GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published May 1, 2003

 


Axiom's M2i speakers...


...and EP125 subwoofer

Axiom Audio Millennia M2i Loudspeakers and Epicentre EP125 Subwoofer

Axiom Audio's Millennia M2i loudspeaker is a modern-day classic with an asterisk -- these minimonitors take you into high-end sound at reduced-price admission, but they need some help.

Though it didn't have to sell its soul to the speaker devil, Axiom did have to give up any pretense of deep-bass reproduction in the M2i. When those low notes check in, the M2i checks out. Everywhere else across the sonic spectrum, however, the M2i will elicit a double take from even the most sophisticated listener: Is this really a pair of $255 speakers or is it something much, much more?

The M2i can fly solo in a small room, but here's the bottom line: it's best paired with a subwoofer. Is there a budget subwoofer out there worthy of the M2i? We'll give it a try with Axiom's Epicentre EP125 entry-level subwoofer. It costs $380 and weighs maybe 20 pounds after a big Sunday meal.

Description

The M2i, out of Dwight, Ontario, isn't exactly breaking news to regular readers of SoundStage!. It earned a Reviewers' Choice and a "super-achiever" classification last year from Doug Schneider. The M2i breathed new life into the lower end of the Axiom speaker line when president/chief-designer Ian Colquhoun inserted the 1" titanium-dome tweeter from upper-scale Axiom speakers into the M2Ti SE, retained the 5.25" aluminum-cone woofer, reworked the crossover, and re-christened the speaker the M2i.

The M2i's all-MDF cabinet measures 11.25" high, 7.5" wide, and 8.5" deep. The cabinet narrows as it stretches to the back to counteract internal standing waves. The M2i achieves greater volume levels than one might expect from a speaker this size with Axiom's Vortex port on the back panel -- a tapered tube with ridged synthetic padding that extends into the cabinet, just behind the tweeter assembly. The ridged design slows the air as it escapes from the speaker, reducing port noise.

The compact M2i speakers weigh only nine pounds each, but tap on the cabinet and you'll see how solid nine pounds can be. With gold-plated, all-metal speaker terminals and a crisp Boston-cherry vinyl-wrap finish, the M2i even looks like it wants to be a big-ticket speaker.

The EP125, meanwhile, looks and feels like a budget subwoofer. Twenty pounds (Axiom's website even lists it at 18.5 pounds) is about as light as it gets for a subwoofer. The EP125 is obviously built for home theater. There's only one low-level RCA input -- all that's needed for an audio/video receiver. A two-channel integrated amplifier, like the Antique Sound Labs AQ1003DT I was using, requires dual inputs. In a two-channel music setup, then, you'd need a Y-adapter with two male RCA plugs (for the amplifier's line-level output) leading to a single female plug (for the single cable to the subwoofer). The EP125's speaker terminals are inexpensive spring clips.

From the back panel the user can adjust the crossover frequency from 40Hz to 150Hz, control the volume, and adjust phase using a two-position switch. Also on the back is a power on/off switch. The 125W internal amplifier and 8" aluminum-cone driver -- mounted above two Vortex ports on the front baffle -- give the EP125 enough kick to fill a small room. Axiom's choice of the aluminum driver reflects a greater concern for performance than aesthetics. (Many entry-level subwoofers use cheaper paper drivers.) The EP125, at 14.5" high, 12" wide, and 12" deep, will fit discreetly in any corner.

Setup

The M2i, mounted on Axiom's SS24 stands, found a kindred soul in the Antique Sound Labs AQ1003DT, a 30W vacuum-tube integrated amplifier using four EL34 and four 12AU7 tubes. My source was a Rega Planet CD player with a modified ART Di/O digital-to-analog converter. Also in the lineup were two subwoofers: the Velodyne SPL-800 and RBH MS-8.1. Cables were Canare Star Quad interconnects with Neutrik RCA connectors, MIT Terminator 3 interconnects, a DH Labs D-75 digital cable, and Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker wire. Other resources included the Rotel RA-1060, a 60W solid-state integrated, along with PSB Alpha B, B&W DM303, and Athena Technologies AS-B1 speakers.

Sound

The M2i has a slightly forward sound with exceptional imaging, great precision through the midrange, and a wall-to-wall soundstage. The M2i reaches substantial volume levels before showing signs of harshness.

Maybe the M2i wouldn't be an anomaly if speaker designers weren't so preoccupied with home theater. The home-theater phenomenon has increased the demand for highly efficient, compact speakers not particularly attuned to music's nuances. Instead, many budget speakers now favor a forward, almost shrill presentation that injects immediacy and excitement into every DVD soundtrack.

That does not describe the M2i. The laid-back, midrange-rich AQ1003DT blended perfectly with the M2i’s clean and precise midrange. Diana Krall's vocals on "Devil May Care," from When I Look Into Your Eyes [Verve 065374], just floated through the air. A little more weight would have been welcome with, for example, Ben Wolfe's bass beneath solos, first by Krall (piano), then Russell Malone (guitar) on "Devil."

An equally adept performance was heard on New Favorite [Rounder 610495] from Alison Krauss. This disc helped illustrate the little Axiom’s ability to produce an accurate, well established soundstage.

Only "Como Se Coza En El Barrio" from The Prosthetic Cubans [Atlantic 83116], a highly percussive track from Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos, seemed slightly bloated in the lower frequencies over the M2i speakers, though not to the point of becoming distracting. But the low bass is where the EP125 comes in. A bit suspicious because of its weight, I immediately set-up the EP125 in my small basement home theater and ran a series of test tones through it. Imagine my surprise when the EP125 kept making some noise all the way down to 25Hz!

My two-channel system, in a room about 12 feet by 26 feet, proved more taxing on the EP125. As it was, I set the EP125's crossover to about 90Hz, higher than the M2i’s rated low-frequency response of 60Hz, and pushed the sub's volume to its halfway point, the limit suggested by Axiom (any higher and Axiom recommends one of its larger subwoofers). The EP125 didn't honk or squawk or hang too long on a single note like a lot of other inexpensive subwoofers. What it contributed to the sound -- a firm footing for most music -- was quite welcome. It supplied just enough bass to add some body to the M2i's signature sound.

Other alternatives?

GOODSOUND! APPROVED COMPONENT
Axiom Audio Millennia M2i Loudspeakers

Not since the original, oddly shaped NHT SuperZero years ago has a speaker combined such a vivid-and-spacious, shocking-for-the-money sound. Like the SuperZero, the M2i needs a subwoofer to complete the sonic picture, but within its range the Axiom is simply superb.

As a matter of fact, within the M2i's frequency range, I can't think of another budget speaker that compares with the Axiom. Then again, if I couldn't afford a subwoofer, I'd consider both the B&W DM303 and PSB Alpha B because of their better balance in the low bass.

The EP125, alas, is not the M2i of subwoofers. The $400 RBH MS-8.1, for example, features two 8" drivers, a 200W amplifier, genuine five-way speaker binding posts, dual inputs and outputs, all in a smaller, heavier (35 pounds), denser enclosure with a metal speaker grille. The MS-8.1 gave Wolfe's bass prominence on "Devil May Care" that wasn't there with the EP125, greatly adding to the song's impact.

Conclusion

Axiom Audio's Millennia M2i minimonitor is a legend-in-the-making that tends to overshadow more sanely priced products like the EP125 subwoofer. As a package deal, the M2i and EP125 make a superb combination in a small-room system. But the M2i is so good that it shouldn't be restricted to budget systems. The M2i is the kind of speaker that could make Axiom Audio a lot better known throughout the world.

Prices of equipment reviewed


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