Axiom Epic Grand Master Surround Speaker Package: How It Sounds

AudioWorld Rating:

How Does It Sound?

What you really want to know is: how does the system sound? I won’t beat around the bush. These speakers sound very, very good. As a general characterization, the sound quality is transparent, open, airy, and detailed. Response across the full audio spectrum, from about 35 Hz in the low end out to limits of human hearing at the top (specs say +/- 3 db to 22 kHz for the full-range speakers), is smooth as you could want, no unpleasant colorations that I could detect. The use of the same drivers all around ensures a fair (though not perfect) timbral balance across the front, and front-to-back.

I found it very easy to set up the subwoofer to sit in a comfortable balance to the full-range speakers. The front speakers are decidedly light on the bottom end (Axiom’s specs indicate a rapid drop-off below 60 Hz), and they really need the sub to handle the low frequencies. I left the low-pass filter on the sub wide open, and used the bass management on the Harman Kardon AVR520 receiver driving the system to handle the crossover. With the crossover set at the obvious choice of 80 Hz, I was rewarded with a pleasingly smooth and natural transition from sub to mains, with minimal tweaking of the output level control on the sub.

By the way, if you are trying out these or other Axiom loudspeakers for yourself, be aware of the importance of “burning in” the speakers for a good long while before you try to decide how you like them. I found that they sounded quite harsh and uneven at the outset, and it took a good 30 – 40 hours of play time before the sound started to settle down and reveal its finer qualities. This is a necessary consequence of the metallic materials used for the driver cones. But since Axiom doesn’t seem to mention it anywhere in its set-up documentation or on the Web site, you might be surprised (and disappointed) if you don’t know what to expect.

On with the show. Let’s take a closer look at how the Epic Grand Master system performs in a variety of roles.

M22’s Shine in Stereo
Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms

This is one of my favorite CDs for checking out a set of loudspeakers for basic stereo listening. What I’m looking for here is a precise sound stage, an accurate stereo image, and the ability to reveal details of the pristine music mix cleanly. I also listen for a true-sounding recreation of the the individual instruments that are so finely presented in this recording, which is engineered with excellent close-mic technique.

That’s exactly what I heard from the M22’s. With the EP175 subwoofer in the picture, the Axioms reproduced this music nearly as well as the best studio monitor set-ups I’ve heard. Each element of the mix was laid out across the stereo image just where it should be; defining instruments such as the drum kit, the smooth sax solos on a couple of tracks, and Mark Knopfler’s lead vocal sounded lively and natural. The M22ti’s also impressed me with their refined response to high frequency material, like the breathy, sibilant background vocals, and the subtle definition of this recording’s sweet artificial reverbs as they tail away.

I also listened to Brothers in Arms with the EP175 sub switched off. I was still impressed with the sound of the M22’s, although their lack of deep bass was clearly evident. What bottom there was came out crisp, tight, and articulate, which left me feeling that for some material, these bookshelf speakers would make a fine stereo rig all by themselves.

With the EP175 switched back in, I was struck by the relative flabbiness and slow articulation of the bass lines. While this sub provides solid deep bass that sounds clean and musical, I noticed this lack of sharpness and speed frequently throughout my testing of the system — not much of an issue with the typical low frequency (LFE) stuff in movie soundtracks, but occasionally a disappointment with well-recorded music.

Next: The Epic Grand Master does surround!

Axiom’s M80 Tower Loudspeakers Mansfield Beech Finish

Top-of-the-line Full-Range Sound

Axiom Millennia M80 Tower Loudspeakers: Sound Comparisons

AudioWorld Rating:

How do they sound?

I tested the M80’s in a variety of contexts, focusing mostly on their role as main front speakers in a 5.1 surround system, both for music and for movies. With the M80’s replacing the smaller M22’s in the Epic Grand Master package, the system is similar to Axiom’s top-of-the-line Epic 80 package, but with a smaller center channel speaker (VP100 instead of VP150) and subwoofer (EP175 instead of EP350).

I also made direct A/B comparisons of the M80 vs. the M22. I was interested to find out how much of a difference the upgrade to the M80’s would make in various settings, given the $700 (US) per pair price differential.

Diana Krall: Love Scenes
(Impulse DVD-Audio)

This DVD-Audio disc is a great romantic jazz listen, as well as an ideal way to evaluate the essential characteristics of a speaker system in both stereo and surround. The ensemble of bass-piano-guitar plus vocal is beautifully recorded, with distinct mixes for each format: the stereo version (96kHz/24-bit) is up-close and intimate, the surround version (44.1kHz/24-bit) a little more spacious and reverberant. In both cases, the instruments are captured with realism and detail that reveals all.

Listening to Love Scenes in advanced resolution stereo through the M80ti’s alone is a delight. The acoustic bass, in particular, sounds sumptuous and natural, right down to the bottom. No hint of resonances or imbalances of any kind. As you would expect, the bookshelf M22ti’s are no match for the big speakers at reproducing the lower bass. Putting that obvious difference aside, I found that the M80ti’s present a slightly better defined soundstage, with the phantom center more stable and the whole stereo field a little more enveloping.

In surround, the M80’s again sound spectacular. The characteristic Axiom sound – transparent, open-ended, detailed – is evident, and the tower speakers fit together tonally and spatially with the rest of the speaker ensemble, to perfection. With this recording, there is little to say about the bottom end, since the mix directs the low bass to the LFE subwoofer channel rather aggressively. With or without bass management switched in, the end result is an accurate reproduction of the bass instrument, without any crossover glitches between registers.

Insane Clown Posse: The Wraith – Shangri-La
(DTS Entertainment DVD-Audio)

For something completely different, I turned to this extravagantly-produced hip-hop/rap attack, which offers a riotous surround mix and multitrack aural manipulations by the jugful (note: definitely not recommended for family listening, highly abrasive lyrics).

What I was after here was a fix on how the M80 would handle an extreme challenge in the low frequencies, with the heavily-processed bass lines and layers of chunky beats often found in current pop recordings.

The advantage of full-range speakers for the main front pair is evident in this situation. With the bass management crossover set at 40Hz, the deep – almost sub-sonic – fundamentals throughout this recording issue forth with appropriately furniture-rattling weight, courtesy of the subwoofer, while the M80ti’s bring definition and clarity to the mid-bass drum, percussion and synth elements. With the sub taken out of the picture, the M80’s still put this music over with substantial impact, but entirely lacking the profound bottom end on tracks like Murder Rap and Blaaam!!!

The big Axioms also have a clear advantage over their bookshelf siblings through the midrange of the spectrum, with this recording. The music is densely layered and frenetically busy, and I found that the M80’s are able to articulate and lay out the complex mix with greater clarity. Not to mention that cranking the amp up to deliver dance-club sound levels, the M80’s ramped up without breaking a sweat: really loud, and really clean.

Black Hawk Down
(Columbia Pictures DVD-Video)

The soundtrack of this modern war flick (Academy Award for Best Sound, 2001) is a showcase of complex, nuanced sound design – everything from crushing explosions and chopper fly-by’s, to subtle ambient details in the quieter scenes. The M80’s handle everything this movie throws at them with ease. These speakers, in common with all of the Axiom models I have auditioned, are masterful at creating a surround soundscape that is utterly realistic – enveloping, detailed, and accurate. I can’t really say that there’s much advantage in having the larger Axioms this time around, as the standard Epic Grand system with the smaller M22’s is equally proficient in this context.

Philippe Herreweghe J.S. Bach – Leipzig Christmas Cantatas
(Harmonia Mundi Hybrid Multichannel SACD)

A fine performance and recording of Bach choral-orchestral works, with lovely, naturally-reverberant acoustics. The M80ti’s sound spectacular here, all by themselves in the stereo version, or carrying the main effort in the surround mix. Perhaps it is tellling that listening to the stereo tracks provides an enveloping surround-like experience that is almost indistinguishable from the full surround – the Axioms really are that good at recreating a vibrant soundstage, given an excellent classically-engineered recording.

The low frequency response of the M80 handles the full range of this recording without any difficulty: in fact, they sound better with the subwoofer switched out altogether, producing accurate, tight bass that is a tad compromised when the sub is involved.

MartinLogan Announces Grotto, Compact, High-Resolution Subwoofer

MartinLogan Announces Grotto, Compact, High-Resolution Subwoofer

High-end loudspeaker maker MartinLogan®, known for pricey, high-performance hybrid electrostatic speakers, has introduced the Grotto™, a reference-standard, powered, servo-control subwoofer system.

The new Grotto builds on the success of MartinLogan’s Descent and Depth subwoofers, delivering dramatic bass detail and attack using a proprietary low-mass, high-excursion, high-resolution driver, advanced servo monitoring and control, a precision crossover and an intuitive 25Hz level control.

The Grotto model is available immediately at a suggested retail price of $995 (US).

High-Resolution Driver Provides Powerful Bass

The heart of the Grotto subwoofer is a proprietary MartinLogan, 10-inch, high-resolution driver – identical to those used in the more expensive Descent subwoofer. The combination of Grotto’s extreme low mass aluminum cone and the tremendous field strength generated by the magnet motor structure results in huge excursions and massive cubic displacement capability.

Advanced Servo Monitoring Provides Control and Low-Distortion

Grotto’s advanced servo monitoring and control system, combined with state-of-the-art driver and cabinet technologies, dramatically reduce intermodulated and harmonic distortions found in most subwoofers. By constantly monitoring and correcting for any deviation from the original audio signal, MartinLogan’s control system yields literally a 3- to 10-fold distortion reduction. This results in highly resolved, tight fisted and dynamic bass.

Seamless System Integration in Any Setting

Grotto is suitable for use in all stereo- and multi-channel applications, and it is designed to excel in all installation configurations: in corners, inside cabinets, underneath or behind furniture.

Intuitive control functions allow the Grotto to be easily tuned for any installation. MartinLogan designed the Grotto with a robust input/output architecture that easily integrates in both stereo- and multi-channel audiophile systems. Additionally, RCA output allows multiple Grottos to operate in a serial configuration.

Extreme care has been focused on the group delay (phase) characteristics for each of Grotto’s 6 discrete crossover settings (ranging from 30-80Hz) to deliver precise contouring in both the amplitude and time domain. The result? Seamless and cohesive integration with any system.

The handy and intuitive 25Hz level control allows easy correction of bass problems common to most rooms. It also permits increased deep bass if you desire a subsonic sense of energy at the lowest frequencies.

MartinLogan Web Site

Also see: MartinLogan Mosaic Floor Standing Loudspeaker

Key Features and Benefits

  • High-Excursion Aluminum Driver: massive cubic displacement
  • Advanced Servo Control: dramatically reduces distortion
  • 25 Hz Level Control: tames your rooms Most problematic frequency
  • Low Distortion, Ultra-Fast Amplifier: provides precision and power in a small package

System Frequency Response: 22-150 Hz ± 3 dB. Anechoic through the LFE effects input.
Low Pass Filter Frequencies: 30, 35, 45, 55, 65, 80Hz
High Pass Filter Frequency: 70Hz
Phase: 0°, 90°, 180°
25Hz Level Control: ±12dB
Components: 10″ (25.4cm) high excursion, aluminum element woofer with extend throw drive assembly
Amplifier: 250 watts (350 watts peak)
Inputs: RCA Line Level; RCA LFE; Speaker Level
Outputs: RCA for Multiple Subwoofer Connection
Weight: 40 lbs. each (18.2 kg)
Size: 15″ W × 12.9″ D × 15.38″ H (38.1 cm W × 32.8 cm D × 39 cm H)

XM Satellite Radio Offers Digital Audio Receiver and Service for Home PC Systems

On May 2 2003, XM Satellite Radio will begin shipping its new XM PC Receiver (XM PCR) for home computers, priced at $69.95 (US). The new receiver allows PC users to listen to XM’s subscription service, offering 101 channels of digital music, entertainment and news.

Satellite radio has been targeted thus far to mobile and car audio listeners, and XM says the XM PCR is the first satellite radio receiver available for personal computers.

“The PCR makes the tremendous breadth of XM’s 101 digital music, entertainment and news channels available to computer users at home, work, school and on the go – without the need for an Internet connection,” says XM president and CEO Hugh Panero.

The XM PCR provides listeners with XM’s acclaimed digital surround sound stereo, a vast improvement over the sound quality of Internet audio streaming. Additionally, XM’s signal is captured directly from XM’s two satellites and terrestrial repeaters so there are no “buffering” delays or slow channel searching and changing, effectively turning a computer into an XM radio.

Recognizing the computer’s place as the home’s entertainment center, XM engineered PCR so users can play games and explore the Web without restriction or slowdown, all while listening to 101 channels of exceptional programming.

“XM has created a very simple, elegant and inexpensive way to listen to the variety of music, news, sports and talk people crave during their day. Now the XM radio revolution is a mouse-click away for the millions of Americans who daily spend hours at their computers,” comments Mr. Panero.

“Meanwhile, it is well-known that Internet streaming places a terrible burden on a computer’s connections and resources, and the beauty of XM PCR is that it makes no such demands. XM PCR delivers all of the music with none of the frustration.”

XM PCR includes PC software (Windows only) that offers a simple but dynamic user interface, giving listeners a chance to view the music choices on multiple channels simultaneously. Users can easily personalize the display to show their favorite channels, and see everything playing on these channels at the same time. They also can save song titles and artist names for future reference.

The XM PCR package includes the receiver, an antenna, PC software CD-ROM, USB cable (providing power to the receiver as well as the data connection to the PC) and an audio cable. Set up, installation and activation takes only a few minutes. Users will have the opportunity to download subsequent versions of the XM PCR software with added functionality. In addition, antennae extension cables will be available as an accessory.

XM Satellite Radio Web Site