If you absolutely have no desire to become a bassaholic, stop reading right now. Contrary to a bass head, a bassaholic is one who loves smooth, deep, tight, fast, transparent, undistorted bass that doesn't draw attention to itself but rather blends with the rest of the material no matter how much the volume is turned up. If you don't like infrasonic breezes, gut punches and 'nad tickling from your sub, or bass that can't be localized to your sub, steer clear of this post. This kind of bass typically makes your entire system sound better no matter what your listening position is. This kind of bass leads to frequent bassgasms. If you don't want to suffer from this addiction, do NOT buy an EP800v4. Otherwise, if you want all of this and easy integration into your system, you've just found your dream sub.
This review is divided into a number of sections. The "Full Disclosure" describes my 11-year Odyssey with a previous Axiom sub. "The Purchase" describes how I ended up pulling the trigger and the circumstances that led to me owning a one-of-a-kind, very special sub. "Flipping the Switch" is special so I won't give it away. "Listening Impressions" are my quick notes of tracks and movies I've listened to that I am sure you will enjoy. My addiction and the new ills I'm currently suffering are described in "Why I hate Axiom". I conclude with "Final Thoughts" about why you might or might not want this sub.
- Full Disclosure -
To give you full context of my experience, I'll start at the start. I'm in a 4,200 cubic foot space dedicated to audio/video. This space is open to the rest of the house via a staircase so it's not the easiest room to pressurize (although the 800v4 has no problem). I have berber carpet with thick underlay. The drywall isn't treated but about 70% of it is covered with art. I have one listening position I care about: mine. The front speakers are 9 feet apart and well away from the side walls. I sit 14 feet away from the mains and about 12 feet away from the sides and rears. My soundstage width and height is huge but I lack depth. The width, even in 2.1, extends well away from the speaker boundaries with well-recorded material. I very much care about how my content sounds but I'm not willing to spend frequently on upgrades.
In February 2007, after 35 years of living with no sub and 6 years with a lower quality sub, I finally received what I expected to be my first and last REAL subwoofer. Up to that time, I enjoyed a $120 Sony sub that I heavily customized. I didn't know what a good sub was supposed to sound like but with the mods I made, that Sony sounded tighter and more tuneful. The behemoth I received was an Axiom EP600v2; a DSP-based, ported, 45"-tall sub that was spec'd down to 16Hz. That sub spawned 6 years of hell for me. I should have sent it back because no matter what I did, I could not get it to sound tight like my cheap Sony.
In 2013, I acquired an Onkyo tx-nr838 receiver which, with its Audyssey XT32, managed to do wonders to not only the 600v2 but in general, my entire system. Norimasa Kitagawa, and the rest of the small but highly dedicated engineering team who worked on this Onkyo model, likely have a special spot reserved in heaven for pulling off a miracle and making Onkyo relevant. Unfortunately, a year later, some business "genius" at Onkyo destroyed everything that team accomplished by yanking Audyssey from their product line. However, even this majestic Onk couldn't save the 600v2 from a disease called distortion.
At around the time of my purchase, Ian (Axiom's President) did all he could to satisfy me including showing up at my house - 2000 miles away - with a new amp. Finally he suggested a new sub they were working on - the EP800. For various reasons, I decided to forego the EP800 back in 2008 although I was sure he'd take good care of me on that upgrade. I should point out that since that time, Axiom has moved away from ported subs for their DSP-based line and that includes the EP600v4. Besides the sub, the 2007 purchase included a pair of M80s, a VP150 and two pairs of QS8s.
For almost 11 years, I closely followed the Axiom and other audio boards, the evolution of the EP800, other products and the people at Axiom. In 2009, Ian hired Andrew Welker, an electrical engineer who worked for Harman and came up with the omni-directional tweeter line for Mirage amongst other products. I watched what Andrew and Ian did together over the years. I saw their emphasis on using science to characterize speaker behavior using the Family of Curves and then applying those learnings to realize better-sounding products. I saw slow and deliberate changes as Axiom re-engineered the cross-overs, the cabinets, all the drivers and the amplifier line including the sub amplifiers. I saw rapid change as they embraced new technologies like wireless, software and new manufacturing techniques. I saw innovative loyalty programs such as the trade-in program and loyalty discounts. I didn't upgrade my system at all but I did buy a few other things from Axiom along the way. I prowled, lurked, learned and exercised patience. As you'll discover, patience is certainly a virtue that brings good value. My patience was exhausted and the good value started on Black Friday 2017.
The weakest parts of my system were the VP150v2 and the 600v2 (by a long shot). I spotted a VP160v4 and an EP800v4 in the B-stock store. The VP160v4 was a traditional centre speaker design and I trusted Andrew did a great job with it as one of his first projects at Axiom. Besides, the votes were in from board members and the VP160 was great. As for the EP800, the v3 was favourably reviewed by numerous Axiom board members. Dale Rasco's measurements back in 2014 showed us it wasn't the EP600 nightmare Ilkka measured back in 2006. What pushed me to the EP800v4 however was Craig Chase's reviews in early 2017 and his gracious and whole-hearted personal recommendation to me. He chose to replace his JL Audio Fathom with the EP800. This gave me the confidence to give the EP800 a chance because Craig has likely listened to hundreds of subs inside his home and he knows not only subs but speakers and audio in general. Nonetheless, I remained skeptical.
- The Purchase -
Deciding to trade in my EP600v2 for the EP800v4 was a no-brainer. The VP150 was for a friend so I would buy the VP160v4 without a trade. Debbie from Axiom promptly made sure my loyalty discount was up-to-date in my on-line account. I then tried to do the transaction on-line but my "finger problems" nixed that. I called Axiom and left a message saying I want to give them my money. Steve promptly called me back. He informed me I couldn't trade in for B-stock; I had to trade for new or buy the B-stock. Before ending the call, I said something like "Damn! I waited 11 years to try this sub. Alright, forget it. I'll just buy the center." Five minutes later Steve called me back and said he spoke with Ian. Ian wanted me to be happy so he'd accept the trade. Right on! The EP600v2 would be exorcised from my man-cave. I then realized what a sweet deal I had been given with the trade-in credit and the customer loyalty and Black Friday discounts!
The centre and sub arrived a week later via FedEx. I didn't see how the driver moved 130 lbs of sub from the truck to the ground but he sure didn't use a lift. I was worried gravity did all the work. The sub's shipping box had suffered a couple of gashes. I brought everything inside and let the sub warm up while I connected the centre. I have reviewed the very good centre elsewhere. I placed the sub in its location and connected power and the coax. The gain was set at about 10 o'clock. It was then I noticed the continuously variable phase knob and that brought a smile to my face. Also the confusing "full, half, flat" switch that drove me nuts on the EP600v2 was gone and so was the USB port that never served a purpose in the field. The polarity switch was set to normal. I decided to leave the switches alone and just play it.
First up, Pappa was a Rolling Stone by Lee Ritenour over Spotify Premium. Not ten seconds later, a wide smile overtook me. Another ten seconds and that wide smile turned to a giddy laugh. THIS was the sound I had missed for 11 years. I didn't want to take time away from the music to calibrate the sub because it sounded so fantastic already. I managed to pull myself together and play the calibration tone through my Onk. To my surprise, the gain switch on the back of the amp was serendipitously set correctly. Using my SPL meter, I then made sure the polarity, phase, distance and gain were set correctly at the 80Hz cross-over. I listened to a few more songs relishing in the sound and then decided to compare against the EP600v2. Even though the difference was so incredibly stark, I wanted to make sure I wasn't imagining it. It didn't take me long to permanently silence the EP600v2; the difference was like the taste between sweet nectarines and lemons.
I then decided to crank the LFE gain on my Onk as I played a Bass Mekanix track to see how loud and low it could go. This is where things went wrong. I heard a vibration coming from the amp as if something was loose. I immediately recorded the sound through the amp's ventilation grills and mailed the sound file to Ian. Very quickly Ian responded sympathetically and said he'd build me a new sub! I said take all the time you want - it's not like this one sounds bad at "normal" levels. This is where the story takes a very interesting turn.
Shortly before I made my purchase, I was discussing on the boards how I'd like a sub that allows me to feel bass down low in my 'nads but also up higher. A few days after Ian told me he's building a new sub, he sent me an e-mail informing me he can send out my sub next week but if I was willing to wait, he could re-purpose the DSP code and the infrasonic cut-off switch to give me "Gut Punch" and "Nad Tickler" modes. I thought I was dreaming but I managed to respond with something like "Hell yeah! I'll wait. Bring it on!". I also asked him if he can change the artwork on the amp backplate to reflect the two modes and have him and Andrew sign the twin drivers. Two days later, he sent me a photo of the backplate artwork that Jamie at Axiom created.
Ian then created custom DSP code, loaded it into the sub and tested it in the anechoic chamber. The day the sub was scheduled to arrive, I watched for the truck and met the driver before he had a chance to unload. I helped him unload it and carry it inside. When I unboxed it, I cracked a huge smile when I saw Ian's and Andrew's signatures on the drivers. Build quality appeared fantastic - nothing made me feel like it was cheap. After warming up, I positioned it where the previous sub was and checked the dials and switches. They were in the same place as the previous sub. I made sure the mode switch was in the Nad Tickler position (flat response). I adjusted the phase to match my last calibration and played Lee Ritenour again. Heaven! It sounded fantastic! The real test however was Bass Mekanix. Would the sub misbehave again? Not a chance. I cranked it and I just got more of that tight, undistorted, deep, fast, transparent and highly addictive bass.
I spent a good week listening to the sub in the flat response mode. I didn't want to flip the switch to Gut Punch until I was used to the flat sound. I noticed my entire system sounded better. I found myself listening to music more than watching movies. With the previous sub, I could never hear the contact drumsticks or bass drum mallets made on the drum skin. Now, there was a realistic SNAP! You might ask "How can that be when the bass is in the lower frequencies and the contact with the skin is higher up?" It's not so much higher to be out of the bass harmonic distortion range. My old sub created so much harmonic distortion, it affected the higher ranges enough to muddy the sound. Now, it's crystal clear. I find now I prefer listening to music in 2.1 instead of PLII or Neo. And while I still love what Audyssey XT32 does to the sound, it's not a night and day difference like before.
- Flipping the switch -
When I was ready, I flipped the switch. Major disappointment! I could tell right away something wasn't right; either FedEx busted it when I wasn't looking, my room sucked or Ian flubbed the code. The sub sounded simply awesome in Nad Tickler mode and Ian showed my sub some real love in the anechoic chamber, so I knew it had to be my room. After running some measurements, I discovered it cut the amplitude response in my room by creating a 15dB notch at 68 Hz. After careful deliberation, I selected one of three possible places to relocate the Might from Dwight. WHAM, BAM, SNAP; I didn't need measurements to tell me I struck gold! I took measurements anyway because that's what engineers do. Between 53Hz and 76Hz, I got a 7dB gut punch wallop! That is a 5-fold boost in power in that frequency band.
- Listening Impressions in 2.1 with Gut Punch -
I'm leaving out impressions about rock classics from Queen, AC/DC, Metallica, Steely Dan , etc and obvious movie scenes like the pod emergence from WOTW, depth charges from U-571 etc. because this is all child's play for the 800v4. I'll just say on the U-571 depth charge scene, when the depth charges were released, I felt them in my gut from the inside-out. When they exploded, I felt them in my gut from the outside-in and of course my house was set ablaze.
I've also listened to most of the material below in flat mode. If someone took Gut Punch away from me today, I would still want to be buried with this sub and have my bones rocked all the way to the gates of Hades. Gut Punch is icing on the cake and as far as I am concerned, Ian has atoned for EP600v2 sins by so graciously offering me this mode.
1. Pappa was a rolling stone by Lee Ritenour: each note of the bass guitar is present and rendered without sloppiness. The bass drum hits hard and "fast" without any distortion or inaccuracy. A real treat!
2. On that morning by Robben Ford: real weight to the bass guitar notes. They enter from centre stage but permeate the entire room. I clearly hear the attack and release of the strings and "air" between them. I feel resonance just below my chest.
3. Maybe I'll go by Guy Davis: Clean, soulful, highly resonant.
4. Ain't no sunshine when she's gone by Bobby "Blue" Band: amazing bass drum! Pressurizes my ears and hits me behind the head through my thickly padded, La-z-Boy recliner. Very similar sensation with Voodoo Child (slight return) by Angelique Kidjo.
5. Home computer 2009 remastered by Kraftwerk: staccato electronica notes that I feel through my chair in my lower back.
6. Bass ballin' lo & slo remix by Bass Mekanix: the whole room is lit up! Pressurization in both ear drums is being switched on and off. My whole body is in motion.
7. Dq drop by Bass Mekanix: scary! Hits hard and doesn't let go.
8. Twist of rit by Lee Ritenour: a real treat at 42 seconds in.
9. Billie Jean by MJ: every note is rendered cleanly and the drum hits hard!
10. Me and my bass guitar by Victor Wooten: incredible articulation and control over every note.
11. Annie wants a baby by The Red Hot Chili Peppers: great snap and pop in the intro.
12. Holy road by Dan Fogelberg: drums are filling up all 23 feet of my front soundstage. I can't help but crank this and now I feel it in my belly.
13. Drum & bass father by Devilman, Badness: if I crank it anymore, I'll get sick.
14. Infrasonic dreams by Bassotronics: there are notes in here I can't hear but I can feel and so can the entire house. Same with Pimp my ride by DJ Billy E.
15. Sub bass excursion by Bassotronics: I feel this where the sun don't shine.
16. Poem of the Chinese drum by Hok-Man Yim: amazing. I'm cranking it. Now my eye balls are jittering.
17. Another brick in the wall by Gabriella Quevedo on youtube: no bloat, no sloppiness. Just room-filling accurate sound.
18. Billie Jean by Alexandr Misko on youtube: clean , articulate...you gotta hear it.
19. The end of the fXXXking world, episode 6 at 3:40 in by Netflix: great drum solo that fills the area between the M80s and is rendered a foot above them. Lasts about
20. Hearthrob by Netflix: wicked LFE right from the opening credits. Starting at 1:07:00 for about 35 seconds, infransonics are shaking everything including my La-Z-boy.
- Why I hate Axiom -
The sub is so amazing even without the gut punch. It exudes confidence with each undulation of its twin, albino drivers. No farting, burping or bleating no matter how much I boost the LFE gain on my Onk; just more smooth, transparent, undistorted, addictive bass. In my room however, the gut punch is very welcome due to a valley in a portion of the gut punch band. I find now I never twiddle with the LFE volume. I have no need to turn it up. Turning it up though doesn't distract; it just makes a good thing even better. I also find the bass is more even throughout the room. In fact, with the sub and VP160v4 upgrade, it doesn't really matter where one is seated - it's all good! I would have never believed it unless I heard it for myself. Given what I hear now, I can't see a good reason to upgrade the rest of my system.
I have to say I hate Axiom and everyone there. I don't like Ian who made this possible. I don't like Andrew who shaped the quality of sound and electrical engineering. I don't like Deb who builds and tests drivers amongst other things. I don't like Steve who takes care of the website. I don't like Jamie who takes care of the finishes and artwork and panels. All of these people are responsible for my getting about 4 hours of sleep a night since I dialed in the EP800v4. I'm totally addicted to the bass and the new sound of my system with the bass totally cleaned up. When I'm at work, all I can think about is getting back to my system. When I'm out with friends, all I can think about is getting back to my system. All my friends now hate me because even though my system sounded good, now it's beyond dreamy. I don't ever want to move out of this house and into a smaller space because the sound will then collapse into a tiny freakin' sweet spot and I won't be able to support the current subbage. Someone help me! I'm considering selling my entire Axiom system because it's ruining my life!
- Final thoughts -
Have you ever loved a product or an experience but wondered what a better product or experience might be? If you've used similar products or had similar experiences, you would have an immediate frame of reference for comparison. I've heard many subs in many rooms and have no reservation saying this is the best sub I have heard and is the last sub I will ever need. If you don't have an adequate frame of reference however, you will never know how good this sub really is. You may never be able to fully appreciate it. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing, from a sound quality perspective, Axiom needs to invest in for the EP800v4.
If you trust what I've said, the only decision you now have to make is whether you need an 800, 600 or 500 and how many. The 800 is powerful enough for a 10,000 cubic foot room and goes deeper than you will ever need. The 600 is far more practical with its response down to 16Hz; I'd bet it wouldn't have a problem pressuring a 7,500 cubic foot space. As for the 500, its response is down to 19Hz and I know from experience it doesn't have any problem filling my room. If you have a large room and want to even out your bass, multiple 600s are likely the way to go.
Norimasa Kitagawa will enjoy Ian's and Andrew's company because I think there will be a spot reserved for them as well.
Enjoy your journey!