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#216791 - 07/29/08 10:35 PM New system M2 vs. M22 front review
DonP Offline
regular

Registered: 06/22/08
Posts: 6
Loc: IL
Hello Axiomites!

I am in the midst of auditioning my new speakers and thought I'd share the results so far. Hopefully my notes will be of use to others researching new speakers in the future. To provide a basis for my perspectives, I'll focus this post on some background of my current room and system and listening habits. The next post will be an executive summary for those that want "just the facts". I'll follow up with the glorious (or excruciating) details beyond that.

The Room:
Our living/dining room is a little goofy in that the partial wall that makes the "L" isn't wide enough. So, for speakers to flank the TV, one of them (stage right) has no wall behind it. However, the TV is a 57" RP-HDTV so placing the speakers flush with the screen means the left speaker is about 2' from the wall so it is also essentially in open space.

The competition (my old system):
Front L/R: Cambridge Soundworks (CSW) Ensemble II sub/sat system.
Center: CSW "Center Channel Plus"
Surrounds: CSW "The Surround II"
Subwoofer: HSU VTF 2 Mk2
Receiver: Yamaha RX-V495

The Ensemble is an *exceptional* system. I paid about $250 or $300 back in 1993; I have buyers guide from 2004 that lists it at $400. Each sat has a tweeter and mid-range driver and the sub consists of 2 ported 6.5" woofers. The imaging of this system is exceptional. Regardless of where you stand in between the sats, vocals come from a tight spot at the center of the sound stage. Very often it sounds almost as if the satellites have turned off and the center channel is the only location of sound; the imaging is that tight/precise, the speakers that transparent.

The center channel is thin, both in size and in sound. It has 4 1.25" drivers that match the sats, and a smaller 1" tweeter. I've never been super impressed with it, but it isn't horrible.

The surrounds can be switched between dipolar and bipolar modes. I always run them in dipolar mode. They work well, but again are not the poster children that the ensemble was. They never really disappeared like the fronts do.

Listening habits are probably about 60% TV, 30% music, and 10% movies. I could count the number of DVDs we've rented and movies we've DVR'd in the last year on a single hand. Furthermore, with a 2-yr. old any movie watching that IS done occurs after the little guy is in bed. So, we never crank it up. Most of our listening is at the "conversation" level at 60-65 dB. Movie night will get to 70 dB or so.

Even though my CSWs fill our room nicely, I've had the feeling that something was missing. Also, I anticipate moving and having a "dedicated" HT room where larger speakers would be welcome. \:\) Thus my journey began...
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Physicist for hire. Will nuke for food...or is that will nuke food?

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#216792 - 07/29/08 10:38 PM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: DonP]
DonP Offline
regular

Registered: 06/22/08
Posts: 6
Loc: IL
Here is the abbreviated version of my review of a new set of M22s and M2s versus my existing Cambridge Soundworks classic Ensemble II system for those of you that only have a couple minutes. Glorious (or is that excruciating?) details will follow in subsequent posts.

What I ordered:
1 pair each of M22 & M2
1 VP100
1 pair QS4

The M2s are going back, everything else has a new home. \:\)

The M2s are a decent entry-level speaker, but they need to be played loud to really open up. At background levels around 60 dB like 80% of my listening is done, they didn't perform well. The mids lost clarity and the highs became extremely recessed---almost disappearing. From 65 dB up, they were very clear and clean. They truly excelled in "sharing mode" above 85 dB, though I can't stand that level of sound for more than a minute or so. Also, in my living room, the sweet spot for center imaging was just that. A single spot. One step to either side and the center image was lost.

The M22s were the champion. They create an amazing, open "wall of sound" stage that extends far beyond the speakers. When placed 8' apart, sitting 9' away, the sound stage is easily 12' wide at soft levels and wider at louder levels. You are AT the concert. They are slightly recessed---the stage is a few feet behind the speakers rather than in the plane, but that's OK---it adds a bit of depth to the overall wall of sound.

The dynamics out of the center channel are a treat. The QS4s are just astounding. You are immersed in the experience. It's amazing what the addition of a good midrange speaker does to the center channel. (My old CC had only tweeters that matched my existing satellites.) I have only watched the Lion King and parts of Ratatouille, but have had a permagrin(TM) through the entire experience. To those that worry about "lobing" of the VP100 I say BULLOCKS! There is not a dead spot in our room.

Finally, the Axiom folks (Thanks Brent!) have been a true treat to work with.
_________________________
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Physicist for hire. Will nuke for food...or is that will nuke food?

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#216793 - 07/29/08 10:43 PM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: DonP]
DonP Offline
regular

Registered: 06/22/08
Posts: 6
Loc: IL
HERE ARE THE DETAILS OF MY M2 IMPRESSIONS:

This is a mixed review. At very loud levels (>85 dB) the M2's clearly won the day, as they held their sonic integrity with ease, regardless of the type of music. The CSWs start to get sibilant with flutes, trumpets, and tin whistles above 85 dB.

However, in what most folks would call normal listening levels (65-70 db) the ensembles and the M2s were virtually indistinguishable. Doing A/B testing, my wife could only tell whether I actually switched speakers about 1/2 the time, and the other times, she could tell that _something_ was different, but it wasn't clear that one was better than the other. I, too, in blind A/B testing could never settle on a consistent preference---so long as I was in the "sweet spot" between the speakers. The M2s never created the precise imaging that the CSWs did. The center stage was "smeared out" over the central area, rather than focused. Only if you were EXACTLY in the sweet spot mid-way between the speakers did the illusion of a single center speaker occur. One step to one side or the other and it the imaging ended and it sounded like two speakers again. That was how I could tell the speakers apart.

Finally, in the "how will these speakers actually be used?" test (where the volume was kept at the background 60 dB range) the speakers reversed their roles. The CSWs maintained their sonic integrity while the M2's, I hate to say, just shriveled up and disappeared. They just closed right up. It was almost like the they threw a tantrum and said "If I can't play LOUD, I won't play at all. Phbbbbbt." The details in the highs were gone. The lows lost their clarity. I tried lots of arrangements---further or closer apart, higher or lower, toed in or out. At low levels the M2's just couldn't really produce a sound as clean as that of the CSWs. Examples of things missing from the M2s that were present in the ensembles *at the same dB level* were performers breathing, frets squeaking, string attacks as they were plucked or bowed, and saxophone pads slapping against the horns in quiet passages. Even knowing those details were in the recordings, I had to _struggle_ to hear them with the M2s. If one didn't know the CD, I doubt those details would be noticed at my normal listening volumes. When cranked up above "don't wake the children" levels, the details were there, so the speakers can produce them. It just seems that they won't do it quietly.

Despite this rather negative sounding review, I don't want to give the impression that these were bad speakers. On the contrary, I think they are VERY good for $200. After all, I was comparing them to a system that was more expensive 10 years ago, and they were very close. I think these would be a great starter set of speakers; they just weren't a $200 upgrade from my present setup. Further, if you like loud music or home theater, they would be great, as that seemed to be their forte. They played better the louder/harder they were pushed.
_________________________
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Physicist for hire. Will nuke for food...or is that will nuke food?

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#216794 - 07/29/08 10:51 PM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: DonP]
DonP Offline
regular

Registered: 06/22/08
Posts: 6
Loc: IL
HERE ARE THE DETAILS OF MY M22 IMPRESSIONS:
Still here? Now for the M22s. These were entirely different beasts. I was really surprised at their performance. Ahead of time I figured the main advantage/difference would be that they would simply play louder than the M2s and provide a bit more mid-range. They do so much, MUCH more...

I played with the M22s a little bit during my testing of the M2s. I could tell they presented a bigger sound in some instances, but overall they were sonically similar. Initially I had some of the same problems with the M22s imaging that I did with the M2s but unlike the M2s, after some experimentation in placement the M22 imaging *did* improve. They still do not image as precise as my old CSWs, but the single-point sweet spot of the M2s became a sweet area about 4 ft. wide on my couch with the M22s. The center image is also a bit broader and less forward. I liken it to the following: instead of Diana Krall herself standing in between my CSW speakers, she and her twin are standing shoulder-to-shoulder about 5-10 feet behind them.

As with the M2's, at "sharing" levels (>85 dB) they don't distort at all. They maintained their smoothness and sonic integrity out to 100 dB (at least for the few seconds I could stand that level of loudness)! Simply...jaw...dropping...amazing.

In the "normal person range" of 65-70 dB, these were the smoothest of the three speaker systems. In searching for the adequate adjectives to describe them, _smooth_ (or is that smoooooth?) and _full_ are the best. I would almost say the M22s are warm-ish, but I hate that term in describing speakers. They simply present a full, rich sound from top to bottom rather than "coloring" the sound (as the term warm implies). The midrange that they provide give a complete body to the music that the sub-sat system misses and that the M2s simply couldn't. Orchestral music has a new life as the cellos and violas are more balanced with the violins and double-bass. Charles Dallenbach's tuba (from the Canadian Brass) is more full and balanced. Congas and bongos in latin music are now longer uneven.

In the background range, the tweeters of these didn't give up like the M2s. While the sound does close up a little bit with the M22s, it is not nearly as bad as the M2s. The subtle sounds like performers' breaths that the M2s lost at these quiet levels were maintained by the M22s. They outmatched the CSWs in mid-range production. Acoustic guitar and a-capella vocals maintain a richness and depth at low levels that the CSWs begin to lose.

I would like to elaborate on the adjective smooth, as it is more than a subjective term. This was one of the more astounding measurements I made. Two albums that really emphasized this were "Tras La Tormenta" by Ruben Blades & Willie Colon (latin salsa) and "Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet". With the M22s I could set the volume to read about 65 dB and it would set there, maybe oscillating between 63 & 65 when the horns played or didn't. With the CSW sub-sats, the dB level ranged from 60-67 dB! This was largely correlated with the bongo and conga rhythms or the bass guitar. I believe the tuning on the drums put one on each side of the crossover so that the low drum went primarily to the sub but the upper drum went to the sat. In any case, the same AVERAGE sound level was dramatically different in quality. Here the M22's not only sounded smoother, they could be measured to be so!

One by-product of the fuller midrange is that several albums have more "reverb" to them. It's really hard to describe; the first adjective that came to mind was boxy, but that's not correct or fair. They do NOT sound like boxes, it's more like the center stage provides sonic reinforcement like a real stage would.

One more comment on the M22 overall presentation. It again comes to the whole stage of presentation. In my 2nd paragraph I described the center imaging as being slightly broader than that of the CSWs. However, the WHOLE sound stage is wider! With the Ensemble system, you listen to very nice, well-defined music---that exists in the 8' between the satellite locations. With the M22s, you are faced with a sonic stage that is _dramatically_ wider than the speakers. This is one test that in blind A/B switching at ANY sound level, both my wife and I could easily distinguish. As she eloquently put it when switching to the old speakers, "That sounds like it's coming from a small (localized) box [of area]". As I like to put it, the M22s give me a wall of sound. Crank up some Rush, and it's like being on the concert floor in front of the amps!

My penultimate comment is on how well they match to the HSU VTF2-2. It is seamless! It's almost like the HSU and the Axioms were destined to be together. They make an under-$1000 2-channel system that can't be touched.

Finally, these speakers are absolutely dynamically astounding. I've only listened to a couple of DVDs to sample them, but the punch that they deliver to a soundtrack is simply amaaazzing. I'll discuss home theater in another thread. I believe that this is where the Axioms will absolutely blow away my present system. Overall, the M22s are an exceptional speaker at under $500 a pair. They outshine some of the $1000/pair speakers I listened to at the local shops. I'm looking forward to years of enjoyment before the next upgrade...

I thank you for your patience of reading through these thoughts if you made it this far. I have thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of weeks as I've rediscovered CDs in my collection that have sat on my shelf for years. It has been a lot of fun.
_________________________
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Physicist for hire. Will nuke for food...or is that will nuke food?

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#216795 - 07/29/08 11:10 PM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: DonP]
Ken.C Offline
shareholder in the making

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 18044
Loc: NoVA
Hi Don! Glad to hear you're enjoying the M22s.

I went from Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble 1s to M50s (and later to M80s), but I'm afraid my impressions of the CSWs weren't quite so good as yours. The M50s were an amazing leap over the CSWs (and the M80s were an amazing leap over the M80s).

I'm interested by your M2 review; they're the only speakers of the current Axiom lineup I haven't heard. I'm sorry to hear that they don't hold up as well at low volumes, but my towers seem to do quite well.

I too was amazed by the soundstage of the M22s when I first heard them. They're really outstanding speakers. Congrats!
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I am the Doctor, and THIS... is my SPOON!

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#216796 - 07/29/08 11:10 PM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: DonP]
JohnK Offline
shareholder in the making

Registered: 05/11/02
Posts: 10621
Don, welcome. Very thorough "summaries" indeed, but I wouldn't expect anything less from a physicist. Certainly no surprise at your judgment as to the excellence of the M22s, since I'm still thrilled with mine after more than six years. It is a bit curious to read how much of a difference you heard with the M2s, though, which differ mostly in the low bass below about 90Hz and in the ability to play at high levels. I assume that you checked that the M2s were connected in-phase and that all the drivers were in fact operating.
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#216798 - 07/29/08 11:29 PM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: DonP]
fredk Offline
axiomite

Registered: 12/06/07
Posts: 7786
Loc: Canada
Welcome to the forums Don. That is an excellent set of posts.

Your description of rich vs. warm is excellent. I have noticed the same about my M80s. They seem to capture the richness of the bass Viol and Chello so well!

Hope you stick around for a while.
_________________________
Fred

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Blujays1: Spending Fred's money one bottle at a time, no two... Oh crap!

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#216810 - 07/30/08 02:04 AM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: fredk]
jakewash Offline
shareholder in the making

Registered: 12/26/03
Posts: 10415
Loc: Calgary, Alberta
Welcome to the forum Don, what a most excellent first set of posts. I too am a M22 owner and I have loved them from the first note they played almost 5 years ago. I have recently upgraded to the M80s and I wouldn't trade them in for anything.
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Jason
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My HT

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#216817 - 07/30/08 08:00 AM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: jakewash]
DaveG Offline
aficionado

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 868
Loc: WI
Welcome Don, great reviews, Enjoy your new speakers.
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Dave

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#216831 - 07/30/08 10:11 AM Re: New system M2 vs. M22: Executive Summary [Re: DaveG]
Murph Offline
axiomite

Registered: 10/05/06
Posts: 6955
Loc: PEI, Canada
Welcome Don,
I bookmarked this one to finish reading later tonight. I normally never read any posts that long (pot and black kettle jokes definitely warranted here)but what I have read looks like a very interesting review. Thanks for setting things up with a good description of your old system to show a baseline for your thoughts.
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