[SoundStage!]The Traveler
Back Issue Article

September 2003

Summer Colors and Fall Debuts Abound at Axiom Audio

Most trips to big speaker manufacturers mean driving to an industrial park on the outskirts of a large city and staying overnight nearby at a well-known chain-type hotel -- hopefully with free high-speed Internet access, and preferably with something better than a complimentary "continental breakfast" in the morning. (Does anyone actually like those continental breakfasts? I mean, it's usually a cheap bagel, bad coffee, and fake orange juice.)

Axiom Audio, though, is different. As I’ve mentioned many times -- most recently in this space in last year, "My Summer Trip to the Lake, or A Visit to Axiom Audio" -- Axiom is located near Canada’s beautiful Algonquin Park, better known to some as the Muskoka region. Going there is more or less a treat -- and a cause for more substantial plans.

This year I was booked into the Jack Horner cabin, one of 36 lakefront cabins at Lumina Resort -- an all-inclusive summer-resort destination for families and individuals who want to lounge around the lake and get away from it all. The cabins have electricity and running water, but they don’t have TVs, telephones, and certainly not high-speed Internet access. All of this really does isolate a person -- but in many ways that’s a good thing, especially when 99% of your day usually involves sitting in front of a computer screen. This particular cabin, I'm told, is the "honeymooner's special" because of its secluded location and rich view of the lake.

Given there's little technology inside, for a few moments I sat quietly and wondered exactly what had gone on in this precise location in the weeks and summers before I arrived. The Lumina Resort opened in 1921, and from what I could see, the JH cabin had been around for many decades -- long before I was born, that's for sure. I couldn't help but think that its history through the years might make for a good movie plot -- NC17, no doubt, and perhaps only airable on closed-circuit TV at one of the chain hotels. But that's a project for another time. I had audio work to do that day.

Lumina is only eight minutes from the Axiom Audio factory, a large and sprawling dark-brown building just off to the side of the highway. It was there that I met Ian Colquhoun, president of Axiom, and Alan Lofft, long-time audio writer, editor, and personality over the last few decades for such publications as Sound & Vision (Canada), Audio, AudioScene Canada, and many others, I’m sure, that I don’t even know of. Today Alan is employed by Axiom as their "resident expert," and he’s also gone online with an advice-related site called Audio Lofft Report at www.audiolofftreport.com. Is the entire print world going electronic? Seems so.

Ian and Alan were keen to show me two new things: (1) the 24 new custom colors that were released in the summer for their entire series of speakers, and (2) the complete cable line Axiom's launching, which should be available this month. Both impressed me, but for different reasons.

Alan Lofft holds an M3ti in a custom color, while Ian Colquhoun holds up the samples Axiom uses to help customers pick the right color combinations for their speakers.

It’s obvious that by introducing the custom colors for their existing speaker line, Axiom has no changes for that lineup planned for the near future. I think that’s a good thing and shows that Axiom isn’t into changing for the sake of change. In my estimation, Ian did a bang-up job with the current series of speakers, garnering the company plenty of critical acclaim -- including lots of praise from me. And since I’m a bookshelf-speaker lover, three models in particular have stood out above all others: the $255/pair M2i, the $400/pair M22ti, and, of course, the venerable $275/pair M3ti. In the case of the latter little speaker, it's a true giant killer that a good number of our own staff now own. The M3ti actually took on Revel’s $2000/pair M20 in a blind-listening test at Canada’s NRC, giving up some to it in terms of deep bass and ability to play loud, but it beat the M20 in some other crucial areas -- a real David and Goliath showdown in the speaker world. And if you think that that bit of trivia is just hearsay or audiophile urban myth, I can say that I was there and part of it all! It turned my head.

But that doesn’t mean the M3ti is the best of the Axiom bookshelf bunch, either. There are others who believe that the M2i and M22ti are superior to the M3ti -- and because I’ve heard all of them, I can see why they’d say that. They all have their own strengths and weakness, and, in the end, they all sound a little different. Preferences, then, will then dictate which speaker is the best. The point is, I guess, that you have choices -- and now you have even more choices with all the custom colors in which you can get Axiom speakers, including the floorstanders.

A good assortment of the available colors were on hand at the factory, placed on special MDF cutouts that Axiom uses as customer samples. The samples cost $10 per cutout, and they come with a sample grille cloth snapped on (six different ones to choose from, too). The cost of the samples can be applied to a speaker when you buy.

My favorites from the ones I saw (which didn’t include all) were brushed silver, heartland maple, warm cherrywood, and high-gloss dark cherry -- the latter’s only real problem being that it shows fingerprints, where the matte finishes I mentioned don’t. Then there's buffalo oak, just the thing if you own one of those ‘70s and ‘80s shelving units made from particle board and vinyl veneer and you want to match your speakers to it. Axiom says that they are selling a surprising number of the buffalo finishes -- surprisingly, in California!

The cost of the custom matte finishes are $95 per speaker model (for one, two, or as many identical models as you want, which is very cost effective for those putting together a five- or six-channel identical-speaker multichannel music system), or $275 for a mixed-model system (which would be what most home-theater systems are). The high-gloss finishes are more: $350 per speaker model and $1000 for a system. At those prices, the custom colors are all obviously vinyl veneer, not real wood, just like Axiom's regular finishes, but it’s really surprising just how good- and real-looking some of the veneers are.

Of course, with any custom-color job the guts of the speaker remain the same, but after seeing some of the finishes, I know I wouldn’t personally mind getting a pair in one of my favorites. Another pair of M3ti speakers perhaps?

Axiom's cable lineup includes component-video, S-video, and composite-video interconnects, as well as analog interconnects and speaker cables.

High-quality RCA connectors are standard.

Sturdy gold-plated spade lugs come standard on the speaker cables.

Now for the cables.

In ways, it’s surprising that Axiom is bringing out a line of cables at all. The company is not one that makes any exorbitant or mystical claims about cable performance -- feeling instead that a well-designed cable will give you all the performance you need, and will be indistinguishable from any other cable that has similar properties, no matter who makes it. They feel that the real audible differences occur with the actual components, and primarily the speakers.

Why produce cables at all then? Well, that’s not to say that you don’t need cables -- you obviously do. But Axiom has a reputation for offering things at seemingly ridiculously low prices, and that’s precisely what they’ve done with their new line of cables, which seem to be exceptionally well made and, by audiophile standards, are probably going to be priced dirt-cheap.

Ian and Alan laid out the entire audio- and video-cable assortments on a table. I was particularly surprised by the materials used -- thick and sturdy gold-plated spades on the speaker wires, for example, and shapely, rugged RCA connectors on the interconnects. I picked up the component-video cable, which is very thick, and, according to Ian, "really well shielded" -- the crucial aspect, he says, to making this cable perform properly. Alan unscrewed one of the RCA connectors to unveil the termination inside, remarking, "People will be able to easily see the quality of soldering done."

As I said, the cables’ construction seems topnotch, the choice of materials is all good, and the price, well, let’s just say that if the cables actually cost what Axiom hopes to price them at, I can’t see why at the very least people wouldn’t replace their in-the-box cables with these. I’m also guessing that many bargain-hunting audiophiles will have these on their "must-check-out" list.

So how much? The pricing is still being finalized, and the cables come in a wide variety of lengths, but, for example, it appears that a six-foot pair of the speaker cables will be quite a bit less than $100, and the same goes for that three-foot component-video run. Oh yes, there’s one more thing I forgot to mention: The prices, Axiom says, will likely include shipping to your door in North America! Say what!?! Now that's a deal -- and worth the drive to see.

Although Ian and his wife Amie assure me that the Muskoka area has beautiful winters, during which you can do lots of snowmobiling and cross-country skiing (and Lumina Resort has a few open, heated cabins), I’m not all that fond of the cold (despite being a Canadian and year-round resident), so it’s doubtful that I’ll make another trip up this way until next summer. Still, Axiom is one of the audio world’s most progressive companies when it comes to online activities, so you can find all that I talked about, and likely even more information, from the comfort of your own computer chair at www.axiomaudio.com. Check it out. It's where I'll be in January.

...Doug Schneider


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