Archives for December 2006

Axiom Epic Grand Master Home Theater Loudspeaker Review

AudioWorld Rating:


  • excellent overall performance and value for money
  • outstanding mid- and high-frequency response: transparent, smooth and detailed
  • rich, enveloping sound stage in both stereo and surround configurations
  • attractive timbral match among main front, center and rear surround speakers


  • light in the bottom end, with or without the subwoofer active
  • center-channel high frequency performance not as airy and extended as main L/R pair

AudioWorld Recommends:
It’s no hype, the Axiom Epic Grand 5.1 surround speaker package really is an exceptional value in mid-price home theater and high fidelity. If you’re looking for a complete 6-speaker set-up in the under-$3,000 (US) price range, you should definitely consider the Axioms. For budgets under $2,000 (US), the low price and 30-day in-home trial makes it a no-brainer: go for it!

The shining stars of the system are the M22 main L/R bookshelf (rather large bookshelf!) speakers, which sound superb in any configuration – 5.1 surround, 2.1 stereo, even 2.0 stereo (without the subwoofer). They have the smooth mids and extended high end, airy transparency (close your eyes, the speakers disappear), and good off-axis response (minimizing the “sweet-spot” issue) that you would expect of much pricier speakers.

The QS8 rear/surround speakers are also stellar performers, a near match for the pleasing sonics of the front pair, and distinguished by an unusual 4-way multipolar radiating design that contributes a convincing sense of well-defined, enveloping space to the whole system.

The VP100 center-channel speaker, and the EP175 powered sub are each good in their own right, though not on the same exalted plane as the main and surround speakers. They are well up to the challenges posed by today’s Dolby Digital movie soundtracks. But for high-resolution music sources (DVD-Audio, multichannel SACD), the sub is a bit light in the very deep bass, also a little slow to articulate in engergetic mixes; and the center has a warm, velvety quality that doesn’t always suit a music production where wide-range material is prominent in the middle.

These minor quibbles aside, the Epic Grand system is a great all-round performer, and a terrific choice if you expect to listen to a wide range of material, both movies and music, in a variety of configurations. You’ll have to spend a lot more money to get better sound and flexibility.

Product Description

  • M22 front L/R bookshelf speakers, dual 5-1/4″ aluminum-cone woofers, 1″ ferrofluid-cooled titanium tweeter, video shielding, 5-way gold-plated binding posts, anti-standing-wave cabinet.
  • QS8 rear L/R surround speakers, quadpolar multi-directional design, dual 5-1/4″ aluminum-cone woofers, dual 1″ titanium tweeters, 5-way gold-plated binding posts.
  • VP100 center-channel loudspeaker, dual 5-1/4″ aluminum-cone woofers, 1″ ferrofluid-cooled titanium tweeter, video shielding, 5-way gold-plated binding posts.
  • EP175 175 Watt powered subwoofer, 10-inch cast aluminum basket driver (woofer), dual vortex porting, variable low-pass filter, phase reverse switch, line-level input, speaker-level input and pass-through.
  • all speakers available in choice of black oak, maple or Boston cherry veneer finishes, matching stands available for M22ti and QS8.

Next: Read the full, detailed review

Axiom Epic Grand Master Surround System Tested: What’s in the Package

AudioWorld Rating: 

No Hype – This is the Real Deal

Although the company has been making loudspeakers for more than 20 years, Canada’s Axiom Audio is still relatively little known. In years past, this may have been due to limited distribution channels. But now, in the Web era, Axiom has taken to direct marketing online. And the word is starting to get around and create a buzz.

The word is, Axiom makes really good-sounding speakers and sells them for surprisingly low prices. You’ll find comments and testimonials sprinkled around the Internet alluding to “high-end” and “audiophile-quality” performance at everyday prices, $400 speaker pairs that are the equal of competitors’ models costing in the thousands.

Well, I’m not especially fond of slippery terms like high-end and audiophile, so I won’t go there. But after spending a couple of months with the Axiom Epic Grand 5.1 surround package, I’m here to say: it’s no hype, the Axiom’s really are an exceptional value in home theater and hi-fi loudspeaker systems. They sound very good indeed, and you will have to spend a lot more money to get a 6-speaker set-up that sounds better.

What’s What

The Epic Grand Master package is one of nine 6-speaker (including sub) home theater ensembles on offer from Axiom today, ranging in price from less than $1,000 US (the Epic Micro Home Theater) to nearly $2,500 US (the Epic 80 Home Theater). The packages are put together from a full speaker line that includes 5 bookshelf models, 4 floor-standing tower designs, 4 center-channel speakers, 3 multipolar surround models, and 3 powered subwoofers.

The Grand Master sits in the middle of the range. The main left and right speakers are the Millennia M22 bookshelf design, which sells separately for $448/pair (US). For rear surrounds, you get Axiom’s top-of-the-line QS8 quadpolar speaker that radiates sound in four directions, priced separately at $558/pair (US). In the center, it’s the VP100 ($264 US), with the mid-line EP175 powered subwoofer ($568 US) bringing up the bottom. Add it all up, and you’ll see that the package price of $1,784 (US) saves you more than $100 off the price of the individual components.

All of the full-range speakers in the package are built around the same two rather esoteric drivers: a 5-1/4″ aluminum-cone woofer, and a 1″ ferrofluid-cooled, titanium-dome tweeter. They also each use variations of Axiom’s distinctive, angular, wedge-shaped boxes, which the company refers to as Anti-Standing-Wave cabinets.

The sub is a conventional front-firing unit, with a 10″ aluminum-cone driver in a dual-ported cabinet. The sub is powered by a built-in 175 Watt amp, and comes with the usual connectivity features — line-level and speaker-level inputs, output level and phase-reverse controls, and a variable low pass filter to tailor frequency response in configurations with amplified signal pass-through to the main front speakers.

Next: How does the Epic Grand Master system sound?

Axiom Epic Grand Master Home Theater Speaker System Tested: Movies

AudioWorld Rating:

Black Hawk Down
Lilo & Stitch
Star Wars – Episode II, Attack of the Clones
The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring

After hearing the Axiom system shine so brightly through a wide range of musical material, it was no surprise that the Epic Grand Master was every bit as competent with a variety of movie soundtracks.

Most impressive was the tour-de-force sound design of Black Hawk Down, at times subtle and nuanced, at other times thunderously dramatic. I was startled again and again to hear minute details emerging from the mix, precisely localized, and perfectly detailed, while the overall soundscape was compellingly realistic. The credit for this remarkable achievement goes to the brilliant sound production, but the Axiom surround system deserves all kinds of praise for its ability to reproduce the complexities of the soundscape so vividly.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of Disney’s Lilo & Stitch provided a completely different opportunity for the Axioms to show their stuff. It’s a simpler sound environment, but with similarly high production values. The thinner layering of sound elements allows for a more straight forward assessment of fundamentals such as the clarity of dialogue through the center channel, and full musical selections balanced against sound effects. The Grand Master system was masterful once more. The VP100 revealed its greatest strength, not surprisingly, as a vehicle for spoken word, providing excellent intelligibility even when the dialogue is mixed at a comparatively low level. As for effects, several times I was surprised to hear sound snippets in motion, emerging from points in space outside the expected spatial range of the speakers. It was great fun listening to this production on the Axiom system.

The same goes for The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring and Star Wars – Episode II, Attack of the Clones. These served as typical examples of the meat-and-potatoes fare that a home theater system will often be called on to deliver. That is — bombastic orchestral scores, pounding LFE tracks, densely layered sound effects and ambiance. The Axioms handled it all with panache, serving up a vibrant sonic performance, with all the dynamics, impact, detail, and spatial definition that you could ask for.

Why’s, Wherefore’s and Logistics

So there you have it. These speakers from Axiom really are a bargain that’s hard to ignore — a fine-sounding 5.1 surround package that you’d be hard-pressed to equal for twice the money. The M22 front speakers are so good on their own account that the rest of the system struggles to keep up. Most notably, the key upgrade to consider would be a more articulate subwoofer, maybe with a little more power and weight.

You may be skeptical about the enthusiastic response Axiom speakers are getting of late. If they sound so great, why don’t they cost a lot more? The question was certainly on my mind before I began this review.

At least half the story is that Axiom is selling their speakers online, direct to consumers. The percentage of the price that would normally go to distributors and retailers ends up in your pocket.

The other half, I think, is the history and ancestry of these designs. Axiom was founded in 1980 by Ian Colquhoun, a Canadian engineer who was working at the time at the Acoustics and Signal Processing Department of Ottawa’s National Research Council (NRC). He was one of the early beneficiaries of the NRC lab’s ground-breaking work in loudspeaker design, based on anechoic chamber measurements of speaker performance, and double-blind subjective testing of speaker designs. The work that went on at NRC in the 1980s spawned an entire Canadian loudspeaker design and manufacturing industry, through companies such as Energy, Mirage, PSB and Paradigm, as well as Axiom. The evidence of the current generation of Axiom loudspeakers is that Ian Colquhoun came up with some useful innovations in his time at NRC, and has put that expertise to good use producing superior results from relatively inexpensive technology.

Given the modest pricing of Axiom’s speakers, their build quality is satisfying. The cabinets are solid, tight, and nicely surfaced with veneer (choice of black oak, maple, and Boston cherry). Speaker connectors on all except the subwoofer are high-quality gold-plated five-way binding posts.

The M22 and QS8 cabinets are a bit odd in shape, thanks to the asymmetical design that counters internal standing waves. The M22 in particular seems ungainly and potentially unstable, being tall and narrow, as well as wedge-shaped. However, it’s also solid and fairly heavy (16 lbs), so in practice it proved to be just fine, even placed on tall 24″ stands.

Thanks to the vertical alignment of the QS8’s woofers (one facing straight down, the other straight up), the rear speakers must either be mounted flush to the wall (using a supplied mounting bracket), or on special stands available from Axiom that allow the down-firing speaker to work properly.

In the living room, the Epic Grand Master ensemble looks attractive, though far from opulent — nothing here to upset the family members who may be more interested in furniture than sound quality. But it’s the sound quality that will win them over; after all, who can resist the appeal of a thrilling Dolby Digital surround soundtrack or well-produced multi-channel music production when it’s delivered with such grace?

Next: Back to the summary

Axiom Epic Grand Master Tested: Surround Audio Performance

AudioWorld Rating:

Various Artists: Immersion

In case you aren’t familiar with it, Immersion is a DVD-Audio test disc par excellence. It also offers some exciting music, if your taste runs to the experimental and avant garde. From a technical point of view, it provides musical source material in every conceivable stereo and surround configuration, with and without either or both of LFE (subwoofer, “.1”) and center-front audio.

Several tracks on Immersion make for easy evaluation of the timbral balance between the five surround speakers, and the Axiom system passed the test with flying colors. On Pamela Z’s Live/Work, the main content is spoken female voice panning slowly around, and bouncing back and forth among the front and rear speakers. The Axiom M22’s and QS8’s handled the transitions smoothly, although I noticed a slight deficit in high-frequency sheen from the QS8’s now and then.

Bruce Odland’s Tank gives the whole surround system a workout, with vibrant percussion both upfront and in subtle layers, a resounding deep-bass drum to exercise the subwoofer, and richly ambient trumpet riffs floating atmospherically in 3D space over all the rest. The Grand Master system sounded gorgeous on this, real aural candy, with the QS8’s presenting a huge and spacious recreation of the ambience of the original recording.

Another well-engineered 5.1 track on Immersion, Phil Kline’s The Housatonic at Henry, gave further proof that the Axiom system can provide a lush, enveloping surround experience. This piece is an ambient soundscape filled with tingling bell cascades, an ominous string ostinato underneath, and a gradual build of thrumming machine-engine sound. Along with a tremendous sense of space, the Axioms revealed every nuance of the detailed aural painting.

Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now

For more conventional musical fare, I listened to the DVD-Audio release of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now — not Joni Mitchell at her best, but a sumptuosly-recorded collection of arrangements nonetheless, with lush orchestration (large jazz ensemble with rhythm section, plus full strings), attractive surround engineering (subtle natural ambience in the rear channels), and a solid bottom on the LFE channel.

Once more, the Epic Grand Master system delivered a convincing surround stage, as well as fine overall balance across the full instrumental range, including an acoustic bass that balanced perfectly with the rest of the ensemble. The Axioms coped nicely with dynamic extremes on this recording (as they did with several DVD-A orchestral recordings I auditioned on the system, as well).

Another characteristic of this disc is the prominent center-channel placement of Joni Mitchell’s vocal. To my ear, the VP100 center channel sounded a shade too dark in this kind of exposed production. Its quality is still pleasing and attractive, but not the equal of the main front pair for clarity and openess in the highs. This was all the more noticeable given the spread of vocal reverb to the left and right front pair, where it sounded airier and more transparent than the direct vocal in the center channel.

Next: The Epic Grand Master at the movies

Axiom Epic Grand Master Surround Speaker Package: How It Sounds

AudioWorld Rating:

How Does It Sound?

What you really want to know is: how does the system sound? I won’t beat around the bush. These speakers sound very, very good. As a general characterization, the sound quality is transparent, open, airy, and detailed. Response across the full audio spectrum, from about 35 Hz in the low end out to limits of human hearing at the top (specs say +/- 3 db to 22 kHz for the full-range speakers), is smooth as you could want, no unpleasant colorations that I could detect. The use of the same drivers all around ensures a fair (though not perfect) timbral balance across the front, and front-to-back.

I found it very easy to set up the subwoofer to sit in a comfortable balance to the full-range speakers. The front speakers are decidedly light on the bottom end (Axiom’s specs indicate a rapid drop-off below 60 Hz), and they really need the sub to handle the low frequencies. I left the low-pass filter on the sub wide open, and used the bass management on the Harman Kardon AVR520 receiver driving the system to handle the crossover. With the crossover set at the obvious choice of 80 Hz, I was rewarded with a pleasingly smooth and natural transition from sub to mains, with minimal tweaking of the output level control on the sub.

By the way, if you are trying out these or other Axiom loudspeakers for yourself, be aware of the importance of “burning in” the speakers for a good long while before you try to decide how you like them. I found that they sounded quite harsh and uneven at the outset, and it took a good 30 – 40 hours of play time before the sound started to settle down and reveal its finer qualities. This is a necessary consequence of the metallic materials used for the driver cones. But since Axiom doesn’t seem to mention it anywhere in its set-up documentation or on the Web site, you might be surprised (and disappointed) if you don’t know what to expect.

On with the show. Let’s take a closer look at how the Epic Grand Master system performs in a variety of roles.

M22’s Shine in Stereo
Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms

This is one of my favorite CDs for checking out a set of loudspeakers for basic stereo listening. What I’m looking for here is a precise sound stage, an accurate stereo image, and the ability to reveal details of the pristine music mix cleanly. I also listen for a true-sounding recreation of the the individual instruments that are so finely presented in this recording, which is engineered with excellent close-mic technique.

That’s exactly what I heard from the M22’s. With the EP175 subwoofer in the picture, the Axioms reproduced this music nearly as well as the best studio monitor set-ups I’ve heard. Each element of the mix was laid out across the stereo image just where it should be; defining instruments such as the drum kit, the smooth sax solos on a couple of tracks, and Mark Knopfler’s lead vocal sounded lively and natural. The M22ti’s also impressed me with their refined response to high frequency material, like the breathy, sibilant background vocals, and the subtle definition of this recording’s sweet artificial reverbs as they tail away.

I also listened to Brothers in Arms with the EP175 sub switched off. I was still impressed with the sound of the M22’s, although their lack of deep bass was clearly evident. What bottom there was came out crisp, tight, and articulate, which left me feeling that for some material, these bookshelf speakers would make a fine stereo rig all by themselves.

With the EP175 switched back in, I was struck by the relative flabbiness and slow articulation of the bass lines. While this sub provides solid deep bass that sounds clean and musical, I noticed this lack of sharpness and speed frequently throughout my testing of the system — not much of an issue with the typical low frequency (LFE) stuff in movie soundtracks, but occasionally a disappointment with well-recorded music.

Next: The Epic Grand Master does surround!