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#3375 - 06/03/02 11:52 PM The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG)
fhw Offline
devotee

Registered: 11/22/01
Posts: 345
Loc: London, ON
Hey, everybody. Thought I'd follow some of the other folks on the board (big props to Randyman and Alan) and relate my experience in an all-out Axiom tower showdown. This is a VERY long post, so if you only want the bottom line, feel free to skip ahead.

Until this most recent purchase, my 5.1 setup (which serves double duty as a stereo system) used a pair of M3s and a VP50 across the front, the older Axiom AX500 handling bass and LFE, and the shockingly decent Cerwin-Vega LS-5's in the rear. I have run-of-the-mill JVC and Technics DVD and CD players, respectively. The superb Arcam AVR100 is the heart of the system.

I'd been having a few problems prompting me for a speaker upgrade, not that anyone ever really needs an excuse to buy better speakers. Since we'd moved, our living room turned out to be too big for the VP50, and I was getting too much audible hiss when the volume was up to satisfying levels. Secondly, our cats had been using the M3s as launching pads for their daily prizefight, meaning I'd come home many times to find the poor speakers knocked face-first onto the floor. Finally, switching from music to movies or vice versa entailed a trip to the sub to adjust the gain and audio/video switch on the back. It was all becoming a big pain in the rear, and at the end of the day I prefer towers for stereo anyway.

I went into Replay Electronics while on vacation in Toronto to audition Axiom towers (and the VP150). Sadly, the M60 wasn't in stock, but I grabbed the chance to hear the other speakers head-to-head. To my surprise, both salespeople at Replay said their favorite and best-selling tower was the M40, and assured me that the M80 sounds very similar to the M60 for the purpose of comparison. The CD player and integrated amp were both Cambridge Audio. Incidentally, I'm really shocked at how small the Epic Micro speakers are in person...the QS2 is literally the size of a softball.

From an aesthetic point of view, I have to point out that I much prefer the Maple finish. The pics on the web site make it look a little too yellow...it really is an elegant color that fit in perfectly with our light-colored living room decor. I could easily see a Maple-finished speaker as a contrast element in a room with cherry woods or dark leathers as well. In any event, it's a far more interesting color than everyday black. I can also dispute the Soundstage claim that the M80 is "imposing". The new Paradigm Reference 100...THAT is an imposing speaker. If spouse approval was making you worry, you can rest easy that the look of a room won't be dominated by a pair of M80s.

Now, onto the listening tests.

First up was 'Popsicle Toes' from Diana Krall's "When I Look in Your Eyes", my screening song for any piece of equipment--if this song doesn't sound good, the audition is over in my mind. All three passed with flying colors of course, and to be honest I heard very little difference between them except a little more openness with the M80. All three just filled the room beautifully, and the bass added a richness that the M3 just cannot deliver without a sub.

Next up was 'Pie Jesu' on Sarah Brightman's "Classics". I am neither a fan of Sarah Brightman nor this song in particular, but it's a great piece to test a speaker for female vocals and weed out serious problems like sharp treble or a flat midrange. Again, all three speakers sounded VERY similar with nothing audibly offensive that I could pick out. Nothing so far pointed to one tower over another, so defaulting to cost, score 2 for the M40.

Stepping away from the wimpy:) music, I played 'I'm in the Mood', a duet with Bonnie Raitt on John Lee Hooker's "The Healer". The first 45 seconds sports some wild guitar jamming by both artists that has to be heard at loud volumes to be appreciated. Here the contrasts between the speakers became apparent, but it was tough to discern at first what was simply a matter of volume versus true qualtitative differences. Whether or not 98 is the actual sensitivity of the M80, it is nonetheless a LOUD speaker relative to its little brothers. I'll do my best not to rehash the Soundstage reviews, but most of the descriptions they use are bang-on.

The M40 has a rich, laid back sound that added a bit of warmth to Raitt's vocals and slide guitar, but still delivered with clarity similar to the M3. It made for a very easy listen. The M50 sounded much like the M40, but the second woofer adds a lot more presence to male vocals and lower guitar octaves. If you don't mind thinking in metaphors, the M50 adds 4 ounces of beef to the music sandwich. I could also appreciate the effect Randyman described of slightly muffled vocals, and this was relative to both the M40 and M80. I'm also confident the effect was real, and not just "expectation bias" (i.e. I only heard the difference because I was expecting to hear it). The M80 was a horse of a different color. It sounded crisp, clean and very open. I felt the M80 added some genuine RAUNCH to the music that blues fans will probably drool over, and I suspect that's the way the recording is intended to be heard.

"Hell Freezes Over" by the Eagles turned out to be the final CD in the showdown. Track 1, 'Get Over It' is my standby rock song to audition audio equipment. The M40 "rocked" a lot better than I expected for a laid-back inexpensive speaker, and again the clarity was astonishing given the price. However, the M40 was just a TOUCH shy in the mids and highs on this song, and couldn't quite "lift me to soaring heights" like I'd hoped it would. The M50 had significantly more impact on the low end, but to be honest seemed imbalanced to my ears. I thought the low end was too prominent relative to the mids and treble, and the result was bass that sounded somewhat "fat". This was nowhere near as blatant or annoying as with say, a Cerwin-Vega monster, but I did notice a little listening fatigue after a few minutes. As might be expected, the M80 played rock to an AWESOME level of fidelity...every guitar lick and crash of the drums was presented in stunning detail, squeaky clean without the slightest hint of distortion or background hiss.

Onto 'Hotel California' on the same CD (what else?), and again I was pleasantly surprised at just how good the M40 sounded. It couldn't deliver the same level of detail or sense of openness as the M80, but sounded cleaner and more balanced across the frequency range than the M50. If fault could be found with the M80, I noticed it on this song...the mids and treble sounded so clear and prominent, the volume needed to be turned up a fair bit before the bass really kicked. Think of the M80 as a means of exacting revenge on a neighbor, rather than a speaker to play alongside a candlelight dinner.

My final decision took about 30 minutes to reach, with replay after replay of my audition discs. In hindsight I should have brought in a few more classical discs, but I doubt it would have made the choice any easier. It was a REALLY tough call between the M40 and M80 on a price-for-performance scale. While I would say the M80 is the better speaker design, the M40 holds its own light years beyond the price difference would lead you to suspect. To put this into perspective, the first time I carefully auditioned speakers in a store (M3s vs. similarly-priced Energy, Cerwin-Vega and JBL), the contest was over in less than three minutes. Two months ago, I went into a local A/V shop expecting to take home the Denon 3802 (which has reached legendary status in multiple online and paper publications), but within three songs the Arcam had it beat embarrassingly, saving me hundreds of dollars. The M40 vs the M80 was a FAR closer contest, a testament to just how good both speakers are.

For the first time in the two years that I've been into the A/V thing, I took a long and hard look at our real-life listening habits in the context of the Law of Diminishing Returns. While we're very much into slamming action movies, most of the music we play is in the late evenings at a moderate volume. It's rare that we have the time to sit and listen critically for longer than a few minutes, paying attention to imaging and fine musical detail. In the end, I was offered the M40s and older-model VP150 for an absolute steal of a price, and opted to take the plunge right then and there. I can't help having a LITTLE remorse for passing on the magnificent M80, and I wonder how the M60 would have sounded standing up against its big and little brothers.

Since the M40s have been broken in at home, I've been totally satisfied with the way they play anything from Rachmaninoff to Nickelback. Rich, clean, and fantastically clear given the price, I can't believe there were actually details the M40 missed compared to the M80. Much like the M3s, the M40s also have that wonderful quality of being able to play all styles of music for hours without generating listening fatigue. I would, however, caution potential buyers to buck up and fork over the cash for decent electronics...I played the M40s on my parents' system while still in Toronto, and they had no problems revealing just how flat a cheap receiver can sound. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when they came home to the Arcam.

I can testify that the M80 is indeed everything it is advertised to be. If you're a critical music lover who plays a lot of well-mastered recordings at high volumes, don't hesitate for one second to audition or outright buy the M80. I can't fathom finding the same quality at a better price. On the other hand, if you're looking for a great full-range speaker that's easy to listen to, with remarkable clarity and performance considering the cost, put the M40 at the top of your list. It's an unreal value relative to other brands in this price range. You won't be disappointed at all.

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#3376 - 06/04/02 01:45 AM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG
chesseroo Offline
axiomite

Registered: 05/13/02
Posts: 5220
Loc: western canada
I just wrote a lengthy post myself recently on our choice between Axiom and Angstrom speakers (the m60s vs Modulars).
Axiom M60s won and i've got them in my basement right now along with a pair of M22s which will head back in a couple of weeks.
Since you never had the M60s to listen you can chek out my post along with at least one other i saw recently posted as well (M50s vs. M60s i think).

However, if i recall correctly, not too long ago, someone asked for the difference b/w the M60 and M80 and Ian had replied that they sound virtually the same except the M80 can play significantly louder.

I wish i could find that darn post...
_________________________
"Those who preach the myths of audio are ignorant of truth."

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#3377 - 06/05/02 05:50 AM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG
Randyman Offline
veteran

Registered: 03/29/02
Posts: 184
Loc: Honolulu, Hawaii
fhw

Awesome review! Thanks for taking the time to do it.

It is clear you are happy with the 40s. But I truly wish you could have included the 60s as well. That could have been the comparison that we all want to do!!(and know about)

What I am really curious about is this: Now that you have the 40s set up at home - and in your own particular listening environment (acoustics, electronics, etc) Can you tell (or now remember) any significant difference in the sound at home compared to the store? So often we are hurried or stressed at a store and at home we can really relax, take our time (yadda yadda). I don't doubt the essence of your experience in the store - I am just curious to know about your (now) home experience(s).

Thanks !!

Randyman

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#3378 - 06/12/02 03:45 PM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG
fhw Offline
devotee

Registered: 11/22/01
Posts: 345
Loc: London, ON
Sorry about the delay.

Now that I've had them for a couple of weeks, I can say that the M40s sound fantastic. Though I was never a believer in the concept of breakin, the M40s really took about 50-60 hours of solid play before things sounded absolutely "right". Then again, they were broken in on my parents' cheaper system, so go figure the speaker sound light years better on an Arcam receiver.

The M40s sound even cleaner at home than I remember, and again there's NO listening fatigue after having them on all day. The extra "sparkle" I heard on the M80s didn't seem to be missing at all. For fun, I did a comparison of the M3 vs. M40. I guess I haven't had "audiophile ears" long enough to appreciate the subtle differences described on Soundstage. To me, the M40's room-filling bass really adds a lot to the speaker.

If there's one piece of advice I can give a potential purchaser is make sure you have nothing less than a Denon or Yamaha-grade receiver. While a laid-back speaker, the M40 was pretty unforgiving of Technics-grade electronics (who'd ever think a speaker could give attitude?:))

What can I say? I LOVE the M40, and considering the sale in the factory outlet, a person could pick up 2 pairs of M40 blems and a VP150 for about $1000 U.S...less than the cost of a decent receiver, or a pair of snooty interconnects if you're into that sort of thing.

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#3379 - 06/14/02 01:40 AM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG)
RBB Offline
newbie

Registered: 02/02/02
Posts: 3
Incidentally, I was able to review all the Axiom speakers M40 through M80 at Replay Electronics in Toronto a few months ago. I dealt with George at this shop and he was extremely helpful. He put all their speakers side-by-side for comparison and I was able to differentiate between the sound quality of each of the speakers mentioned in this thread. All the Axiom speakers sounded good. However, when I did a side-by-side comparison between the M60 and the M80, I found that the sound from the M80 was bass(ier) and it went lower. Further, the M80 had better dynamics. I ended up buying the M80Ti's and am glad that I did. I have had them for about 3 months now and am enjoying them immensely. I have them hooked to my Onkyo TXDS 797 receiver and am amazed at the amount of bass the system throws out. I am not sure if I would need a sub-woofer now.

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#3380 - 06/14/02 02:22 AM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG
Randyman Offline
veteran

Registered: 03/29/02
Posts: 184
Loc: Honolulu, Hawaii
fhw

Thanks for the reply/update. Glad to see that you are (still) truly happy with your purchase. Man! There is nothing better than to be really satisfied with our decisions eh?

Snooty interconnects? Never heard of that brand! (HA!)

Its strange though - with my 60s, I find that some music is just "so so/OK" and other is absolutely fantastic! Do you experience anything similar?

Randyman

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#3381 - 06/14/02 09:05 AM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG
fhw Offline
devotee

Registered: 11/22/01
Posts: 345
Loc: London, ON
I've found that it's more dependent on the recording rather than the actual genre of music. Some of my older CDs, or the bargain-bin classicals, sound pretty limp and flat.

I've rationalized it this way: I'm getting far more enjoyment out of quality recordings on my current setup...hearing new details in the mix, etc. That never happened with my old boom-box or HTIAB setup. Logically, I can conclude that the "stuff" that's packed into my good recordings (Deutche Grammophone, etc.) is being brought to life for the first time, leaving the other discs behind in the dust.

I suppose it's all part and parcel of the never-ending "upgrade curse"...you can't just own the decent hardware, you're now FORCED to get the better software to prevent disappointment.

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#3382 - 06/14/02 10:19 AM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG
chesseroo Offline
axiomite

Registered: 05/13/02
Posts: 5220
Loc: western canada
Since i've been playing ridiculous amounts of music lately i can attest to a bit of this however, i would also agree that garbage in= garbage out.
SOME of my cds are truly horrible recordings and it shows but MOST of what i've played so far is really fantastic (the buzzing thing aside).
I was quite shocked at just how much these speakers and the new receiver show 'flaws' in the sound.
I guess it can be both a good and bad thing.

However, if i want mushy, everything-sounds-the-same quality , i would go back to what i had and that is a far worse choice than sticking with what i just got.
Are you not 100% satisfied Randyman? I'm honestly curious for your opinion on your m60s.
_________________________
"Those who preach the myths of audio are ignorant of truth."

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#3383 - 06/14/02 05:30 PM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG
Randyman Offline
veteran

Registered: 03/29/02
Posts: 184
Loc: Honolulu, Hawaii
fhw, chesseroo

I totally agree with your comments about the music source being a determining factor for the quality of sound. That is what I was really referring to when I said some music sounds so so. I suppose I wasn't expressing myself well enough about that. Indirectly, I think that was what I was trying to get at - the m60s are so accurate that they easily reveal the limitations (or poor quality) of many recordings. I guess I was just trying to know if others were having similar experiences.

I don't recall having that experience with my old speakers - so in some (weird) way the accuracy of the M60s create an emotional (mental/acoustical) response to some music (i.e. recordings) that is not as pleasent as it was with the old speakers. (ignorance is bliss?) Can you wrap your mind around that concept?

In answer to your question - I am truly satsified with my 60s. In both sound AND looks! And dispite what I just said previously, I am glad I took the chance to upgrade my speakers. And (again) kudos to Axiom for their return policy that allowed me the oppourtunity to compare the 50s and 60s in my home at the same time. I chose the 60s and I don't regret it at all.

Thanks again to all - for your comments, questions etc.
I love this forum for exchanging thoughts ideas and for getting and giving assistance.

Randyman

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#3384 - 06/14/02 07:09 PM Re: The big showdown: M40 vs M50 vs M80 (VERY LONG
ChrisR Offline
old hand

Registered: 01/19/02
Posts: 61
Loc: PA
I would definitely concur. When I first plugged in my M60s, I began pulling out all of my classical discs that had been gathering dust for months if not years, and feeding them in one after the other just to experience the sound. I had a quite a surprise when I put in some discs, though. Some of my old favorites were digital remasterings of old performances, and some of them sounded AWFUL. But all of these had lots of brass or strings, and were recorded pre-1980, and remastered to digital in the early 80s. Bad recordings.

In fact, I kept a set of Bose acoustimass front speakers hooked to the B speaker out and could switch back and forth between the M60s and the Bose. I kept it that way for weeks, because I never tired of switching back and forth and marvelling at the incredible difference! These recordings that I used to listen to, and that sounded bad on the M60s, sounded EVEN WORSE on the Bose. But, I hadn't noticed it that much before, and had listened anyway. I think it was just more noticeable compared to good recordings heard on the M60s.

So now I know, I have to upgrade my CD collection! (Looking for good recent recordings from Telarc and other good quality studios.) More things to buy....

ChrisR
_________________________
M60s, VP150, QS8 x4 ACI Titan II sub Anthem AVM20 pre/pro Anthem PVA7 amp Panasonic DVD-RP91

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