Axiom Epic Midi 125 Speaker System Page 2
The Speaker Vanishes
Right out of the box, the Axioms were self-effacing speakers, the kind that duck out of the way and let content speak for itself. With the disappearance of a faint midrange coloration after the first few hours—break-in time was mercifully short, mutation minimal—they turned out to have so little personality of their own that I hesitate to attribute any characteristics to them. If I say the monitors had decent bass response down to the sub crossover, I’m not implying that they boosted bass, only that they delivered what there was in the signal. Nor were there any additive traits in the highly versatile midrange or the wide-open top end of the monitors and center. Off-axis response was relatively un-beamy for this kind of conventional dome- and cone-based design—in two-channel mode, the monitors had a sweet spot, but not a tyrannically small one that would immobilize the listener. The so-called Quadpolar surrounds were less wishy-washy than most bipoles I’ve tried, supporting strong and well-distributed, but not overwhelming, surround effects.
The subwoofer did a fine job of producing clean and pitch-correct bass up to the crossover point, though its modest output confirmed that it would fare best in a room with less cubic footage than mine, as suggested by the manufacturer. This is after all a sub with a single 8-inch driver and a modest rated power of 125 watts RMS. The sub was not capable of overwhelming force, but when it was pressed with massive action-movie bass effects, limiter circuitry kept it out of trouble.
Amsterdam Heavy (DVD, Dolby Digital)—loaded with action acrobatics from professional fighters and kickboxers in a setting I’d gladly move to—prompted me to write in my notebook: “Action movie friendly? Check.” Not that this soundtrack was a marvel of its kind. Even discounting the occasional edginess of Dolby Digital lossy compression, it was on the crunchy side, perhaps owing more to video-game aesthetics than to movie aesthetics. But the Axioms were just telling it like it was. They were candid, not ruthless. Effects from the surround speakers had a nice combination of continuity and discretion.
The next two demos were Blu-ray Discs with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks—and better-recorded and -mixed soundtracks, perhaps owing to higher budgets. It was like listening to a whole different speaker. The soundfield was bigger, objects within it better drawn, and the top end was more refined, allowing me to relax a little. Men in Black 3 showed off the subwoofer’s strong suit: The handoff from sub to speakers was so slick, I had a hard time telling where one stopped and the other began, at least in the vicinity of the crossover. It also became obvious that the sub would never win any low-frequency weight-lifting contests, but voices sounded natural and unhyped in all the movie and music demos.
The Raven, with John Cusack as Poe, kept the action going with thundering hooves—and here I appreciated the sub’s restraint. This is the kind of bass effect I’d rather have controlled than oversold. When the thundering hooves mixed with cellos and basses, the system’s resolution and output capability kept the horses from overpowering the stringed instruments, juggling both in the same busy soundfield. And it was a soundfield that lifted clear of the speakers, taking full spatial advantage of scenes located in large indoor spaces.
I’m a Citizens for Boysenberry Jam Fan
A mint-condition vinyl copy of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends gave the speakers a chance to swing their spotlight around, suddenly illuminating individual elements in the mix, then just as suddenly changing personality once those elements disappeared. This made some instruments seem to come out of nowhere, such as the fat bass line on “Punky’s Dilemma” or the echoing, nightmarish, intentionally strident gospel chorus on “Save the Life of My Child.” When the sub was silenced, the speakers had enough bass of their own to fill in the two classic voices and Paul Simon’s subtle, tasteful acoustic guitar.
Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony came in a live performance by Sergiu Celibidache and the Munich Philharmonic from a 12-CD EMI wallet box. That this demo was able to hold my attention for 88 minutes spoke well of both the performance—a Bruckner that was relished, not rushed—and the speakers, which mined the recording for all the dynamic and spiritual momentum it had. Although I don’t often have physical responses to Bruckner, I found myself nodding my head to Celibidache’s stately pace. Even when the volume dropped to a whisper, with the occasional audience cough peeping through the soundstage, the two M2s didn’t loosen their grip on my attention—low-level resolution was among their most moving qualities. In the loudest moments, the titanium-domed tweeters delivered the brass section with gusto. When the volume level and emotional pitch were at their highest, the string section could get a bit hot, though not to the threshold of discomfort. I should add that I was playing the system at levels that seemed to be approaching concert-hall volume, something I wouldn’t attempt with just any speaker. In any case, this was an indelible listening experience.
John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme arrived on an MCA re-release of the original Impulse LP. I bought it in the early 1980s but haven’t come to appreciate it until recently—“there’s always hope” is one of my listening mottoes. In Rudy Van Gelder’s classic recording, the sax emerged close up and unveiled but not edgy. The M2’s presentation of cymbals fascinated me: The tap of Elvin Jones’ drumstick—“not often you can hear the stick,” I told my notebook—was followed by a soft metallic exhalation, with a medium perspective, sitting just slightly behind the speakers along with Jimmy Garrison’s bass and McCoy Tyner’s piano. The bassist definitely needed the subtle extension afforded by the sub to achieve the right weight and be heard above the other instruments.
Axiom Audio’s Epic Midi 125 speaker system gets our attention for a number of reasons. There’s the underdog angle. Perhaps more important is the company’s wherewithal to design and build its own drivers, giving it more control over the final result. And then there are the idiosyncratic design features, some of which—the unusual enclosure shapes, the Quadpolar surround design—likely make the system sound better. But all that fades into insignificance when we consider the primary question: Does this system deliver high performance and value for your money? The answer is an emphatic yes for the speakers and a qualified yes for the sub—for larger rooms, you might pick a larger model from the Axiom line, though there’s no doubt the company can muster an honest bass-maker. Add the Epic Midi 125 to the short list of factory-direct home theater speaker systems you’ll want to try at home.