Today’s home theater speakers are required to perform more jobs than ever. Finding speakers versatile enough to playback stereo, high-resolution, multi-channel and movie soundtrack material equally well might not be an easy task. A system that does all these things well can also be very expensive. Of course, not all systems are created equally, certainly not Axiom’s Epic 80 Home Theater. But let’s not draw any conclusions at the beginning of a review.
Our Axiom Epic 80 Home Theater system consisted of two M80ti towers in the front, a VP150 center channel, two QS8 surrounds and an EP350 subwoofer. All speakers came in a beautiful Mansfield Beech finish – one of the four standard colours offered for all Axiom speakers. The system also came with matching Mansfield Beech grilles. If you prefer, you can also order this system in one of 24 (yes you read it correctly – 24) custom low or high gloss finishes. While the speakers look simple and elegant with the grilles on, their true beauty is exposed when the grilles are removed. The front baffle of each M80ti tower houses dual 6.5″ woofers, dual 5.25″ midranges and twin 1″ tweeters. The center channel sports three of the same 5.25″ speakers found in the towers as well as dual 1″ tweeters. The QS8 surrounds feature a quadpolar cabinet design using dual 5.25″ woofers (one downward-firing and one upward-firing) and dual side-firing 1″ tweeters. Low frequencies come from the EP350 subwoofer: a single 12″ woofer powered by a 200 watt amplifier. All speaker cones come finished in a light gray with black rubber around them. Connections to each speaker are made through 5-way gold-plated binding posts and the M80ti towers allow you to bi-amp them. Video shielding is standard in all Axiom speakers.
During our listening tests we connected the Axiom speakers to an Onkyo TX-NR801 surround sound receiver, and the Pioneer DVD 563A was used for audio and DVD playback.
We first tested the system with a few master recordings I had been working on; a slight comparison between the CD version and the DVD-Audio version (24 bit 96 KHz) stereo version. The system showed everything on the CD version, in a very flat tonal balance similar to the few speakers I have been using for the mix downs, only with just a tad less air. The tonal balance was clean with no hint of cabinet resonance or colouration. When we switched to the DVD-Audio version of the recording, the sound became much more organic. The sound stage and imaging became very focused with the two main speakers disappearing into the soundstage. Not once did any of the speakers draw attention to themselves through this listening session. Also, as this music was of the electronic variety, bass timing was of utmost importance. The integration of the sub with the mains in our room made for a very extended lower octave foundation, and easy to hear details of the sub bass lines. Not once did I feel there was a lagging behind of a sluggish presentation on any of the recordings. Bass lines also flowed easily and were only slightly less focused than some of the reference systems we use for mastering. Keep in mind that these reference systems can cost upwards of 20K for the speakers alone.
Moving into the three channel area with some SACD recordings, from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, the system was now showing how well a center channel can be used to create the extra sense of depth and image foundation to a traditional stereo recording. The difference was subtle but it made for a slightly larger width (who would have though?), and a more pinpoint placement of the musicians playing. The overall impression I was receiving on all these recordings though was a very laid back and spacious sound though this could also have a bit to do with the associated equipment. Either way it made for a nice non-fatiguing sound, with layers of soundstage and separation rather than an upfront in your face aggressive sound found in similarly priced systems. However, I did find that for the speakers to sound the best they needed just a touch more power flowing through them to come alive, rather than just being played at low volumes.
Playing in multi channel mode, we started with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. This album is one that can, at times, be a bit unforgiving in the upper mid range to high frequencies on many systems. Easily, the presentation can go from extended to splashy and harsh if your system is not up to the task. If the system is rolled off you will notice much of the subtle air from the reverbs disappearing. On the opening track of the album, the sub woofer and low levels of sound with the synthesizer and laughing panning around the room, followed by the low bass thumps sounding like a heart beat (enhanced by the sub) made for an awesome presentation. When the screaming came in and the levels suddenly exploded into the drums, and reverberant guitar everything sat just perfectly in three-dimensional space with a very extended but delicate shimmer on the cymbals. Subtle micro dynamics, and the shading in timbres of sounds made for a seamless picture across the three front channels. I did feel as though it compared to the best systems, though the rear channels bipolar arrangement might not have allowed as much depth behind me as I have heard in other systems. This also could have been a bit of a placement issue, but I never fully got over this on any of the audio recordings.
In home theater mode the Epic 80 Home Theater system showed its true colours. We watched a series of movies from Bourne Identity, to I robot. While viewing the movies, the problem I faced with the back channels not being as well placed was now not even a consideration. When the movie had large pictures and distant sounds, I truly felt as though the sound was blocks down the street, and my ears connected properly with the scale and dialog placed where they where intended to be. The quadpolar design of the QS8 surround speakers allowed them to perform like no other surrounds I’ve heard in the home theater. It was easy to follow sound walking through the stage and across the channels in a seamless manner even if it was a quiet passage or a full on action sequence. When explosions or very loud passages where on the plate, the system would explode into fury with no signs of compression. Perhaps this has to do with the multi-driver design. As I mentioned before with the pink Floyd SACD, when the levels of sound increased, I never felt as though I would have to run for the volume control due to unwanted distortions. The EP350 subwoofer created a clean, controlled bass response that filled the room during bass demanding scenes.
My only complaint was that I would have liked to have heard the system with the same two front mains also in the rear. Perhaps for DVD-Audio or SACD this would be a better match.
Overall, while listening, I suspected that this system had to be a great set of speakers at nearly twice the price. It performed very well on the music side and even more impressively on the home theater side. When I discovered the actual price tag of $3188 for this system, I found it to be of incredible value. There are many more expensive brand names out there that do not perform nearly as well and could cost you twice as much. If you’re looking for an audiophile-grade speaker system without the audiophile price tag, you should definitely give this system a listen.
Manufacturer: Axiom Audio
Price: MSRP: $3188 (Canadian)
Amp Power 10 – 400 Watts all models
Milliennia M80ti Towers
Freq Resp +/-3dB: 34 Hz-22 KHz
Freq Resp +3dB/-9dB: 25 Hz -22 KHz
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Woofer Dual 6.5″
Midrange Dual 5.25″
Tweeter Dual 1″
Dimensions (in.): (HxWxD) 39.5×9.25×17
Weight: 57 lbs
Freq Resp+/-3dB: 95 Hz-22KHz
Freq Resp +3dB/ -9dB: 65 Hz-22 KHz
Impedance: 6 Ohms
Woofer Dual 5.25″
Tweeter Dual 1″
Dimensions (in.): (HxWxD) 8.25x11x6
VP150 Center Channel
Freq Resp +/-3dB: 85 Hz-22 KHz
Freq Resp +3dB/-9dB: 50 Hz-22 K Hz
Impedance: 6 Ohms
Woofer Triple 5.25″
Tweeter Dual 1″
Dimensions (in.): (HxWxD) 7.5×26.5×7.5
Weight: 17 lbs
System 200 Watts
Crossover adjust 30 – 150
Phase 0 & 180
Freq Resp +/-3dB (Hz) 25-120
Freq Resp +3dB/-9dB(Hz) 18-150
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Dimensions (in.): (HxWxD) 20.25x15x16
Weight: 39 lbs