[SoundStage!]The Traveler
Back Issue Article

November 2005

Axiom Goes Architectural

Drive up into the Muskoka region of Ontario, Canada and you’ll find trees, trails, lakes, a plethora of Canadian wildlife, and cabins in the woods. It’s the picturesque kind of place that photographers flock to in order to shoot photos for postcards. The last thing you’d ever think you’d find here is a loudspeaker manufacturer -- let alone one that’s been around for almost 25 years. But this is exactly the kind of place in which Axiom Audio is located, and it’s where I drive to every year just to see what’s new and about to be released from the speaker company that's literally out in the woods.

The last time I came to Axiom Audio, Ian Colquhoun and his crew were showing their brand-new EP500 and EP600 subs. Since then, Vince Hanada has reviewed the '500 on Home Theater & Sound, and he gave it a big thumbs up along with a Reviewers’ Choice nod. Roger Kanno has the ‘600 in-house, with a review scheduled for late this year or early next.

This time, though, the products that Axiom was about to debut weren’t thunderous, but they were was just as interesting, particularly since they weren’t necessarily what I was expecting -- décor-friendly speakers done the Axiom way, which is to say, quite differently than what you’ve seen before.

When I arrived, Ian took me on a quick tour of the facility, pointed to the area where their new anechoic chamber was scheduled to be installed in two weeks' time (an exact replica of the NRC’s chamber -- the place that Colquhoun has tested his own loudspeakers for years and where we conduct our own loudspeaker measurements), showed me his new office that was in the middle of construction, and then ushered me into the board room and offered me a coffee. With caffeine sharpening my senses, he rolled out his latest creation -- an "on- and in-the-wall" series of loudspeakers. It took a second to sink in. Does it really make sense to have the speaker on and in the wall?

Indeed, it does. These new speakers are part of the company’s new Architectural Series, which is a name to reflect the décor-conscious design and styling Axiom is after. And what they’ve done with this series is also quite brilliant; instead of making brand-new speakers that no one has ever heard of, or heard, they’ve replicated the popular M2i, M3ti, and M22ti speakers and called the in- and on-the-wall versions W2, W3, and W22. They’ve also created center-channel speakers modeled after the VP100 and VP150 called the W100 and W150. With the new "W" speakers, the company is attempting to give customers the sound that they expect from the well-known models in more living-room-friendly designs.

The prototype W2 from the front...

...and rear. On the production models, the binding posts will be part of the plastic in-wall cabinet, meaning that the speaker cables will be in the wall, too.

Ian held up the two pieces of a speaker to show me how they work and explain why he made the speakers on- and in-the-wall, and not just one or the other.

First, there’s the enclosure itself that sits on the wall, and is much shallower than that of the regular-series speakers. Next, there's a cup-like "secondary" cabinet that’s made from plastic and mounted in the wall, effectively extending the shallower cabinet into the wall cavity to give the speaker sufficient cabinet volume. It takes up space back there, basically out of sight and out of mind, and leaves the front rather discrete.

This secondary enclosure is a rather brilliant way to create the kind of cabinet volume necessary for the speaker to have the same volume as the regular bookshelf speaker, yet it takes up no more space on the outside of the wall. And the reason that I said before that this design makes sense is because it means that the hole you have to cut in the wall to accommodate the entire speaker is much smaller than if you’re mounting a full-size in-wall speaker. Simply cut a hole big enough to accommodate the secondary cabinet and the black plastic frame that holds it in place, and your speaker is on and in the wall. Your floor space has been completely preserved.

The only downfall for some might be the fact that a true in-wall speaker creates a relatively flat surface on the wall -- nothing juts out very far. On the other hand, Axiom’s on- and in-the-wall design still has a cabinet out front. The cabinet is quite shallow, and with an actual in-wall speaker, you see the grille anyway. For those who want to mount regular speakers on the wall, this is a more elegant alternative.

In Axiom’s in-factory listening room Ian had set up a regular M2i speaker mounted on the wall; I could see how awkward it looked protruding outward. On the other hand, the W2 prototype looked far more at home attached to the wall. And if someone from one of those design shows that my wife likes to watch on nighttime TV saw the two speakers and had to say which looks better, I know which one she’d pick. As a result, I think this new series from Axiom will turn out to be a hit.

The speakers are being sold in single units, not in pairs, likely so people can order just the right number. The pricing is as follows (in USD): W2, $220; W3, $245; W22, $325; W100, $340; WP150, $495.

With that product debut concluding this year’s trip, I couldn’t help but wonder what would be in store for next year. A peek into the engineering lab where Tom Cumberland, Axiom's electronics guru, works, gave me more than a hint of what’s coming. For a couple of years now, Ian has been talking about offering cutting-edge electronics at Axiom-like prices, and Tom has been working on creating them, night and day it seems.

Tom hard at work.

The first electronics Axiom will produce will likely be power amplifiers, which they started designing when Tom created the amps for the EP500 and EP600 subs. The thing is, Ian wants whatever amplifier Tom designs to be able to drive his M80ti speakers to the rather astonishing SPLs that the speaker is capable of producing. If all goes as planned, then, Axiom’s amplifier will be a modular design capable of super-high power (Ian and Tom didn’t quite say the exact figure, but they kept talking about watts in the "high hundreds") and will be bullet-proof into low-impedance loads. In other words, some sort of honkin’ big amp -- but one that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. This is Axiom Audio after all, where the most expensive speaker, the M80ti, sells for just $1240 a pair and plays music like it costs at least twice that. I know -- I have the latest iteration of the M80ti in-house, with a review planned for the months ahead.

Not surprisingly, then, back in the lab, Tom’s eyes have been glued to circuit boards and his soldering iron hasn’t left his hand. So, providing Tom gets his work done, I know what’s in store for next year.

...Doug Schneider

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