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.