Top-of-the-Line Loudspeakers Make a Worthwhile Surround Package Upgrade
Some time ago, I reviewed Axiom’s Epic Grand Master 5.1 surround audio speaker package, and found that it was an exceptional value in mid-price home theater, providing excellent overall performance and value for money. In fact, I liked the system so much that I bought it for myself and have continued to use the Axioms as my reference home theater reproduction system.
The only real flaw in the system I noted at the time was a rather light-weight bottom end. So I have been eager to try a pair of Axiom’s top-of-the-line full-range tower speakers model M80, as the main front speakers, in place of the smaller M22 bookshelf speakers supplied with the Epic Grand package.
In a perfect world, this would allow me to do away with bass management (re-channelling low frequency content to the subwoofer) for the main pair, allow the sub to focus properly on the deep bass content originally mixed to the LFE (“.1″) channel, and extend the full system’s response more gracefully from 150 Hz down to the sub’s lower limits.
I’ve had my wish for the past couple of months, a pair of M80′s sitting alongside the M22′s in my listening room for direct comparisons, and the results have very nearly lived up to my high expectations.
In common with the whole Axiom line-up, these speakers are characterized by silky smooth response throughout the audible spectrum, except for the very lowest frequencies. In this case, the bottom is solid and tight down to the 35-40Hz region, thanks to a pair of 6.5″ aluminum woofers. The 3-way complement of drivers (dual 5.25″ aluminum midranges, dual 1″ titanium tweeters to go with the woofers), crossovers and Axiom’s distinctive slightly-wedged cabinet design with vortex porting are superbly engineered to deliver sweet, well-rounded sound without a trace of undesirable coloration.
The M80′s also deliver a flattering, yet precise, sound stage – every instrument and sound element clearly located and defined, without the overly-analytical focus that sometimes comes along with such clarity. These speakers are dead easy to position for a pleasing stereo image or surround field in typical home listenting rooms.
The other family characteristic the M80s shares with the rest of the Axiom line is an airy, transparent top end, extending well out beyond audible range – the 1″ titanium tweeters found in every Axiom main, surround and center-channel speaker, working their magic.
All of this makes the M80ti’s another example of the outstanding value offered by the entire Axiom line. You will not find loudspeakers that sound nearly as good as this, anywhere close to the modest price of $1,100 (US) per pair.
So what’s not to like? For me, it’s still the bottom end. As compared to my reference system, which has Axiom’s M22 bookshelf model as the main L/R speakers, the M80ti’s go down nearly a full octave further into the depths (the M22 bottoms out around 55-60 Hz). Even so, these speakers still need a sub to reproduce the lowest lows with full weight.
No question, the M80 makes for a major upgrade to the overall performance of my surround system. My receiver’s bass management crossover comes down from 80 Hz to 40 Hz, which means that much less of the main L/R low-frequency audio is redirected to the sub. This makes the subtle taint of flabbiness in the bass that sometimes bothers me with the Epic Grand Master system go away. The subwoofer performs better with the material it must handle, and the M80ti’s do a superior job with the bottom end down to 40 Hz.
But I still can’t do away with bass management altogether, as I had hoped. In some of my listening and testing, I used the M80ti’s as a regular pair of stereo speakers, without the subwoofer to assist the bottom end. They sounded gorgeous in this mode with classical and acoustic jazz recordings, but notably light on the bottom with pop and rock material featuring aggressive bass content.
In summary, the M80′s are superb speakers in the home theater / surround audio context for which they are designed. But they wouldn’t be my first choice for stand-along stereo speakers in a 2-channel-only system.
If you are considering Axiom for your surround environment (and you should be!), I strongly recommend that you opt for these tower speakers if a large part of your listening is music (as opposed to movies), or if you have a large listening room. For a moderate price differential (the M80′s are $700 US more than the M22′s, for example), you will get a significantly tighter and smoother bottom end that will be particularly noticeable with well-recorded rock, hip-hop, electronica and other pop music. And in a big room, the bigger speakers will definitely have an edge in every respect, as long as you have a powerful amp to drive them.
On the other hand, if your system is mostly for movie listening, and your room is average living room size or smaller, you’ll probably be just as happy to save the cash and go with the Epic Grand Master system and its M22′s – they really are that good!
Of course, there are several intermediate options available from Axiom as well, surround packages built around smaller floor-standing tower models, with varying configurations of the same drivers, technology, and design approach found in the M80ti. The consistency of the whole Axiom line makes it easy and safe to mix and match models to suit your particular room and budget requirements.
Next: Listening to the M80ti’s