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Sound Buys: Axiom Audio Loudspeakers

Canadian home audio speaker manufacturer Axiom Audio has made quite a splash of late. The keys to their success have been a product line that offers innovative design, top performance across the board, a direct-to-the-consumer business model that keeps prices low, and excellent service before and after the sale. Though they have been in business for 20 years, the Internet has helped spread the word about Axiom and has contributed to their growth.

I've recommended Axiom speakers in my Q&A column for several years, particularly their outstanding home theater systems. After several years of hearing from satisfied readers, a more detailed review was in order, leading to the subject of this review: the M2, M22, and M80 speakers.

All of the speakers are ported-use aluminum drivers for woofers and midrange. Ported cabinets contribute to the bass response and raise power sensitivity, allowing the bookshelf models to be used with even modestly powered receivers. The speakers were flawlessly finished in vinyl that gave a convincing appearance of real wood. The cabinets are rock solid, and the shape of the cabinets and the ports reflects the scientific approach behind their design.

As it should be with all good speaker lines, sound was similar for all three speakers, reflecting a "family sound" _ going up the model range obtains more bass, more fullness, and more dynamic punch. The M2 and M22 were placed on stands and toed in slightly, a configuration that exhibited especially fine stereo imaging.

The M2 bookshelf speaker, retailing for $290, is Axiom's entry-level model. It's long been my favorite speaker selling for under $300.

Many small speakers are voiced to have a warmish sound, which can mask a lack of detail or other shortcomings. Not so with the M2. It has an exceedingly neutral sound with tremendous clarity as well a full, natural midrange. Plainly put, it just sounds good. As I listened, I was digging out old records and CDs just to hear how they sounded playing over the M2s. Rarely does a speaker draw that kind of enthusiasm from me, particularly a small, inexpensive model.

Moving up to the $460 M22, which looks like a taller M2 with an extra woofer. The M22 built on the M2's strengths, the added bass response creating a more dynamic and full sound. It's a worthy upgrade if budget allows.

The $1,300 M80 towers get you effortless dynamics, deeper bass that is also tight and defined, and the ability to fill large rooms with realistic sound at concert volume levels.

Any drawbacks? Many would prefer speaker cabinets with real wood veneer _ an option Axiom charges a significant premium for. It really is not necessary, as the vinyl finish is of very high quality. Axiom has a "Custom Shop" with 13 different simulated wood finishes and a choice of six different grill cloths. There is an online configuration tool where you can click on swatches and design your own speakers. It's fun to experiment with and no other manufacturer I know of allows so many opportunities to match a speaker to your decor.

The speakers can also sound bright on some recordings. The "brightness" of Axiom speakers is a subject on many Internet message boards. Some find the speakers overemphasize the treble a little, while others claim that the speakers' accuracy simply tells it like it is. I find the brightness to be somewhat electronics-dependent. My favorite pairing with the less-expensive Axioms are receivers from Onkyo, which create a great synergy and a beautiful, natural sound that don't emphasize any portion of the audible spectrum.

The M80s are 4-ohm speakers that require a beefy amplifier with a strong power supply. This could come in the form of a refurbished Harman/Kardon stereo receiver for under $200, or a much more expensive separate power amplifier. A garden-variety home theater receiver won't work well with the M80s, so if you buy them be sure to talk to someone at Axiom for recommendations.

The last potential drawback is you must make a leap of faith to hear them. Given Axiom's online sales model, you can't hear them in a store before you buy, but the company has a money-back guarantee that allows you to return the speakers for a full refund if not satisfied, making them a safe bet.

All in all, the Axiom speakers are a great value from a company known for making a great product and providing excellent service to their customers, making them an easy recommendation, particularly the M2 model. You can learn more at www.axiomaudio.com.

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