Algonquin Listening Tests
Unless otherwise noted, all of my critical listening tests were conducted in my Auralex acoustically treated theater room prior to installing them in my workout room.
CD: Pat Metheny / John Scofield - I Can See Your House from Here
This has become an instant jazz classic of guitar legends Pat Metheny and John Scofield. It's a close miked recording and, on a good speaker system, can really be sonic delight. I started with track #3 "No Matter What". The Axioms revealed a respectable amount of airiness to the brushes with great sustain that seemed to extend a bit beyond the speakers. Guitars were clear and vibrant and although the tonal balance favored the upper treble frequencies a bit, was still overall smoother than when I directly compared them to the Klipsch AW-525s. The cymbals on the Klipsch speakers were more in your face and sounded more constricted. The bass wasn't as deep and there seemed to be too much emphasis on the mid frequencies. It was clear to me within minutes that the Axioms were more at home with playing complex jazz music than the Klipsch’s were. Although it wasn't a fair comparison, I wanted to hear how different the Axioms sounded compared to the much more expensive RBH Sound MC-6C's. The RBH's had a much more open and carefree sound than either of the two speaker systems and the guitars simply sounded more "real". While they didn’t quite have the bass extension of the Axioms, they were a bit tighter and more controlled. The Axioms were tonally closer to the RBH’s than the Klipsch's and I felt they shared many of the virtues that make the RBH MC-6C's such a fine bookshelf loudspeaker. This is saying a lot considering the Axioms come in at less than 2-1/2 times the price.
CD: Dave Matthews - Crash
The Axioms did a commendable job revealing the tingly sound of the cymbals in Track #3 "Crash Into Me". The bass drums had a nice punch to them with a good deal of extension for a speaker of its size. The vocals and snare drum hits came off a bit bright but remained clear and well focused. In comparison, Dave Matthews vocals came off a bit too lispy for my tastes when I listened to him on the Klipsch speakers. The tingle sound of the cymbals I was so fond of from the Axioms was faded into the background and the bass, although tight and well controlled, seemed almost anemic sounding in comparison. Granted, this isn't fair, since the Klipsch contain a smaller 5-1/4" woofer in a sealed cabinet design, but considering both speakers were roughly the same price and genre, I thought it was still valid to point out that the Axioms give you far greater bass extension and punch which is critical for those not planning on installing a subwoofer.
Track #6 "Say Goodbye" is quite a percussive treat to the ears. When listening on the Axioms, I really enjoyed the airiness in the flutes and the harmonics of the snare drum which commanded attention. The Klipsch speakers simply sounded more two dimensional and lacked the realism I was hearing in the Axioms. Had I not done a direct comparison, I wouldn't have realized just how much more detail in the instrumentals I was hearing on the Axioms.
It wasn't until I really pushed both systems that I started hearing distress. The Klipsch simply sounded more compressed and closed in, while the Axioms maintained better separation of instruments but took on an edgy tonal quality in the upper mids and high frequencies. It sounded to me like the driver breakup mode was becoming audible on the Axiom since the woofer was being run fullrange with no crossover element. To keep things in perspective however, most bookshelf speakers I play at high volumes in large listening spaces with no bass management tend to break up, especially in the bottom end because the manufacturer chose to tune the speakers lower for maximum bass extension with a severe trade off in SPL. The Onix x-ls, Dynaudio 52-SEs, Dali Mentor 1s and Usher S-520s are prime examples of speakers exhibiting this phenomenon. I didn't experience bottoming out issues for the Klipsch or Axiom speakers which particularly surprised me since the Axioms were a ported design and tuned fairly low (50Hz region). This is a tribute to a well-executed bass alignment that Axiom employed in this design. No matter how hard I pushed them on real world music materials such as the kick drums from the Fourplay Chant CD, the woofers didn't falter. Fear not, as you can run these speakers full range.
CD: Porcupine Tree - Signify
I moved both sets of speakers (Axiom's and Klipsch's) into my workout room to do some listening evaluations in their intended listening space. My preference for the Axioms became more evident. The Axioms simply had a much fuller and more articulate sound. I was particularly impressed with the punchy bass of the Axioms when I fired up a few songs from Porcupine Tree namely track #2 "Signify". The Axioms did a great job of revealing accurate tonality and detail of the acoustical guitars in Track #5 "Waiting Phase One". The percussions in track #6 "Waiting Phase Two" were bold and dynamic on both speaker systems but they simply sounded more detailed and better put together on the Axioms. Since my workout room has a lot of windows, glass doors and hardwood floors, the horn-loaded Klipsch speakers just didn't seem to be the right choice for this application. It's important to note that I did hear 4 Klipsch AW-525s in an outdoor environment that sounded quite good, but they seemed to be a bit more finicky than the Axioms as to what type of listening space they played into. At the end of the day, I'd probably be happy having either system in my room but the Axioms were the clear winner to me.