Sugg. Retail: ($2041CAD, $1790USD pr in Cherry Nutmeg Satin veneer finish, w/Burnt Sienna grille colour;
$1515 CAD, $1330 USD in black, white or various woodgrain vinyl
Size: 39.5″H x 9.25″W x 17″D
Manufacturer: Axiom Audio, www.axiomaudio.com
When I last visited Axiom Audio in Dwight, Ontario just east of Huntsville and west of Algonquin Park, the talk turned to product reviews (as it somehow always does), the suggestion was made that I follow the process developed by their resident artist, Joe Vassallo, who has in a long design career done posters for such movies as Flashdance, and dream car sketches for the now-struggling US automakers. He is an accomplished airbrush artist, as well as designer/photographer for the Axiom web site, having retired (sort of) to Muskoka after a 30-year career in the US.
And since I hadn’t already looked at and listened to their flagship M80, now in its v2 upgrade, the suggestion was that I should let them lavish on me the VaSSallo custom finish option on these quite large full-range loudspeakers. This process is outlined in numbered steps on the site: “1, Click to view your wood veneer; 2, Select your stain; 3, Select your grille colour; 4, Select your gloss finish; 5, Select your Accessory Package (feet, spikes, and logo)”. I went through the process while looking down my listening room at its gold, brown, blue and white furnishings (mostly custom-built Birch media shelving or pine from IKEA), and ended up ordering Cherry Nutmeg Satin finish, with Burnt Sienna grille colour. As the photos show (I hope), they worked well in the room in these textures and hues. The VaSSallo selection is very broad, with Rosewood having a 15% premium, and High Gloss Black or White bring the price up to $2551.25 CAD per pair. For you, going through this process with your partner might make putting the high end audio system together more palatable as a shared exercise in interior decoration.
Regardless of whether it soothes domestic tensions, the VaSSallo Series program does result in a beautiful pair of loudspeakers, with a very finely rubbed and finished surface on all sides, as I discovered several weeks later when they came. I’ve always hated those monolithic black grilles, and such boxes even more, but harmony flowed from my custom pair of M80s, and that was even before I hooked them up (and I will get around to sound and measurements soon). To have this kind of aesthetic luxury for around $2500 Canadian is quite remarkable, and its execution superbly realized. Joe Vassallo has some great woodworking elves up there in the Great White North!
They arrived very well boxed and protected, and Aaron helped me unpack these quite large and heavy (56.8 lbs each) speakers, and set them up downstairs in the listening room. They were coddled in black logo-imprinted soft cloth bags, with two additional neat natural-stain-finished wood boxes containing gold-plated spikes and feet (you can choose either) packed separately. Quite luxurious, all this, with an attention to detail that surprised me at the price.
Another option in the VaSSallo Series is custom finish matching service. If you submit to Axiom a roughly 8 x 10″ sample of the wood and finish in your room’s audio or other cabinetry, Joe and his boys will match them exactly for an extra $171CAD/$150USD. That’s a nice touch, and should be of interest to custom installers trying to please demanding customers.
Getting over to the technical side,the Axiom M80 v2 uses, according to the site, “unique trapezoidal Anti-Standing-Wave cabinets [that] allow pure musical reproduction”. All the Axiom M-series speakers feature titanium tweeters, aluminum woofers, vortex-ported cabinets to reduce port noise, and video shielding to prevent placement problems with a big-screen display. In this model, the drivers are all doubled and stacked in a vertical array, so can be categorized as somewhere just between a point source and line source array. Speaker aficionados may have some opinions about this design, and I will express my own with respect to listening impressions below.
I measured the M80 v2 on our LMS computer system, upgraded with a calibrated AKG 460ULS microphone through a Stellavox microphone preamplifier, legendary for its accuracy and sound quality. At top on the frequency response chart we see the on-axis Pink Noise Sweep (PNS, the spiky trace), overlaid with the Summed Axial Response (SAR) the added result of the traces shown individually in the measurement group below. The fact that these overlay almost perfectly at all frequencies indicates good, even dispersion of sound, and accurate timbral response throughout the listening room.
And the overlaid individual measurements underscore this essential accuracy of frequency response in nearly all directions. The top one, however, seen at 10 kHz, is actually an on-axis curve with the grille cover off, and those below are 0, 15, 30, and 60 degrees off axis with grille on, our normal methodology. The grille drops high frequency response by a dB, and notably, the M80 has identical upper octave response at both 0 and 15 degrees of axis, with another 1-dB drop at 30 degrees, quite remarkable dispersion, as noted above. At 60 degrees off axis, we see inevitable room and cabinet effects in the midrange, and a controlled rolloff in the highs.
In general, the M80 v2 is +/-1.5 dB from 55 to 15,000 Hz, quite exceptionally linear frequency response, especially for a multi-driver design, though I did see some driver lobing between the midranges and tweeters when moving the microphone up and down at 1 metre. This should resolve at the listening position, so I used a fixed vertical point at a normal listening height for these curves. The control of dispersion beyond 30 degrees laterally should help minimize extra reflected energy from walls and corners coloring the sound in midrange and treble.
Bass response is excellent, tight and extended, down 5 dB at 40 Hz and only .5 dB more at 30 Hz. Because this speaker is front-ported, its extended bass will not be as room placement sensitive as that of many rear-ported types. In the mid and upper octaves, especially with the grille off, I did see a mild plateau of about 2 dB relative to 1 kHz, which gives this speaker its individual character. Keeping the very attractive grilles on helps mitigate this effect, and is highly recommended for sonic and aesthetic reasons.
The other measurement chart shows impedance and electrical phase, the former at top. Impedance was, as measured, a little higher than the nominal rated 4 ohms, being around 8 ohms at 100 Hz and as high as 18 ohms just above 1 kHz, while quite smooth across the rest of the audio band. The phase measurement below also shows very smooth response, especially for a multi-driver design, with a midrange shift of +/-20 degrees or less, suggesting excellent imaging, an easy load for an amplifier to drive. The M80 v2 is a very well engineered speaker, no surprise from the hands and brain (and staff) of designer Ian Colquhoun.
Looking at the M60 frequency curves there, it looks as if one midrange and tweeter had been removed from an M80, and this less forward balance would suit smaller rooms, perhaps, as well as some ears. All this noted, the Axiom M80 v2 is a very fine loudspeaker at an exceptional price, especially so, when given the wonderful woodworking fit and finish of the VaSSallo Series upgrade.
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