I didn't know speaker manufacturer Axiom
from Adam when GoodSound! publisher Doug Schneider first mentioned the company many
moons ago. Then his SoundStage! review of Axiom's
Millennia M3Ti followed. The speaker earned the Reviewers Choice
designation. A bit later, Doug added further insult to my injured ignorance. He confided
that, based on blind listening tests with none other than audio expert Ian Masters, he
considered the M3Ti fully competitive with high performance speakers costing up to
$2000. Now my ears began to ring in earnest. After all, the Axioms retail for about
one-eighth the price. Shortly thereafter, the Canadian upstarts ended up in my own living
room in New Mexico.
The M3Ti speakers weren't what I was expecting. Their sides splay inward to the rear
panel, avoiding parallel walls and eliminating certain internal resonances. This also
avoids the need for filler materials. I dont know of anybody who does this at these
prices. The veneer -- which turns out to be vinyl upon close inspection -- is so well done
that many manufacturers of pricier speakers could learn a lesson or two from Axiom's
cabinetmakers. The novel corrugated plastic port isn't chopped liver either. Nor are the
hefty metal binding posts or mitered front edges. And the crossover-less aluminum woofer,
engineered to have a purely mechanical roll-off, is a bit of high-end sophistication that
nobody in his or her right mind has a right to expect at this price. Properly humbled, I
began to suspect that further surprises lay in store.
Even if money isn't burning a hole in your pocket
Axiom, as it turns out, is one of the larger Canadian speaker manufacturers. So why
have so few people ever heard of them? OEM, that's why -- it accounts for 85% of their
business. Axiom builds finished loudspeakers for numerous other companies. It's the secret
to their attractive economies of scale. Their own offshore facilities and massive volume
buying power enable them to sink an enormous amount of value into their own brand.
Currently, Axiom-branded speakers sell mostly to Canadians, but based on the M3Ti's
stellar performance, that's surely about to change. Speaking with Axiom's Amie Colquhoun
at the NY Home Entertainment show, I learned that US sales will be handled factory-direct
at full retail. The downside of this arrangement means you'll have to purchase Axiom
speakers on the strength of reviews alone -- unless, of course, a friend of yours already
owns a pair you can listen to. The upside is a no-worry 30-day satisfaction-guaranteed
policy and superior service. Rather than deal with the wide variety of sometimes classy,
sometimes snobby and sometimes are-you-buying-yet? levels of retail service, you
will always be dealing with the company directly. Meeting the affable Mrs.
Colquhoun suggested that this is definitely a very positive ingredient of the Axiom
The Axiom Millennia M3Ti measures 13.5"H x 8.5"W x 8.5"D. The speaker
represents a nominal 8-ohm load, with an optimistically overstated sensitivity of 93dB
that's probably closer to 89dB. As a basic 6.5" two-way configuration, it's specified
to -3dB at 50Hz and sports all-metal driver technology (aluminum woofer, titanium
tweeter). It's available in black or cherry and retails for $275 per pair. Let that
sink in as you read what follows.
Shocking is the word
Doug and Ian are, I must admit, dead on the money. The M3Ti's performance is
indeed phenomenal. In fact, from a passive two-way monitor, you can't really get much more
performance regardless of price! This implausible statement warrants an
explanation. "Audiophile monitor" genre leaders can cost a whole lot more and will
play lower and louder. Also, they are usually gussied up in fancy wood veneers with
overbuilt cabinetry and impress with their established brands' reputations for superior
sonics. But by comparison, these speakers that can cost up to $2000 per pair really
wont give you any more sonic quality. Yes, you do get a bit more quantity.
But then the question becomes do you need it, or do you want to pay for it? Wouldn't
you prefer to impress your visiting audio friends with the unknown Axiom brand? You know,
play them a tune or two, watch their jaws drop and then explain casually how much you didn't
pay for the speakers? Depending on how you answered these questions, the Axiom Millennia
M3Ti speakers belong at the very head of your short list of stand-mounted speaker
The real deal
I hitched the speakers up to an Audio Refinement stack of CD player and integrated amp,
and I connected everything with Cardas Audio's most affordable offerings. Compliments of
Doug Schneider's prior break-in, the Axioms wove their magic quite literally from the
first note. The term that sprang to mind (and never left) was ultra-smooth. Think
limited edition single-malt Scotch; think the way a Mercedes-Benz engines purrs. We're
talking sophisticated and mature smooth, not the flat sort that hides behind
"nice" or "interesting."
The Axiom's bass extension falls between those of the previously reviewed Polk RT35i
and Triangle Titus XS. On the stellar LIVE! Blueport Jazz Sampler [BP-J009], the
various double basses of the featured jazz combos were re-created in all their massive
physicality. This meant not just low notes but notes coming from large wooden resonators.
A beautiful showcase was the Bill Evans tune "Time Remembered." It opens with a
freely meandering fat bass solo by Chris Colangelo before the piano and drums add
accompaniment for the increasingly frenzied bass workout. Hearing it through the Axioms, I
could sense the vibrating body of the bass and practically watch the player's fingers
excite the strings. All those little noises that are part of playing a real instrument
were there. Brushed and struck cymbals (notorious for high-frequency content that shimmers
in real life but often reproduced as a kind of metallic white noise) came across intact.
Instead of being cut short or obscured by inferior resolution, their decay trails
stretched out beautifully.
Nancy Marano's rendition of the Gershwin tune "The Man I Love," with its
mixture of come-hither seduction, wistful daydreaming and moody scatting, is very
compelling. Instead of the headliner sophistication of a major star (i.e., an
overdubbed performance spliced unto perfection) there are the telltale signs of an
intimate, unplugged performance -- the little body or head shifts relative to the
microphone, inflections responding to audience feedback, heightened energy and atmosphere.
The M3Tis high level of resolution conjured up a re-creation of the La Jolla venue
and its performers. You'd expect that from heavyweight statement monitors -- it was
surprising enough with last month's $495 Triangle Titus XS. But to obtain it at little
more than half the price makes you wonder why you should spend any more. Listening to the
same tracks on the two speakers (I still had the Triangles in-house), I found that the
little Triangle exhibited a bit more treble energy and vivaciousness while the Axiom
seemed smoother (there is that word again) and more polished.
I dislike the term "neutral" because it suggests a very nondescript
character. However, in audio, character is generally not wanted. Rather, neutrality is
prized for its invisibility. It lets the music come through untainted. I happen to really
dig the spunky and exciting character of the Triangles. But it's fair to point out that
they do have a recognizable character. The Axioms don't. What I hear with them is mature
How does the Axiom's neutrality translate into more lively material? Take Samra by
French räi sensation Faudel [Mondo Melodia 186 850 020 2]. This is well-recorded
high-energy pop music. It moves effortlessly from dance floor hip-hop beats to salsa,
R&B and flamenco. On "Salsa Räi," Yuri Buenaventura does the Latin lyrics
and is backed up by the traditional question-and-answer chorus, two trombones, baritone
sax, piano, congas, bongos, timbales, drums and assorted percussion. Faudel interjects
with his Algerian lyrics, and an electric violin adds some sharply jagged modal moves. It
sounds complex because it is. The Axioms remained unruffled. They cleanly separated the
arc of the back-up singers from the main vocalists, tracked the syncopated bass guitar,
synched up the blaring brass, showed off the depth of the space the rhythm section players
performed in, and played at levels that could have broken my lease. On "Rohi,"
things turn dance hall. Surprisingly, the massive attack bass beats slammed just fine
without a subwoofer. The electronica synth beats of the following track,
"Samra," pulsed like a freight train and didn't need the added output of a
larger woofer either.