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#143584 - 07/15/06 01:44 PM M50 - User Review - (long) *****
JasonEuc Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 05/29/06
Posts: 30
Loc: Pennsylvania, USA
Axiom M50ti - User Review

System Objectives & Background
My home theater resides in our living room, so it must be well suited to multiple uses. The room is approx 14' x 15' x 8.5' (1800 ft^3), with openings to other rooms (den, dining room). The right wall is not square, but rather shaped like a 3-window "bay window". The left wall is a fairly open stairway to the upstairs.

Prior to the addition of the M50's, my system consisted of the following:
Display: 27" Sony XBR (CRT)
AVR: Rotel RSX-965 (5x75W, DD, DTS)
DVD: Integra DPC-7.5
Main L/R: Paradigm Titans on custom stands
Center: Paradigm CC-370 placed below the TV
Surround: Radio Shack Minimus 7
Sub: none
Cables:
S-Video: Tributaries, Acoustic Research (AR)
Digital Optical: AR
Digital Coax: Kimber
Analog Audio: Audioquest, Monster
Speaker: AR (16 ga) w/ generic banana plugs & pins (as appropriate)

Originally, I was going to select Paradigm Monitor 5's as my main L/R channel. I've been very pleased with Paradigm in the past. I've had the Titans as mains for 12 years or so, and my favorite speakers that I've ever heard are the sadly defunct Paradigm Active/20's.

But, with all the internet talk about Axiom, I was swayed to give them a try. My thinking was if I could achieve performance similar to the Paradigm Studio line for less than the cost of the Monitor line, then it seemed like a no-brainer to try the Axioms. And with Axiom's 30-day guarantee, there was no risk.

I was looking for a either a larger bookshelf than my Titans, or smaller floorstanding speaker that would add a bit of bass to my listening experience without the addition of a sub at this time. Our house is half of a double, so copious amounts of bass just won't work (no EP600 in my near future...). Initially, I had selected the M22's - both due to budget and based upon the fact that I've always enjoyed a good bookshelf speaker. However, I ended up being able to stretch the budget a bit to fit the M50's.

I was attracted to the description of the M50's as being "smooth" and "laid back". My two children watch many programs of less-than-stellar audio quality, so I didn't want a speaker that would sound too harsh.
The system would be used primarily for HT, but on occasion a music CD gets popped in (more on this later). We especially like action flicks (LoTR, SW, HP), so a dynamic system would be important.

Axiom Ordering Process & Delivery
I decided to use the Axiom Factory Outlet to save 10%, and placed my order for two Boston Cherry M50's on Wednesday June 7. Expected ship date was given as two weeks. Exactly two weeks later, Tues June 20 I received email confirmation from Axiom that my speakers had shipped and that I should expect to receive them in 2-5 business days. They arrived on Friday June 23 (actually one business day ahead of DHL's projected delivery).

The speakers shipped in a double-box arrangement, which I think is pretty standard. The cardboard was a bit wet on the outside (it was very rainy in our area on delivery day), but otherwise everything appeared in fine condition.

System Setup
To setup the system, I pretty much just removed the Titans w/ their custom stands, and plopped the M50's in their place. Some minor placement tweaks (mostly for aesthetics) and I was rolling. The M50's are about 5' apart, and 14" from the front wall, toed in ever so slightly. Main listening position is an IKEA sofa, centered between and approx 7.5' from the mains' front baffle.

27" CRT TV w/ flat-top stand is located in between the main speakers.

The CC-370 is located in an integral shelf of the stand, below the TV.

The Titans were moved to the rear wall on high-mounted shelves, so that the "top" of the Titans has approx 1/2" from the ceiling. Unfortunately, due to the room arrangement, this is the only real place for the surrounds and they can't be moved lower.

Since the Titans have proven to be a huge difference from the Minimus 7's (as my surrounds) I had to take some time to tweak their position. Because they are located behind the sofa instead of on the side walls, I currently have them facing mostly towards each other (each is, maybe, a 20 deg angle from directly opposing), flipped upside-down with the tweeters on the bottom. This arrangement provides a nice surround effect and helps reduce the localization that direct-radiating speakers can produce when used in a surround application.

Because I have no subwoofer at this time, the mains are set to "large" and the rest of the speakers to "small". I don't know the crossover frequency of the Rotel, so I'll assume that it's approx 80 Hz.

I used the Rotel's built in test tone and the Video Essentials DVD (the original) to match SPL levels via a venerable Radio Shack SPL meter. Pre-upgrade, the CC-370 matched the Titans' output at a setting of +0dB. Post-upgrade the CC-370 needed to be set to -4dB! The SPL meter showed the same thing via both calibration methods, so I left it at this new level, even though I couldn't believe it to be accurate. Even just listening to the test tones, the CC-370 at the "correct" -4dB level sounds very different from the M50's. Almost as though a light blanket were placed in front of the CC-370, it sounds muted and distinctly lower in both character and amount of sound produced.

Pre-upgrade the Minimus 7's were set to +3dB (which was about 2dB "high" but the 7's just didn't put out enough sound at the "correct" setting). Post-upgrade the Titans were set to +3dB, but now they measured equal to the mains.

This whole setup procedure seemed strange to me, because if the CC-370 and Titans are approx equal in sensitivity when used across the front, why such a huge change in their respective settings when used as surrounds and center? 7dB just seems to be a high difference to get "correct" level matching. I was also expecting the M50's to be more efficient than the Titans, and therefore I would have predicted needing to boost the CC-370's level. The opposite was shown to be the case. Like I said - weird, but would it matter?

Initial Impressions
Since the M50's were ordered via the factory outlet, I immediately inspected them for the cosmetic defect, and the only thing I found was one of the labels on the back had the ink of the word "Axiom" smeared just a little bit. Otherwise, they're in fantastic condition.

Regarding the vinyl finish: yep it's vinyl, no doubt about that. Well-done vinyl, but no mistaking it for true wood veneer.

The size/shape of the M50's is very pleasing, but one must keep in mind that they are floorstanding loudspeakers. I love the tapered geometry, and can't help but think that the top surface should have a similar tapered surface. I'm sure that would complicate the vinyl application a little bit, but it would jazz up the aesthetics a touch.

I love the look of the drivers when they're naked, but with 7-month-old fingers around, the grills will stay firmly in place. I do like the 3/4 length grill, and the chamfered sides at the bottom of the grill is nice.

Listening to music: whew - what a difference from the Paradigms. Not to knock the Titans (which were only $180/pr when I bought them), but there's really no comparison. The M50's just do _everything_ better than the Titans. Much deeper, tighter bass. Vocals are much more clear. Soundstage is bigger. The M50s' musicality is in a different league from the Titans. No surprise, but the difference was immediately obvious.

After reading all the internet scuttlebut about Axioms being "bright" or (even worse) "harsh", I was a bit concerned since I've never really preferred that sound quality. With the M50's I just can't agree with this description of their sonic character. I would describe them as "clear", or "revealing", but would not even tend towards "crisp", much less "harsh".

That said, recordings that over-emphasize the highs sound exactly like that. One example: "Back at One" by Brian McNight. I've heard this song on the Titans but I never knew the recording's sibilance is so pronounced.

At lower volume levels the M50's don't have a delicate sound like, say, Vandersteens. The M50's sound fine at the lower levels, but the delineation between instruments is just not as pronounced as what I've heard on Vandy's.

As the volume is increased, the M50's simply come alive. These puppies can really produce the SPL's! Bass stays extremely tight and plenty deep for most music. I'm not talking pink-noise @ 75 dB or anything. More like 60 dB or so. As the volume in increased the M50's keep getting better. I stopped increasing the volume well before the M50's wanted to...

Movies: Unfortunately, my Integra DPC-7.5 DVD player had the pickup laser fail the week the M50's were delivered, which prevented a thorough wringing out of favorite movies. My spare Toshiba DVD player (an el-cheapo model) has a highly irritating tendency to flash pink and green vertical lines during action scenes. So a true HT evaluation would have to wait until the Integra player returned.

Two Week Impressions
The M50's have not disappointed at all over "break in time". :-)

Music reproduction has continued to be fantastic. I've listened to: Keb Mo, Garth Brooks, Shaggy, Sinatra, Coltrane, Braveheart soundtrack, Boys II Men, Sarah McLochlan, and many more. Pretty much all 2-channel mode listening. Many "pop" CD's have the (over) synthesized voices clearly revealed. Especially someone like Mariah Carey singing alongside Boys II Men. Wow - there's some studio manipulation being done there.

After my Integra DVD player returned to the system (warranty repair in 1 week) HT use has been a treat. A movie like Hunt for Red October has become much more immersive with the the M50's up front and the surround channel has proven to be a huge improvement with the Titans in back.

As I expected, the CC-370 could not be left at the -4dB level - dialog is just way too muted for my taste. At that level it sounds almost muddy compared alongside the M50's. I have upped the setting to -2dB, which helps a bit on dialog, but it's still just not as clear as the M50's, even if the sound volume level is now perceived to be a better match. This will continue to be tweaked until I'm satisfied.

Next Steps
Replacing the CC-370 is the next logical step for my system. The timbre just doesn't match as I'd like. After a good bit of deliberation, I think I'm going to build a new TV-stand, with a height-adjustable center-channel shelf. Then, a pair of Axiom M2's or M3's may find their way to this location, run in parallel off the single center channel of the Rotel. With dual center speakers, I can experiment with the positioning: one above, one below; both below vertical, toed in/out; both below horizontal (tweeters together/apart), etc. I'm sure I will find an arrangement that I like. Selling the CC-370 should provide the majority of funds needed for this upgrade.

After the center channel is straightened out, then I want to add a subwoofer. Currently, the Outlaw LFM-2 looks appealing. I like Outlaw's corporate "attitude", and the LFM-2 should provide better LFE for home theater use, but not so over-powering that our next-door neighbor is bothered. And the LFM-2's price is very attractive. An SVS PB10-NSD will also be considered, but the smaller size of the LFM-2 might integrate with our living room in a cleaner fashion.

Conclusion
The M50's were a huge improvement over my Titans. They are more distinct/clear on dialog, have fantastically tight bass, and provide more SPL than I "can get away with" in our home. I have always had the impression that the M50's are the lost child in the Axiom lineup. Pretty much all the talk focuses on the M22, M60, or M80 speakers. From my perspective this means that many folk are by-passing a fine, extremely affordable floor-standing speaker. From the beginning I did not feel that I "had to have" M60's or M80's to own a good-sounding speaker, and my experience has shown that the M50's are not only enjoyable in their own right, but they fit both my music AND HT needs almost perfectly. If budget were not a factor I very well may have selected M60's - who knows? But budget was a factor, however I do not feel that I'm losing anything with the M50's.

Comparing the Axiom M50's to Paradigms - I definitely prefer the Axiom sound to the Paradigm Monitor line. I'd rank the Axiom's extremely competitive to the Paradigm Studio's, cost not considered. Without doing a true A/B test I can't say that one is distinctly "better" than the other - they're both fine loudspeakers. Though, if cost is considered - the Axioms have to be considered an absolute steal. For anyone trying to stretch a "bookshelf budget" to buy a nice set of floorstanders, the M50's should not be ignored!

I guess the ultimate compliment that I can pay the M50's is that our whole family is listening to music much more frequently than we ever did with the Titans. We've even had family CD-night, were we kept swapping CD's just to hear certain songs. This is a lot of fun, and that's the whole idea behind this audio obsession of ours, now isn't it?

I'm a VERY satisfied M50 owner.
_________________________
- JasonEuc M50's, CC370, M3's, Rotel RSX-965, Integra DPC 7.5, Harmony 688

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#143585 - 07/15/06 01:51 PM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: JasonEuc]
HomeDad Offline
connoisseur

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 3301
Loc: Central,California
Jason, thanks for sharing, a great review about one of Axioms products that doesn't get as much press.
_________________________
A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.

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#143586 - 07/15/06 01:51 PM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: JasonEuc]
Ken.C Offline
shareholder in the making

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 17781
Loc: NoVA
Welcome! Thanks for such a great review, and welcome to the rather exclusive M50 club. Or posse. Or whatever our esteemed leader, F107plus5, is calling it this week. He'll be along shortly.

Glad to hear that you're enjoying the 50s. I think I agree with you on the volume thing (not that I've turned up the 50s in the last few months for various reasons...)

As far as the center channel thing, if you're going to use M2s or M3s, make sure you put them far enough from the TV so they don't interfere. The VP series has much better shielding than the bookshelves, and the VP100 matches just fine with the 50s.
_________________________
I am the Doctor, and THIS... is my SPOON!

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#143587 - 07/15/06 04:40 PM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: JasonEuc]
bugbitten Offline
connoisseur

Registered: 04/06/05
Posts: 2339
Loc: Madisonville, KY
What a great review!

Thanks for taking the time to put all that down for us to enjoy.

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#143588 - 07/15/06 07:41 PM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: JasonEuc]
Ajax Offline
axiomite

Registered: 12/30/03
Posts: 6251
Loc: Cleveland, Ohio
Terrific job, Jason. And, though I've never heard them, I'd have to agree that the M50s are the overlooked, and underrated, gem in the Axiom ring.

Most importantly, I'm delighted that you are pleased with your purchase. Enjoy!
_________________________
Jack

"People generally quarrel because they cannot argue." - G. K. Chesterton

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#143589 - 07/15/06 09:45 PM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: JasonEuc]
JohnK Offline
shareholder in the making

Registered: 05/11/02
Posts: 10395
Interesting reading, Jason. Yeah, Rotel apparently wants to keep the crossover frequency a secret(a direct contact might pry the information out of them), but those older HT receivers with a fixed crossover often used 100Hz, so that would be my guess.

With the difference that you've noted with the CC-370, it might be worthwhile to turn it off and at least as an experiment try using the M50s to form a "phantom" center to see if the overall effect was better.
_________________________
-----------------------------------

Enjoy the music, not the equipment.



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#143590 - 07/15/06 09:51 PM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: JasonEuc]
F107plus5 Offline
connoisseur

Registered: 01/24/05
Posts: 2034
Loc: Fla. Orig. Mich.
Wow! Great write up on the M50! Couldn't have said it better myself! (Wish I could get even close!)

Yeah.....I guess the "Posse" had pretty well been disbanded when we went from an "Us vs Them" mentality in the exciting days when Axiom had two distinct camps consisting of M3, M40, and M50 on one side, and M22, M60 and M80 on the other. We, um, sorta lost the range war when "we" lost the M40, and "they" gained the M2, when it got a new tweeter.

But enough of the history lesson, and: Welcome to our very exclusive watchamacallit! We'll be watching very closely to see how your system progresses!!
Rich.

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#143591 - 07/17/06 11:40 AM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: JasonEuc]
chesseroo Offline
connoisseur

Registered: 05/13/02
Posts: 4829
Loc: western canada
Nice review.

Quote:

After reading all the internet scuttlebut about Axioms being "bright" or (even worse) "harsh", I was a bit concerned since I've never really preferred that sound quality. With the M50's I just can't agree with this description of their sonic character. I would describe them as "clear", or "revealing", but would not even tend towards "crisp", much less "harsh".



This isn't surprising. I cannot immediately recall having heard anyone say the M40/50/3 line were bright or harsh. This is more common when reading/hearing about the M22/60/80 lineup (different tweeter) and debated by just as many.

Quote:

The M50's sound fine at the lower levels, but the delineation between instruments is just not as pronounced as what I've heard on Vandy's



You should hear the M22/60/80 series.
The increased clarity between those and the M40s i demoed was astounding.

Quote:

After a good bit of deliberation, I think I'm going to build a new TV-stand, with a height-adjustable center-channel shelf. Then, a pair of Axiom M2's or M3's may find their way to this location, run in parallel off the single center channel of the Rotel. With dual center speakers,



Depending on the size of your room, separation between the M50s, only a single M3 would be required. In choosing the M3 over the M2 in this situation you will have the better timbre matching as the M3 shares the same tweeter as the M50. Personally i would still venture the VP150. Its off-axis dispersion is incredibly wide.
_________________________
"Those who preach the myths of audio are ignorant of truth."

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#143592 - 07/17/06 12:03 PM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: chesseroo]
Ken.C Offline
shareholder in the making

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 17781
Loc: NoVA
Ah, but they're the same tweeter now. When did you hear the M40s?
_________________________
I am the Doctor, and THIS... is my SPOON!

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#143593 - 07/17/06 03:24 PM Re: M50 - User Review - (long) [Re: chesseroo]
alan Offline
connoisseur

Registered: 01/29/02
Posts: 3188
Loc: Toronto/New York/Dwight
Chesseroo:

"This isn't surprising. I cannot immediately recall having heard anyone say the M40/50/3 line were bright or harsh. This is more common when reading/hearing about the M22/60/80 lineup (different tweeter) and debated by just as many."

Actually, all the Axiom speakers use identical tweeters--the 1-inch titanium dome tweeter has been standard on the M3, M22, M50, M60, M80, and M2 for years.

It is the larger 6.5-inch woofer/midrange unit that the M3 and M50 share, and which account for their similar tonal balance, whereas the M2 and M22 use identical 5.25-inch woofer/midrange drivers. The smaller 5.25-inch woofer-midrange is more linear off-axis than the larger 6.5-inch driver of the M3 and M50, so the on- and off-axis output of the M2's and M22's 5.25-inch driver combine in typical rooms to produce a little more detail than the M3/M50.

Many enthusiasts confuse or attribute a speaker's tonal character to the particular tweeter when in fact it is the upper response of the woofer (if it's a 2-way system) or woofer/midrange driver that accounts for much of the apparent midrange tonal balance of a particular speaker.
_________________________
Alan Lofft,
Axiom Resident Expert

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