|#415984 - 12/19/15 10:02 AM Blind Test and a review of the LFR-1100's|
My review of the Axiom LFR-1100's after 60 day's worth of ownership:
The Prelude: Legacy Signature SE's and Axiom M-100's
We are beginning this review at about the time the conclusion of the review/comparison between the Legacy Signature SE's ($7000-$9000 / pair depending on finish) and the Axiom M100's ($2660-$3430 / pair depending on finish) was being written.
Both speakers have been impressive with a Marantz SR-7800 receiver driving them. The Legacy's reminding one of the B&W Diamond 802's: very detailed with a somewhat forward midrange and treble in comparison to the bass. A true Audiophile's speaker with the chops to hang with the $15,000-$25,000 per pair pedigree speakers one will find at a high end audio shop.
The review process on the Legacy's will be continued in the near future with a much more powerful amp. It's not that the Legacy's need the more powerful amp for SPL, but rather a high current amp to drive the twin sealed 10 inch built in subwoofers.
The M100's offer a sound that, while warmer than are the Legacy's, is very musical and accurate, with excellent bass to 30 Hz. The M100's are easily driven by the Marantz, although they also would benefit from a more powerful amplifier.
A conclusion is being drawn that these are an amazing value loudspeaker. They actually have a larger soundstage than do the Legacy's, and while not as "forward" as are the Legacy's, they are not lacking in detail. Both speakers will have an appeal to different types of listeners, and the "less than half the price" aspect of the M-100's has a BIG impact on the feel one gets for these speakers.
Early on in testing between the Legacy Signature SE's and the Axiom M-100's, I had no ability to do quick, level matched, blind testing. The first month was somewhat similar a listening test that one finds in any of the major magazines: Listening to each speaker knowing which speaker was being tested.
At approximately the one month point, I was more impressed with the Legacy's than the Axioms. Both are excellent speakers, and having both here is just too much fun. THEN things got serious: I purchased a pre amp level line switcher that allows me to listen to two pairs of speakers, completely blind, with level matched SPL levels and instant switching between them.
After 3 months of auditioning both pairs of speakers under blind conditions, to my surprise, the M100's have become my personal favorite speaker for music enjoyment. The caveat on my preference is that others will prefer the presentation as given by the Legacy speakers. Several friends have participated in some blind A/B testing between the two speakers, and both sets of speakers were picked as being the "better" of the two, depending on the listener.
To be precise, there were six others, besides yours truly participating in blind listening. Three picked the Axioms, two the Legacy's and one could not pick a favorite.
If you count my results, the results were 4 picking the M-100's, 2 the Legacy's and one could not pick a favorite.
The caveat on this is the realization that few people are going to purchase a pair of Legacy Signature SE's only to drive them with a Marantz receiver. I do plan on spending time over the long winter (as I write this, we are nearing winter 2015-2016) with both the Signature SE's and M-100's being run full range with an Outlaw 975 pre-amp, an Axiom 1500-4 power amp, and no subwoofer. Call it a rematch with a more capable amp.
A second visit to Axiom for more blind tests:
Enter Ian Colquhoun, the founder and president of Axiom. After reading the material comparing the Legacy's, M-100's (and Martin Logan ESL's, as well), he invites me to a second visit to the Axiom factory for golf, cocktails and some blind listening. At 55 years young, those are three items I just cannot resist. We set a date in late July, 2015, and I make time to drive north to Dwight, Ontario.
The directions from Ian are to meet him at a Marina on the Lake of Bays in Ontario. Ian is going to pick me up in his boat, and we are heading to golf at Bigwin Island. I arrive at the Marina, and it turns out that the only way to the golf course is by boat from this Marina, which is owned by the golf course. It's ten o'clock on this late July morning, it's already 82 degrees, and no one there has heard of Ian Colquhoun. A moment of panic is setting in, but it's short lived: After 15 minutes a boat is approaching the dock at what looks like a 70 MH speed. There's this big, red headed man looking somewhat like an early Bond Villain with a grin on his face piloting.
It's Ian, and his good friend Al, in the boat. It turns out the boat (and the membership to the golf course, which is why they did not know who Ian was) belongs to Al, but Ian always drives. "Slow" is not an option for Ian, including docking. We grab my golf gear, toss it in the boat and head to golf on the island. Should anyone reading this ever want a special treat, golf at Bigwin Island. It has a feel of being on a Caribbean Island while one is actually 150 miles north of Toronto. The course is challenging, with many blind shots, and the views are spectacular.
Our foursome spends the next 4 hours trying to kill every tree on the island, and when we leave I am left with the hope to play there again. It is after golf that the review process for the LFR-1100 begins. Al takes off to his place, agreeing to meet us later for cigars and the cocktails. Ian drives us to the factory in his British Racing Green MG, once again FAST (turns out, if one is far enough north, speed limits signs are actually suggestions, not limits), we arrive at the factory, and Ian shows me to the listening room. "Craig, I have some paperwork to tend to - do some listening and put your notes here".
He hands me a comparison sheet, and I spend an hour switching between level matched speakers. He gives no clue which speakers are in the room. They are hidden behind a screen made of speaker cloth. All electronics are Bryston, and the room is well built and silent.
Axiom has a pre-amp level switcher, which allows for uncompromised switching between the speakers. I finish the hour, write up the notes, and hand them to Ian. He laughs, and tells me to wait. He's gone for 5 minutes, then informs me I need to do the test again, with another dual pair of speakers, and hands me a blank worksheet.
After the listening is done, I turn in the sheets to Ian with all the notes. It turns out that it was the same two speakers, and the listening was done AB AB ... then BA BA in terms of speaker positioning. I picked the same pair of speakers as being "better" both times, and also got the same results as did Andrew, who is Ian's lead engineer. Being "unafraid" to take a blind test is essential to the Axiom experience (which is patterned after the teachings of Dr. Floyd E. Toole).
It is after these results are turned in that Ian asks if I will be interested in purchasing a pair of LFR-1100's for testing. As I have never liked "bi-polar" speakers, and as the M100's have already become one of my favorite speakers, my first inclination is "no". Ian is so confident that I will love the LFR-1100's that he reminds me that not only will I get an in home trial (which he extends to 60 days), he will pay the return freight if I am willing to order a pair.
After thinking on it for a couple of weeks, and looking at several different options available, I order a pair in Oak finish along with the ADA-1000-5 amplifier to drive them plus have an extra channel for a VP-180 center channel. As a side note, the LFR-1100's can be purchased with 4 channels of an ADA-1000 amp built into the DSP box for $5330 delivered to one's door, which makes the LFR-1100's a self powered speaker package complete with DSP for this $5330 delivered price.
ENOUGH of the intro - how does it sound?
The LFR-1100's, DSP and amp arrive safely, and are easy to set up. The complete system is an OPPO BDP-103 Universal player, an Outlaw Audio 975 pre-amp and the Axiom ADA-1000-5 amplifier. The DSP comes standard with the speakers, and the LFR-1100's require a 4 channel amplifier: One for the front of the speakers (consisting of three 6.5 inch long throw woofers, two 5.25 inch mid ranges and two one inch dome tweeters) and one for the rear (consisting of the dual 5.25 inch mid range and dual one inch dome tweeters).
Set up may sound complicated, but it is pretty straight forward: take the Left and Right output on the pre-amp into the Left and right input on the DSP, then Left front to one channel on the amp, Left rear to a second channel, Right front to the third channel, Right rear to the forth. Finish by running speaker wire from the appropriate amp channel to proper input on the speaker. After setting the speakers up, I left for a two day trip and let them burn in with pink noise.
Listening Tests - FINALLY:
The Cowboy Junkies: The Trinity Session
The Trinity Session is a remarkable album of songs that require a speaker to excel in micro dynamics as well as a wide range of instruments from Female vocals, Harmonica, Mandolin, Fiddle, Acoustic Guitar, Steel Guitar ... and yes ... even the Accordion. It was recorded at the Holy Trinity church in Toronto, and is a single microphone with the band playing/singing in a semi circle around this one microphone. A great speaker will give the feeling of being in the church, with ample ambient detail.
The performance starts with Margo Timmins singing "Mining For Gold" acapella. There is no intro, just her voice. With some speakers, one can also hear the underpinnings of the bass present in the church. With the LFR-1100's, she is in the room, and this bass under pinning is palpable. I am a real cynic about descriptions such as "Giving Goosebumps", but this song, leading into "Misguided Angel", does just that. The songs are presented almost as if Mining for Gold is the intro into Misguided Angel, and the combo is a very compelling, make one lean forward into the performance, treat.
The LFR-1100's present Timmins's voice as "out front and to the left" on Mining, then the harmonica lead in from Mining to Misguided, when played on these speakers, comes from a deep background. This intro of instrument is about 20 seconds long, then Timmins starts singing again, and one can hear she has stepped back from the microphone. Timmins sings with deep emotion, and one finds one's self feeling her angst as she tells her family why the man about whom she sings is "her one".
The rest of the disc brings other instruments into the performance - one aspect that really stands out is the detail: When the drummer is brushing the cymbals, it sounds like a brush on cymbals, not a speaker reproducing it. The occasions that Michael Timmins joins Margo in singing always places him to her right, and the image is rock solid.
Roger Waters: In The Flesh
For 14 years, this SACD has been a staple when testing loudspeakers. It has everything: soft, sound effect conversations underpinning music ... extremely powerful guitar solos ... soaring female vocals (Katie) ... synthesized deep bass ... etc ....
The Disc starts with Four songs from "The Wall", and for the first time, as the helicopter is coming in, one can easily hear what the guy is yelling in the background ... "Stand Still Laddie!!"
It's a powerful performance for well over 2 hours, and it needs a speaker that can handle the dynamics. I have heard this disc 100's of times on speakers like Infinity IRS Sigma's, Klipschorns, Energy Veritas, Paradigm Studio 100, Legacy Signature SE ... and the LFR-1100 is the one speaker that brings out all the emotions in this concert. Katie's solo on "Mother" is legendary, and the LFR's bring her into the room with power and finesse.
The realism of the soundstage is a tribute to the omni directional design. Suggested reading is Dr. Floyd E. Toole's Sound Power Curve measurements, and how they translate into loudspeaker performance. Axiom has taken great care with the interface between speaker and the DSP to get as pure a sound power curve as possible (and posted the curve as measured in an anechoic chamber on the Axiom site). For those not inclined to read 40 pages of what is basically a white paper, one must audition the LFR's with a disc like In The Flesh to get a feel for just how good a job a speaker can do in recreating a live performance.
After my most recent session with In The Flesh, I fired up "The Wall", which is a studio album. By contrast to the live disc, "The Wall" suddenly was very dry and two dimensional. This was unexpected, as this has not been noticed to this degree on other speakers, even the IRS Sigmas, in past listening sessions.
Steely Dan: Aja and 2 Against Nature:
These two CD's have been standards for testing a speaker's ability to deliver dynamics, male vocals, and complex instruments for years, or in the case of AJA, decades. The LFR-1100's were easily up to the task. They hit deep enough in bass to feel the difference in the bass track of 2 Against Nature with the various songs.
The disc opens with "Gaslighting Abbie" followed by "What a Shame About Me", and the synthesized kick drum on "Shame" is palpable/deep. Vocals are presented as two different voices occupying different locations of the soundstage that are clear and distinct, where lesser speakers somewhat lump them together.
On Aja, "Black Cow" jumps into the room with an immediacy that rivals Klipschorns while adding a width and depth the Klipschorns lack. Both these discs will sound good on even "decent" speakers, but the better the speaker, the more one wants to hear these two discs because it sounds SO good.
I visited a high end audio shop, and listened to a pair of Magico Q3's that were on sale for "$40,000, give or take". The music was both 2 Against Nature and Aja. While this was not "back to back", the results were remarkable.
The Magicos were driven by $25,000 worth of McIntosh Tube amps, pre amp and CD player and they still did not deliver any more detail than I was used to at home. I offered to bring the LFR-1100's in for a blind test, and the manager declined the offer. Hey, it was worth a try. I even told him that if the Magico's dusted the LFR's, I would buy them. It was a serious offer. He wasn't interested in any part of this.
Uriah Heep Live: 1973
The Uriah Heep disc is unusual for testing speakers, but for over 35 years, I have enjoyed it. It's such a well recorded live event with both massive dynamics and subtle clues that it is an essential listen for me. The two stars of the show are the vocals and drum. David Byron has a distinctive voice, and he is moving about the stage during the entire performance, and the LFR-1100's move with him.
When Rolling Stone reviewed this concert in 1973, they referred to Uriah Heep as having mixed "Heavy Metal Sound with Beach Boy's Harmonizing Voices", and it takes a special speaker to not only deliver Byron, but his band mates crooning in the background. "July Morning" and "Circle of Hands" are long ballads, with the band providing background vocals, and the LFR's place each singer on his area of the stage so well that one feels like firing up a lighter.
Hard driving songs like "Tears in My Eyes" and "Gypsy" allow for some fascinating dynamics. Uriah Heep was known for using Guitar Amps with tubes that delivered that unique 70's "Tube Distortion Sound", and the LFR's bring all of that raw power, distortion and all, into the room. Both are anthem songs, totaling about 25 minutes, and listener fatigue usually sets in, but not with the LFR-1100's. I have listened to this disc at least a dozen times with the LFR's, and never tire of any track.
I could go on in great detail about dozens of other CD's and movie soundtracks, but as we are already at 2500 words, let's list the other material used and summarize the first 45 days with the Axiom LFR-1100's.
Supertramp: "Crime of the Century" and "Brother, Where You Bound", Tony Bennett Live SACD, Randy Brecker's "Some Skunk Funk, Michael Stanley "Live in Tangiers" (some of the best male vocals one can find), Mozart Classic DTS, Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" (Hotel California on the LFR-1100's is a new experience), The Avengers 2012 movie (who needs 5.1 when 2.1 is SO good), Shaun of the Dead and a host of other movies were auditioned, and all reinforced the feeling that the LFR-1100's are something special.
Let's Try To Summarize
The summary of the LFR-1100's is the toughest part of this review. Nothing about the LFR-1100's will jump out at you. They don't have "crystal clear treble unlike anything I have heard". They don't have infrasonic bass (although the bass is solid to the upper 20's). They are not "liquid". What they do is bring the performance into the room.
They need space to operate: The review pair here are in a dedicated listening room, with exactly 34 inches from the sidewalls and 39 inches from the back walls.
They need the DSP (included in the base price) - which will allow a switch for a position nearer the back wall, but this is a compromise. You will lose some of the magic with near wall placement.
They need a high current, 4 channel amp to really shine, and for true, state of the art performance, adding a subwoofer will be needed. My personal reference system is now the LFR-1100's, a pair of EP-800 subwoofers and the ADA-1500-4 amp (the original ADA-1000-5 is so good I am putting it into another theater area to augment performance and ordered in the 1500 to complete the basement system).
The Axiom amp is an excellent choice with the LFR's, but amps from Emotiva, Outlaw, NAD and even some pro amps will work just fine. At the higher end, amps from Bryston, McIntosh, Krell and other high end sources will possibly bring the performance even higher: this will possibly be a future test.
The LFR-1100's will appeal to a listener who wants to be in the performance. For the $5000ish price of entry including the ADA-1000 amp/DSP combo, one could purchase speakers such as the B&W CM-10, PSB Imagine T-2 Towers, Paradigm Prestige 85 or Monitor Audio Gold Series 200's along with a good two channel amp and get excellent sound plus speakers that even some non audiophiles will recognized.
Most people have not heard of Axiom, so you won't get that "I just got a Lexus/BMW/Mercedes" approval. What you will get with the LFR-1100's versus the speakers mentioned above (and yes, I have auditioned all of them) is a deeper soundstage, a more transparent midrange with no harshness, and extended treble with no shrillness. We have all read reviews about how a speaker "sounds as good as speakers at 5 times the price", but they never mention the speakers.
I have listened extensively to B&W 802D's and Magico Q-3's at $15,000 and $36,000 respectively, and for sound quality, I decided to keep the LFR-1100's. With the usual caution that "your mileage may vary", The LFR-1100's represent perhaps the best value in high end speakers that I have heard. They make me want to spend time every night listening to music, and I cannot think of a better reason to own a pair of speakers than that.
Edited by craigsub (12/19/15 10:29 AM)
LFR1100 actv, LFR1100, M100, M50, VP180HP, VP150, 3xEP800, M3, EP350, ADA1000-5, ADA1500-4 + 1500-6