Win An Audiobyte System!
Do you Follow Us on Facebook? If so, this contest is for you! If not, you might just might want to start doing so!
From now until December 11th, you can upload a photo of yourself or someone you love with your Axioms to our Fan page and win a pair of Audiobytes! No Axioms yet? No problem, there's no purchase necessary to win: just take a picture of yourself with your friend's Axioms, or use a little photoshopping to impress us :)
The picture with the most "Likes" from Axiom Fans will win a pair of Audiobyte Computer speakers.
View all the rules and regulations here.
The Language of Blind Comparisons: B&W Nautilus 805 vs. Axiom's M3 v3
As part of Axiom's 30th Anniversary celebration last month (September 2010), attended by a genial group of Axiom's most enthusiastic customers, a day of double-blind listening tests was scheduled along with plant tours and seminars so that almost everyone could have a chance to experience what is regarded in knowledgeable circles as the only way to truly compare and rank loudspeakers for musical accuracy free of listener bias based on design, price, brand name, and physical appearance.
The double-blind test protocol (combined with precise anechoic on- and off-axis frequency response measurements) has formed the foundation of loudspeaker research and development in Canada for Axiom as well as several other prominent Canadian brands for several decades. Double-blind protocol is used in medical research and drug development as the only method of eliminating potential bias by researchers and test subjects alike.
After the double-blind sessions concluded, some participants remarked that they were sometimes confused by subtle differences in music reproduction, wondering what specifically to listen for and how to describe those differences. (All the listeners could use their own choice of music or CDs provided by Axiom, and could take as long as they wanted to do the comparison.)
I've been doing double-blind comparisons of loudspeakers for about 30 years now for the various magazines I wrote for and edited as well as for Axiom Audio. While my taste in music has changed little over the years, and I still prefer recordings of acoustical music---mainly jazz, vocal and orchestral music--rather than amplified instruments as source material, the qualities that distinguish a really excellent speaker from one ranked "good" or "mediocre" can still be heard using almost any well-recorded musical selection.
The question is: what to listen for, and how to describe it. Unless the differences are really blatant and obvious—a screechy aggressive treble or virtual absence of deep bass, for example—it's a real test of listening skills to accurately characterize a loudspeaker's accuracy in reproducing musical instruments and vocals.
In the interests of quantifying listening impressions, I thought that an analysis of my own rating form might be helpful not only to those Axiom fans who visited Axiom but to enthusiasts of every stripe.
|Click to download Alan's rating sheet.
For those who can't decipher my writing in the thumbnail scan of my rating form, I'll explain my comments and numerical rankings of the two speakers under test. (Spoiler Alert! At the end of the day, Speaker #1 was revealed to be B&W's pricey Nautilus 805, about $2,500 per pair at the time of purchase, and Speaker #2 was Axiom's M3 v3, which sells for $348 per pair, including free shipping.)
Under "Overall Sound," speaker #1 received a 7.5 out of a possible 10. A rating of 7.5 is what I'd call "good," which means it's a reasonably accurate, pleasant-sounding loudspeaker but with a couple of audible flaws that prevent it from getting a higher score. I gave speaker #2 a rating of 8.5; while not perfect, it represents a speaker that I'd describe as "excellent" with no blatant flaws or audible colorations.
Following "Overall Sound," in the breakdown of bass, midrange and treble, the gap in numerical ranking remained consistent. While rating kick drum is useful with rock and pop music (I used a CD of Taj Mahal), I mainly use an orchestral CD with timpani and bass drums along with several jazz CDs with well-recorded acoustic string bass. Speaker #1's string bass was "not as articulate" as #2, which means I could not follow the deepest bass tones as clearly on the B&W as I could on the Axiom M3. I had to strain to hear the plucked bass tones on the 805. On a big choral recording, I also couldn't hear the men's bass parts on speaker #1 ("mushy on bass choral") as clearly as on #2. Later on, I noted that an orchestra has "more bass heft on speaker #2 than on #1."
The Holly Cole jazz vocal of "I Can See Clearly Now (the Rain is Gone)" for me is very revealing of midrange vocal problems as well as having very natural piano and stand-up bass. On the B&W, I was unhappy with her voice, calling it "a bit sibilant and edgy", even "rather nasal at times," while on the Axiom M3, I was really pleased, noting how "natural" and "detailed" her vocal was. I also found the piano more natural than on the B&W. I really liked the stand-up bass on the Axiom, calling it "clear and quite deep". The Axiom's "3D soundstage" came in for special praise, where I noted it was "lovely and deep" on opera vocals and big choral selections. You can hear that depth on French horns on the Axiom M3 but not nearly as much on the B&W. I didn't like the sound of timpani drums on the B&W, which sounded "narrow" and a bit squished (this follows the "mushy" comment I made about the male choral parts) whereas I noted the "very good timpani" on the Axiom M3.
Overall, I still liked the B&W on orchestral works with lots of horns, but I didn't use adjectives like "excellent" and "lovely". That's because the French horn sound didn't pervade the acoustic space and soundstage the way they did with the Axiom M3. I liked the cymbals on the B&W but I downgraded my rating to 7.5 because I felt they were a bit too extreme, too defined, whereas the Axiom had just the right amount of metallic shimmer without sounding exaggerated.
In the end, this was a really enlightening comparison, because it showed off what I've maintained for years: there is little or no correlation between musical accuracy and price. It was also not easy; isolating the differences between a "good" loudspeaker and an excellent one comes down to nuances, although the sibilance of the B&W on the Holly Cole vocals I view as a significant flaw that would show up on lots of recordings, hence my 7.5 rating. Any speaker with this tendency has a rougher midrange, which I noted: "good, but not as smooth as #2, rather nasal at times."
Such double-blind comparisons as these between quite good and excellent speakers sometimes elicit a phrase, "similarly good," which I borrowed from Dr. Floyd Toole many years ago, which he used when two speakers under test sound somewhat different, but each are essentially very pleasing and uncolored.
However in the B&W 805 vs. Axiom M3 listening test, I did not write "similarly good" because I clearly had a preference for one over the other and that was expressed in the individual scores and in my written comments. If, in any blind tests in the future, you find yourself undecided between two loudspeakers, sometimes preferring one speaker on some music and then the other speaker on other selections and ranking the two with the same scores, then you can confidently note that the two are "similarly good."
Q. Recently I noticed that if you right-click on songs you’ve downloaded from iTunes, you can "Create Apple Lossless Version." My husband and I did an experiment this morning and it took a song from 8MB to 25MB. The whole thing happened quite quickly, almost as though it "unzipped" something. Do you know how this works?—A.C.
(I don't use iTunes so I posed the question to Andrew Welker, Axiom Audio Engineer, and to Chris--“Club Neon” on the Axiom forums. —A.L.)
A. Andrew Welker replies: "Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, you can’t create something out of nothing. If you try this operation on a file that is in a naturally uncompressed format, like the WAV file that comes right off a CD, you will end up with an Apple lossless copy that will be indistinguishable from the original. No data or information is actually thrown away; it has simply been rearranged into a smaller package.
What you have done has created a lossless copy of a compressed MP3 or AAC file. The lossless converter has no idea that you are starting with a compressed file, so it tries to work its rearranging magic as if the file was directly from a CD. If it actually had been a big uncompressed file you would find a big reduction in space after conversion to lossless. This does not apply with your compressed MP3/AAC file because of the way the conversion algorithm tires to rearrange the data."
Club Neon replies: "I'm not an iTunes user, but I think I know what the option is for. Its main intent is to convert a PCM file (WAV, AIFF) into Lossless AAC. But the way iTunes file associations work, any audio file will get the same conversion options.
When an MP3 is played, the lossy compression has to be undone and converted to PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) before it is sent to the sound card. The process can be short circuited, and the resulting PCM information recompressed into another format, but it gains nothing. In fact if an MP3 is converted to lossy AAC, there's a double loss incurred.
One use for converting lossy files to lossless is for double-blind studies into lossy compression artifacts. An audio sample is converted to MP3 or whatever, and then that file is decoded into a WAV, and distributed to the listeners. That way they have no idea of the compression algorithm employed based on the file information."
Given the above, it’s rather misleading of the prompt in the Apple menu to suggest that you can "create an Apple lossless version" of any music file. Most users would not realize that lossy music files cannot be "improved" by this process.
What's your experience with Apple Lossless? Share your thoughts on our blog. – A.L.
Two Hot New Reviews!
Two new reviews launched this week: Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity did a thorough review of the Epic 80-800 v3 Home Theater System, complete with an interview with Ian Colquhoun regarding speaker design philosophy.
Reviewer Chris Eberle loved the system, saying:
"Now that I’ve heard this system, I can’t imagine going back. You guessed it – I bought the review units. I didn’t expect such a major difference but six weeks of listening told me otherwise. Axiom has a real winner in the Epic 80-800. The improvements they’ve made in sound and build quality just in the last couple of years are significant. They had already turned out some impressive speakers. Now they’ve upped the ante. These should be on everyone’s short list – they are on top of mine." Check out the full review here!
And Digital Trends reviewed the Epic Grand Master 500 v3 to much acclaim, giving it a 9/10 and an Editor's Choice Award! Read their review here!
"I received my Axiom M80's and all was well with shipping.
I just felt that I needed to let all of you folks at Axiom Audio know that I have considered myself an audiophile since about 1966. I have had many audio systems as well as speaker systems over the years and thought I knew what music reproduced in the home was supposed to sound like. Was I ever wrong! I now feel like I have spent many years missing a great deal of enjoyment!
These speakers are just incredible and I am so glad that I made the decision to purchase them. The woodwork is just beautiful and if I didn't know better, I would swear that I have a huge variety of musicians just waiting to perform for me at any time!
Mr. David Montone"
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