High Fidelity: Axiom offers affordable audiophile speakers

By Todd Whitesel

Most audiophiles are faced with budgets that make owning many company’s “reference” and “flagship” components just a dream. Such entry usually requires $5,000 — often much more — to sit at the head of the audio table, regardless of whether you’re lusting after a top-end turntable, loudspeaker, amplifier or even speaker cables and interconnects. Therefore, when a manufacturer’s zenith product can be had for less than $1,400, I want to know more, particularly when that product happens to be a pair of floorstanding loudspeakers.

Axiom Audio’s M80 v2s are just that. I’ve written about Axiom, based in Dwight, Ontario, before and how the company’s direct-to-consumer sales model enables Axiom to offer high-performance products at very affordable prices. And when you see — and hear — the M80 v2s in person, you’ll wonder how Axiom can offer so much speaker for just $1,330 per pair.

The v2s stand 40 inches tall and measure 17 inches deep. Each speaker weighs nearly 60 pounds and sports 6 drivers: dual 1-inch titanium tweeters, two 5 ¼-inch midranges and twin aluminum 6 ½-inch woofers. They can handle up to 400 watts of amplification at 4 Ohms. The speakers are triple-ported, with one at the top and bottom of the speaker’s back and one on the front bottom. To compensate for possible port noise, Axiom houses the v2s in a vortex-ported cabinet. The M80s feature a pair of gold-plated binding posts, which can be optionally bi-wired and/or bi-amped and accept bare wire as well as spade and banana terminals. The v2s are offered in four standard finishes: black oak, Boston cherry, Mansfield beech and light maple, along with choice of black, gold or tan grills. The speakers come ready with rubber feet and carpet spikes to ensure stable placement. Axiom includes a risk-free 30-day in-home trial, 5-year warranty and unlimited phone and e-mail support.

Listening

For my review, Axiom sent a pair of v2s in Boston cherry finish with black grills. The speakers look even better out of the box than the photos indicate, and unlike some speakers that can require several days of break-in time, the Axioms sounded sweet out of the box and better down the road. Though the M80s are rated for as little as 10 watts (and up to 400 watts max) I found they did best matched with an amplifier offering some extra juice.

After experimenting with several integrated amplifiers and A/V receivers, I settled on Shengya’s A-80CS hybrid integrated amplifier. This newcomer from China features a vacuum-tube preamp and more power than its 80 watts per channel might suggest. And as I discovered, the M80s have an affinity for tubes, which draw out the speakers’ naturally smooth lows and mids and embrace them in tube-y warmth.

Deep, beefy bass, detailed midrange and nicely balanced treble make the M80s a pleasure to listen to. Though they can be lifted to eardrum-rattling levels if desired and still maintain order, the speakers can also make music dance at lower volumes without loss of dynamics or range. No matter what I played through them, the v2s were up to the challenge.

Indigenous’ Broken Lands, from 2008, is a charged piece of blues-rock with loads of Hendrix-ian guitar that seemed to jump from the speakers and charge my living room like a Pamplona bull. One of the cool things about these speakers is how the music “hangs” in the air just a little longer than through many other speakers I’ve heard.

The Axioms are also right at home with gentler fare. Many a late evening finds me reaching for Chet Baker’s Chet, an album of all-ballad instrumentals from 1959, and sporting the formidable supporting cast of guitarist Kenny Burrell, pianist Bill Evans, saxophonist Pepper Adams, flutist Herbie Mann, bassist Paul Chambers and drummers Philly Joe Jones and Connie Kay. The ever-lyrical Baker shines on this ethereal recording of “in-the-zone” moments, and I found the M80s to paint a vivid sound picture of the trumpeter and band as they glide through track after gorgeous track.

Some friends recently asked for recommendations of reggae music outside the usual sphere of Bob Marley’s greatest hits. I suggested Jacob Miller and played a handful of tunes, including the classic “Tired Fe Lick Weed In A Bush,” and I loved how the v2s carried the sustain in Miller’s voice when he echoes himself, singing, “to the north, to the south, to the east and to the we-e-e-e-e-e-st.” The M80s brought the dread beat into my house, and we were soon bobbing our heads up and down in Rasta appreciation. Big booming bass and a swanky midrange were the perfect accent to Miller’s singular sound.

Of all the CDs that have crossed my desk in 2009, none have compared sonically to the 40th Anniversary Edition of King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King. Calling this a seminal recording barely does it justice, and the recent remaster and remix spearheaded by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson and Crimson founder Robert Fripp take this masterpiece to new levels of prog-rock nirvana. The depth and soundstage and detail are stunning — even the two-channel stereo mix is mind-blowing (and be sure to check out the high-res stereo and surround mixes!). Through the v2s, the menacing “Epitaph” had Greg Lake singing four feet in front of me. Michael Giles’ percussion and Fripp’s thorny guitar accents were menacing, and it was like hearing the track for the first time. And if I wanted to hear one of the album’s many delicate passages, such as on “I Talk To The Wind” or “Moonchild,” with its sprinkling of chimes and triangles, I could lean heavy on the v2s for as much volume as needed to uncover sounds deep in the mix.

Final Thoughts

Axiom’s M80 v2s combine brawn and beauty into a graceful and powerful performer that represents an outstanding value. Audiophiles on a budget should seriously consider Axiom’s M80s as the foundation for a reference system that sounds terrific and won’t break the bank. I can’t imagine getting more speaker for the money.

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