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    Axiom Audio Epic 80 5.1 Channel Home Theater System Review

    Subwoofer Hardware
    In the small but innovative world of Internet direct audio manufacturers, Canadian manufacturer Axiom Audio has been steady and consistent presence in a rather tumultuous industry. In 1980 Axiom Audio was born and by 1981 had released its first product. Founder Ian Colquhoun joined Canada’s National Research Council project with the iconic Dr. Floyd Toole, their focus on research aiming to standardize loudspeaker measurement – methodologies that are widely used today. By 1986 Axiom had released its second speaker and had garnered its first award. Since then, Axiom has grown and evolved but maintains the same focus on quality, customer service and audio purity that it has since its inception.
    In January, I was actively seeking review products that I felt would be a good fit for the site. Axiom was happy to send the Epic 80 theater system with the VP180 center channel and EP500 subwoofer. I requested they send the system finished in Boston Cherry, and shortly thereafter a large pile of boxes arrived.

    Fit, Finish & Specifications

    VP180CherryGrilleOff2.jpg

    I’ve unboxed more speakers since I began reviewing than I think many people do in a lifetime, yet somehow it never gets old. The thrill of discovering new audio horizons is one that I always appreciate and in some ways sharpens with time.
    The Axiom speakers arrived extremely well packed, with thick cardboard boxes over high-density closed cell foam. Each speaker is individually protected by a thick plastic bag, which coincidentally locks in the “new speaker” aroma.

    Upon opening the top of the box and the bag, you are easily able to screw in the included rubber feet on each speaker, which ship upside down. The feet come in a separate small box protected by high-density foam. I certainly think that it’s overkill to protect rubber feet so carefully, but it speaks to Axiom’s attention to detail.

    Once the feet are screwed in, it’s as simple as flipping the box over and lifting it off the speaker. This makes both moving and unpacking the speakers extremely easy and much safer for the veneer.

    The veneer is a vinyl based product that looks handsome and is applied with great consistency, however the finish is certainly not equal to the wood work seen on some higher end boutique products utilizing real wood veneers and extensive finishing processes. Given what you get for your money with Axiom, I can safely reassure readers that the money goes into the important parts of the speakers – the parts that actually create sound.

    Setup & Calibration
    Axiom’s included documentation is very thorough, and gives good guidance on how to position the speakers. In this case, I was setting the system up in my living room and was replacing an old but trusty pair of AV123 X-SLS floorstanders. Getting the M80 mains and VP180 center channel into position took all of 5 minutes. The included QS8 surrounds were wall mounted while the EP500 subwoofer was positioned as an end table to the rear-left of the listening area.

    Playing through some test tracks, I adjusted the toe in of the mains until I had them at about 2 inches offset for optimal imaging. The speakers were about 11 feet apart in their final positions.

    I broke out RoomEQWizard for some quick sanity check measurements of the sub and then proceeded to run an 8-point Audyssey MultiEQ XT calibration. The system was powered by my trusty old Onkyo TX-SR805.

    All cabling, interconnects and speaker wire were generously provided by our sponsor Blue Jeans Cable.

    Listening Impressions

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    Music

    B-Tribe – Volume 6

    For those who are unfamiliar with B-Tribe, their music is a fascinating blend of styles, including flamenco guitar, trip-hop and ambient. Imagine a flamenco guitar track with incredibly deep synth bass lines. I’m quite fond of this album for day to day listening so it was the first thing I played back with the Axiom system in place.

    The M80’s present a very neutral, smooth sound that is uncolored by any midrange bloat, high frequency roll off or accentuation. At first, my thought was that the sound was a bit anemic, lacking the imaging and sense of spaciousness I am used to. However I quickly realized that this was a result of my position. Moving my chair a few feet forward brought the soundstage into focus and improved width dramatically.

    With my initial concerns out of the way, the M80’s had a chance to stretch their legs and show what they were made of. Treble was smooth, extended and completely in-line with the most accurate speakers I have heard. The midrange was rich, natural and perfectly balanced. The M80’s can plan fairly deep when run in full-range mode, down to about 40Hz with useable response – and I was happy to confirm that for most music listening a subwoofer was not entirely necessary, though certainly helpful.

    The EP500 integrated extremely naturally with the remainder of the system. I found a crossover of 80Hz most sonically pleasing, and also found that gave the smoothest transition from mains to sub. With content well below 40Hz on this album, I was very pleased to forget entirely that a subwoofer was present on many occasions.

    The track Lagrimas features some very delicate wind chimes in the background that often demonstrate to my ears how well a loudspeaker deals with texture – layering the many aspects of a track together without getting muddled. The M80’s did a superb job here, conveying exactly what I was hoping to hear. In comparison to my daily drivers (Paradigm Studio 100’s) on this album, the M80’s were actually more neutral, though slightly less capable when it came to soundstage and imaging.

    Bella Fleck and the Flecktones – Little Worlds

    Straddling the strange divide between blue grass jazz, acid jazz and folk music, there can be no question that Bela Fleck and his group play a wide variety of music. In the course of a single disc they progress from country and bluegrass to gypsy folk with some bebop thrown in for good measure. The music itself is beautifully recorded and the musicians are clearly talented. The compositions are complex and the instrumentation is as varied as the styles utilized which makes it a great album for critical listening.

    Overall Thoughts – Music

    Axiom has built an incredibly fine product in both the M80 and EP500. They are profoundly neutral and natural playing back anything you throw at them, and seem built from the ground up for smooth integration. This offering from Axiom has everything a prospective buyer could want in a neutral, impeccably designed loudspeaker system.

    As usual, I will offer the caveat that I would caution anyone to evaluate what you’ve listened to in the past and consider preference. These speakers are completely uncolored and neutral. To some listeners, this may seem boring or bland as some of us prefer a bright, forward presentation. To others, it may seem like a match made in heaven. Axiom offers a 30 day in home trial that is among the most generous in the industry for this very reason. I strongly recommend you give these a listen and let your own ears decide, as mine did – that these are superb.


    EP350CherryGrilleOff2.jpg



    Movies – Home Theater Use

    It’s been a long time since I’ve actually watched a movie in my living room, and I was shocked at how well the Epic 80 system handled such a large space. The EP500 was able to produce ample bass for my listening needs while the remainder of the system never once gave the impression it was working too hard despite a space measuring at least 25,000 cubic feet in that room alone.

    Whether it was The Avengers, War of the Worlds, Star Wars or Brave, the results were consistent. The entire Epic 80 system is exceptionally clear and capable of impressive dynamic range. The EP500 can play gut wrenchingly deep and with great authority. While many ported subs of similar design can get a little muddy, the EP500 surprised me repeatedly with the visceral impact it could reproduce when fed the right LFE content.

    I have spent a good deal of time over the past 2 years listening to various surround speaker designs. One of the designs I heard was the Axiom QS8, which over the course a single movie convinced me that I had to own some. As a surround speaker goes, these are among the finest available today from any manufacturer, conveying a sense of three dimensionality that borders on the magical.

    Conclusion

    When considering an expenditure of several thousand dollars on an audio system, it is completely understandable to desire perfection. Unfortunately, the cost of perfection is usually exceedingly high and becomes an exercise in tail chasing for most of us. An exhausting proposition as many of my audiophile friends can attest.

    All most of us desire is to listen to music and watch films with the reassurance that we are hearing exactly what the composer, director or mixer intended. If possible, most of us would like to do this without breaking the bank and have the speakers look good too. This premise is the essence of what Axiom delivers in their products – loudspeakers and subwoofers that are capable of faultless and accurate reproduction of the source material at a cost we can all handle, and with an appearance our significant others won’t be offended by.

    I won’t bother to wax poetic about the Epic 80 system – because frankly, your ears will do that well enough once you hear them. I can happily report that Axiom QS8’s have been my personal choice of surround speaker for the past year and half, and that I’ve never regretted that decision. Should you be in the market for a truly excellent speaker system, I think that all of Axiom’s products deserve a very strong look. Highly Recommended.

    Reviewed by: Dave Upton


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