Where is the engineering?
Jul 2, 2007 (Updated Jul 3, 2007)
Review by mthemaniac
Rated a Very Helpful Review
I personally dont use conventional loudspeakers due to what I believe are fundamental flaws in the way sound is emanated by these monopole pressure transducer devices. Listening to a loudspeaker in a room involves listening to both direct and indirect sound. The direct being sound waves traveling directly from the speaker to your ear and the indirect being sound waves traveling from the speaker to the walls then reflecting back to your ear.
Recommend this product?
Conventional monopole speakers may be designed to have a, flat on axis frequency response but it is not possible for a monopole speaker to have both a flat on axis and a flat off axis response. Consequently it is not possible for a monopole speaker to present your ear with a flat direct sound field and also flat delayed reflections. The laws of physics simply dont allow it.
Because the delayed reflections do not approximate copies of the original direct sound the ear heard first, the psychoacoustic nature of the brain perceives the sound as unnatural. This I believe is one of many reasons why typical loudspeakers always sound like loudspeakers and do not sound like a live performance. I also believe this explains why so many non audiophile individuals often comment that they can not ear the difference between very expensive speakers and inexpensive ones. I believe these individuals may have the best tuned ears of all because they pick up on the common problems that exist in both the expensive conventional speaker and the inexpensive one.
While all conventional speakers suffer from a common set of fundamental design flaws, it is possible for more expensive options, or more accurately, better designed options to offer superior sound quality over others. Thats why audiophile types can still hear a difference between a well designed conventional speaker and a poor one. Design
this thought brings us to the Axiom M3.
If you read the Axiom web site you will be lead to believe a lot of research and engineering have gone into their products. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of any engineering what so ever in the M3 design. Its a box, a woofer, and a tweeter! There is a very simple network on the tweeter and nothing on the woofer. It has no, real crossover. Instead it has about $1.00 worth of parts blocking low frequency from the tweeter and adjusting its output to match the 6 woofer. Thats it!
In its defense, the on axis frequency response based on a gated FFT measurement at about 10 from the speaker fit within about a 5 dB window across most of its bandwidth. Thats not great but certainly better than expected based on the complete lack of any design or engineering in the M3. The filter on the tweeter is first order so they could have set this first order corner frequency almost anywhere between 2 and 5 KHz and gotten a similar result with the exception of a significant dip in the response between about 3 ~ 4 KH had they placed it too high. So in other words, they almost could have chosen the capacitor size arbitrarily and gotten similar results. Like I said, no engineering what so ever in this speaker! Just enough simple design work to get the tweeter roll off somewhat near the right place.
The 6 woofer has a pretty choppy frequency response above the specified crossover point including a peak at 5 KHz. This driver definitely needed to have a crossover! Non linear distortion in the 6 driver is significant, and the very thin metal used to make the basket rings. Holding the driver by the magnet and sweeping it with a tone generator you can actually hear the frame ringing! This is terrible! The Dayton Classic 6 driver from Parts Express is a better driver. It also has a cheap thin frame but not as bad as the Axiom driver. Its non linear distortion performance is not dramatically better than the Axiom but it is better particularly on higher harmonics where it is most critical. The Dayton is a $17 driver in single lot quantities. Without a bucking magnet (to enable the speaker to be placed close to monitors) the Dayton driver is still overall a heavier larger magnet better built driver. Based on the build quality differences, the Axiom is a sub $10 driver given the $17 price tag on the Dayton. The Dayton is also available with the bucking magnet for applications requiring magnetic shielding btw.
So, if you already have an M3 the good news is that the Dayton 6.5 classic driver will fit in place of the original Axiom. Simply replacing it however will not make a significant improvement. You would have to do the engineering Axiom failed to do and design a crossover for it. This is an easy matter if you have the knowledge and a $1000 software package called LspCAD plus a similarly priced package called Praxis. You would think Axiom could afford these tools but from their web site it appears they use antiquated measurement equipment and no CAD equipment. The real reason they dont do it however is cost. Using high quality inductors and capacitors to build a proper crossover for the M3 would be more expensive than the drivers. This would seriously cut into the profit margin!
If you dont already have the M3 then youre in even better luck. You can just get the Dayton BR-1 from partsexpress.com for about half the price of the M3. This is a very similar speaker to the M3 using the Dayton classic drivers and an actual properly designed crossover
a feature the M3 lacks! The draw back to the BR-1 is that it is a kit and requires about two hours and some soldering skill to assemble. But hey, its half the price of the M3 and its a better speaker.
I hate having to write this negative review about Axiom because look at all the positive noise about them out there all over the web! This was not at all what I was expecting to find! With all the talk on the Axiom web site I expected the M3 to be at least comparable to if not better than the BR-1. I was shocked when I opened it up and found nothing inside but a couple resistors and a $0.10 electrolytic cap and another little poly cap. What was all that talk about all this design work??? It appears they are trying to become the new Bose, a lot of talk about engineering and research but nothing to back it up!
Ive seen a lot of very positive reviews from consumers who own and love their Axiom speakers. Its good they can be happy with their purchase but its very apparent they have not had the opportunity to compare them to better solutions. One thing I should mention that the average consumer is not aware of is that all the stuff like Polk, JBL, Bose, and all that other stuff you see in places like Best Buy are just plain garbage. I can see how a consumer using this stuff for a reference might think the Axiom is pretty good.
At least the high-end products in the bookshelf speaker market will have properly designed crossovers, better built lower distortion drivers, and better built lower resonance cabinets than any of the aforementioned brands so they will sound better (less bad). Some people will still have trouble hearing the difference however because even the most expensive like JMLab and others still suffer those same fundamental flaws that cause them to sound like speakers instead of like a live performance.
As for anyone considering the M3 I really encourage you to try the Parts Express Dayton BR-1. Its better and it cost half as much in kit form. Im not sure if they offer it already assembled. For anyone interested in similar speakers to the M3 in a higher price range, say over $1000 then I would recommend looking at Usher Audio for the Nth degree in cosmetics and sound quality in a conventional speaker at reasonable prices.
If you are looking for high-end quality but closer to the M3 price tag then I would suggest looking at a variety of kits available from places like Parts Express or Madisound. In particular, either a kit or free design information from various DIY web sites using the Dayton Reference Series of drivers would be a good solution. The Dayton Reference series drivers are out performing Seas and Scanspeak drivers costing several times the price! I recently built a compact bookshelf system for a friend using the Dayton Reference 6 driver and Reference tweeter and I think there was less than $300 in the pair including the prefabricated 0.35 ft^3 cabinets. Ill have to check, it might have been a little over $300. I will provide the crossover schematic etc to anyone requesting it free of charge. I did it as a sealed system and thus it should be used with a subwoofer crossed at 80 Hz. It will not have the bass punch of the M3 or BR-1 because it was intentionally designed not to. Its optimized for 80 Hz up.
For those wanting the very highest quality sound, unfortunately it is not commercially available. Well, there are a few options that could be ok but not under five figures in the price tag. There are some omni directional speakers that are pretty good and a couple dipoles. Legacy Audio offers the, Whisper which uses dipole bass but totally screws up everything else so I personally wouldnt want it. Jamo has the R909 I think its called which might be ok but they transition from a 15 Eminence driver to a 5 Seas driver which is not the most well thought out concept in that design. Ive heard the Whisper, not really impressed there. I have not heard the Jamo. So, these really are not solutions for you they are just examples of commercially built speakers that are at least toying with ideas that are in the right direction. Linkwitzlab does offer the Orion fully assembled and its under $10K. In fact last time I looked it was about $6k including a power amplifier to drive it I think. I might be wrong, it might be higher than that now. The Orion is probably the best solution available short of building.
My next project is a dipole infinite line
a figure 8 radiation in the horizontal axis and cylindrical in the vertical. I believe this will be a combination of two best worlds. I will not be offering any products however and may or may not post details of the design once completed. If I do post the details or otherwise provide them to anyone wanting to duplicate the project, it will be free of charge, Im not selling anything!
Sorry Axiom owners. All the talk about engineering of the Axiom products was not present in the M3 so I wouldnt anticipate it to show itself in the other products. Its too bad, I was actually expecting it to be there. If it had been, I was thinking it would be fun to check out one of their subwoofers they rave about so much. BTW, take most of what they say about it with a grain of salt too because all that nonsense about digital this and that doesnt really mean anything. It all comes down to volume displacement. A big cone, a lot of excursion, a lot of volume displacement, a lot of bass. I expect the digital stuff they are doing if any is possibly controlling linearity to reduce distortion. But given the lack of engineering in the M3 I now find it highly questionable they are doing anything at all
other than talk. My point is simply that nothing they do with all that digital nonsense has anything to do with how much bass they can get out of their subwoofer system.
What they say about box size is sort of true but over simplified. Actually the box size does not limit how low a woofer can play it just causes the power required to make the woofer play low go up
way up! This brings about all sorts of problems far beyond just needing a big amp and worrying about blowing the woofer. Thermal effects in the voice coil causes all sorts of distortions as it heats up instantaneously with high current levels. So Axiom is correct to tell you the box should be large but they over simplified the reasons somewhat to avoid confusion.
Just look at the JLAudio Home Theatre subwoofer. They use a relatively small box but look at that massive motor system they have to put on it to compensate. To me thats completely the wrong approach. Axioms idea of using a larger box is a better solution than the JLAudio solution. Im not saying the Axiom should be a better sub than the JL, just that its a better approach. How well each approach is executed will determine which one is the best overall. Of course the best solution is no box at all, either open baffle, or infinite baffle with massive amounts of surface area to keep cone velocity low and coupling to the room at a maximum. Get a half dozen high quality 12 or 15 drivers put them in large sealed boxes and digital corrections or not, you will get far better bass than either the JL or the Axiom due to the low cone velocity and improved coupling.
Well, thats all for this review of the M3 and comments about Axiom in general. I was certainly expecting more from Axiom and Im sorry this had to be such a negative review. I almost didnt write it just because I didnt want to write a negative review like this but I figure its best to tell it the way it is. Someone out there will get a better speaker elsewhere for a lower price as a result I hope.
by popular demand;-)
And finally, how does it sound
I guess I left this out because I already knew how it sounded from measurement results and 30+ years of hearing the various test signals and so much experience and familiarity with the correlations between this information and what the listening results will be. I sometimes forget most people looking for information on what speakers to buy dont have that. Sorry about that, I will at least add some comments but its not going to be pretty and not that much because I only listened to a few selections mostly female vocal and one organ piece.
(Organ of the Mormon Tabernacle, Clay Christiansen, Organist.) (Audiophile Female Voices, Susan Wong, Michelle, Rosanne Lui, Tania Hancheroff, Camay NG.)
That one was something I picked up in Taiwan.
I only had one test sample so I was not able to listen to a stereo pair but I can tell you what the image etc will do based on the technical information gathered. The relative narrow width of the baffle is a good thing. Sound stage should be broad and the image might be well focused. The lack of a crossover on the 6 driver (which has significant but inconsistent output to above 5 KHz ) will be destructive to image stability and focus. Given the acceptable design of the baffle, the addition of a properly designed crossover could result in more stable imaging.
Listening to the one speaker, the higher harmonic content in the 6 driver did the same thing to music that it did to pure sine tones. That is it made vocals and instruments alike edgy and lacking detail. Pure sine tones didnt sound pure at all. I compared it with the Dayton classic 6 and it was a world of difference. The Dayton Reference blew both away on this test and you dont need to be an audiophile to hear a direct comparison on this. If you play a pure tone on a bad speaker and compare it to a good one it will be blatantly obvious to the most tone deaf person. Listening to music is more complex so the tone deaf person (who doesnt really listen) may not notice it so quickly but especially with very complex material, the music quickly became very garbled and, fuzzy Everything had rough edges! Especially the organ, which produces very complex material, all detail was lost. I considered it un-listenable! It would certainly not be enjoyable. BTW, it is not possible to evaluate the M3 bass on the organ because the M3 is not designed for this. The M3 just doesnt do organ bass nor does any similar speaker regardless of price.
Some out there think measurements or listening to pure tones is nonsense but its not. Lets say someone is trying to teach you a word in another language. No matter how hard you try you cant seem to get it right when they rattle if off in their native tongue. You rattle what you believe to be the same thing back and they laugh! Finally, you ask them to say the word one syllable at a time. You step through it until you can say each syllable individually then rattle the word back to them and they smile! You got it! Music is composed of combinations of sine waves just like a spoken word is composed of combinations of syllables. If the speaker cant say the individual sine tones (syllables) right, how can it say the music (word) right??? It cant!
To provide an audiophile style review of the sound quality using words like transparency, etc is simply not possible with the M3 because its just not in that league. The problems described above are too overwhelming to allow for that type of listening evaluation. Put simply, these things are toys! You cant do a serious evaluation of a toy as if it were a real device.
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