Axiom Epic 80/500 Home Theater Speaker System

Any apprehension I may have had about buying speakers off the Internet faded a few years back when I scored some great-sounding bookshelf speakers from a Web-only audio company. Those remain in use today, and I'd be game to match them up performance-wise against any current model in their price range. Of course, outfits that sell gear exclusively online have since multiplied, and Axiom, the Canadian firm whose Epic 80/500 home theater speaker system is the subject of this review, is among them. Buying a pair of inexpensive bookshelf speakers online is one thing, but a whole $3,000-plus tower-based system? What, if any, are the advantages to doing that?

The first and most obvious is cost: By eliminating middlemen and selling direct, a company like Axiom can offer speakers at more affordable prices. Another advantage is the home audition: Axiom and many other Web-based companies offer a 30-day trial period. (The initial shipping cost is free, although Axiom makes you pay the return freight if you choose to pass.)

In this case, you can also take comfort in Axiom's longtime involvement with the speaker-measurement and psychoacoustical research programs at the National Research Council of Canada. This government-sponsored program is partly responsible for the many excellent speaker brands that have emerged from Canada, including Energy, Mirage, Paradigm, and PSB (see this issue's review of PSB's Synchrony speakers). If you require some kind of objective seal of approval for speakers, association with the NRC is about as good as it gets.

I was pleasantly surprised by this system's sleek and stately looks. The angled front corners and tapered cabinets of the Millennia M80 v2 towers and the VP150 v2 center speaker provide a slimming effect that's visually appealing, and the look is echoed by the QS8 v2 surrounds' angled front baffles. Build quality is excellent: Cabinets are solidly constructed and furnished with gold-plated binding posts. The towers come with both spikes and rubber feet for carpets or bare floors. My system had an attractive Mansfield Beech finish with black grilles, although other options are available.

The M80 tower - a 40-inch-tall, three-way design - has a pair each of 6.5-inch aluminum-cone woofers, 5.25-inch midrange drivers, and, unusually, dual 1-inch titanium tweeters, with the second tweeter present to beef up the M80's power-handling and dynamic capabilities. There's also a pair of bass ports located on the back.