For over 25 years, Axiom Audio has been instrumental in establishing the science behind audio reproduction so customers get the best performance possible from their speakers. Axiom’s manufacturing facilities are equipped with state of the art testing equipment including an anechoic chamber at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.
“Phenomenal performance” –Vince Hanada, “stunning ambient surround” –Clint De Boer, “We would not change one thing” -Ian Bell… All of these statements have been used to describe Axiom Audio’s flagship series Epic 80 home theater system. After my own experience reviewing the M3 On-Wall series back in November, I started to take a bit of interest in Axiom’s other offerings. I have to admit that I was pretty intrigued by what I had read so I reached out to Axiom to setup a review in January. There were a couple of concerns I had around power as the M-80’s are 4 ohm, but more on that later.
The Epic 80 7.1 surround system that I received consists of the following:
Axiom’s flagship floorstanding speaker consists of two 1” titanium tweeters, two 5.25” aluminum midrange and two 6.5” aluminum woofers in a vertical alignment from smallest to largest. The port is located at the bottom of the cabinet beneath the second woofer. I haven’t heard imaging this good since I tested out some Martin Logan Summit X speakers at Signature Home Theater last year. Yes, I know that I am making a bold statement, but it’s true and while they may not be as elegant looking as some of the higher end boutique speakers out there, they are not drab or unpleasant by any means. The M80’s are solidly built and very attractive to look at sporting a dense MDF cabinet, very nice veneer finishes that can be customized to match just about any finish you desire, gold five way binding posts, magnetic speaker covers and producing exquisite audio that will leave you wanting to hear more.
Axiom’s monster center channel speaker sports nearly identical specs to the M80, save for a slight difference in the X-Over however; it was designed in a horizontal configuration so the layout is a bit different. Rather than a stacked configuration of 2 tweeters, 2 midrange and 2 woofers, the layout from end to end is 6.5” woofer, 1” tweeter, two 5.25” midrange, 1” tweeter, 6.5” woofer. One thing I immediately noticed about the VP180 was how much richer and broader the center channel audio experience was. Compared to my Definitive, as well as countless other center speakers that I have heard, the sound field was wide and extremely dynamic. Sound that is crossing the center, say like a car passing from left to right, can be clearly heard entering one side and exiting the opposite side to the point that you can tell when the sound stops on the left while the audio on the left side of the speaker is still audible before handing off to the right main. That one experience truly stood out to me and is something that I still show to anyone willing to listen.
Simply put, the QS8 v3’s are by far the clearest, most dynamic and impactful surround speakers I have ever heard. Each QS8 v3 hosts two 1” tweeters and two 5.25” aluminum woofers however; I believe what really sets them apart from any surround speakers that I have heard in the past is the design. The two tweeters are side mounted at about a 30 degree angle and the woofers are actually top and bottom mounted. I believe this design gives the QS8 v3’s a very dynamic and all-encompassing effect that must be heard to be appreciated.
Last, but in no way, shape or form least, the Axiom EP800 subwoofer or as I call it, “The Beast”. My initial placement of the EP800 made the performance a little underwhelming, but eventually I figured out the problem and I am now convinced that the EP stands for “Earth Pulsator”. Since getting it dialed in, I have been able to achieve a new level of subwoofer performance from 13Hz – 100Hz with never more than a 4 db differential from a reference point of 75 db and though I did use Audyssey to calibrate the system, the EP800 only required a single filter on my DSP1124 for room correction.
The bass that the EP800 puts out is deep, rich, solid, very tight, impactful and unblemished. I was easily able to go from two subs to the single EP800 once I found the sweet spot and haven’t looked back. The EP800 is a sealed sub and as such took a bit to get used to as sealed and ported output very different sounding bass, but I do not hesitate to say that it is easily the best subwoofer I have personally ever heard. Look for my in depth review of the EP800 coming soon.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and I wish Dave and I would have scheduled a head-to-head between the Paradigm Sub1 and the EP800 as I think it would have been one great shootout! Now I have to hear him go on and on about it and there’s that part of me that wonders how much better, if at all, the Sub 1 actually is…
Oh Happy Days!
Is there any better feeling than the one you get when you see a bunch of boxes of new gear waiting to be unpacked? I think not. I made it a point to be home when the Epic 80 showed up in order to ensure that any damage was properly reported. Unfortunately my heart sank a bit when I saw that the EP800 box was pretty mangled and torn up; the carrier obviously thought the instructions on the box were more of a guideline than a requirement however; upon investigation, there was some minor cosmetic damage, but structurally it was as sound as when it left the factory.
I promptly unpacked the speakers, which were very well protected by the stellar packaging that Axiom does, and joyously carried them up the stairs to my room and started placing them. The only real problem was carrying the monster EP800 sub upstairs; at 113 lbs I thought it would be best to wait for my buddy to give me a hand; Thanks RoadRoach! Once the whole system was in place and ready to go, I ran Audyessey and started to fine tune. I did not initially put in a lot of effort for this task; I didn’t even EQ the sub on the DSP because I was anxious to start listening. Overall the sound was very good, but I am a patient guy (yeah right) and knew that I had kind of rushed through the initial setup so; I shut it all down and tried again the next day.
After spending a couple of hours playing with placement and calibrating the system, I was ready once again to give the whole thing another go and I was stunned at what a difference the additional time I took to setup had made. The Epic 80 system was living up to all of the statements I had read. The imaging was perfect and far superior to several more expensive systems I have heard and I am confident when I say that the clarity of the audio coming out of these speakers could not be matched at twice the price.
Only Time Will Tell…
After a couple of weeks with the Epic 80 system, I started to have thoughts about whether or not I was really pushing the front three. My Onkyo does 270 watts at 4 ohms, but considering that the M80’s and VP180 are spec’d up to 400 watts, I started to feel like I wasn’t really pushing them very hard. So away I went to the local music store and picked up two Crown XLS1000 Class D power amps and a short time later I was back at square one calibrating the system with the new amps in place for the mains and center. After some minor tweaking I was ready push them much harder than I had been, and the results were phenomenal. I immediately realized that the sound was much fuller and more like a wall of sound when compared to running directly through the Onkyo. I was completely astounded when I realized that I had been hitting a ceiling and did not even realize it. Suddenly it was a whole new game and the results are below.
Music:As I have said before, I am all about the heavy metal and of course I couldn’t wait to throw in some of that rude and offensive material that I enjoy so much.
Pantera: Drag the Waters
I grew up listening to Pantera and seeing them at the local bars in the mid-to-late 80’s. Being a guitar player, Darrell Abbott was one of my favorite guitar players from those days. His heavy low tuned Dean and then later Washburn guitars running through those Randall amps with all the mids scooped out took guitar brutality to a whole new level. To me, “Drag the Waters” is the pinnacle of that sound. The guitars are loud, deep and brutal and Vinnie Paul’s drums are like cannons thundering out of the speakers. The one thing that immediately stood out to me was how well the M80’s performed in stereo without a sub. The entire range was available to listen to and the end result was incredible.
Judas Priest: PainKiller
I like to use Pain Killer as a regular test. It is actually something I use quite often as reference because I have heard so many systems that cannot reproduce the beginning drum intro without a ton of distortion however; this was obviously not a problem for the M80’s. The sound of Scott Travis’ thunder drums was jaw dropping and it’s something that I will never get enough of.
William Ackerman: The Sound of Wind Driven Rain
Ok, time to mellow out and do some real listening. Will Ackerman writes music that is very ambient in nature and is very much of the New Age variety. Still, I find his airy compositions which incorporate loads of natural sounds to be perfect for speaker testing, mostly because of the imaging as thunderstorms and the sounds of rain shift slowly through the channels. It is quite an awesome experience to hear and I couldn’t help but sit and listen to the entire album and actually had to check at one point whether or not it was actually raining outside.
Jesse Cook: Switchback
Jesse Cook is another staple in my listening tests. His staccato flamingo finger picking is breathtaking to listen to. Imaging is of one of the things I catch immediately as the rest of the instruments slowly build in the front left and right mains and suddenly Jesse Cook erupts from the center of the sound stage into a fiery intro that just draws your attention to the center. This is truly a great piece of music to listen to and test imaging with. There is a definite feeling of left, right and center as the instruments come together.
Conway Twitty: Hello Darling
Yes, I am a fan of just about everything out there, except for modern country and Rap. As a child I remember hearing Conway Twitty all of the time coming from my parents 8-track. Listening to him through the M80’s reminded me of those days, but more than that gave me an opportunity to hear the rich textures in Twitty’s voice. This was really quite a cool thing to listen to and I am glad it came to mind. This was one of the few times I have ever thought to myself; I wish I had an old phonograph and a record of this song just to get that vibe.
Itzhak Perlman: Nicolo Paganini 24 Caprices: No. 5 in A Minor
Wow! You can feel the frenetic energy burst out of the speakers as the bow ravages the strings on Perlman’s violin. The see-saw jumps across the strings as Perlman nails each arpeggio with incredible accuracy and flawless delivery. Again the clarity of the M80’s is absolutely brilliant and the imaging is immaculate as I felt like Perlman was standing in front of me!
War of the Worlds: “Emergence Scene”
There will probably never be a review that has a subwoofer involved that I do not use War of the Worlds to test and I think you all know why. The emergence of the tripods and the subsequent blasting of the innocent people in the streets trying to get away offer plenty of opportunity to work a sub hard. Not only did the EP800 re-produce the earth shaking bass with perfection, but it was able to do it with very little effort. My old Outlaw used to falter on occasion depending on the volume I had the movie set at, but the EP800 just took whatever I gave it and said “please sir, may I have some more?”.
As far as the rest of the system goes, the amount of detail that can be heard across the entire spectrum of channels is absolutely wonderful. The front soundstage working in concert with the surround channels as the tripod twists and turns the earth and destroys the buildings and surrounding landscape is just awesome. Again, clear as I have ever heard and far superior imaging than I have experienced on other systems. The surrounds bounce back and forth as the chaos on the screen switches vantage points continuously until the tripod finally emerges and begins its assault.
The Dark Knight: “Dent transport scene”
I think this is an awesome scene to test with. The entire sound field is immersive and incredibly well detailed. From inside the armored vehicle you get a round robin of gunfire as the Joker unsuccessfully tries to penetrate the metal walls of the truck. The bass is not only impactful but very intrusive as Batman goes head on into the garbage truck thus disabling the bigger vehicle. Throughout the entire scene the listener is presented with just about every frequency one could imagine and the Epic 80 as a whole worked flawlessly to re-produce every gunshot, crash, explosion, voice, engine roar, splash, glass shattering and truck flip with perfect clarity and accuracy.
Black Hawk Down: “Irene and final stand”
One of the scenes that I like to test is obviously the “Irene” scene. The low frequency in that scene that hums under the helicopters as they start moving out is just awesome. I know it is pretty short, but when it is presented correctly through a sub that can re-produce it, it is something quite nice to hear.
The other scene I like to test with is the final battle scene near the end of the movie. The gunfights and explosions are nice, but there this is one of those cases that I think the ambient noise between the ensuing chaos speak just as loudly as the visceral onslaught of the ongoing fight.
I think one thing that seems to get lost in other reviews of the Epic 80 and more specifically the M80’s is the lack of any sound colorization. These speakers are extremely neutral sounding which struck me as odd because the woofers are all aluminum. Usually when I hear something such as a Definitive, Klipsch and even some Martin Logan I can hear something that seems to be undoubtedly specific to the brand. Almost like when I hear a Marshall cabinet versus a Mesa-Boogie cabinet, but in Axiom’s case I just don’t hear it. I hear perfectly clear sound, flawless imaging and natural sounding re-production of audio sources.
The Axiom Epic 80 7.1 with the EP800 is absolutely the best sounding set of speakers I have heard in its price range. These aren’t boutique level, but more of an audiophile quality workhorse. Not a Ferrari, but easily a Corvette Z06. I have no qualms about recommending this very setup, and have, to anyone looking to move to the next level from generic box store brands that tout audiophile quality, but don’t adequately deliver. I ended up buying this set from Axiom because once I heard this incredibly dynamic and jaw-dropping setup and could directly compare it to my Definitive Technology setup, there was no way I was sending it back. I would be very curious to hear what Axiom could do if they went ultra-high end in the vein of a Paradigm Signature or Dynaudio however; my bride and bank account sure hope they don’t.
Conclusion: Highly Recommended
Please see the Axiom Epic 80 Speaker Review: Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments