At Axiom, We Have One Passion

Scientifically proven superior performance. For over 30 years Axiom has been a research leader in establishing the science behind sound so you get the absolute best performance possible.The Axiom Research Laboratory, located in Dwight, Muskoka, Canada is one of the finest acoustic research facilities in the world and in many aspects replicates the acoustical laboratory at the NRC (National Research Council) in Ottawa, Canada where Axiom’s founder Ian Colquhoun spent many years. Following the original research conducted in the laboratory, all Axiom product designs are tested using the most rigorous real world double-blind listening tests which establish the connection between technical measurements and real listeners’ impressions of the products.

Axiom’s world class research facilities are equipped with the state of the art psychoacoustical testing equipment, including a power test room, an environment test chamber, a fully equipped electronics laboratory, and of course a full sized certified anechoic chamber—literally, a room with no echoes (pictured above). But it’s no ordinary room—lining all six walls of the chamber are large fiberglass wedges that absorb all reflections from the loudspeaker. These wedges are mounted to layered walls and the entire chamber sits on hundreds of springs. Pictured inside the chamber is an Axiom M22 bookshelf speaker, supported on a pedestal that can rotate to either side as well the microphone can move up and down. All these movements can be controlled automatically from the control room. This is where the initial design and frequency response of the M22 (which has received glowing reviews from a variety of critics and reviewers), was refined, measured, and fine-tuned by its designer, Axiom founder Ian Colquhoun.

Axiom's M22 Bookshelf Speakers in an Anechoic Chamber
An Anechoic Chamber. See pictures of the building of the chamber at Axiom.

How We Hear Sound

When we hear a speaker in a normal room, the sound that reaches our ears is made up of a multiplicity of direct and reflected sounds. Sounds travel at about 1 foot per millisecond, so when the speaker is reproducing music, some of the sound from the tweeters and woofers travels directly to our ears but a large proportion is also reflected from side walls, the floor, the ceiling and objects in the room. Those reflected sounds reach our ears a fraction of a second--a matter of milliseconds--after the direct sounds, and they’ll be different in every room, because of varying dimensions and distances and dissimilar furnishings. So the goal of putting a speaker in a chamber with no echoes is to find out exactly how much energy a speaker radiates when it’s unaffected by such reflections. (You could achieve the same result if you position the speaker on top of a tall pole in a quiet country field and measured it that way, far from traffic or urban sounds. Indeed, Axiom has such a tower at its facility which is used for subwoofer measuring to achieve an anechoic or 4 pi environment down to 12 Hz.) When measuring a speaker’s output in an anechoic chamber the designer is able to verify with precise accuracy the output not only directly in front of the speaker but also at increasing angles to each side and above and below. This is what we call the “family of curves” and it is this entire family of curves that the designer must consider and manipulate to deliver to the listener accurate reproduction in a normal room.

Double-Blind Listening Tests

The double-blind listening test as we conduct it today was originally perfected at the NRC. The program was guided by Dr. Floyd Toole, a Canadian physicist and psycho-acoustician who received his PhD in England in stereo localization, and continued his experiments at the National Research Council beginning in the 1970s. In his search for an accurate speaker with which to conduct his experiments, he discovered wild inconsistencies in speaker design and measurement, and an absence of controlled scientific research. Since he was already an audiophile, Toole invited several young Canadian speaker designers, including Axiom's Ian Colquhoun, to work with him in evolving new speaker measurements and listening tests.

Toole gathered the results of these tests of frequency-response measurements and controlled listening tests by listeners with normal hearing and wrote scientific papers that were published in Audio Engineering Society (AES) Journals. The papers, "Listening Tests: Turning Opinion into Fact" and "Loudspeaker Measurements and Their Relationship to Listener Preferences," were unprecedented and Toole was later elected President of the Audio Engineering Society worldwide. The results of Toole’s research on speaker measurement and listening tests were startling and garnered lots of attention. The NRC program also had the willing participation of Canadian hi-fi magazines, editors and reviewers, beginning with AudioScene Canada and later, Sound & Vision Canada and currently SoundStage. Our own Alan Lofft was in his earlier days the editor of Sound & Vision (Canada) magazine and was a proud member of the core listening panel for many years along with Floyd Toole, Ian G. Masters, and many others.

Debbie Swinton
Debbie Swinton monitors different speaker measurement positions.

Startling Results
Of course, sonic benefits accrued not just to Axiom’s speakers but to other prominent Canadian speaker builders as well. The findings of Toole’s program were in one sense startling and at the same time remarkably useful: When the brand name, size, type and price of speakers were concealed from listeners, persons with normal hearing agreed on which speakers sounded pleasing and accurate—"musical" if you will—and which ones were inaccurate and downright unpleasant. In the course of these tests, the notion of "golden-eared" listeners was largely dismissed. As long as listeners had a few hours of training on what to listen for ("fat" emphasized bass, strident harsh treble, muffled midrange, narrow "boxy" colorations and the like), they ranked good speakers "good" and bad speakers "bad". And what was even more intriguing: If a speaker’s family of curves followed certain standards, and especially over the midrange, the speaker would score highly in blind listening tests. While this is an oversimplification of decades of research at the NRC and by individual designers at Axiom and at other firms, it has proven to be extraordinarily predictive. Although no two speakers designed according to the NRC mantra ever sound exactly alike, there is nevertheless a remarkable congruence in what might be called "the Canadian sound," and that is one of openness, transparency, "linearity" (smoothness), and fidelity.

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