June 2001Axiom Audio Millennia M40Ti Loudspeakers
by Doug Schneider
In December 2000, I heaped praise on the $275 USD Axiom Audio Millennia M3Ti loudspeakers. The speakers deserved it because they are ridiculously good. As a result of what I wrote, many people ask if I still feel the same way about the speakers. The answer is no. If I wrote the review today, I would say that the M3Ti is even better than I described it in my review.
The M3Ti is one of those rare loudspeakers, something like Paradigms Atom, that not only offers exceptional value for its price, but exceptional value if it were twice the price! In fact, Ive put my views to the test and compared the M3Tis to other speakers costing many times their price, and in numerous cases theyve beaten those other speakers hands down. And I dont mean beaten in such a way that you have to compare price to performance. Both speakers beat them outright! David and Goliath stuff, for sure.
With all that praise, it still must be said that these stellar little transducers are not the last word in speaker design. Obviously you can do better. Their biggest compromise seems to be their size, which in turn means two things. First, to set them up properly you need stands, which increases the total cost. Therefore, $275 plus the price of stands is really the true cost of the M3Tis. And second, by nature of their diminutive size, they are restricted in terms of bass extension and overall output.
Enter the $465-per-pair Axiom Millennia M40Ti loudspeaker. The M40Ti is more or less the M3Ti grown to reach the floor, which accomplishes two goals: You dont need stands, and as a result of the greater cabinet volume, theres significantly greater bass extension and overall output capability.
The M40Ti is a two-way design that stands just over 33" tall. It uses the companys 1" Titanium tweeter and 6.5" aluminum woofer, just like the M3Ti. The M3Ti has one port, but the M40Ti has two of Axiom's special Vortex ports -- front and back. When you view the speakers from the top, you will see the all-MDF cabinet uses the same asymmetrical wall design (the back is narrower than the front) that is intended to reduce internal standing waves. Nice gold-plated binding posts flank the bottom rear of the speaker.
The M40Ti is a sturdy but fairly lightweight design, each speaker weighing 30 pounds. Picking the M40Ti up and carrying it around the room is a snap, making setup easy. For a firm footing, the speakers come with carpet-piercing spikes and plastic footers -- you choose which ones you want to use.
Axiom says that the M40Ti presents an 8-ohm load to your amp and has an in-room sensitivity of 93dB. The latter rating seems a little high, but nevertheless, they are an easy-to-drive speaker that can likely be used with the majority of reasonably powered receivers, integrated amplifiers, and even moderately powered tube amps.
Due to the low price of their speakers, Axiom uses vinyl veneers, but the vinyl is applied extremely well. As with the M3Ti, the fit and finish of the M40Ti are superb, with every side veneered, including the bottom. The quality of workmanship would be suitable for a speaker costing double or triple the price.
I purposely asked for a different finish than black this time since I wanted to see what the other veneers looked like. The maple that Axiom sent is a bright, attractive color that adds a touch more elegance to the look of the speakers, especially when the grilles are on (I removed the grilles for critical listening). The speakers are also available in a Boston cherry finish. I joked to one guest that the M40Tis were a European design and cost $2000 per pair. He didnt notice that they werent real wood and actually believed me on the price.
Axiom Audio has many dealers in Canada, but it may be difficult to locate their products in the US. If you can listen to them at a retailer, do that. But if not, they are also sold online through Axiom's website -- with a money-back guarantee.
Like the M3Tis, the M40Tis are solid performers that play music to a shockingly high level of fidelity. As a result, I didnt feel embarrassed hooking them up to some very expensive equipment. The speakers were used with a bevy of gear, including the pricey Blue Circle BC8 amps and Audio Aero 24/192 CD player; some was more moderately priced, including the Vecteur I-5 integrated amplifier and L-3 CD player. Its pretty safe to say that every piece of equipment in the audio chain, including the wires, cost more than the speakers themselves. But as I said, Im not embarrassed by this. Like its little brother (or sister perhaps), the M40Ti is every bit the stellar performer.
The first thing you will notice with this speaker is its bass. Compared to many other speakers near the M40Ti's price, theres more bass -- much more. The soundtrack to All the Pretty Horses [Sony Classical SK 89465] thunders home. With large-scale works, there is a grander sense of space and realism that I know many listeners will like. The bass presentation is warm, very fleshed out, and quite deep given the modest size and even more modest price. The upper bass is also more pronounced and gives male vocals much more presence. If there is a caveat here, the extra upper-bass energy can make male vocals sound a little chesty and overly resonant. Some will find this a small price to pay, while others may prefer the M3Ti for this reason.
Overall, both Axiom speakers have an even and balanced presentation that doesnt exaggerate any portion of the frequency range. You dont often find this in the budget price range because severe compromises usually have to be made. Axiom seems to have balanced their compromises wisely -- their speakers sound quite neutral. The high frequencies of both speakers are pristine and extended and once again compare favorably to those of much more expensive speakers. (Or as one person put it, "No speakers at that price should have that good-sounding a tweeter.") Perhaps you could fault it if the speakers cost $1500, but not at the M40Ti's price.
But where both Axiom speakers really hit the nail on the head is in the midrange. Because so much happens in this area and even novice listeners can tell whether a voice sounds natural or not in a blink of an eye, when the midrange is wrong, no matter how good the rest of the speaker is, the sound will never make up for it. Likewise, a great midrange can make up for other deficiencies in the speaker (which is not the case with either of the Axiom speakers because through the entire spectrum, they perform admirably). But its in the midrange that there are some subtle but meaningful differences between the M3Ti ands M40Ti.
As I wrote at the beginning, I think even more of the M3Tis today than when I reviewed them, and its precisely in the midrange where they shine. They have an uncanny ability to present a reasonably robust presentation along with loads of detail -- all with an astonishing level of transparency. Vocals sound very real. Frankly, performance in this regard would be great for $1000 speakers, let alone speakers that cost about one-quarter that amount. And the M40Ti has almost the same beauty in the midrange -- almost.
I would declare the M40Ti a hands-down winner over the M3Ti except that it doesnt convey quite that same midrange magic. The M40Ti is every bit as balanced, and certainly even more robust and lifelike in terms of dynamics, but there is just a little bit of lost energy in the midrange that doesnt allow me to connect with it quite as well. It was interesting to play "Far Away" from All The Pretty Horses and compare the two speakers. This track is a fairly sparse arrangement with a closely miked vocal by Marty Stuart. The M40Ti has a nice, weighty foundation, and the voice takes on a slightly richer and fuller presentation. The voice becomes just a tad bit chesty, but this is offset with the extra bit of presence that can sound more real to some. The M3Ti is definitely a little lighter, but its not lightweight -- the overall balance of this little speaker is still good. What I notice, though, is that the voice is just a wee-bit clearer and better delineated. As well, there is just a tad bit more of that see-through transparency.
One speaker is stronger and more authoritative, while the other is lighter and a bit more nimble. It comes down to preferences, and Im sure that again given two listeners there will be different winners. But I found myself turning to the M3Ti more often.
Similar differences occur with more complex arrangements. The percussion on Ani DiFrancos Up Up Up Up Up Up [Righteous Babe Records RBR13-D] had much more visceral weight and presence through the M40Ti. The bass depth and room-filling ability are things the M3Ti just cant match. And when it comes to how loud the speakers can play, the little speaker just gets left in the dust. However, in terms of the speed and resolution, there are slight differences again. The M3Ti doesnt offer as lifelike a presentation in terms of frequency range and output, but the level of detail and transparency are just a smidgen greater. As well, in terms of soundstage depth and image specificity, the M3Ti gets the nod. No, it doesnt convey the ambience and presence as well as the M40Ti (something Ive noticed that you need deep bass to do), but it can convey a startling level of depth and resolution in the midrange.
So is there a small anomaly in the midrange response of one versus the other? Or is it because the bass is less prominent with the M3Ti that the midrange becomes a little more forward and incisive? Frankly, I dont know. But what I do know is there is an ever-so-slightly different sound that may cause listeners to favor one over the other.
When playing something heavy in percussion, like the Ani DiFranco disc, you will find that the nature of the M40Ti's bass becomes more apparent. Its akin to the sound of traditional tube amps -- full, warm, and just a little bit fat. As a result, instruments and voices are more robust (albeit a tad chesty, as I mentioned). But from a hypercritical, audiophile perspective, what the M40Ti still misses is the wallop and slam that an even larger speaker with larger (or multiple) drivers can accomplish. For example, Axiom's own $1100 M80Ti has the same woofer drivers, but uses two of them. Then there is the $2000 Mirage OM-7 that uses a single 8" cone. Both of these speakers go a little deeper, but more importantly, they play bass with more tightness and control. There is more chest-pounding slam, and the chestiness I mention is largely absent. But lets not be too hard on the M40Ti. After all, I just compared it to speakers that cost more than two and four times its price, and what it does in its own price range is extremely praiseworthy.
A more logical comparison is to the $450 JMlab Chorus 706 or $399 PSB Image 2B. Both are good two-way bookshelf speakers. The 706 seems to strike a balance between the M3Ti and M40Ti in terms of bass presentation. It has more bass than the M3Ti ,with similar tightness and control, but it doesnt have quite the depth or fullness of the M40Ti. Depending on the room and listening preferences, you might like the moderately balanced M3Ti, another listener might favor the Chorus 706, and another may long for the full, romantic sound of the M40Ti. The Image 2B is drier than both the Chorus 706 and the M40Ti. Some people may enjoy its more reticent presentation (and it is slightly cheaper), but in both cases I think the money is well spent to step up to one of these more expensive speakers. So line up four listeners to listen, and there is a chance that all will have preferences regarding which speakers they like the most. Such is the way it is with audio and music.
This is a rather hypercritical review of a very inexpensive loudspeaker. Im not so sure that many audiophiles will explore the Axiom M40Tis so closely -- but they should because they are that good. No, they are not giant killers that will negate the need for much more expensive speakers, but they will give the competition at two or even three times their price a scare. In fact, when I listen to these speakers, I often forget just how much they cost and think only about what they sound like (and end up using them with equipment that costs multiples of their price).
In the end, whatever way you look at it and despite any small differences, the Axiom Millennia M40Ti is every bit the speaker the M3Ti is -- but for different reasons. For some listeners, the added bass extension, the ability to play louder, and the fact that the M40Ti doesnt need stands will mean that the speaker is the logical choice. For others, the decision wont be as clear-cut. Luckily, the M40Ti is also inexpensive, and a purchase wont break your bank account.
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