Axiom Audio Millennia M80Ti
Line Driver Arrays
by A. Colin Flood
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The six silver cones of the Axiom Audio M80Ti towers are almost excellent with high-tech good looks, sharp treble, good dynamics, high efficiency, low bass, good power handling with good, natural sounding response and imaging at a remarkably low price of
$1,100 per pair.
Axiom manufactures their own drivers for themselves and other companies in Canada. They also build and veneer their own line of loudspeakers. The M80Ti models are Axiom's best, a dual-purpose music/movie loudspeaker for home theaters. I loved the charming Axiom Audio M3Ti bookshelf speakers for $275 per pair, and clearly said so in my review. See the M3 review for Axiom's unique construction practices
by clicking here. I could not wait to hear their bigger brothers, the Axiom Millennia SE M80Tis and I was not disappointed.
The Cherry wood brothers are 39.5" tall and 9" thin. They are wedge-shaped floor-standing units with a parade of silver discs down the front. Six drivers align in an tower array for only $1,100 a pair. There are two 6.5" bass, two 5.25" mid-range and two 1" dome drivers with a black puckered port in a straight line down the center of the cabinet. Looks very high-tech. The magnet on the midrange drivers is almost as large as the cone, yet all of the drivers are shielded for undistorted placement near video screens.
Comparing the amazing little M3Ti to the tall M80Ti towers is like comparing a Red Delicious apple to a basket of fruit. A cornucopia of flavors, the M80Ti has more of everything; not just a single taste. M80Tis definitely have more bass output, volume and soundstage. With four drivers in each tower to handle the upper, mid-bass and mid-range, and lower to middle registers are both deeper, tighter, better formed and more controlled.
Yet the M3Tis with the darling $99 ASL Wave 8s was a remarkable combination of quickness,
"punchiness," exuberance and downright "stomp on the pedal and zip around the corner" fun with significantly low cost components. Although my 3.5-watt Bottlehead Paramours, with their delicate 2A3 tubes, easily drive the M80Tis to moderate volume levels, the mid-range and bass push was better with SS amps.
Despite an super-efficient sensitivity rating (at 95dB/W/m), the M80Tis did not get the most music out of the Paramours, suggesting that more powerful tubes are better suited to the task. At the other extreme, they also did not need the crackling energy that the
Nelson Pass Single-Ended Class-A X250 power plant provides either, though they do sound better with solid-state power. This energy requirement is implied by the lower than average 4-ohm
Tonally, the M80Ti come across as fairly neutral, but without being dull, unusually even, smooth, balanced or flat sounding. There is nothing missing in any region. Vocals are superb, though without the smidgens of warmth, even tone, balance, smoothness and detail, which distinguish notably, refined loudspeakers, such as JM Lab
Vince Christian E6c system or
M80Tis treble response, as evidenced by an above average reach to
22kHz, is almost excellent: some of the best treble I have heard on cone loudspeakers. It is very smooth, an excellent balance of detail and sweetness, with a pretty and detailed presentation throughout the mid-range. A noticeable sizzle in the mid-treble range adds crispness to cymbals, without sounding like the sharpest notes you have ever heard. Nothing is missing there either. Brass instruments do have a bit of bite to them, just not the "blat" or "blare" that metal horns do so well. Rated to 22kHz, their high end is sweet and amazingly good.
M80Tis do sound better, and look much better, without their grilles. Treble extension was more apparent, bringing sharpness, focus and definition in to the picture; while the line of six silver discs is beguilingly high-tech.
With a 25-Hz depth, the M80Tis do have good to very good bass presentation. They can kick. They are deep and authoritative. The middle bass region has satisfying punch and tautness. Only a few, more powerful and expensive systems are noticeably better. (Krell amplifiers and B&W loudspeakers are the first to come to mind.) I found the M80Tis bass quantity and quality to be nearly perfect - almost excellent - without a lot of startling effects. It was neither too thick or too thin, nor too boomy or too resonant.
On the M80Tis, the bass on Diana Krall's incredible Stepping Out was full and a little punchy, though not overly warm or
boomy; though not exceptionally taut either. A bow drawn over the strings was thicker and fuller than many presentations, with the notable exceptions being the buzz added by big old horns and the thickness added by the Newtronics Skates. The M80Tis emphasis is on the attack (punch) of the notes, not the decay. The bass isn't rude or intrusive either, like large low cost and lightweight woofers can be.
Lacking Some Things, Adding Others
Although the M80Tis measure low enough, Klipsch's massive corner horns and the folded transmission lines of the Newtronics Skates
(as reviewed here), sound much deeper. Moans from these two seem to descend earthward. String bass and piano notes sound as if they have a body attached. The subsonic effects of these two roll through the house like thunderstorms at your feet. This proves once again, that although their "field" skills measure almost full range, even loudspeakers like the M80Tis need a burly subwoofer to clear the path to the deep bass end-zone.
Unlike the single driver Omega TS1s, or the recessed Vince Christian E6c system, the M80Tis are not reserved, noticeably neutral, casual or laid-back, but neither are they forward, aggressive, heavily colored or obnoxious sounding either. Despite an admirably wide and flat frequency response, the M80s do not stand out as abnormally smooth, even, tonally balanced or neutral.
Unlike the E6c satellites for example, the Axiom M80Tis do add something to the sound. They do sound colored. (Not so colored though, as the rich, liquid, and apparently quite French, mid-range smoothness of the JM Labs Cobalt speakers with Audio Refinement amplification, which borders on the lush,
Hagen-Daz™ rich and creamy side).
Notes on the M80s are not as fully formed, dimensional and complete as the urbane E6c system. Piano notes do have good texture, though not any of the sharp ringing or sustained resonance of big old horns. The notes have no stridency or belabored ringing. They are sharp with the high-end falling away quickly. In another way of saying this, the M80s do keep pace with more sophisticated and expensive systems.
The mid-range is good, without the effortless and easy to listen to quality of single drivers or big old horn speakers. Flutes are smooth and even. Drums are clean, accurate and taut, without being overly punchy. Cymbals are also good, sometimes crisp and sizzling, but often bright. Saxophones are evenly toned without enormous detail and none of the "blare" and "blat" associated with big old horns.
While I wanted to cloister myself with chamber or ensemble music on the M3Tis and Paramours, I felt little urge to do so with the larger brothers. Perhaps this was because of the quick dynamics and lack of crossover in the smaller models. The M80Tis are not as quick, dynamic or punchy as the small Axiom M3Tis, TS1s or my big old horns. They do not invite you to listen to female folk rock artists as TS1s do, or to orchestral work, as the E6c system does. Smooth jazz, good-old Rock N' Roll, along with a lot of movies, occurred most often on the M80Tis.
The M80Tis do not subdue recordings, but neither do they emphasis one background effect over another. The background tambourine, for example,
does not suddenly play up front next to the foreground instrument. Yet, separation is good - comparable to most loudspeakers at higher prices. Soundstage and imaging is also good. With all tested loudspeakers positioned well away from front or sidewalls, I did not find the M80Tis difficult to place or requiring a large room, though they do rank with some of the larger models found in the retail stores.
The red Boston Cherry vinyl finish of the cabinets is deeper than the light henna of the Omega Cherry, yet lighter than the deep Chinese firecracker red of the new Coincident Technology Triumph Signature
UHS. The Axiom Cherry is more typical in color. While not as exotic as the glossy blue-gray laminates of the Omega TS1s, the fit and finish is flawless and beyond reproach; as good as any other high-quality loudspeaker. At the Axiom site, click on the sample color panel and the picture of the loudspeakers changes to that color.
Since the M80Ti loudspeakers take up exactly the same amount of floor space as TS1s on garden pedestals or leaning Newtronics Skates, I
did not find the M80Tis to be unduly large or unwieldy loudspeakers. Note however, this is from a guy weaned on big old Klipsch horns and whose audio motto is "bigger
is better!" I am used to loudspeakers than need as much floor-space as offensive linebackers, even if my spouse, "little miss sensitive ears," is not.
The M80Ti loudspeakers have three of the unique Axiom puckered ports: one in front and two in the back. The ports are long black plastic tubes; corrugated, or puckered, on one end, almost large enough for a fist and tapering slowly to the inside. These ports provide excellent grips for inching the loudspeakers around the dance-floor
(Enjoy the Music.com™ hand-hold score: 90, well above average).
The M80Tis have two sets of terminals, linked together with a brass plate. They can be bi-wired or bi-amplified. Most loudspeakers do not come with any sort of manual and the ones that do are flimsy and uninformative at best. Here again, the Axioms are unique. Although theirs is only a booklet of two folded pages, they do provide a useful manual. It does cover bridging, bi-wiring, bi-amplifying, placement, care, spiking and precautions (under-powered amplifiers). Graphics accompany each description.
The practice of bi-wiring removes bridging plate and runs two sets of loudspeaker cables to the same amplifier. It can provide a low cost improvement to the sound, particularly in the lower registers. The practice of bi-amplifying also removes the bridging plate, but the two sets of loudspeaker cables run to two different amplifiers. This can provide substantial improvement in the sound, especially if an amplifier with greater power, or greater bass control, muscles the lower impedances of the woofers.
Bangs, Bucks and Bars
Many listeners enjoy the music without the concerns of the tweaking audiophile. They do not claim golden-ears or hypersensitivity about certain audio effects and defects. For them, the well-defined bass, overall presence, and the "happy to be playing" charm of the M80Tis - not to mention the high-tech array of six silver cones and domes - makes the towers an excellent value; far superior to most retail fare.
Unless you are a tweaking audio hobbyist exploring esoteric paths to ethereal audio nirvanas (such as inner resolution of details, uncompromising dynamics or unparalleled tonal truth), these loudspeakers should serve everyone with more than enough quality sound. This is what most people on the street, not the tweaking audiophile in his tower, want from a loudspeaker - plenty of features, few negatives and lots of value at a very competitive price point.
For tweaking audiophiles, I found the leaning Newtronics Skates transmission lines with a good solid-state amplifier to be more subtle, complete and competent, and the Single Driver Omega TS1s with the Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours to be smoother, more refined and definitive in texture and tone.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association in October of last year (2001), nearly 25 million
households - about 23 percent of all U.S. households - own home theater systems. "Even with the downturn in the economy," this report says, "home theater sales keep going up." (They found 70 percent of consumers either "very interested" or "somewhat interested" in multi-channel audio.) Anybody leaning towards any of the off-the shelf loudspeaker brands for a multi-channel audio system, which can play movies equally well, should seriously consider the outstanding value that the Axiom loudspeaker line represents.
For two-channel systems, a company known for heavy round loudspeakers made from marble, nOrh, recently announced a new single ended 9-watt integrated amplifier for $499. This surprisingly low cost alternative should provide a very interesting review next month! Like the charming ASL Wave 8 tube amplifiers
(reviewed here) and the Axiom line of loudspeakers, it represents an incredible value for tweaking audiophiles. The nOrh amplifier (pronounced like "more" with an "n") has bargain basement pricing with some exceptional high-end sound qualities.
Raise The Bar
Loudspeakers are the only bargain in audio: they give you the most bang for your buck. The Axiom M80Tis set the standard - nay, make that - raise the bar, for value. Pioneer, Bose Infinity and Sony, along with other loudspeakers, rarely offer any thing at the general electronics stores that is exceptionally outstanding near the $1,000/pair price, despite what the November 2002 issue of
Consumer Reports magazine claims (p.42). In fact, you can do better.
Lately, the Canadian dollar has fallen in recent months against the USD, it hovers at a 0.63 exchange rate (you get 1.58114 Canadian for every US dollar). If all other things are equal, buying loudspeakers over the Internet from Canada should save Americans as much as 42% over retail purchases in the US! This puts the M80Tis out in front of the best loudspeakers that chains like Best Buy or Circuit City have to offer.
The M80Ti loudspeakers set the mid-mark in almost every respect, compared to all other loudspeakers reviewed here, with an unbelievably low price.
Axiom loudspeakers make you wonder why so many other loudspeakers are so expensive. They sound quite very clear and well defined. They are open, spacious and airy enough for all but the most discerning audiophile, with quite low distortion. The speakers do have strong almost authoritative bass, thanks to their multiple driver arrays. Overall conformity across the musical bandwidth is consistently high.
Allowing for larger size, a lot more drivers and higher price, I still like the smaller Axiom brother just as much as the larger one. At only $279, the crossover-less M3Tis are joyous little performers. On the
Enjoy the Music.com™ reviewer's scale, a score 50 is passing, about average. Not even the best loudspeakers can somehow be above average in all respects, therefore look for a wide range in scores for a clue to how these models stack up against others. Grading all other loudspeakers on a curve, the M80Tis may seem only average across the board, but that consistency comes at an incredibly low price. Considering their price, I rate the
M80Ti above average in most respects, compared to other loudspeakers at twice the price. I also add my own category, enjoyment, to reflect my emotional, and in this case, financial, response.
The M80Tis are almost excellent with good looks, solid construction, full-range, with no special requirements, at a price so low that they are not just entry level move, but for most people, they are probably the only move. The
M80Ti loudspeakers are good enough to pair with front-end equipment worth many times their price. Unless you are looking for some very hard to define audiophile qualities, look no further than the Axiom
M80Ti. Sound and build qualities are far above the typical retail price point. They
provide solid bottom end, comprehensive mid-range and sizzling treble. They are an "almost excellent" choice and an extraordinary value.