The M60 v2 in optional Cherry Nutmeg veneer with
the semi-gloss finish.
Axiom Audio M60 v2 Loudspeakers
Sometimes Ive wondered whether the name of this
publication, GoodSound!, mightnt do an injustice to the high quality of some
of the products we review. GreatSound! seems a more fitting description for two
pairs of speakers Ive reviewed here: the Monitor Audio Silver and the Usher Audio
Technology X-718. Of course, the phrase "good sound!" doesnt only refer to
the sonic qualities of the products we cover, but also implies good sound for the money;
that is, products that sound good and are affordable. But while the loudspeakers
Ive just mentioned are certainly affordable, the only word that describes their
sound is great. Good just isnt, well, good enough.
Enter the Axiom Audio M60 v2 ($990 USD per pair) -- a
loudspeaker that not only sounds great but is perhaps one of the greatest audio bargains
out there. Heres why.
A little over a year ago I met Ian Colquhoun, president and
chief designer of Axiom Audio, and visited his factory, nestled in the woods of the
Muskokas, about 250km north of Toronto. Axiom makes all its speakers there, which is
somewhat remarkable, given their quality, their low retail prices, and the fact that much
of their competition now builds its speakers in China.
I wont get into the details of Axioms history
(you can read all that on their website), other than to say that, in his early years as a
speaker designer, Colquhoun worked closely with the National Research Council in Ottawa,
in the famous speaker-measurement program directed by Dr. Floyd E. Toole. There they
tested speakers in an anechoic chamber, and conducted double-blind listening tests to
identify those measurements that most closely correlated with listener preferences. One of
the most important things to emerge from this research was that, in double-blind tests,
listeners tended to prefer speakers with frequency responses that were relatively flat
both on and off axis. This observation became the basis for building good-sounding
speakers, and Colquhoun and many others continue that practice to this day.
The three-way M60 v2 has metal drivers, a cabinet
built to reduce internal standing waves that can muddy the sound, and proprietary Vortex
ports designed to reduce port noise. Each speaker measures 37.5"H x 9.25"W x
15"D and weighs 47.6 pounds. The tweeter is a 1" titanium dome that crosses over
to the 5.25" aluminum midrange at about 2kHz. The midrange hands off to two 6.5"
aluminum woofers at 200Hz, the latter responsible for handling the lowest octaves. The M60
v2s claimed frequency response is 37Hz-22kHz, ±3dB, and its anechoic sensitivity is
said to be 89dB/W/m, increasing to 93dB in a typical listening room. Combined with its
8-ohm impedance, this makes for a speaker thats very easy to drive.
The review pair came finished in Boston Cherry vinyl veneer
and was fitted with black cloth grilles. The other standard finishes are Black Oak,
Mansfield Beech, and Light Maple. While the M60 looks good in any of these, higher-grade
finishes are available in vinyl (16 choices, starting at $1108/pair) and real woods (many,
starting at $1410/pair), as well as six different colors for the grille. The real-wood
finishes include high-gloss black or white, knotty pine, walnut, oak, cherry, rosewood,
and maple, as well as stain options in satin, semigloss, and piano (high-gloss) finishes.
When I visited the factory, I saw a few of the custom finishes and was impressed by how
much they improved the speakers appearance. While an attractive cabinet wont
improve the sound, its awfully nice to look at, and can help the speakers blend in
with the rest of your décor. If I were buying Axioms and had the money to do it, I
wouldnt think twice about springing for one of the upgraded finishes.
Because all of Axioms sales are done online, via
their website, the only way to hear one of
their speakers is in your own home. Although Id never suggest that you buy a
component you havent heard, Axiom helps take the risk out of the purchase by
offering a 30-day money-back guarantee. There are two major advantages to doing this.
First, it gives the buyer the chance to audition the product where it will actually be
used. This is the best way to test any product, and Axiom lets you do it risk-free.
Second, by eliminating the middleman -- the dealer -- Axiom can hold down the cost of
their products and pass the savings along to the customer. If it were sold in stores, the
M60 v2 would undoubtedly cost more.
System and setup
I connected the Axiom M60 v2s to a Bryston B100DA SST
integrated amplifier via AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables. An AMX Optimum AVC-31 coaxial
cable connected an NAD C542 CD player to the Bryston, to ease conversion of the digital
signal by the Brystons onboard D/A converter. All components were plugged into a
Blue Circle BC6000 powerline conditioner.
When I set up tower speakers, my biggest concern is to get
them far enough away from the rooms walls that they can create a wall-to-wall
soundstage without overloading the room with bass. I like good bass as much as the next
person, but not when its overblown and loses clarity. Fortunately, this wasnt
a problem with the M60 v2s, which were fairly easy to set up. I ended up placing them
30" from the front wall and 25" from the sidewalls, almost exactly where my PSB
Platinum M2 speakers normally sit. To tighten their imaging, I toed them in slightly
toward my listening position, 8 away. The M60 v2s required almost no break-in
time to sound their best.
Although I knew from the listening Id done at the
Axiom factory that their speakers performed at a high level, I wasnt prepared for
what I heard when I finished setting up the M60 v2s in my own room. The first thing
that struck me was the Axioms even tonal balance. Not only was the speaker very
neutral, it also offered just the right balance of detail and exceptional musicality. The
Axiom didnt imbue music with its own sonic signature. Instead, the quality of its
sound depended on the quality of the CDs I played. Good recordings sounded good, and great
recordings really shone.
A case in point was Neil Youngs 1972 classic, Harvest
[CD, Reprise CD 2277]. Several of the songs that appear on this album are also
performed by Young on his recently released Live at Massey Hall 1971 [CD, Reprise
CDW 43327], which I think is the better-sounding of the two. On CD (Ive never heard
it on vinyl), Harvest is dynamically anemic, sounding closed-in and lacking a
convincing sense of three-dimensionality. The Axioms didnt hide this by exaggerating
stage size or depth, but they did showcase the warmth of Youngs voice and the
full-bodied sound of his acoustic guitar. Soon enough, I found myself forgetting about Harvests
sonic shortcomings and focusing on Youngs lyrics as he describes his feelings of
melancholy and loneliness and his observations about his new life in California. Although
the sound wasnt the most engaging, the music certainly was -- I ended up listening
to the whole disc.
Another of the M60 v2s strengths was their
ability to create a credible soundstage and reveal detail in well-recorded material. This
was evident when I listened to Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonics
recording of Mahlers Symphony No.5 [SACD, Water Lily Acoustics WLA-WS-76-SACD]. The
Axioms wide stage extended beyond the speakers outside edges, while conveying
a wonderful depth that extended the stage well behind the plane of the speakers. In
addition, I could easily hear the sounds of people coughing from various locations in
front of the stage. Those coughs were pretty distracting, but you need a detailed speaker
to hear them so clearly, and the M60 v2 definitely qualified.
Prior to the M60 v2s arrival, it had been quite
a while since Id had floorstanding speakers in my system. I prefer bookshelf
speakers because their limited low-end extension ensures that they wont overload my
listening room with bass, provided some care is taken in setting them up. That said, I was
surprised at how little trouble the Axioms gave me in this regard, even with their
prodigious bass output. I knew theyd have opened up more at high volumes in a bigger
room, but for the most part this wasnt an issue. The kick drum that opens
"Alameda," on Elliott Smiths Either/Or [CD, Kill Rock Stars
KRS269], had excellent punch, and was reproduced with such clarity and fullness that it
bloomed warmly into the room and sounded like the real thing, its decay clearly audible.
Smith doubles his vocal on "Say Yes," one track emanating from each speaker so
that his voice stands like two pillars at the front of the room, forming a large wall of
sound. The sheer scale the Axioms gave to this and other music was pretty awesome and,
once again, made for engaging listening.
If youre the sort of person who likes to listen at
high volumes that approach the SPLs of live music, youll love the M60 v2s. I
pushed them to crank out some tunes on more than one occasion, but I wasnt even
close to reaching their limits. These speakers could play loud. Sure, they sounded
great during late-night listening, when their clarity unveiled details at low SPLs.
However, their clean sound was equally present at much higher volumes, where I never heard
compression or distortion of any sort. In fact, the sense of ease with which they were so
well endowed is what Im used to hearing from far more expensive speakers. This was
where the Axioms 89dB sensitivity and 8-ohm impedance really came into play. Not
only could the M60 v2 play loudly with minimal effort, but it needed very little
power to do so. Only a few watts (Axiom recommends at least 10W) were necessary to bring
them to reasonable SPLs. If youre mating an amplifier to the M60 v2, you
dont have to go overboard -- 50Wpc would be a good place to start.
If theres one thing reviewing has taught me,
its that really good audio equipment sounds effortless, making the listener less
aware of the gear and more aware of the music. Part of this has to do with how well a
component handles dynamics, and to test this, I often use Eiji Oue and the Minnesota
Symphony Orchestras recording of the suite from Respighis Belkis, Queen of
Sheba [CD, Reference RR-95CD]. I had a hunch it would sound superb through the Axioms,
and I wasnt disappointed. Through the M60 v2s, the explosive beat of the drum
and the ringing of the triangle in Solomons Dream nearly jolted me from my
chair. The M60s ability to go from soft to loud instantaneously was impressive,
bringing the power of the orchestra into the room. During the War Dance, the rhythm
of the drums moves forward as if advancing into battle, the music unfolding like something
you might hear in the soundtrack of a Western. The piece has incredible drive and
ferocity; through the M60s, I heard it for the chaotic and raucous dance that it is.
I spent a lot of time listening to classical recordings
through the M60 v2s. Their unforced dynamics and exquisite clarity provided me with
the most visceral experience Ive ever had listening to this music.
On hand for comparison with the M60 v2 were the PSB
Platinum M2 ($1999/pair) and Usher X-718
($1300/pair). Both of these are bookshelf models, and therefore differ in size
considerably from the M60 v2. The other most obvious difference between them and the
Axioms was in the total amount of energy they could put into the room. With its larger
cabinet volume, additional drivers, and higher sensitivity, the Axiom could play much
louder and go far lower in the bass -- well into 30Hz area -- than either of the bookshelf
models. And the Axiom was easier to drive. Using the Bryston B100DA, I never felt the need
to turn the volume knob as high with the Axioms to reach the same listening levels as with
the PSBs and Ushers.
In terms of clarity, the Usher was the most transparent of
the three, though the Axiom and PSB still exhibited very clean sound. The transparency of
the X-718s midrange and its low noise floor remain unmatched by any other speaker
near this price that Ive heard.
With regard to imaging specificity, all three pairs of
speakers performed well, although the Ushers midrange clarity made them sound a bit
more precise, with more clearly defined image outlines. However, the Axioms created a
bigger acoustic space, in which I could more easily hear the expansiveness of some of the
But as much as I like the Axiom M60 v2, I stand by the
high praise I lavished on the more expensive Usher X-718 -- anyone looking for a
high-quality stand-mounted speaker needs to hear it. But if youve got the space for
a floorstanding speaker with generous output, youd be foolish not to give the Axiom
a listen. In the areas of bass extension, superior re-creation of recorded space, and
output capability -- sheer quantity as well as the ability to reach higher volume levels
with less power -- it outdid every small speaker Ive heard. Furthermore, the
M60 v2 did all this at a price quite a bit lower than the X-718's -- and the Axioms
dont need stands. Ive now spent several months with the Axiom M60 v2s,
and can say without reservation that they are the best value I have ever come across in a
The Axiom M60 v2 performs so far above its price that
it might be the best speaker bargain today for under $1000/pair. Oddly, this could also be
its biggest problem -- some people might not take a sub-$1000 speaker seriously enough,
and might just ignore it altogether, assuming that something two or three times the price
simply must be better. That sort of thinking is commonplace in audio, but anyone
who thinks this way about the Axiom M60 v2 is passing up an opportunity.
The M60 v2 is a great speaker, period. At Axioms
asking price, its also an astonishingly good deal. The M60 v2 will draw you
into your most-loved music, electrify your listening room with its seemingly boundless
dynamic range, and re-create music in so tangible and lifelike a way that youll
probably find yourself spending more time listening to music than you did before. And with
the money you save by not buying a pair of speakers costing far more but perhaps
performing no better, you can buy even more music. The Axiom M60 v2 delivers not just
good sound, but great sound. Its one of the best speaker values on the
Price of equipment reviewed