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Equipment Review
December 2005

Review Follow-Up
Axiom Audio M80 v2 Loudspeakers

by Doug Schneider

"While the 'giant-killer' tag is overused in audio reviewing, this is one speaker to which it most certainly applies."

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Exceptional Value

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Although there are three bookshelf and three floorstanding speakers in Axiom Audio’s product line, no matter which of those speakers I try to discuss with Axiom’s owner and designer, Ian Colquhoun, the conversation invariably leads back to the top model, what in previous versions was known as the M80ti and is now called the M80 v2.

Ian has never said so outright, but it’s obvious from conversations with him that the M80 v2 is his favorite speaker, at least for now. Why? Probably because the M80 v2 embodies his ideals of speaker design. It's a nearly full-range transducer (full-range applies to a speaker that hits 20Hz rock solid, which the M80 v2 doesn’t quite do) that’s commendably neutral and is capable of producing astonishing SPLs for seemingly limitless dynamics. These things, to Ian, are what’s necessary for a speaker to be accurate enough to reproduce a lifelike version of a musical performance in the home. Oh yeah, one more thing -- a speaker has to do all that and not cost a lot. That, I’ve learned, is the Axiom way to go about things, and that’s exactly what the M80 v2 delivers for just $1240 USD per pair.

The M80 v2 looks almost identical to the M80ti that was first introduced in 2000 and Jason Thorpe reviewed in 2001. It sold back then for $1100 per pair, and a $140 price increase over five years doesn't seem like much, especially if you consider that this new speaker sounds better than the original. There have been some subtle physical changes. The original rounded edges on the front have changed to sharper angles (this was actually done a few years ago as a running production change); the binding posts on the new v2 look more upscale; and the speaker is available in more finishes, although there are still no real-wood veneers -- yet. According to Axiom, real-wood veneer will be available as an option in mid-December.

The driver complement has remained unchanged: two 1" titanium-dome tweeters, two 5 1/4" aluminum-cone midrange drivers, and two 6 1/4" aluminum-cone woofers. The speaker’s dimensions are the same as they ever were, 39 1/2"H x 9 1/4"W x 17"D, and so is its weight, 57 pounds.

The most significant change is in the crossover, which Ian has been working on throughout the years and has deemed significant enough now to warrant the v2 designation. Ian tweaked the crossover to achieve better linearity, both on- and off-axis, in his quest to produce a speaker that’s as close as possible to his design ideals: flat frequency response, high output capability, and low distortion. Although the M80 v2 is claimed to be more linear than the M80ti, the rest of the specs remain the same. The claimed anechoic sensitivity is 91dB/W/m, and the nominal impedance is said to be 4 ohms.

The M80 v2 sounds big, bold, and as close to full-range as any speaker I’ve had in my listening room. Its presentation is voluminous and rather spectacular overall -- and not just on certain types of music. The M80 v2 traverses the musical spectrum with surprising ease.

If you haven’t heard Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine [Epic/Clean Slate 86683] yet, you haven’t heard one of the best pop releases of 2005. The opening track, which is also the title track, is a jazzy number with a rich, romantic sound that features Apple at center stage, backed by an orchestra led by the song’s producer, Jon Brion. It’s the kind of tune you’ll swear you’ve heard in a movie somewhere.

Although the orchestra isn’t used here on a massive scale, as if it were playing a Beethoven symphony, I was impressed with the notable weight and the astounding clarity with which the M80 v2s delivered this music. I’d estimate bass to a solid 30 or 35Hz in my room, and the sense of size and scale the M80 v2 projects is impossible to miss. Still, although these speakers sound big, they don’t miss the little things. They’re able to make Apple’s voice sound tight and focused in the center, but they can also make the orchestra sound as large and as expansive as it needs to be. Impressive.

The soundtrack to the movie The Mission [EMI 811267], an old standby in my speaker-evaluation repertoire, sounded breathtaking through the M80 v2s. With the Blue Circle BC204 amp driving the speakers to extraordinarily loud levels, the orchestra had the kind of weight and heft that could shatter the confidence of those audiophiles who think they have to spend five figures to get a speaker that can reproduce lifelike levels. The M80 v2 is capable of astonishing dynamic range, which is surprising given that it's certainly sizeable but not huge, and even more so considering its price. There are other speakers that can match the M80 v2 in this regard, but I’d wager that there aren't many of them that cost $1240 per pair.

Although the sense of scale was rather astounding, the individual singers in the choir weren’t quite as well delineated in the mix as I heard through some other speakers, such as the coaxial-driver-based, bookshelf-sized Ascendo System C5, which is an imaging champ, placing musicians "there" and "there" in a well-defined soundstage. This type of pinpoint precision seems to be the domain of little speakers and, in particular, the C5, which is a reference in that regard.

However, small speakers don’t stand a chance when it comes to re-creating the spacious, enveloping, room-filling soundfield of which the M80 v2s are capable. I have to swallow hard when I say that. As many people who read my reviews know, I’m a fan of minimonitors for how much performance many of them offer at very reasonable prices; however, I have to concede that despite certain benefits small speakers have, none I’ve reviewed can match the weight, heft, and room-swelling scale of presentation of the M80 v2. What’s more, the large, floorstanding M80 v2 is priced like many of the high-performing minimonitors I admire, and even quite a bit less than some. Ascendo’s System C5, for example, costs $2500 per pair.

The M80 v2's treble has plenty of clarity, a characteristic that's apparent in the mids and bass, too. I’ve listened to many of Axiom’s speakers; all of them use the same tweeter, and all of them have the same tidy-sounding treble. The M3ti that I reviewed years ago, which costs less than a third of the M80 v2's price, sounds essentially the same through the treble region, although it certainly can’t play as loud or as cleanly as the M80 v2. That’s not to take anything away from the M80 v2, or even pump up the M3ti. It’s just a fact of life when parts are shared across a speaker line.

I was impressed at how balanced the M80 v2s sound from top to bottom. There’s no discontinuity between the bass, mids and highs, which is not true of some big speakers, both low- and high-priced. One area of the frequency band might sound "slow and plodding" and another "quick and tight." The M80 v2' sound blends cohesively, top to bottom, with no one range dominating another.

Undoubtedly, selling factory-direct helps Axiom keep the price of its speakers down. Still, slap on a dealer margin and I’d consider the M80 v2 a great deal. Yes, you read that right -- a great deal. While the "giant-killer" tag is overused in audio reviewing, this is one speaker to which it most certainly applies.

The M80 v2 is a floorstanding speaker that can reproduce nearly the entire audible range, has outstanding clarity, is commendably neutral-sounding, can fill a large space with a vast soundfield, and can play to astonishingly high SPLs and never turn edgy, grainy, or distorted. Yes, for more money you can find a speaker that will improve on the M80 v2 here and there, and you can most certainly find a speaker that’s flashier-looking. However, for $1240 per pair, which is less than a good number of audiophiles spend on cables, the Axiom M80 v2 is a bargain. Its predecessor was one of the best values in audio when it debuted in 2000, and the M80 v2 is an even better value today.

...Doug Schneider

Axiom Audio M80 v2 Loudspeakers
Price: $1240 USD per pair, including shipping to the US and in Canada.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Axiom Audio
Highway #60
Dwight, ON Canada P0A 1H0
Phone: (705) 635-2222
Fax: (705) 635-1972

Website: www.axiomaudio.com

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