Axiom Epic Grand Master Home Theater Speaker System Tested: Movies

AudioWorld Rating:

Black Hawk Down
Lilo & Stitch
Star Wars – Episode II, Attack of the Clones
The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring

After hearing the Axiom system shine so brightly through a wide range of musical material, it was no surprise that the Epic Grand Master was every bit as competent with a variety of movie soundtracks.

Most impressive was the tour-de-force sound design of Black Hawk Down, at times subtle and nuanced, at other times thunderously dramatic. I was startled again and again to hear minute details emerging from the mix, precisely localized, and perfectly detailed, while the overall soundscape was compellingly realistic. The credit for this remarkable achievement goes to the brilliant sound production, but the Axiom surround system deserves all kinds of praise for its ability to reproduce the complexities of the soundscape so vividly.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of Disney’s Lilo & Stitch provided a completely different opportunity for the Axioms to show their stuff. It’s a simpler sound environment, but with similarly high production values. The thinner layering of sound elements allows for a more straight forward assessment of fundamentals such as the clarity of dialogue through the center channel, and full musical selections balanced against sound effects. The Grand Master system was masterful once more. The VP100 revealed its greatest strength, not surprisingly, as a vehicle for spoken word, providing excellent intelligibility even when the dialogue is mixed at a comparatively low level. As for effects, several times I was surprised to hear sound snippets in motion, emerging from points in space outside the expected spatial range of the speakers. It was great fun listening to this production on the Axiom system.

The same goes for The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring and Star Wars – Episode II, Attack of the Clones. These served as typical examples of the meat-and-potatoes fare that a home theater system will often be called on to deliver. That is — bombastic orchestral scores, pounding LFE tracks, densely layered sound effects and ambiance. The Axioms handled it all with panache, serving up a vibrant sonic performance, with all the dynamics, impact, detail, and spatial definition that you could ask for.

Why’s, Wherefore’s and Logistics

So there you have it. These speakers from Axiom really are a bargain that’s hard to ignore — a fine-sounding 5.1 surround package that you’d be hard-pressed to equal for twice the money. The M22 front speakers are so good on their own account that the rest of the system struggles to keep up. Most notably, the key upgrade to consider would be a more articulate subwoofer, maybe with a little more power and weight.

You may be skeptical about the enthusiastic response Axiom speakers are getting of late. If they sound so great, why don’t they cost a lot more? The question was certainly on my mind before I began this review.

At least half the story is that Axiom is selling their speakers online, direct to consumers. The percentage of the price that would normally go to distributors and retailers ends up in your pocket.

The other half, I think, is the history and ancestry of these designs. Axiom was founded in 1980 by Ian Colquhoun, a Canadian engineer who was working at the time at the Acoustics and Signal Processing Department of Ottawa’s National Research Council (NRC). He was one of the early beneficiaries of the NRC lab’s ground-breaking work in loudspeaker design, based on anechoic chamber measurements of speaker performance, and double-blind subjective testing of speaker designs. The work that went on at NRC in the 1980s spawned an entire Canadian loudspeaker design and manufacturing industry, through companies such as Energy, Mirage, PSB and Paradigm, as well as Axiom. The evidence of the current generation of Axiom loudspeakers is that Ian Colquhoun came up with some useful innovations in his time at NRC, and has put that expertise to good use producing superior results from relatively inexpensive technology.

Given the modest pricing of Axiom’s speakers, their build quality is satisfying. The cabinets are solid, tight, and nicely surfaced with veneer (choice of black oak, maple, and Boston cherry). Speaker connectors on all except the subwoofer are high-quality gold-plated five-way binding posts.

The M22 and QS8 cabinets are a bit odd in shape, thanks to the asymmetical design that counters internal standing waves. The M22 in particular seems ungainly and potentially unstable, being tall and narrow, as well as wedge-shaped. However, it’s also solid and fairly heavy (16 lbs), so in practice it proved to be just fine, even placed on tall 24″ stands.

Thanks to the vertical alignment of the QS8’s woofers (one facing straight down, the other straight up), the rear speakers must either be mounted flush to the wall (using a supplied mounting bracket), or on special stands available from Axiom that allow the down-firing speaker to work properly.

In the living room, the Epic Grand Master ensemble looks attractive, though far from opulent — nothing here to upset the family members who may be more interested in furniture than sound quality. But it’s the sound quality that will win them over; after all, who can resist the appeal of a thrilling Dolby Digital surround soundtrack or well-produced multi-channel music production when it’s delivered with such grace?

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