Monday, September 24, 2007

Axiom Epic 60 Loudspeaker Review

I'll answer the first question right off: yes, Axiom is one of those internet-only speaker companies. They're based in Canada. Like other Canadian speaker makers (PSB for example), Axiom has access to the National Research Institute. This well-equipped lab provides the best in test equipment to help manufacturers design the best possible products. I first learned of Axiom by reading reviews on the Audioholics website. I spent a lot of time over the past 6 months researching and listening to many brands of speakers. As a classical music lover, accuracy was of paramount importance to me. Axiom is one of the few companies that publishes detailed graphs of all their models online. I was also fortunate to find a local man who had the exact setup I was considering in his theater. After spending an afternoon spinning CDs and DVDs on his excellent setup, I made my decision. I placed my order online and 2 weeks later, the speakers showed up from DHL. All pieces were in perfect condition. Packaging was quite robust and secure. Axiom has a 30-day refund policy if you wish to return the speakers for any reason. They also cover any damage incurred in shipping. In fact, the man who demoed his speakers for me said they replaced a surround speaker he had damaged himself at no charge! All Axiom products carry a 5-year warranty. The system consists of 2 M60 tower speakers, 37" tall, driven by 2 6.5" aluminum woofers, a 5.25" aluminum midrange and a 1" aluminum dome tweeter. There are 2 ports on the back and one on the front. The 27" wide VP150 center channel uses 3 of the same 5.25" midranges and 2 of the same 1" tweeters. They are arranged in a TMMMT layout. This is unusual compared to other center channel speakers but there are definite benefits which I will talk about later. It is a sealed design. The QS8 surrounds are a sealed quad-pole design employing upward and downward firing 5.25" midranges and 2 1" tweeters arrayed at a 45-degree angle. The EP350 subwoofer employs a front-firing 12" aluminum driver and 200-watt amplifier. It is front ported.

My room is a bit unusual in that I have the couch and the TV in opposite corners. I placed the 37" tall M60 towers on a low TV bench I built myself. This placed the tweeters about 4" above ear level. For movie and TV sound, this is not a problem. For music, I would like to have the tweeters lower. I plan to solve this problem by building a seperate media room in an unused bedroom. More on my future mancave plans soon, stay tuned! Anyway, back to reality. I placed the center channel in a box I have suspended over my 50" TV. The sub was placed to the side firing at the seating area. The surrounds were wall-mounted. They are far from ideally placed but more on that later. All speakers were wired with 12-gauge cable and compression-style banana plugs from Bluejeans Cable. The mains were bi-amped. The sub was connected with a high-quality Belden cable also from Bluejeans. Crossovers were set at 60hz for the mains, 100hz for the center and 110hz for the surrounds. Channel levels were set with my trusty Radio Shack SPL meter. I did go +2db on the center and -2db on the sub after watching several movies.

Since the bulk of my listening is movies, I concentrated on that for the first few weeks. Let me tell you, if you haven't had a quality sound system for movie watching before, you don't know what you're missing! Even this system, which is far from expensive, blows away any movie theater I've ever been in. Mind you, most movie theaters are not calibrated properly at all. Often, subs or dialog channels are missing or set too low or too high. The last movie I saw in a theater, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was painful to sit through. The dialog was OK but the mains and subs were so loud they approached distortion. I was physically exhausted when I left the theater. With a quality home theater system such as the Axiom Epic 60, you can finally hear a movie soundtrack the way it was meant to be heard in all its detail and ambience. And as my room is far from ideal, I can only imagine how much better it will be in a properly sound-treated room. (Mancave, more to come!) The center channel's unusual design placing the tweeters on the ends, really came to the fore. The sound field for dialog was far wider than traditional centers that place the tweeter in the middle. Plus, the Axiom's tweeters are less affected by the output of the midranges since they are only bordered on one side by other drivers. The surrounds as I said before, are very forgiving of placement. THX spec calls for surrounds mounted on the sides of the seating area, above ear level. Mine are to the side and to the rear. They are also mounted at 90-degrees to one another. Even with this huge compromise, the surround envelope is superb. Panning effects really do make you jump and the sound field is truly 3-dimensional. My favorite track so far is the movie Pan's Labyrinth. The scenes during rainstorms and gunbattles are just incredible. If you watch this movie, be sure to engage the DTS track, it's a little beefier.

This system cost me just over $2500 delivered. Coupled with the excellent Denon AVR3806 receiver and DVD 2930CI disc player, my in-home theater experience has improved by a huge factor. These are truly long-term speakers. Receivers and disc players are in a constant state of flux but good loudspeakers can last a lifetime. Unless I have to fill a significantly bigger space with sound, I can't imagine a better matched system. Axiom does have a larger tower model and 2 more sub upgrades should I feel the need, but I don't! My next upgrade will be the Mancave. I plan to buy another identical system from Axiom and install it in a dedicated, acoustically treated room. Stay tuned for that as I plan to document the entire process of building this room. Thanks for reading and enjoy the view!

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