Posted this over on audioholics and thought you guys may be intersted.
First off, This is not a professional review. Man oh man would that be a stressful job! Secondly its not 100% scientifically controlled in the parts where i am comparing speakers. If this doesn't bother you then read on!
I was lucky enough to have aquired a set of Axiom M3 Vassallo Series in Piano Gloss white finish about a month ago and have been using them as computer speakers since. I decided it was time to really set them up properly in a more traditional arrangement and see how they stack up against my other pair of speakers which are Axiom M80v2's For the comparison I level matched them but used my Odyssey Khartago monoblocks for the M80's and my Jolida tube amp for the M3's so keep in mind were comparing Tube to SS amplification as well. I have done listening between the two amplifiers in question on the same set of speakers and felt the Odyssey were smoother,More natural and cleaner sounding but for this test I think the differences wont matter that much.
As computer speakers they performed as expected. Very well. I have built custom stands for them and am powering them with a Jolida JD302b tube amp using the output of my Audigy 2 soundcard as a source. At first the nearfield arrangement took a bit of getting used to as I was used to using my main stereo on the other side of the room for computer music and the placement of the M3's isint exactly ideal as they are 7' apart and i am only sitting maybe 4' from where the drivers would be if you drew a straight line between the speakers. I have noticed that they seemed to have a bit of a peak in the upper bass area when i had them setup for the computer but when I set them up for real listening tests I did not notice this peak. One change though was that they arent in corners for the listening tests.
Besides the obvious georgeous fit and finish on the axioms the Vassallo Series also sports an all metal tweeter which is a feature not found on the standard line. While the change may be purely cosmetic and whatever psychological effects come with an all metal tweeter vs one with a plastic faceplate, It still is a nice feature that I think most people wouldnt even notice. I did not notice it until I was polishing the speakers and felt how cold they were.
Since what really matters here is how they actually sounded in a proper setup lets just get to it. Very Good!
First disc up was Alison Krauss- A Hundred Miles or More
My favorite track on this disc is number 11, Whiskey Lullaby with Brad paisley. Not only is the song very good but I think it displays what a speaker sounds like with both good female and male vocals. I thought the M3's performed quite well in areas of detail and treble, Very clean, Deatiled and smooth. I felt they are slightly more laid back speakers than my M80's in this region with just a bit less resolution.
The vocals is one area however where on their own, the M3's are very natural and smooth sounding, But really cant hold their own to the M80 because they lack the richness and fullness, with a bigger more realistic sound. Keep in mind I am comparing a $330 set of speakers (nearly double that in this finish but finish has nothing to do with sound) to a $1,300 set of speakers.
Bass is really the area where you soon find out the M3's limitations. While Listening to the m3's I did not find myself really dissapointed with the lack of bass. These are bookshelf speakers afterall so if you want to mine the depths your going to need a sub that pretty much goes without saying. With crude listening tests with test tones I feel they only deliver down to about 45hz so on most tracks the biggest difference between the M3 and the M80 soon becomes apparent. However if I had not already been spoiled with bass of the larger floorstanders I could easily imagine myself happy with just the M3's on their own. I felt that in areas of filling a room and keeping their composure they did very well. I Really had not expected to get that clean and full of a sound out of a small 2 way speaker vs the large 3 ways I am used to.
Next cd up was Pirates of the Carribean soundtrack "At Worlds End"
I like this cd because it has proven to be a good test of amplifier as well as speaker capabilities when things really get complicated. This is one cd where The M3 didnt do as well as I had expected after hearing what they could do with Alison Krauss. I am not sure if I was running out of amplifier power or the M3's capabilities in volume were getting tested but they did not handle the complex and powerfull nature of the last track (#13 IIRC) They seemed to loose soundstage definition and seemed like they hadnt much more to give at the volume I was listening at, Wheras the M80 sounds like it could easily make me give out before they ever would at higher volumes. Which really, cant be counted as a fault of the M3's because again, They are not meant to be filling large rooms at 105db like the M80's are. The lack of lower bass takes quite a bit of energy away from the music on this type of material so if this was all I listened to then a sub definetly would be needed.
Lastly I put in Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon on SACD
The first track I wanted to listen to was "time" as the opening sequence with the clocks all going off is usually a good test if a speaker is too bright for my tastes. I judge this by if I cringe or not. Rather reasonable test I would say
Well, I did not cringe, The clocks all going off was clean and detailed, The real real Rockin' hardcore guitar line in the beginning didnt quite have the guts and depth that it does on the floorstanders but once again, Apples to oranges. What matters most to me in a speaker is detail, and sounding natural and smooth. Its hard to really do a meaningfull comparison to other bookshelve's as I havent heard any that are worth mentioning as of yet and its hard to rate how good or bad something is without comparing it to something else so bare with me. On Money I was equally pleased with how good they sounded, And while they do sound like smaller speakers, without the low bass and the fullness of the midrange, With a sub these could easily be a very impressive set of speakers for less than say 6-700 dollars (with the sub)
Wrapping up The main points of the review are this:The Good
They easily filled my rather large room on most material without sounding stressed or unnatural.The Transition from woofer to tweeter seems very well done and I really didnt notice any peaks or dips in the sound. For $330 these are really an awesome set of speakers. I have installed quite a number of things like LCR bars and other smaller speakers that cost considerably more and These really do them shame in a bad way. If i hadnt had the room for floorstanders or the budget I would be very satisfied with just these even without a sub. Only when compared directly to my other speakers could I really tell the areas where they are lacking.The Bad
While I am not sure you could file these under the "bad" since I doubt any other speakers of comparable cost and size would be any better, They do not have the last word in bass extension. No revelations there. They definetly put out more bass in the corners where I keep them for computer listening than they do out in the open room but that also added a bit of an upper bass hump that I didnt really like very much. Also, The midrange just lacks Something. Not on their own, But when compared to the M80 they just lack the fullness and i guess, balls that the bigger speakers have. The three way design definetly has some attraction for this reason vs the 2 way IMO. And lastly they did not seem to like the complicated tracks on the pirates of the carribean cd, And were not able to keep their composure at louder levels (which really to me is the only way to properly enjoy this kind of music)
All faults of the speaker or simple limitations of the fact these are a set of small bookshelves. You can be the judge yourself but Im going to say that they are simple limitations of what can be offered in a small package for $330
Without having something in their same price range and size to compare them to there is no real meaningfull measure that I could give them but I will definetly be reccomending these for people who want a good set of speakers for a relatively small amount of money. And also that I have been surprised what a small set of bookshelf speakers can really do.
A couple pics of how I had them setup..