GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published April 1, 2008



The M60 v2 in optional Cherry Nutmeg veneer with the semi-gloss finish.

Axiom Audio M60 v2 Loudspeakers

Sometimes I’ve wondered whether the name of this publication, GoodSound!, mightn’t 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 I’ve reviewed here: the Monitor Audio Silver and the Usher Audio Technology X-718. Of course, the phrase "good sound!" doesn’t 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 I’ve just mentioned are certainly affordable, the only word that describes their sound is great. Good just isn’t, 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. Here’s 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 won’t get into the details of Axiom’s 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 v2’s 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 that’s 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 won’t improve the sound, it’s 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 wouldn’t think twice about springing for one of the upgraded finishes.

Because all of Axiom’s sales are done online, via their website, the only way to hear one of their speakers is in your own home. Although I’d never suggest that you buy a component you haven’t 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 Bryston’s 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 room’s 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 it’s overblown and loses clarity. Fortunately, this wasn’t 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 I’d done at the Axiom factory that their speakers performed at a high level, I wasn’t 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 Axiom’s even tonal balance. Not only was the speaker very neutral, it also offered just the right balance of detail and exceptional musicality. The Axiom didn’t 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 Young’s 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 (I’ve never heard it on vinyl), Harvest is dynamically anemic, sounding closed-in and lacking a convincing sense of three-dimensionality. The Axioms didn’t hide this by exaggerating stage size or depth, but they did showcase the warmth of Young’s voice and the full-bodied sound of his acoustic guitar. Soon enough, I found myself forgetting about Harvest’s sonic shortcomings and focusing on Young’s lyrics as he describes his feelings of melancholy and loneliness and his observations about his new life in California. Although the sound wasn’t 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 Philharmonic’s recording of Mahler’s 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 I’d had floorstanding speakers in my system. I prefer bookshelf speakers because their limited low-end extension ensures that they won’t 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 they’d have opened up more at high volumes in a bigger room, but for the most part this wasn’t an issue. The kick drum that opens "Alameda," on Elliott Smith’s 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 you’re the sort of person who likes to listen at high volumes that approach the SPLs of live music, you’ll love the M60 v2s. I pushed them to crank out some tunes on more than one occasion, but I wasn’t 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 I’m used to hearing from far more expensive speakers. This was where the Axiom’s 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 you’re mating an amplifier to the M60 v2, you don’t have to go overboard -- 50Wpc would be a good place to start.

If there’s one thing reviewing has taught me, it’s 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 Orchestra’s recording of the suite from Respighi’s Belkis, Queen of Sheba [CD, Reference RR-95CD]. I had a hunch it would sound superb through the Axioms, and I wasn’t disappointed. Through the M60 v2s, the explosive beat of the drum and the ringing of the triangle in Solomon’s Dream nearly jolted me from my chair. The M60’s 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 I’ve 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-718’s midrange and its low noise floor remain unmatched by any other speaker near this price that I’ve 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 recording venues.

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 you’ve got the space for a floorstanding speaker with generous output, you’d 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 I’ve heard. Furthermore, the M60 v2 did all this at a price quite a bit lower than the X-718's -- and the Axioms don’t need stands. I’ve 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 floorstanding loudspeaker.


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 Axiom’s asking price, it’s 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 you’ll 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. It’s one of the best speaker values on the market today.

...Philip Beaudette

Price of equipment reviewed

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