By Dale Rasco
Starting one of these reviews always seems to be the hardest thing to do for me. I could give everyone a quick overview of Axiom's company history, but I have already done that. I could start it by telling everyone once again what an outstanding value that Axiom offers their customers but again, been there and done that. This time I think it would be best to just jump right in as Ian Colquhoun, via his wonderful better half Amie, has given me an opportunity to review something truly extraordinary in the new LFR1100 series omnidirectional speaker and I really do not want to waste anymore time so let’s get started!
The LFR1100 is a very nice looking speaker and costs $3760 for the pair and the DSP. The 11 drivers, seven on the front and four on the back, look very aggressive with the aluminum finish and black hardware. The split screen on the front adds a subtle flair but not enough to distract from the symmetry of the speaker. As with the rest of the Axiom line of speakers, the LFR1100 is available in two standard finishes and countless custom finishing options. Of course Amie was nice enough to send the LFR1100 in the same finish as the rest of my Axioms in the Temple of Boom, I am sure that was just coincidence though… Colquhoun 1, Rasco 0.
The DSP is a solid piece of hardware. The all metal chassis has a very elegant yet industrial look to it. The blue LED across the front gives it just enough pop in the LBL (Little Blinking Lights) area to get plenty of 'oohs and aahs' from your friends.
Every Axiom Audio product I have ever reviewed has been high in quality and the LFR1100 is no exception to that rule. Built with Canadian pride in the Muskoka district of Ontario, Axiom speakers are among some of the best-constructed speakers I have ever seen.
Setup and Placement
Packed in form fitted foam, the LFR100's were tightly nestled in their box and covered with the proper sheathing to prevent them from getting moisture damage. The LFR1100 will require some space in order to realize the full potential however; the DSP does have an option to allow for setups that cannot meet the 12” space requirement around the speaker.
One key piece to the LFR1100 is the DSP that comes with the system. The DSP serves as the signal router if you will and enables the left and right main signals coming from the processor to be output as left and right front and left and right back (facing the wall). The LFR1100’s were designed using psychoacoustic principles. I have put together a very short explanation for those of you unfamiliar with psychoacoustic principles. For the purposes of this review, Psychoacoustic principles are used to model which parts of an audio signal are relevant and which are not. For instance, when someone taps his or her fingernail on a steering wheel it obviously makes an audible noise, but when they tap it on a steering wheel while parked at a railroad crossing as a train roars through, the sound of the fingernail tapping is no longer relevant. There is a ton more information, details and variables around it out there for anyone interested to read, but this is the 10,000-foot view.
Initial listening impressions
As I mentioned early on, I have been a musician for nearly 30 years. I have performed at too many venues to recall and I believe that I have a firm grasp on what music should sound like or rather what the artist intended it to sound like and I can say without hesitation that the LFR1100's are that rare breed of speakers that are capable of capturing the very soul of the music.
The sound stage is absolutely stunning. Several hours into my subjective listening tests and I was still thinking 'WOW! I have never been this taken aback by a pair of speakers. Every song I play is like hearing it for the first time!' I could not get enough music to listen to and it stirred up something inside that has been dormant for a long time now.
The Cost of True Power
Unfortunately achieving this level of sonic fidelity does come at a cost. These speakers consume two 4-Ohm channels of power each. Yes, you read that correctly, two 4-ohm channels each so the average surround aficionado may want to consider something a little more mainstream. For me it means that my three front speakers have eaten up four of the five channels on my XPA-5 and I am 100 watts short of the 400 watt max amp power, which means no headroom; ‘Hello, new amp calling!’ I do however consider this a reasonable price to pay for what these magnificent speakers are able to provide.
- Onkyo TX-NR3007
- Emotiva XPA-5 for Mains and Center
- Crown XLS1500's for Surrounds
- Popcorn Hour C-300
- Apple Mac-Mini
A Little About Me
Something I have never done is given our forum members a bit of my background and a better perspective when it comes to my reviews as to where I am coming from. I have been a practicing musician for close to 30 years. I use practicing only because it is not my main source of income. I have studied under and worked with some of the best musicians in heavy metal and hard rock such as Shannon Hamm formally of the band Death, Rusty Cooley, Joel Gregoire and Kelly 'Sundown' Carpenter. My musical tastes are a bit all over the place but I am primarily a progressive hard rock musician similar in style to Dream Theater or Symphony X. In a nutshell I am not what most people would consider an audio snob. I do not travel from store to store asking the specialist to play track 3 of a CD I brought in with me looking for minor differences in the music as I close my eyes and sway as if I can feel the raw emotion of Zamfir and his magical pan flute (thanks LB). I do not sip wine in my home relaxing by the fire convinced that since I have an understanding of how audio components function I am more qualified than everyone else to understand what the artist and producers intended for me to hear. No, it is the hundreds of hours I have spent learning, practicing, writing, recording, performing and producing music that qualifies me to decide if what a speaker outputs is an accurate representation of what the artist and producers intended and even that is completely subjective. My hardware knowledge simply qualifies me, and anyone else with such knowledge, to judge whether or not a product is capable and of high quality.
The LFR1100's are easily twice the speaker for home theater application that my M80's are. I tested all of the standard fair such as The Transformers, Saving Private Ryan, Kung Fu Panda and Star Wars Attack of the Clones and found the LFR's to provide a much broader soundscape and stunning detail throughout. So with that I decided to dedicate my listening impressions solely to my passion for music because the LFR's have seriously stirred up that part of me. The LFR1100 is absolutely crystalline in its output and the level of detail is just mind blowing. I cannot believe I am saying this, but it is literally like having the artist in the room with you. I know what you are thinking and I have heard that expression a million times as well only to be let down when I put it to the test, but in the case of the LFR1100 and my listening sessions it was true for me. The idea of having a true full-range speaker capable of delivering on its promise was foreign to me, until now. I listened to every song in direct mode on the receiver and without a sub.
Acoustic instruments have long been a sore spot for me when listening to or testing out speakers. I have often wondered why it was so difficult to capture the voicing of an acoustic instrument accurately. From the piano to guitar to violin, viola, cello, etc. there is just always something missing. My hearing is trained enough to recognize when someone is playing an electric acoustic or an electric with a piezo installed versus someone sitting on a stool with a mic next to his or her guitar. An instrument possesses a certain character of its own and I have always found that to be lacking in the sub $5K speaker range. In fact, the last time I recall hearing a better speaker for acoustic instruments I was at a Signature Home Theater store and listening to a pair of Martin Logan CLX ART’s but $25K was a bit out of my range.
Sergei Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Minor Op. 23 (FLAC)
This is one of my favorite pieces of music as the combination of the melodic bass lines and the heavily Russian tempo just picks me up and draws me in. What always stands out to me is the story that you can imagine if you close your eyes and just let the music draw the picture, truly a great piece of music. The LFR1100’s came alive with a dominant overture of the quazi-march feel of the opening that swiftly changes tempo into a much more dissonant lull before returning to its previous stride. A strange volley between two extremes indeed but wonderfully captured by the LFR1100’s.
Stride – Borrowed Time (FLAC)
The band Stride was a progressive hard rock band. My earliest recollection of the band was in the 1988 to 1989 timeframe. I remember seeing guitarist Joel Gregoire play and thinking, ‘Well I may as well hang it up now’. I would say any fan of Dream Theater, Magnitude 9 or Symphony X would probably really enjoy their music. The band’s 2002 instrumental album ‘Music Machine’ is one of my favorites for the complexity of the compositions and the simplicity of the melodies. The opening song Borrowed Time has an aggressive opening and a full throttle feel to it when it slips into the first verse but when the first bridge comes up the music shifts tempo and has a much more melodic and whimsical pace. I have heard this song live over a dozen times and countless times from the CD and the LFR1100’s capture the essence of the song beautifully. From the sharp staccato picking of Joel’s masterful guitar work to the underlying bass lines that are clearly articulated and represented with authority through the LFR’s, I was truly impressed by what I was hearing.
Judas Priest - Painkiller (FLAC)
I will probably never review a pair of speakers without testing the intro to Judas Priest’s Painkiller. The thunderous drums of Scott Travis have become a staple in my review process for one main reason. It tells me a lot about a speaker if it can accurately reproduce this intro out very loud volumes (about 105db) without distorting the speaker. It is a crude test, but it works and it drives my wife crazy! Of course the LFR delivered the introduction without any issues, unless you count the lights dimming from the amount of power required to run the LFR’s at that volume. Time for a new amp, right after that new dedicated circuit.
Chic Corea – My One and Only Love (FLAC)
Personally I am not a huge fan of Jazz in an emotional sense, but I do love just listening to the ever-changing tempos and hearing how many different progressions can be fit in such a short amount of time. There is just something awe inspiring about the musicianship that these musicians possess. The LFR1100’s gave me that impression of sitting in a small jazz bar downtown and just enjoying the groove and it brought a big smile to my face.
Riverdogs - Whisper (CD)
I like using Whisper for testing because it makes for a very balanced mix of electric and acoustic instruments with some intriguing bass lines and impactful percussion. This song in particular really brought out the precision capabilities of the LFR1100's. The guitars and vocals are a bit airy in the beginning but the bass and drums are very targeted and precise until the band comes together in the first verse. It is a short intro but highly effective and the imaging and clarity combined with the precision response of the LFR's made a lasting impression on me.
Bassboy – I Got the Bass (FLAC)
When you claim full range starting at 32Hz, you better be able to deliver. Hard to believe this song is already 20 years old, but I believe that 'I got the Bass' by Bassboy is still a fair test for any subwoofer much less a pair full range speakers. The thumping and pounding bass can really do some damage as the walls start to shake and the floor rattles along. So how did the LFR1100’s fair? Flawlessly. Running a two channel setup I put it on, turned on the volume and let the pieces fall where they may and the LFR’s just kept on going, almost like The Terminator running down Sarah Connor. Of course I ran into the dimming light issue again, man I need more power!
So what is the bottom line? Well that depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for a some solid mains to add to your surround sound solely for home theater use then you would be better off with adding some M80s, but if you are looking for a true audiophile experience that will leave you impatiently changing songs out as fast as you can to hear the next onslaught of sonic fidelity then the LFR1100 Omni-Directional speakers are undoubtedly what you have been looking for. But as I mentioned, this comes at a price. The cost of the speakers ($3760) combined with the cost of the amperage that you are going to have to have in order to power these bad boys could set you back $5K or more and Axiom does not shy away from this by stating clearly on their site:
"If you haven't guessed already, it takes some serious amplification to drive these speakers! Four matched channels of amplification in total, in fact: right front, left front, right rear, and left rear all need to be powered separately and it makes these speakers truly sing."
And ‘truly sing’ is exactly what the LFR1100 does. I have to be honest with everyone. I had a very emotional response to the reproduction of the music I listened to during my listening sessions, a lot of which were not mentioned in my listening impressions simply because they were very personal moments. I have not had that type of response to some of the music I listened to in years but I do listen to them a regular basis or when I am reviewing other speakers. This type of response is something often overlooked in most reviews because while we can take frequency measurements, and a host of other measurements, we can not measure the potential for emotional response and that is a shame because I am sure that the LFR1100 would score off the chart and I highly recommend the LFR1100 to anyone looking for that audiophile/emotional experience.
Check out the Axiom LFR100 Speakers at Axiom
Please use the Axiom LFR1100 Omni-Directional Speaker Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments!