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Bookshelf shootout! Axiom M3, Mini Monitor, and some GRs...

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by John Garcia, Apr 22, 2002.

  1. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    I currently own Mini Monitors, but was looking for some new speakers (upgraditis as always) Anyway, during the search it was recommended that I take a listen to the Axiom M3Ti, which sounded like a good value. Also higly recommended were some DIY speakers from GR Research, the AV1 and the Paradox 1. Our fourth cohort did not make it, so we could not include the JBL S26 in the comparison. I also have Paradigm Titans, but we did not test those, as time was a constraint.
    Well, thanks to HTF member Jeff Lam, we were able to find a few people locally who had all of the other speakers and we were able to bring together all the speakers in one place and run them all back to back over a few hours over the weekend. This was a subjective test, as no measurements were taken. Only ears were used. [​IMG]
    My gear: Marantz SR6200, Marantz CC-4000 CDP via analog, all speakers set to large in a ~22'x13' room. Nothing special, but a fair comparison of these speakers in a rather average environment, and maybe a bit of a bright room for music (lot of space, not a lot of furniture). We cycled through various tracks of the same CDs for each pair of speakers.
    First were my Paradigm Mini Monitors. Wonderful speaker for both music and movies when set to small, but they begin to become a bit muddy or loose in the midrange when played loud and set to large. Great tweeters, but lacking some soundstage depth and imaging. Upper midrange is tight and fast for percussion, but lower midrange, including some vocals, can become a bit muffled. Set to small, rolling off the lower frequencies, they perform flawlessly. We did not listen to them with the grilles off, or set to small for the audition though.
    Next up was the Axiom M3Ti. Overall, they sounded extremely similar to the Minis. Midrange is noticably more clear and tight, though total bass output is not as low. The upper midrange is also noticably brighter, likely due to the crossover (or lack thereof) for the midbass driver, and the aluminum material used for the driver also. Very fast and accurate, and a bit more revealing for music, but still very close in overall performance. Imaging and depth were about identical. Set to large, they handled elevated listening levels more easily than the Minis. Most notable: these were the least expensive speakers in the group (MSRP) Bang for the buck, this is a great speaker.
    Third in rotation was the GR Research AV1. Now we move to the non-mass market, DIY, assembled by their respective owners, massive value vs performance speakers. We also move to a different level of sound reproduction. The level of detail changes slightly, but now there is a noticable improvement in soundstage depth and imaging. The AV1 utilizes a silk soft dome tweeter, and custom crossover giving this speaker extremely smooth highs. I believe the midrange is GR's own design, and is particularly clean across the board in the midrange. While it doesn't have gobs of bass, it is respectable for a 5-1/4" driver, and extremely clear. Probably the first thing one notices about these speakers are their weight. Extremely solid, ONE weighing more than BOTH Axioms in their box. Very little resonance in the wood here. VERY impressive for their total cost.
    The final audition was the Paradox 1. This is easily one of the better speakers I've ever heard, and they were hardly broken in. They differ only slightly from the AV1, using the same midbass, but a different tweeter. I don't know what material this tweeter employs, but it sounds exceptional. It has the crispness of a metal tweeter, but the smoothness of a soft dome. As Jeff said, the two drivers work together, sounding as if they are a single driver. Soundstage is very deep, and it sound the most natural of all, "lifelike" as our third reviewer, Kevin put it (owner of these speakers and the M3Tis). What I noticed with these speakers, was that while we were listening to all the other speakers, we would occasionally pause and have some discussions, but when I put on Tori Amos Under the Pink, all of a sudden, nobody was talking anymore... The sound of these speakers made one really want listen. I could HEAR the distance between Tori and the microphone, each string vibrating in the piano, everything. Stunning. These speakers are right about 1-1/2 times the price of the Mini Monitor and Axiom, but they are easily (and not to be cliche) performing in a cost category much higher than their actual cost, easily in the $1000+/pair range.
    I don't want to directly state which speakers I feel that both the AV1 and P1 compete with though, it should suffice to say that they are very, very impressive.
     
  2. Shawn Solar

    Shawn Solar Supporting Actor

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    With the reviews the av1's have gotten and the price I have seriously considered to build these to REPLACE my paradigm reference 40's. I might go for the av1+'s . Nice review.
     
  3. jeff lam

    jeff lam Screenwriter

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    I had mostly all the same opinions as John on each pair. Tough to say which I liked better between the P1's and AV1's. They are different sounding but I wouldn't say one is better than the other quality wise. I actually prefered the AV1's. I liked the smooth response, but I also have been getting used to this type of sound in the last 4-5 months so I know it fairly well by now. I like it a lot.

    As for the comparison between the AV1's and Ref studio 40's, I have been told most that have heard both prefer the AV1's but I have not done I direct comparison in the same room with the same amplification so I can't say for sure.

    John, you think Bay Area will let us bring in my AV1's to A/B with the Studio 20's and 40's?
     
  4. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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    I went from Paradigm Mini Monitors to the GR Research Paradox 1, and I agree with pretty much everything you said - simply no comparision whatsoever. I often use my 'Under The Pink' LP for testing changes I make to the system. I recently tried out a transformer based passive attenuator (instead of a preamp), and that was another big jump up in sound quality. The most striking improvement was low level detail - for instance, on "Past The Mission", there's Trent Reznor's voice in the background on the choruses, low in volume and a whole octave or two lower than Tori's voice. With the passive, that was much more noticable as a separate voice, instead of being just a part of all the background music. Pretty neat for about $300 in parts.

    AFAIK, the tweeter on the Paradox 1 is a titanium Focal, with some custom modifications performed by GR Research. In the right room, it does come pretty close to capturing what's good about metal and soft-dome tweeters. In a highly reflective room, I would imagine that it can sound harsh. How new were the AV1 and P1? The crossover design changed in the last few months, and the current (serial) crossover is supposed to be better than the earlier (more conventional parallel) crossover designs.

    Thanks for that post, it puts the Axioms in context for me, I've been curious about that speaker for a while. It would have been nice if you could have heard the JBL in the same system as these other speakers.

    Edit: Did either of the GR's have the BlackHole 5 dampening material in them?
     
  5. jeff lam

    jeff lam Screenwriter

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    Saurav,

    Both the P1's and AV1's had the new series network.

    The P1's also had Blackhole 5 while the AV1's only had fiberglass/foam sheets lined on the inner walls.
     
  6. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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    Series, not serial. Thanks. The first word that popped into my head was 'linear', but I knew that wasn't right [​IMG]
    Thanks for that update.
     
  7. Phil Iturralde

    Phil Iturralde Screenwriter

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  8. Martice

    Martice Screenwriter

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    I have a trio set of AV1+'s which are the versions with two 5" drivers as opposed to the single driver in the AV1's.
    Here are some pictures of the early construction pics of my trio. The build quality of these things are awesome and done by our own Brian Bunge of Rutledge Audio.
    Gr Research Av1+'s
    Enjoy.
     
  9. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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    Phil,
    It would be interesting to hear your opinions of the Paradigm and GR Research speakers mentioned. I've heard the JBL S26 a few times, and have spent a lot of time with the Mini Monitors and Paradox 1s, since I've owned them both. You're very familiar with the JBLs, maybe quite familiar with the Paradigms, and (I guess) probably haven't yet heard the Paradox. A direct comparision like this is usually quite interesting, because now one shares a common reference point with the other person, so one is in a better position to put their comments into the proper (or at least, slightly better) perspective.
    BTW, I'm in Sonoma (I guess you could call it the north Bay), so if anyone ever wants to hear what vinyl + tubes + good speakers on a pretty small budget can sound like, feel free to drop by. Of course, I'm pretty sure that someone with more experience and knowledge than me can easily put together a better system than mine for less money, but I think I've done reasonably well [​IMG]
     
  10. Martice

    Martice Screenwriter

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    Damn Saurav!! You make me wish I lived on the west coast. I'm still having my tube gear withdrawl symptoms as we speak. I gave up my Sonic Frontiers Pre amp and have regretted it ever since. I really think that I will get back into tubes very soon.

    I don't have a turntable but what tubes do to CD's makes them all the more enjoyable. Wouldn't you say?
     
  11. Phil Iturralde

    Phil Iturralde Screenwriter

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  12. Brian Bunge

    Brian Bunge Producer

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    Martice,
    Thanks for the kind words! It's kinda cool seeing one's own work posted in a forum like this! I'll get those crossovers done one night this week and send you a few pics of them as well.
    Everyone,
    Just in case you don't know, if you're interested in the P1's they will be retired very soon. When Danny runs out of the Focal tweeters they will be no more. Focal has discontinued it. [​IMG]
    BTW, Focal has also caused the ACI Sapphire III to go into retirement as they have discontinued the Focal 7" woofer used in it as well!
    Brian
     
  13. Swami

    Swami Agent

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    This is kind of on a tangent and a newbie-ish question. I have the M3Ti's and am wondering if a pair of Monitor 7's is a worthwhile upgrade.

    Thanks

    Swami
     
  14. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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  15. Allen W

    Allen W Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks guys for the review. A very appropriate comparison as I own mini monitors and was looking to move them to surrounds and upgrade the fronts. It looks like one of the GR Research speakers will do quite nicely.
    I am no longer so jealous of all the folks who live so close to or in Canada that have been picking up Paradigms at such a discount. I can make it GR Research audition a few speakers and make it back home with kit in a few hours [​IMG]
     
  16. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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    Depending on your budget, you should listen to the AV1+ and P1+ if you go over to GR Research. Those who have heard them say they're in a different league from their smaller brethren. I didn't have the funds or the space or the woodworking skills (no cabinets were offered when I was looking for speakers).
     
  17. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    I'll be in Tx next week. I may have to run by GR myself [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  18. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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    Well, I was down in San Jose, meeting some friends after a long time and generally being crazy - we drove up to the Golden Gate vista point at 3am, went back to San Jose around 5, went to bed at 7 (in the morning), and so on.
    I don't know much about wine at all, but I've been drinking a lot of it, seems a shame to waste the time I'm spending here [​IMG] One of my favorites is Ravenswood, and they're just a couple of miles from my apartment.
     
  19. KevinYao

    KevinYao Auditioning

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    I figure I should jump in here since I was the 3rd party at the shootout. John, you certainly captured the essence of the evening far better than I ever could have.

    Still, I can't help but put in my two cents.

    I was astounded by the amount of bass that the Mini Monitors put out. Cliched it may be, but I asked John what his sub's crossover at because I thought it was on! As I'd been spoiled by my P1's, I felt that the MiniMonitors sounded a little hifi-ish - pretty clear mids but it didn't have that sense of realism that I've heard with higher end speakers. As noted, bass was prodigious, if not entirely tight. I also found it a little tiring to listen to compared to the setup I had in my room (described below).

    The M3Ti's which I've had for 3 months now sounded more engaging to me and I myself was surprised with how good they sounded in John's system. I had a synergy problem with my own amplifier which is why I sought out the P1's. The M3Ti's have a 'slightly' recessed midrange that I found to be inconsequential in John's system. That night it actually sounded pretty smooth. Jeff commented that it sounded bright which surprised me - I think he's just used to the smooth nature of his AV1's :cool:.

    After two metal tweeters, the soft tweeter of the AV1 completely threw me off. Initially I thought, "those mids and highs sound recessed". The more I listened though, the more I realized how utterly smooth the sound was, and that it wasn't that the mids and highs were recessed; rather they were blending so well with the lows. It's the kind of natural sound that while not initially exciting, grows on you. Bass was tight but doesn't extend very low. Really need a sub with these speakers. This speakers could work very well with good SS amps, whereas the P1's could get tiring. Vocals were very good.

    Jumping to the P1's from the AV1's was like a wakeup call. These speakers jump up and say "hey, listen to me!" Extremely extended highs - very clear but never harsh. I did find it to be a little bright in John's system - I myself have an amplifier that rolls off the highs which helps to tame the lively Focal tweeter. Also needs a sub.

    Overall for my purposes (2-channel music), I'm satisfied with my P1's. Clearly the AV1 and P1 were the superior speakers though they should since they cost more (which isn't always true!). If I were on a shoe-string budget, I'd take the M3Ti's hands down. I count my blessings I'm on a little more than a shoestring budget.

    My system:

    Audio Refinement Complete Integrated Amplifier

    Cambridge Audio D300SE CD Player

    Regarding another get together, I'd be up for one though I can't do Mon, Tue, or Wed. I'm curious to see how my P1's would sound in a bigger room.

    I'm going to post some instructions on how to put the circuit together for the P1 (which would also apply to the AV1). It's going to be a real newbie instruction guide. This was my first kit and I learned a lot in the process and was fortunate not to screw anything up. Hopefully I can encourage others to make their first foray into DIY.
     
  20. Martice

    Martice Screenwriter

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    Wonderful review Kev. It seems that I will be one of the first to have a working pair of AV1+'s on this forum and I hope my review of them is as imformative as both your and John's.

    Also, If all goes well, I will probably be getting another pair of AV1+'s for the surrounds. Depending on how well (idiot proof) your instruction guide is I may put together the crossover myself this time. However, the cabinet and paint job is still going to be done by the more skilled.
     

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