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Axiom Audio Epic Master 350 Home Theatre impressions

- May 7th, 2013

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Movies, TV and gaming can provide an immersive and transportive experience, and that effect—being whisked away or drawn deeply into the action—is indisputably enchanced by the right gear. Surround speaker systems have always been terrific toys, but with 5.1 mixes now industry norm, they’re increasingly considered necessity for getting full enjoyment from A/V material in the living room.

These days, a theatre-quality home experience is achievable without an enormous price tag. Multi-channel A/V Receivers start at about $300 and large flat-screen TVs are reasonably affordable, too. But what are you listening to? Your TV’s speakers? An HITB (or ‘home theatre in a box’, a term used to describe your basic budget small speaker bundles from Costco or Best Buy)?

Investing in a set of ‘real’ speakers from an enthusiast brand is a popular jumping-off point for those looking to take their home theatre to the next level. The difference that quality loudspeakers make to clarity, dynamic range, and soundstage blending can be startling. And once you’ve listened to good speakers, even if the enthusiastic grin you’ve been wearing since you brought them home ever fades, it can be tough to go back.

I’ve recently spent some time with a 5.1 surround system from Axiom Audio and wanted to post impressions. Axiom is a boutique company based in Ontario which builds loudspeakers in small batches, receives rave reviews, and backs its gear with great service.

I swapped in their Epic Master 350 Home Theatre for a couple of ancient (though recently rebuilt) Sansui towers in the front, and a cheap HTIB satellite speaker/ subwoofer bundle I found on Craigslist and have been using for the centre, rear, and low-frequency effect (bass) channels in my medium-to-large listening room.

In other words, I already had a 5.1 setup, but went from mismatched speakers of dubious quality, put together piecemeal (essentially, what you’ll find in most living rooms) to a ‘real’ entry-level home theatre system.

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The Epic Master 350 bundle is also available in Black Oak finish

What a difference a set of high quality, balanced and tonally matched speakers makes! Regardless of the source (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital TV broadcast, Call of Duty, and everything from heavily compressed digital music files to true lossless), in material I’ve listened to dozens of times, I heard nuance and detail I didn’t know existed. Vast improvements in dialogue clarity and low-end detail in movies and TV soundtracks stood out most, but the front and surround Axioms also shone—music and surround effects were clearer and fuller than I’ve ever heard at home.

For me, small details enhance the experience of using nicer gear too—magnetic grill fasteners instead of flimsy plastic pegs. Banana clip attachments instead of spring clips or those maddening twist-on red and blacks. Beautiful wood grain finish instead of painted particle board.

 

The components

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Axiom EP350 subwoofer

Low end through the EP350 is deeper and tighter than with any sub I’ve owned. Individual bass instruments stand out; gone is that generic boomy drone many have come to associate with subwoofers. With the EP350′s high-quality built-in 500W amplifier, I could dial the system up to reference level (the volume at which is sound is played in movie theatres) without the bass distorting.M3CherryGrilleOff2

M3 bookshelf speakers

The M3s have proven to be terrific little mains. Using a driver larger than Axiom’s M2 bookshelf speaker, the company recommends them for configurations that don’t have a subwoofer. I found them detailed, clear and plenty loud for listening in stereo and in surround mode, and critics have described them as a steal for the price.

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VP100 centre channel

A good centre channel is essential – 80-90% of your sound from movies and TV shows comes from the centre speaker. Axiom’s entry-level centre along with the M3s create a seamless soundstage up front. Dialogue in TV and movie soundtracks was clearer than I’ve ever heard in my house, and the centre channel upgrade was far and away the improvement I noticed most.

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QS4 Surround speakers

The ‘quadpolar’ QS4s fire in 4 directions—from 2 woofers and 2 tweeters—and create a sort of ambient ‘sound space’ for your surround channels, and surround effects (rain, traffic noise, crowd chatter at sporting events) seem complimented by the design. Sounds through the QS4s don’t seem to originate in any particular place, but add impressive nuance and detail to the mix. They come equipped with mounts for stands which Axiom sells separately, but I found it adequate to lay them on their backs on shelves and tables.

Wrap up

It’s easy to recommend the Epic Master 350 bundle to anyone looking to wade into the waters of ‘serious’ home theatre. But as with any tech, research is recommended – online you can find reviews, head-to-heads with side-by-side A/B testing, and audio forums with more anecdotal evidence of the superiority of one manufactuer or another, than you’ll ever have time to digest.

Axiom is one solid option, though. They build high quality loudspeakers, offer a 30 day in-home trial period, free shipping, and a discount if you buy a bundle rather than individual speakers. Their gear looks beautiful, to boot. And they’re Canadian.

http://www.axiomaudio.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ButNoSeriously

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