know speaker manufacturer Axiom from Adam when GoodSound!
publisher Doug Schneider first mentioned the company many moons
ago. Then his SoundStage! review of Axiom's Millennia M3Ti followed. The speaker earned
Choice designation. A bit later, Doug added further insult to
my injured ignorance. He confided that, based on blind listening
tests with none other than audio expert Ian Masters, he considered
the M3Ti fully competitive with high performance speakers costing
up to $2000. Now my ears began to ring in earnest. After
all, the Axioms retail for about one-eighth the price. Shortly thereafter,
the Canadian upstarts ended up in my own living room in New Mexico.
M3Ti speakers weren't what I was expecting. Their sides splay inward
to the rear panel, avoiding parallel walls and eliminating certain
internal resonances. This also avoids the need for filler materials.
I don’t know of anybody who does this at these prices. The
veneer -- which turns out to be vinyl upon close inspection -- is
so well done that many manufacturers of pricier speakers could learn
a lesson or two from Axiom's cabinetmakers. The novel corrugated
plastic port isn't chopped liver either. Nor are the hefty metal
binding posts or mitered front edges. And the crossover-less aluminum
woofer, engineered to have a purely mechanical roll-off, is a bit
of high-end sophistication that nobody in his or her right mind
has a right to expect at this price. Properly humbled, I began to
suspect that further surprises lay in store.
if money isn't burning a hole in your pocket
as it turns out, is one of the larger Canadian speaker manufacturers.
So why have so few people ever heard of them? OEM, that's why --
it accounts for 85% of their business. Axiom builds finished loudspeakers
for numerous other companies. It's the secret to their attractive
economies of scale. Their own offshore facilities and massive volume
buying power enable them to sink an enormous amount of value
into their own brand. Currently, Axiom-branded speakers sell mostly
to Canadians, but based on the M3Ti's stellar performance, that's
surely about to change. Speaking with Axiom's Amie Colquhoun at
the NY Home Entertainment show, I learned that US sales will be
handled factory-direct at full retail. The downside of this arrangement
means you'll have to purchase Axiom speakers on the strength of
reviews alone -- unless, of course, a friend of yours already owns
a pair you can listen to. The upside is a no-worry 30-day satisfaction-guaranteed
policy and superior service. Rather than deal with the wide variety
of sometimes classy, sometimes snobby and sometimes are-you-buying-yet?
levels of retail service, you will always be dealing with
the company directly. Meeting the affable Mrs. Colquhoun suggested
that this is definitely a very positive ingredient of the Axiom
Axiom Millennia M3Ti measures 13.5"H x 8.5"W x 8.5"D.
The speaker represents a nominal 8-ohm load, with an optimistically
overstated sensitivity of 93dB that's probably closer to 89dB. As
a basic 6.5" two-way configuration, it's specified to -3dB
at 50Hz and sports all-metal driver technology (aluminum woofer,
titanium tweeter). It's available in black or cherry and retails
for $275 per pair. Let that sink in as you read what follows.
is the word
and Ian are, I must admit, dead on the money. The M3Ti's
performance is indeed phenomenal. In fact, from a passive two-way
monitor, you can't really get much more performance regardless
of price! This implausible statement warrants an explanation. "Audiophile
monitor" genre leaders can cost a whole lot more and will
play lower and louder. Also, they are usually gussied up in fancy
wood veneers with overbuilt cabinetry and impress with their established
brands' reputations for superior sonics. But by comparison, these
speakers that can cost up to $2000 per pair really won’t give
you any more sonic quality. Yes, you do get a bit more quantity.
But then the question becomes do you need it, or do you want
to pay for it? Wouldn't you prefer to impress your visiting audio
friends with the unknown Axiom brand? You know, play them a tune
or two, watch their jaws drop and then explain casually how much
you didn't pay for the speakers? Depending on how you answered
these questions, the Axiom Millennia M3Ti speakers belong at the
very head of your short list of stand-mounted speaker contenders.
the speakers up to an Audio Refinement stack of CD player and integrated
amp, and I connected everything with Cardas Audio's most affordable
offerings. Compliments of Doug Schneider's prior break-in, the Axioms
wove their magic quite literally from the first note. The term that
sprang to mind (and never left) was ultra-smooth. Think limited
edition single-malt Scotch; think the way a Mercedes-Benz engines
purrs. We're talking sophisticated and mature smooth, not
the flat sort that hides behind "nice" or "interesting."
Axiom's bass extension falls between those of the previously reviewed
Polk RT35i and Triangle Titus XS. On the stellar LIVE! Blueport
Jazz Sampler [BP-J009], the various double basses of the featured
jazz combos were re-created in all their massive physicality. This
meant not just low notes but notes coming from large wooden resonators.
A beautiful showcase was the Bill Evans tune "Time Remembered."
It opens with a freely meandering fat bass solo by Chris Colangelo
before the piano and drums add accompaniment for the increasingly
frenzied bass workout. Hearing it through the Axioms, I could sense
the vibrating body of the bass and practically watch the player's
fingers excite the strings. All those little noises that are part
of playing a real instrument were there. Brushed and struck cymbals
(notorious for high-frequency content that shimmers in real life
but often reproduced as a kind of metallic white noise) came across
intact. Instead of being cut short or obscured by inferior resolution,
their decay trails stretched out beautifully.
Marano's rendition of the Gershwin tune "The Man I Love,"
with its mixture of come-hither seduction, wistful daydreaming and
moody scatting, is very compelling. Instead of the headliner sophistication
of a major star (i.e., an overdubbed performance spliced
unto perfection) there are the telltale signs of an intimate, unplugged
performance -- the little body or head shifts relative to the microphone,
inflections responding to audience feedback, heightened energy and
atmosphere. The M3Ti’s high level of resolution conjured up
a re-creation of the La Jolla venue and its performers. You'd expect
that from heavyweight statement monitors -- it was surprising enough
with last month's $495 Triangle Titus XS. But to obtain it at little
more than half the price makes you wonder why you should spend any
more. Listening to the same tracks on the two speakers (I still
had the Triangles in-house), I found that the little Triangle exhibited
a bit more treble energy and vivaciousness while the Axiom seemed
smoother (there is that word again) and more polished.
the term "neutral" because it suggests a very nondescript
character. However, in audio, character is generally not wanted.
Rather, neutrality is prized for its invisibility. It lets the music
come through untainted. I happen to really dig the spunky and exciting
character of the Triangles. But it's fair to point out that they
do have a recognizable character. The Axioms don't. What I hear
with them is mature class.
does the Axiom's neutrality translate into more lively material?
Take Samra by French räi sensation Faudel [Mondo Melodia
186 850 020 2]. This is well-recorded high-energy pop music. It
moves effortlessly from dance floor hip-hop beats to salsa, R&B
and flamenco. On "Salsa Räi," Yuri Buenaventura does the
Latin lyrics and is backed up by the traditional question-and-answer
chorus, two trombones, baritone sax, piano, congas, bongos, timbales,
drums and assorted percussion. Faudel interjects with his Algerian
lyrics, and an electric violin adds some sharply jagged modal moves.
It sounds complex because it is. The Axioms remained unruffled.
They cleanly separated the arc of the back-up singers from the main
vocalists, tracked the syncopated bass guitar, synched up the blaring
brass, showed off the depth of the space the rhythm section players
performed in, and played at levels that could have broken my lease.
On "Rohi," things turn dance hall. Surprisingly, the massive
attack bass beats slammed just fine without a subwoofer. The electronica
synth beats of the following track, "Samra," pulsed like
a freight train and didn't need the added output of a larger woofer
well-recorded solo piano was next, namely "Ondine" from
Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, on Nojima Plays Ravel [Reference
Recordings RF-35]. This movement depicts a water nymph sporting
in her element. Right-handed trills and arpeggios in the piano's
uppermost register suggest a running stream -- a steady-state effect
that can pose a serious challenge to any system. That ethereal flicker
can easily turn brittle, sounding "tinkly" and hard instead
of burnished and mysterious. Sure enough, that's the direction things
turned. On a whim (call me crazy), I swapped the affordable Audio
Refinement amp for a $5000 single-ended tube amp. Sacre bleu,
the Axioms were innocent after all. The slight hardness in the piano
disappeared, giving way instead to vastly improved timbre, richness
of tone and a wealth of microdynamic nuances that had been flattened
out by the solid-state components. For a reality check, I then switched
to six-driver three-way speakers 20 times the M3Ti's sticker
price. The only noticeable improvement with this material was in
weight and scale, especially when Nojima thundered into the piano's
bass register. Otherwise, the level of coherence and sheer elegance
you kidding? If a $275 per pair speaker can survive the Nojima test
and not embarrass heavyweight electronics, I'm very much
affected. The Axiom Audio Millennia M3Ti is GoodSound!'s
first affordable reference monitor. If the M3Ti retailed for $495
per pair like the Triangle Titus XS, I'd give them a high five.
As it is, they are a legitimate no-brainer. Keeping them in-house
will force other contenders to test their mettle against a shockingly
high standard -- and all for a startlingly modest price.
that the M3Ti has rewritten the rules for super-affordable speakers,
I expect to be investigating other offerings by this company shortly.
For the moment, watch me scratch my head in awe. Axiom's OEM history
partially explains their high value operation. The minimal crossover,
custom drivers and non-rectangular cabinet of the M3Ti all point
to excellent engineering. However, none of that fully explains
why these little 'uns do what they do so well. Until I figure that
out, let's just assume that Ian Colquhoun (who obviously is a very
crafty designer) was, at least in this instance, blessed with an
extra dose of inspiration. He truly hit the bull's-eye smack-dab
in the center.
Check out the M3Ti and the rest of the Axiom Audio line now!