Being recognized as the audio/video guru in your circle of family, friends, and co-workers is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is highly rewarding when people ask for your advice (and even better when they actually take it). On the other hand, just about every time I give a recommendation I am inexorably demanded to “find something cheaper.” Sadly, the general consumer just isn’t willing to shell out $1,000+ per component in a home theater or stereo system, regardless of how good it is. With the constraint of cost in mind, I am always on the lookout for products that have the ability to deliver high-quality sound without causing folks to choke when told the price. Enter Axiom Audio. Axiom Audio is a factory-direct speaker manufacturer that has been in business for over 30 years now. Grounded by the principles developed in the National Research Council (NRC) lab of Canada, Axiom’s designs strive for scientifically verifiable, accurate reproduction of sound while still offering incredible value to the consumer. I’ve been hearing great things about Axiom Audio’s speakers for some time (see Secrets’ recent reviews of the M80V3 system and M3 V3) but have never actually heard a pair myself. Looking to correct this travesty, I jumped at the chance to review Axiom’s largest bookshelf speaker, the recently updated “V3” edition of the M22.
- Design: 2-way, Ported Enclosure, Bookshelf Speaker
- Drivers: One 1″ Titanium Dome Tweeter, Two 5.25″ Aluminum Cone Mid/Bass
- MFR: 60 Hz – 22 kHz ± 3 dB
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Crossover Frequency: 3.5 kHz
- Sensitivity: 89 dB (Anechoic) 93 dB (In-room)
- Recommended Amplifier Power: 10-200 Watts
- Dimensions: 19.8″ H x 7.3″ W x 8″D
- Weight: 16 Pounds/each
- Standard Finishes: Black Oak or Boston Cherry Vinyl
- Optional Finishes: Custom Vinyl, Real Wood Veneers, High Gloss Paint (Upcharges Apply)
- Warranty: 5 years
- MSRP: $488/pair, $708/pair As Reviewed
- Axiom Audio
The M22 is definitely not the average bookshelf loudspeaker. For starters, it is noticeably taller than the typical bookshelf, with a height of nearly 20 inches. This extra height allows for the installation of the single 1″ titanium dome tweeter and two 5.25″ aluminum cone mid/bass drivers. By sticking with the smaller 5.25″ mid/bass units, Axiom is able to keep the overall width of the M22 down to just 7.3″. This allows the M22 to appear deceptively small when viewed from the front. Then there is the tapered, almost trapezoidal design of the cabinet, which narrows from the front baffle to the rear. In contrast to the typical “rectangular box” speaker, this type of cabinet design breaks up standing waves within the box, which in turn prevents colorization of the sound. On the back panel, Axiom’s Vortex-port resides above a single pair of 5-way binding posts. There is also a single bolt that can be used to attach the M22 to Axiom’s novel “Full Metal Bracket” wall-mounting system.
Moving towards the front of the speaker, we have Axiom Audio’s 1″ titanium dome tweeter, which is rated for frequencies up to 22 kHz. This all-new tweeter is the biggest change with the “V3″version of the M22. The new tweeter exhibits increased dispersion and better linearity off-axis, which should help increase soundstaging. Crossed over to the tweeter at 3.5kHz, the two 5.25″ aluminum cone mid/bass drivers handle the remaining frequencies. Why two 5.25” drivers instead of a bigger mid/bass unit? Axiom’s Alan Lofft explains, “Using dual 5.25-inch woofer/midranges enables the M22 v3 to have excellent high power handling (up to 200 watts per channel) and less compression at loud playback levels than a single larger woofer would. Another big advantage is that the smaller dual woofer/mids remain smoother and more linear into the upper midrange, whereas a single larger woofer can’t reproduce those frequencies as accurately. The latter would need to use a lower crossover frequency than the M22, which would result in less smooth performance through the all-important midrange region. Axiom’s M3 v3 bookshelf speaker uses a single 6.5-inch woofer and the same tweeter as the M22, and while it’s an excellent speaker, its midrange response isn’t quite as linear as the M22s, so it’s a bit more “laid-back” in the mids because the 6.5 inch woofer’s output sags a bit over the crossover region. The other significant change with the “V3” version is the new speaker grille. The grille itself is little more than a simple plastic frame covered in fabric, but in a design that would make any college physics professor proud, the speaker grilles are attached via a slick magnetic system that doesn’t require any visible blemishes on the front baffle. The grilles use magnetism to “self-align” and are incredibly easy to install or remove. This is quite possibly the best grille design I’ve yet seen.
While performance and value are the key drivers for Axiom Audio, customization is a just as important. The M22s come standard with a choice of two vinyl finishes; Black Oak or Boston Cherry at a price of $488 per pair. If neither of those two colors work for you, $538 per pair will get you a choice from an additional 13 custom vinyl finishes. There are also two additional “high gloss” vinyl finishes that will run you $598/pair. You can also opt for high-gloss white or piano black paint at a cost of $881.80 per pair. If you crave the look and feel of real wood, there are 30 real wood veneers available for $708 per pair. Rosewood veneers will run you $840 per pair. You can choose from satin low-gloss or semi-gloss finishes at no additional charge when choosing any of the real wood veneers, but if you want the high-gloss “piano finish” on a wood veneer, tack on an extra $173.80 per pair. Trying to match the wood finish on an existing piece of furniture? For $150 Axiom will create an identical match from a sample that you provide. But wait, there’s more! Once you’ve created the finish of your choice, you have the option of choosing from one of six available grille fabrics. Axiom will also create a custom rear label for you at no additional charge. My review samples arrived in a beautiful walnut veneer with the semi-gloss “natural” finish for an as-tested price of $708 per pair. Don’t forget that these prices include FedEx shipping and aren’t subject to sales tax (at least here in the U.S.) so the value factor is further enhanced. The M22 is also available in an “on-wall” as well as an “in-wall” version for those of you who prefer a more “stealth” look to their speaker installation.
Overall, the construction quality was far better than I expected for the price. The speaker has good weight to it and the cabinet is solidly constructed. If I had to nit-pick, upon rigorous inspection I could notice the seam where the veneer of the side panels met with the top panel, but I’ve only seen perfect seams on speakers that cost far more than this. To be honest, I’ve rarely seen real-wood veneer on any speaker under about $1000 per pair, so don’t take this as a complaint. I’d also like to see flush-mounted screws used for the driver mounting. The current hex-head screws stick out a few millimeters, which breaks up the clean look of the front baffle. I would also like to see Axiom make a brushed aluminum “Axiom” logo available, as it would match the aluminum drivers better than the chrome-plated plastic logo that was on my review samples.
My pair of M22s arrived safe and sound via FedEx (Axiom’s preferred shipping vendor). The M22s packaging is very sturdy, with the speakers encased in a thick cloth baggie and then placed between two thick foam end caps that are in turn encased in an additional cardboard wrap. As a little bonus, Axiom includes some clear rubber stick-on feet in case you decide to place the M22s on an actual bookshelf instead of dedicated stands. I was also surprised to see a small plastic binding post wrench in the box. I’d also like to take a moment to recognize the excellent instructions that are included with the M22s. The instructions give a novice user just about all of the information they would need in order to hook the speakers up properly, and present it in a very clear fashion complete with excellent illustrations. The only thing I’d like to see added would be some guidelines on how best to place the speakers, though these are available on Axiom’s website.
With the M22s now out of their boxes, it was time to get this review rolling. As the M22’s bass output is limited, I decided to install the M22s in my main media room system, which currently consists of an Integra DHC-9.9 pre-processor, Wyred4Sound 7 channel amp (with the Bang and Olufsen 1000ASP 570-watt modules), and an Oppo BDP-83SE NuForce Edition universal player. My Hsu Research VTF-3 MkII subwoofer would provide the bass. Cabling was a mix of Kimber and Blue Jeans. I placed the M22s about three feet from the back walls and four feet from the sidewalls (8 feet apart from each other). I toed the speakers in slightly so that they would converge on a point about six feet behind my head. This turned out to be almost ideal in my 16′ x 22′ room.
A quick listen to the M22s sans subwoofer confirmed Axiom’s anechoic measurements: bass response trails off noticeably from about 90Hz down, with 60Hz being about 7dB down in overall level. Room reinforcement should net you a bit more bass, but the M22 was clearly designed to be run with a subwoofer. This is a conscious design choice on Axiom’s part and should not be taken as a negative. Getting good bass requires a few key ingredients: large drivers, a large cabinet, and a lot of engineering effort to integrate the bass so that it does not ruin the clarity of the midrange and treble. All of these things cost money or entail making other design sacrifices, which does not fit in well with Axiom’s mantra. Bass also requires a lot of amplifier power, which is not typically associated with the average home-theater or 2-channel receiver (particularly budget models). With so many affordable high-performance subwoofers on the market now, a more viable approach is to augment a smaller speaker like the M22 with a quality subwoofer. This gives the user added flexibility by allowing the subwoofer to be placed where it can offer the most balanced bass response. Typically, the best bass is realized by placing the subwoofer in a different location than the front speakers. As much as I like full-range speakers, I do realize that the subwoofer/satellite type system makes much more sense for most users and has a lot of advantages. However, a sub/sat system does bring its own set of issues into play, most of which involve getting the subwoofer to blend seamlessly in with the mains.
To address the above caveat, I spent some time playing with my system’s crossover point, eventually settling on 80Hz as the point where my Hsu sub would take over the bass duties from the M22. With a nice smooth blend between the sub and M22s, I now fine-tuned the M22’s position. Moving the speakers back a foot (two feet from the back wall) helped to richen up the mid-bass a tad, which I really liked. I also moved the speakers about a foot closer to one another (4.5 feet from the sidewalls, 7 feet apart), which seemed to improve the imaging and soundstaging slightly. I did not hear a large difference when experimenting with toe-in, so it looks like Axiom’s new tweeter really does deliver on its promise of greater dispersion. I kept them in their original, slightly toed-in position. I also spent some time comparing the sound of the M22s with their grilles on and off. The sound was practically identical either way, though I do feel that I could hear just a touch more detail with the grilles off. Per Axiom’s anechoic chamber testing, there are differences of less than 1dB at higher frequencies, so that could be what I was hearing. As I preferred the look of the M22s “naked,” I left the grilles off for the rest of my review period.
With all the tweaking done, it was finally time to sit down and enjoy some music. As always, I started with the spectacular sounding HDCD recording of Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” (Reference Recordings RR-96CD). To say I was impressed with what I heard would be an understatement. The M22s were incredibly neutral throughout the midrange. Woodwinds were beautifully reproduced, with just the right amount of body and excellent retrieval of detail. The treble was crisp and clean, and reproduced the chimes with a very natural sense of air. Treble detail was actually a bit better than many speakers I’ve heard lately and I’ll attribute this to the lack of roll-off in the high frequencies. The mid-bass was clean and tight and blended very nicely with my Hsu subwoofer. There were no noticeable holes in the sound where the M22 crossed-over to my sub, so it looks like I had the crossover point right. I didn’t detect any noticeable colorization to the sound, just a clear presentation of what was on the disc. If pressed, I’d probably say that the M22 leans ever so slightly towards the cooler side of neutral. The M22s do not add extra warmth or body to the sound, they simply reproduce what they are fed. Imaging and soundstaging were also very good. Instruments hung in space nicely, and I could readily distinguish where an instrument was on the stage. I won’t lie and tell you that the M22s were the equal of the Dynaudio X16s I reviewed, but at $1,600 per pair the X16s are nearly four times the cost of a base M22. For me to say that the M22s were close is quite a compliment.
Moving onto some more vocal recordings, I put on Sade’s recent “Soldier of Love” (Sony B002YIHO7I) and queued up the title track. Again, I was not disappointed. Sade’s voice sounded as sweet and smooth as always, and the military-esque snare drum line was incredibly crisp. I could clearly hear each individual attack on the drum head, without feeling that the notes were being overemphasized. Mid-bass was again very solid and the background bass line was easy to follow. As I was getting into the groove with this one, I slowly cranked up the volume until I was at the 95dB mark. I didn’t hear any additional congestion or strain in the speaker at all, so these speakers should certainly be up for some occasional punishment. I also didn’t pick up any extra energy in the presence region, where my ears are particularly sensitive. After running through a few more tracks on this disc, I switched over to Diana Krall’s “Love Scenes” (SACD Verve B0002DSUEI) and put on track 11, “My Love Is.” Again, I was very impressed with how smooth and balanced the sound was. Higher resolution recordings really shine through an accurate speaker like the M22, with a listener being able to hear even more detail and musical nuance.
Next I loaded up the wonderful SACD of Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughn: “In Session” (Stax B0000AZKLF). “Pride and Joy” wonderfully showcases the incredible talents of both legendary guitarists and sounded great through the M22s. The vocals by both King and Vaughn sounded great, with excellent clarity and intelligibility. The two lead guitars really shined, ringing true without an overemphasis on the treble (which is easy to do when Vaughn’s guitar starts a-wailing). As both of my current reference speakers roll off the treble a little bit, the presentation had a bit more bite in the upper registers than I’m accustomed to, but I never felt that the sound was at all harsh or fatiguing. In fact, I actually think I preferred the little bit of extra detail as opposed to the slightly softer sound that my current speakers provide.
After listening to the M22s for two months and playing countless tracks through them I have almost nothing negative to say about their sound. When paired with a good subwoofer, the M22s serve up a highly detailed, neutral, and well-balanced sound. This neutrality and accuracy can be double-edged sword though. If a recording is bright, the M22s flat mid-range and treble response will certainly do little to smooth things out. On the flip side, exceptional recordings and high-resolution sources will only sound better on such an accurate speaker. It has been a long time since I have had a sub-$1,000 per pair set of speakers in my home, let alone sub-$500 per pair ones, but I was incredibly impressed with the capabilities of the M22. I continuously found myself comparing the M22s to speakers that cost far more than the M22s base of $488. When someone asks me for a recommendation for a great sounding speaker that won’t break the bank, I now have another manufacturer to point them towards with confidence: Axiom Audio. If you’re on the fence about a speaker like the M22, take advantage of Axiom’s 30-day in-home trial period. I doubt you’ll want to send these fine speakers back.