About two weeks ago, I integrated my M3s into my HT set-up with the intention of getting some everyday use out of them. The first night I set them up, I was in the mood to crank up some Foo Fighters and was dubious about their ability to keep up. Well, those little guys kept up with aplomb! I was really surprised how they pressurized the room. With my fears allayed, I hunkered down for some serious listening over the next couple of weeks.
To cap things off, yesterday I dusted off the ol' speaker selector switcher and dug out some spare wire to compare the M3s with some other speakers I have. I didn't have enough room to set up all four speakers simultaneously, so I only did two at a time--switching speakers out against the M3s and keeping notes on the same song selections.
First up was the Odyssey Audio Epiphony speakers. Previously, I had compared these to the Axiom M40s and felt they were extremely similar besides the obvious bass advantage of the towers. The Epiphony and M3 are very equal in terms of frequency responses, playing down to about 49 and 50 Hz respectively. The M3 uses a 6.5" woofer while the Epiphony utilizes a 6". The Epiphonies, my version now discontinued, are slightly less than twice as expensive as the M3s. As you can see, though, the M3s win in appearance.
Next up was the Monitor Audio GR10, a bookshelf speaker with a slightly deeper frequency response to 40 Hz and an equal sized 6.5" woofer. At more than four times the price I felt these would offer a good perspective on the relative value of the M3s. As for appearances, it's tough--I like both very much. The cherry wood on the GR10s has always been one of my all-time favorites.
Finally, I couldn't help but pit the M3s against my Odyssey Loreleis. Yes, an uneven match, but what the heck--it's my speaker comparison! The Loreleis are a two-way tower speaker rated conservatively down to about 32 Hz.
My speaker selector is pretty basic and doesn't offer any volume control, so there was no way for me to perfectly level match any of the speakers. However, they measured roughly the same at the master volume setting so I didn't think there would be much of a problem.
First up, I ran some frequency sweeps using my Hsu test CD (the only thing I had on hand) to see any measurable differences or similarities between the speakers.
20 Hz 25 31.5 40 50 63 80 100 125 160 200 250
M3 - - 55 68 65 62 74 75 70 65 74 70
Epiphony - - 54 63 66 64 73 65 62 65 72 72
GR10 - - 59 70 71 68 74 65 64 65 72 72
Lorelei 55 62 72 80 75 69 73 66 64 71 75 70
Edit--Oops, my chart got all screwed up. Basically, measurements start at 20 Hz, the bookshelves showing nothing until 31.5 Hz. Sorry.
As you can see, they are all fairly similar except for the extra bass extension of the GR10s and the Loreleis. The only anomaly that sticks out is the slight hump of the M3s from 100 to 125 Hz. This little push in frequency showed up in my listening sessions, which I'll touch on later.
Tonally, the M3s and Epiphonies are strikingly similar. It took copious amounts of quick switching between the two in order to catch subtle differences. The Epiphonies had a better ability to separate the instruments and resolve small details like a finger sliding along a steel guitar string. The M3s could do this, also, just not quite as often. Such detail shows up on Ratatat's "Gettysburg," from the album "Classics," with a crisper sound to the opening picked guitar strings over a bass drum beat. However, on the same song, the M3s shone through with a better presence to the bass drum, spreading the sound throughout the room. Conversely, the GR10s similarly filled the room, but lacked the initial thump to the drum. There was no starting definition to it, but there was a better decaying resonance with a pleasing three dimensional aspect. I'd attribute this to the deeper frequency response of the GR10s. The loss of the initial attack didn't make up for it, though. The Loreleis put the whole package together--subtle details and a whole other dimension to the bass.
The M3s strutted their stuff on AC/DC's "High Voltage." On "The Jack" the lead guitar came off a bit stronger in relation to the bass guitar. Overall, the extra presence of the M3s really helped propel a lot of the songs forward. The added warmth of the Axioms served this album well. I mean, honestly, who wants to hear Bon Scott's voice in super fine detail? In a similar vein, compared to the GR10s, the reserved top ends of the Epiphonies and M3s held the bagpipes on "It's a Long Way to the Top" just short of a screeching mess. My sister used to play the bagpipes--I know how those things sound close-up. The Epiphonies gave a better sense of the different drones playing simultaneously. I have to admit, the Monitor Audios rendered the bagpipes with an unpleasant biting edge.
Certain moments highlighted the bass hump of the Axioms. On Rogue Wave's debut album, "Out of the Shadows," one minute and thirteen seconds into "Postage Stamp World" there is a guitar note that twangs into prominence. It blared noticeably in comparison to the other speakers. That's the double edged sword of the bass hump--in some cases it sticks out like a sore thumb, and others it gives the impression of a bigger speaker. On Rodrigo y Gabriela's self-titled album, the hand slaps to the guitar body on "Tamacun" hit with a sharper *thwack* on the Epiphonies, but the M3s gave a better sense of the resonation of the slap within the guitar. In this respect, I don't think it's a question of which is better, but more a matter of taste. The GR10s offered more life to the pluck of the notes throughout the album, and were able to resolve some of the denser passages a bit cleaner. They also breathed a bit more spaciousness into the recording, giving the impression of a bigger, encompassing presentation. And, again, the Loreleis did all of this with ease--blah, blah, blah. . .
The Axiom M3s surprised me with their ability to handle anything that I threw at them. They rocked well enough, helped by the bass hump, and they also played "big" when I put on Orff's "Carmina Burana" (thanks for the recommendation JohnK). Sure, there are limitations with them, but nothing that detracts from the enjoyment of the music. No, the M3s aren't the last word in clarity and detail, nor do they throw out the widest soundstage, but they do offer a cozy familiarity with an inviting and pleasant midrange.
I'd be hard-pressed to pick a clear winner between the M3s and Epiphonies. The small Odysseys had a tad more detail and offered a crisp and open presentation. They did not have as much authority as the Axioms, and sometimes felt a bit dry in the midrange (just slightly, though, in comparison). Both exhibited a similar tone, offering an honest presentation to the music. Besides a slight boxiness to the M3s, which more than likely comes from the midbass hump, both speakers never really colored the music untowardly. In fact, the same tone was also shared by the Loreleis, which surprised me when switching between the two. The Loreleis kind of hit the balance between the M3s and GR10s--slightly laid back presentation without missing any of the detail. The Monitor Audios, on the other hand, are tilted more forward on the top end and didn't seem do have the same kind of punch on some of the musical sequences. They had more "sizzle" and detail, but didn't quite give the same cohesive presentation across the entire frequency spectrum as the M3s. They have the pop that makes them stand out, but for my ears and my preferences, I like the less expensive bookshelf speakers for everyday listening.
Also, I was able to easily integrate the M3s with my subs in my HT--an easier task than I had with my towers. In my small room, these guys were able to play loud and never hurt my ears during loud and demanding passages. Three of the M3s across the front would offer an excellent start to an HT set-up. They are a great all-around speaker and an absolute bargain for what Axiom sells them for!