Axiom M80ti Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Brian Kahn   
Saturday, 01 January 2005

Axiom Audio has quickly established itself as one of a small number of players in the ultra-competitive Internet-based, direct-to-the-consumer speaker business. With an understated Canadian style, the Axiom folks bend over backwards to offer AV advice in place of crafty closes and hard sells. Consumers who find their value-oriented speakers without researching Axiom’s reputation are often shocked at how low-key and fun the experience of buying speakers can be.

As you might expect, the Axiom website is extremely well designed and rich in content for those looking to learn about speakers, audio and home theater systems in general. Unlike many mass market and mid-level retailers, Axiom has truly informed advisors awaiting your call. The most notable of these is resident audio-video expert Alan Lofft (former editor of a number of top AV publications), who is available to prospective and existing Axiom clients for help with everything from tuning a subwoofer to speaker placement and far beyond. While you can’t go into a showroom and see and hear Axiom speakers the way you would with comparably-priced speakers like Polk, Definitive Technology, Paradigm or Energy, what you can do is audition the Axioms for 30 days in your living room. Many discerning consumers are looking to this model as the best way to know for sure that you are getting the best speaker for your dollar in your own media room. While you can get other speakers to demo at home if your platinum card has enough limit on it, with Axiom you get a lot more time to test, tune and enjoy their speakers before you tie the knot.

The Axiom Audio M80ti is the company’s top loudspeaker, with a retail price of $1,240 per pair. This speaker is a medium-sized tower, measuring 39.5 inches high, 9.25 inches wide and 17 inches deep, weighing 55 pounds. The cabinet has an unusual wedge shape that Axiom Audio calls its “anti-standing wave” technology that minimizes parallel internal surfaces in an effort to reduce standing waves and cabinet distortion.

The cabinet comes in a choice of four faux finishes: beech, maple, black ash or cherry. The cabinet is very well finished, considering its price. It appears very much like a real wood veneer, as you might expect from a speaker costing many times the price. The Axiom M80 Ti has a driver array of two one-inch titanium tweeters, two five-and-a-quarter-inch aluminum mid-woofers, and two six-and-one-half-inch aluminum woofers above a Vortex port. The back of the speaker is noticeably narrower than the front baffle, due to the cabinet’s acoustic design. The back panel features two more Vortex ports and dual five-way binding posts. The reported system response is 34Hz-22kHz, with an amazing reported sensitivity rating of 95 dB/1w/1m, making these speakers extremely easy to drive on even a modest receiver (provided the receiver can safely drive 4 ohms).

The Axiom speakers were easy to unpack and came with both spikes for carpeted surfaces and rubber feet for hard floors. A wrench was thoughtfully provided for installing the spikes or feet, as well as tightening the binding posts.

I experimented for quite a while with the positioning of the speakers. I ended up with them just over two-and-a-half feet from the front wall and five-and-a-half feet apart. It took some time to achieve the right balance via positioning of the speakers. I found that these speakers like a lot of room around them to sound best. With ports front and back, they need room to breathe. After setting the speakers up, I let them break in for the better part of a week before sitting down for any serious listening. All my listening was done with the grilles removed, allowing me to see the attractive silver-colored drivers.

The Music
I began my listening with U2’s album War (Island – Mobile Fidelity). “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a song that begs to be played loud. As I cranked the system up, I paid close attention for any shift in the M80s’ tonal balance, compression, or even a change in the soundstage, yet they held solid, lacking any sense of dynamic compression. We were off to a good start, with the M80s sustaining solid volume levels over a substantial period without fatiguing me. Most notable on this listening session was that the highs remained extended and open and the cymbals never became harsh in any way.

Moving on to the track “New Year’s Day,” Bono’s voice remained clear, with no signs of sibilance or chestiness. On both songs, I found that the M80 Tis were able to accurately reproduce voices and instruments without problem throughout most of the frequency range. The volume of the bass response was impressive for a speaker this size, missing only the lowest frequencies that you will most assuredly reinforce with a subwoofer. While the volume of bass was energizing, the M80tis’ low-frequency response was the one area where I wished for tighter driver control. For example, in the above U2 tracks, the bass guitar was lacking some detail and quickness. This was also noticeable on “Fallen Angel,” the opening track of Robbie Robertson’s self-titled CD release (Mobile Fidelity). This track has a lot of bass that I have heard reproduced tighter in the $2,500 and above class. The Axioms did, however, portray the dynamics and large-scale image of this track very nicely.

Dorian Michael’s Acoustic Blues album provides very well-recorded blues (AIX Records, DVD-Audio 96kHz/24bits). The track “Very Blue Hawaii” has extremely detailed guitar and piano that the Axioms replicated well. The speakers nearly disappeared into the soundstage with just a few hints from the piano track as to their location. On the track “Broad Street Blues,” the Axioms again rendered a full and wide soundstage with natural tone and good string detail. On this track, the speakers disappeared completely and there was no veil whatsoever between the music, my ears and my soul.

The benefits of high-resolution recording continued when I listened to John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom (Classic Records DAD format). The title track “Boom Boom” had good image depth. Hooker’s voice was well reproduced, with a good sense of body and good imaging. The imaging always performed well above what you’d expect of speakers in this price class. The M80tis were easily able to get out of the way of the music and, for the most part, there were no signs of speaker localization.

The Downside
When getting into comparisons with speakers in the $2,500 and up price range, as I noted earlier in the review, I wished for a bit more bass control. I tried running more beefy amps, but with 95 dB efficient speakers, power wasn’t the problem. The solution is likely finding a subwoofer that can mesh with the Axiom’s prodigious bottom end. (Axiom currently has available the EP500 and EP600 subwoofers that are designed to compliment the M80ti.) Also, I am judging the bass performance of the speakers at an audiophile level, when for movies, a little extra bump in the bottom is considered by many listeners to be a very good sonic characteristic.

The lack of a retail presence for Axiom isn’t that big of an issue for me in terms of purchasing, because they are so liberal with their in-home demo program. For people who change speakers like they change underwear, the Axiom brand name doesn’t carry the brand recognition that Bose or some of the bigger boys do. In terms of resale, this might hurt you to the tune of 10 to 20 percent. However, I would suggest that buying and owning Axiom Audio speakers is similar to popping for an Audi A8L. A lot of people pop for a V12 BMW sedan, but for $40,000 less, the A8L customer gets a faster car with a lighter, stronger frame, more goodies and maybe even better service. This is the value proposition that Axiom offers, which allows it to favorably compete with speakers costing double the price.

The Axiom M80ti is a very good speaker and an unquestioned value at $1,240 per pair. Axiom Audio has managed to design and sell a speaker for much less than many comparably-performing speakers, due in part to their Internet-direct business model. What’s more convenient than ordering a speaker online, coming home from work and having a speaker package on your doorstep waiting for you? To top that off, if you aren’t in love with them, you can send them back or trade them in for other models. Clearly, Axiom puts their money where their mouth is.

I found the M80 speaker to be enjoyable and easy to listen to. The lighter finishes make the Axiom Audio M80 the perfect companion for a rear-projection DLP HDTV set in a modern décor scheme. If you are interested in dynamic, full-range tower speakers at a sub-$1,300 price-point, you will do yourself a favor by auditioning Axiom Audio M80tis. They have the sonic chops to reproduce sound that keeps up in quality with your high-definition picture. They are that good and, for the price, they are a steal.
Manufacturer Axiom Audio
Model M80ti Loudspeakers
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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