and clear - then it rolls off gently. The mechanical roll-off integrates naturally with the tweeter, without the restrictions and cost of a crossover. Since the Axiom M3Tis sound so good, this small feature becomes important.
The second impression is that they are very well made, especially considering their low price. The cabinet on this Axiom M3Tis model was a seamless Boston Cherry veneer. Not that you can tell that it was a veneer. There is no exposure of the wood underneath. The fit and finish is very good - in the same league as more expensive loudspeakers. Veneering and edges are flawless. The bare-knuckle "thump" test was excellent for such a small and inexpensive loudspeaker.
Other than the typical bookshelf frontal appearance, with two drivers, one on top of the other, the next item that catches your attention upon closer inspection, is the tapered side of their cabinets. The Axiom M3Tis are not merely small square boxes.
The front corner edges are truncated and the sides slope back, the rear panel is narrower than the front one, creating a slight wedge shape to the boxes. The walls are asymmetrical - meaning not parallel to each other.
Axiom trumpets their eight-sided seamless cabinets as "ground-breaking Anti Standing Wave
(ASW)." The asymmetrical wedge shape reduces internal standing waves, making the Axiom M3Tis more resonant free and the internal air easier to move. Since this design feature is too subtle to be a mere gimmick (it is not visible from the front of the Axiom M3Ti loudspeakers), this is attention to detail is quite unexpected at the bottom level for audio systems. With the M3Tis sounding so good, this feature too becomes important.
The next item that catches your attention on the Axiom M3Ti loudspeakers is the unusual port on the back. The port is a long black round plastic tube. It is corrugated or puckered on one end, almost large enough for a fist and tapers slowly to the other end. The puckered tube extends straightforward into the cabinet. It reaches close to the front panel, narrowing as it gets closer. You can see the silver back of the tweeter at the end of the plastic tunnel.
The vortex port offers "more volume for the same diameter." The port's puckered shape slows and concentrates air moving through it. When the Axiom M3Ti loudspeaker is working hard, you can feel puffs of air coming from the wide mouth of the port. Since this attention to detail is also not visible from the front of the Axiom M3Ti, this feature too is an unexpected delight at this level of audio. Since their sound is so good, this third feature adds to a sum certainly worth more than its parts.
Axiom Audio may be a new name to some, but they have been around for 20 years. In fact, founder Ian Colquhoun joined the Canadian National Research Council project, whose aim was to standardize the measurement of loudspeaker sound, in 1982. This experience shows in the thoughtfulness given to such a low cost loudspeaker. Their AX line of loudspeakers won the "Critic's Choice" award from
Sound & Vision magazine several times. Axiom added the Millennia line in their
The Axiom M3Tis are the second largest bookshelf loudspeakers in the Millennia line. They have a larger bookshelf model and a tower line of loudspeakers also. The M3Tis have a smooth white aluminum woofer cone and a button shaped 15 oz.
ferro-fluid cooled titanium tweeter (hence the "Ti" appellation) protected by a small black cross of plastic. Gold plated binding posts provide for good and clean connections. Axiom M3Tis come shipped to your door via Fed Ex three-day air for only $275 - even less, if you buy their Factory Outlet models with barely visible blemishes.
The loudspeaker sensitivity is rated well above average, 93dB efficiency. Yet, their actual one kHz in room response was about 10dB less than loudspeakers rated at 100dB/W/m. Still, Axiom M3Tis seem very easy to drive. They did not give the 3.5 watt tube amplifiers I used any hint of a problem. Impedance is typical, rated at a nominal 8 ohms.
Small Loudspeaker Woes
Keep in mind that at this end of the audio spectrum; many low cost bookshelf loudspeakers suffer from more
faults than strengths. They often struggle to reproduce the music. Instruments are
"jambled" together like Grandma's stew - all sorts of things thrown in there. Cabinets and drivers are lightweight: thin and flimsy. Separation is poor. Dynamics are congested. Bass dies on the vine, parched from lack of power and control. Treble just hisses at you … oh gad, I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Nothing that captures the joyous essence of music; only something that imitates the sound.
Any good bookshelf loudspeaker needs to be away from the front and sidewalls, and positioned at ear level for best listening affects. Solid, heavy stands are very strongly recommended for tweaking audiophiles, but I did not use loudspeaker stands for my listening, although Axiom provides decent looking ones. Instead, 100 lb. Klipsch Cornwalls loudspeakers served as burly 3' tall pedestals. The Axiom M3Tis were at least three feet from all walls; in a 14' by 17' carpeted room closed on one end, but open on the other.
The sound and construction of Axiom M3Tis are wonderful exceptions to many low cost bookshelf loudspeakers. While they are smoothly colored, in the mid-range and mid-bass, this adds - not detracts - from the overall sound.
The bass especially, is surprisingly deep for such little loudspeakers. Though the sub-bass (10Hz to 60Hz.) region was not rated, because it does not exist, the Axiom M3Tis sound much deeper than their 50 Hz bottom. Bass is quite extended, given both the size and the price of the Axioms. It bass is tight, detailed and uncommonly deep; low enough for most music. When the loudspeakers are cranked too high however, they do sound like many small loudspeakers do: straining under a heavy load.
The bass is not exceptionally taut or punchy, but it is smooth, obvious in its presence and much deeper than the narrow size would indicate. In fact, I double-checked to make sure the sub-woofers were off. Because of this, the typical $500 mid-bass sub-woofer is unlikely to add much power or pleasure to the pair. A sub-woofer that retailed for above $1000 was a better match. I found myself using the 500-watt Klipsch LF10 to accompany the M3Tis. With it, I achieved very good imaging, soundstage and bass depth, but without a lot of mid-bass punch.
The low-priced Axiom M3Tis impressed me greatly with their clarity and resolution, particularly in the crucial midrange area. The midrange is open and clear. They have a level of smoothness normally associated with high-end loudspeakers. The bass and the smooth mid-range make for one very listenable and enjoyable charmer of a cherry box.
In fact, the only loudspeaker I have heard with a smoother, more liquid mid-range and crisp treble presentation was the JM Lab
Cobalts, backed by Audio Refinement equipment. Yet, that set-up was four times the price. It was not merely smooth however; it bordered on the lush,
Hagen-Daz™ rich and creamy side.
This was borne out with a simple test. I allowed for three things in my test: a
2dB range for the inaccuracy of the Radio Shack SPL meter, a 5-6kHz bounce for room reflection and some latitude for the Paramours' lack of woofer impedance control. I found the actual "C" weighted in-room frequency response to be as flat as some very expensive loudspeakers, within 3dB, and the real-world range to be typical of the handful of loudspeakers I've tested, from 100Hz to 16kHz. In other words, they capture most of the musical spectrum fairly accurately.
The Millennia 3Tis possess an even tonal balance, no bloat or exaggeration, and most importantly, no overly warm woolly character that can plague lower-priced loudspeakers. The M3Tis are easygoing in the midrange and non-mechanical overall. They have very good retrieval of detail, due perhaps to the absence of the crossover.
Rated to 22kHz, their high end is sweet and amazingly good. It is some of the best treble I have heard on cone loudspeakers: very smooth, an excellent balance of detail and sweetness, with a pretty and detailed presentation throughout the mid-range.
I listen with a Rotel CD player and the Series II version of the Dynaco's classic PAS-3 tube pre-amp. My current stack of reference discs includes the wonderfully sultry and showy jazz of Diana Krall in 24-bit/96kHz
[Stepping Out, JustinTime 2000, see my gushing review by clicking
here]. The stack includes the excellent darkness and instrumental tones on the
DMP Does DSP SACD [Digital Music Products '99], the amazing clean and tight jazz sounds on the
20 Bit Taste of DMP sampler [DMP '93] and the various Stereophile magazine Test CD recordings ('90, '92 and '95).
There is nothing like an efficient loudspeaker with a tube amp. With the enchanting $99 ASL Wave 8 tube
monoblocks (see my review here), the Axiom M3Tis are punchy and dynamic - together, these little puppies rock. Because of this, percussive sounds lead the way. I have not heard the very well regarded PSB line of loudspeakers, but if their low cost models come any near this level of performance, then they can really sing!
With the 3.5 watt Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours, the Axiom sound was delicate, smooth and detailed with very good texture and tone. Eminently listenable. If you want to cloister yourself with chamber or ensemble music, then budget for refined musical sounding amps to go with for these charmers.
Despite its overall proficiency, the Axiom M3Tis are still small loudspeakers. Nevertheless, they play all kinds of music, including rock and orchestral pieces, at normal listening levels. These are not big, brassy "party" loudspeakers, nor are they suitable for a very large room. If that is what you need, Axiom does offer larger loudspeakers based on the same technology. I hope to hear one of the company's floor-standing models next month.
When playing any variety of music the Axiom M3Tis cast a credible soundstage with a fine sense of depth. They do not have the huge and effortless dynamics of big old horns. Their imaging was good, but they do not cast a 3D sonic hologram as well as focused big old horns can either. Both dynamics and imaging however, are as good as some loudspeakers that are much more expensive.
While the Axiom M3Tis cannot do everything extremely well, I never had the feeling that I was missing anything substantial. In fact, I felt they added something to the sound and enjoyment of music. Therefore, I have to conclude that they are probably colored in their sound. Logically, I must warn that not everybody will find them as enjoyable as I did. Their coloration, what ever it is, may not be for everyone.
Yet, I would expect high-end loudspeakers to add this kind of joy to recordings, but most of them rarely do. The engagingly colored voices of low-end loudspeakers are often sacrificed for the clinically austere specs of high-end ones.
Compared to the industrial gray of the Vince Christian E6 satellites, they do not have the texture, tone, sound-staging or imaging. Next to the Newtronics Skate
MK.II, they sound smaller, yet more full.
In contrast to my big old horns, the Axiom M3Tis seem to be exceptionally well balanced, but not as dynamic or "live" sounding. Yet, they are not deficient in any substantial way; there are no obvious anomalies to fatigue during long-term listening. They are smooth and detailed. Impressive construction. Incredible value for the money. Very smart attention to detail. They show how good inexpensive cone loudspeakers can be.
Anybody looking for high quality, very low cost loudspeakers, should listen to the Axiom's - good luck finding anything remotely as good for $275. I think they are better than any B&W, Klipsch, Infinity, Technics, Bose, JBL and Sony models I have heard in this price range. They certainly beat the mainstream fare offered at Best Buy stores. I would not hesitate to recommend strongly them to any one looking at name-brand models. If people cannot hear obvious differences, at least they get a better-made loudspeaker - for less money.
Loudspeakers are the only bargain in audio - they are where you get the most bang for your audio buck. The Axiom M3Tis are elegant examples of that. The Axiom M3Tis are great, inexpensive loudspeakers that bring some of the tweaking audiophile high-end sound down to a ridiculously low price. They are a good match for front-end equipment costing two to three times their price. Axiom M3Tis are among the best bargains in audio.