I should have known better. Anyone even kind of experienced with speakers knows that you should break them in before even thinking about evaluate them. It’s day one of How to be a Home Theater Equipment Reviewer 101, which they should totally offer in college.
Over the years I’ve heard speakers change with use. Their suspensions loosen, they open up, they get a little more bass. But never have I heard a pair of speakers so completely change character in just a few hours.
Out of the box the M60s sounded thin, boxy, and constrained. But after putting them through their paces playing all of my standard demo tracks, I had to start over. The speakers that I began with were gone, and in their place were surprisingly competent towers with a lot going for them.
I’d never actually heard an Axiom speaker, though I’d read plenty about them over the years. So when our benevolent overlord Dave Upton offered me a set to review, I jumped at the chance.
One reason I’d never heard any Axiom stuff before is that they don’t have any dealer network, and there is no store you can go to listen to the speakers before you buy. That’s a risky business move, but an understandable one from a financial standpoint. The company says they do this to pass the savings along to you, in so many words, but buying speakers without hearing them is a little like buying pants without trying them on--something I’ve sworn to never do again . . . about 20 times.
To combat this natural wariness about buying speakers sight unseen and sound unheard, they offer a 30-day at-home trial. The advantage of this, of course, is that it lets you “audition” the speakers in your room, on your equipment, on your time. Okay, so this might actually be a plus.
But on the flip side, return shipping and brokerage fees are on you, big guy. On these speakers that would add up to $90 total, so I recommend that you do your homework before you order up a test drive.
The day I came home to find these on my front porch I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. The boxes are enormous and tell your neighbors that they’re probably going to be calling the cops this weekend.
But I was surprised that the speakers themselves filled less than half the volume of the cartons, and are packed so well that you’d think they were made to be dropped from a FedEx jet flying over your house.
Each M60 V3 speaker weighs 47.6 pounds and stands 37.5 inches tall. As is the current style for towers, they’re disproportionately deep at 15 inches, with a width of just 9.25 inches wide up front, narrowing toward the back, giving them a higher-end angled look.
I had a choice between Black Oak or Boston Black Cherry vinyl, and I chose the Cherry. It’s really hard to do a wood grain vinyl that looks good, so I wanted to see if Axiom had found some magic formula. They have not. They look fine, but you’d never confuse them for real wood up close, though that is an option.
In fact, nearly everything is up for negotiation. You really can get real wood veneer, or piano black, or you can match the paint on your walls. Yes, I’m serious. You can also choose your:
[*]Grille cloth color
[*]Die-cast woofer (vs. stamped metal)
[*]Binding posts (standard vs. bi-amp)
[*]Custom feet or spikes (instead of the standard rubber feet)
[*]Rear label (custom)
I have never seen a speaker with so many options and ways to make your pair of speakers uniquely yours. Yet another advantage of ordering from the manufacturer and not a stocking dealer.
Even as they come in standard clothes, there are a few things that struck me as noteworthy.
First, they have three ports, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a single speaker, let alone one this size. Axiom calls these “Vortex Ports,” and they’re highly sculpted to reduce turbulence and “chuffing” so common with ported speakers.
Another interesting thing is that the gold-plated 5-way binding posts have holes large enough for sizable wire, which isn’t uncommon, and the holes are oval. That is uncommon in my experience, and darned handy.
Finally, the grilles attach magnetically, and they snap right into place every time. Yes, this is a minor thing, and yes, I can’t imagine why every speaker doesn’t do this.
Once properly broken in, these are surprisingly good. The bass is rated down to a pretty modest 40Hz, but that’s with a +/- 3dB tolerance spec, so it’s a true 40Hz, and you can feel it. It doesn’t punch you in the gut, but it can convey a lot of the emotion in the music, and the addition of a very good subwoofer would complete the sound nicely. I chose to listen to these au naturale.
Here’s my breakdown of the three-course meal:
The highs are crisp but not harsh. They fall short of the most delicate highs out there, and they err on the softer side, but the good news for me is that I far prefer that to highs that err the other way, toward shrill. Haters will think they sound a tad rolled off; proponents will say they sound clear but not sharp.
Test track: “Waiting for Love” on David Benoit’s Letter to Evan has some very light cymbal work.
The bass response is competent enough that I had to remind myself that the largest driver was a 6.5-incher. Car guys often say that there’s no replacement for displacement, and I lean in that direction when it comes to woofer size, but the bass extension was better than I expected.
Test track: Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” has some serious timpani that should sound both powerful and a bit hollow.
Also, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue,” which uses a massive pipe organ, should rattle your china.
Mids were accurate and uncolored, though the best speakers are a bit more open and forward, with a sonic image that places the instruments and singer in the appropriate places in front of you. These made French horns, cellos, and vocals sound a bit . . . recessed.
Test track: Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat, both the title track and “Song of Bernadette.” This is a wonderful, uncomplicated recording of a beautiful female vocal.
I have absolutely no proof that the cabinets are to blame for this slightly veiled and throaty midrange performance, but I suspect them. The long stretch of MDF going from the front to the back sounds a little hollow when you knock there, and I’ve heard this kind of “humming” resonance lots of times before.
The ability of a set of speakers to create a sonic image is a big thing for me. It’s possible I put too much emphasis on it, but it’s something I listen for in every speaker I evaluate. But these confused me a bit. The sound wasn’t exactly confined to their respective boxes, but neither did it paint a picture between the towers. They sounded airy and undefined, even when toed in, with no real cohesive sound stage. I’ve honestly never heard anything quite like it without some signal processing. It kind of reminded me of Carver’s Sonic Holography generator, for those of you geriatric enough to remember that.
These things cost $1120 a pair. $560 apiece. $12 per pound. When you review anything--cars, speakers, gourmet spray cheese--you have to decide whether you’ll be grading in a way that’s absolute or on a curve.
My way is to point out the things a product does imperfectly, and then weigh it against the other factors, including cost. By any measure ($15 per vertical inch), these things are a really good deal. They might even be a great deal for those who read my criticisms and don’t find anything that’s a deal-killer.
 I know this is still a point of controversy for some, including those in the Flat-Earth Club and those who are still waiting for conclusive proof of gravity.