Effect Audio needs no introduction. They are one of the most renowned aftermarket IEM cable maker. They mostly make cables. They have past history of making IEMs but we don’t usually expect IEMs from them. They have a whole range of cables though, starting at $100, going as high as $3399. But in the later stage of last year they decided to drop a couple of IEMs in not so budget friendly price ranges.
What I have been working on for a while is their cheaper but not exactly cheaply price Axiom hybrid. It has a simple hybrid system. A 12mm magnesium DD is paired with a twinned FK series Knowles driver. And it’s priced at $1499. It’s not cheap but there is something odd too. Axiom doesn’t ship with a cable. Effect Audio doesn’t target the usual buyers here. This IEM is targeted towards the seasoned audiophiles, those audiophiles who already have suitable cables at their disposal. And if you already have their Horus or Cleopatra cables you can get a discount of $180. One can avail discounts on other cable bundles too.
With the Axiom, Effect Audio has introduced a new branch in tuning, modularity, modules that bring changes to the sound. We all were restricted to nozzles and vents but this is totally different and can have a greater impact.
Which IEM really competes with this? One answer is none, no IEM has this kind of modular design. But price wise the Mest MK2 and Solaris 2020 are the closest competitors.
You can buy one from here:
In their words:
“The Axiom is Effect Audio’s latest groundbreaking in-ear monitors. The Axiom is more than just a technical audio device. This is an experience product that grows with you; its modular design empowering the most discerning of users with absolute control and scalability.
This is our statement on what an personal audiophile product of the 21st century should be like: embodying all of the virtues of sustainability, versatility and user experience in one product.”
ACCESSORIES AND PACKAGING:
If you read a bit about Axiom, Effect Audio wants sustainability as a feature of the Axiom and the brand is serious about it. It can feel like a bad move and the Axiom doesn’t ship with a carry case or even a pouch while $50 IEMs ship with one.
The unboxing experience is nice but the usable set of accessories is limited. The box has 2 set of connector modules with MMCX and 2pin sockets, there is a set of E-pro Horn tips and a screwdriver to replace the Modules. And.. a couple of cards with warranty and manuals available upon scanning the QR code .. That’s it.
Build quality of the earpieces is excellent. Made out of metal it’s exceptionally strong and thanks to the pogo pin type connectors, sound modules are attached tightly without any shoddy feelings.
Yes, the shell is slightly on the larger and heavier side. I don’t know why, but I think this could have been smaller. The nozzle is deep enough to provide a stable fit while the E-pro horn tips have nice grip. I do not find the back plate much appealing but that’s my own opinion.
Axiom : The concept and my opinion on it
Axiom, sounds elegant yet simple. But these IEMs from Effect Audio are slightly tricky. There are a few quirks to it. The biggest USP here is the Modular abilities. It doesn’t ship with a cable out of the box. And I understand what they are trying to do here. Let me put my point of view here. It targets those who have already invested in cables, good quality cables.
Take most of the Premium brands as an example, let it be CA from USA or CA from Poland, VE or InEar or even 64audio, ultimately most of the buyers opt for more capable premium cables. When you have a Premium bike but you use low grade fuel, it just can’t deliver the desired performance. This is a similar situation. Effect Audio didn’t want to pair this IEM with a sub-par cable. It sounds odd, they are primarily a cable company but they had a different mindset with the Axiom IEMs.
A premium cable would have made it more expensive, maybe the Axiom hybrid would have been $500 dearer with an aptly capable cable but it won’t be if you already have a capable cable lying around.
I hope you guys are getting the drift here..
Let’s move on.
PAIRING WITH SOURCES:
I usually do not pay a lot of attention to this but this IEM is seriously dependent on the source and cable used. Use a warm source and this IEM is seriously smooth and thick, texture, accuracy and precision is not very well defined, but gets a lot more musical. use a source like Fiio KA3 and things are exceptionally precise and accurate.
It will be hard to have two people on the same page if they are not using the same source and similar cable. With this IEM paring is vital or else, EQ. Axiom pairs well with analytical source while warmer sources make things less accurate and loose.
This review is done with the Micro Signature and EA Cleopatra cable which pairs like a charm with the Axiom, bringing out the best of the IEM.
PAIRING with CABLES:
If you don’t have aftermarket cables and want the Axiom any way this is the cheapest bundle offering from EA. The copper brings fuller notes with thicker body and a bit more spread bases of the bass notes which gives it a more pleasing and musical feeling. The lower end is meatier and punchy. This does polish the treble down a bit but still has the attack and sparkle. Mid range too gains some weight and doesn’t have the sharpness of the silver or hybrid. Stage too is decent, slightly taller and wider than the Mest mk2.
This is the best pairing I have tried till date.
The Silver cable pairs exceptionally with the Axiom. This pairing manages to recover the highest amount of sharpness and transparency even when paired with a musical and warm source. The lower end is tighter with better definition and accuracy. Sub-bass is a bit more extended but not as voluminous. Mid range, especially vocals gain excellent accuracy and are very precise. Treble has the best balance of sparkle and transparency here, with better air between instruments. This pairing has the biggest stage too, as big as VE8 and bigger than both Solaris 2020 and Mest mk2.
I have been working on the Axiom for while. I initially had the prototype and then came the Retail unit. I barely disliked the prototype, mostly because of its unclear floor and larger notes, notes which were less precision and lacked any kind of aggression. It has a bassy feel to it while notes across the spectrum were smoothly put. A huge positive point is it’s bigger than flagship stage. Its stage is bigger than both VE8 and Earsonics Grace.
Not a single offensive note here, it just simply wasn’t on the front foot.
When I heard the prototype, I thought paying $1000 for it is totally worth it for someone who doesn’t desire aggression or tingle but want huge stage and a calming sound.
This came as a surprise to me. My feedback to the team was clear, please tighten the notes up while keeping the essence intact. Effect Audio did exactly what I asked for. Maybe that’s what they intended initially, I don’t know. This unit is a clear step up from the prototype. It’s a lot more accurate and precise. Notes have fantastic texture while the transparency is as good as anything else.
The lower end is tighter with very good sub-bass extension, just behind the Solaris 2020 but is more voluminous and weighty. Both volume and energy go up from there as the mid bass gains a bit more volume while moving greater amount of air than both Mest MK2 and Solaris 2020. Unlike its counter parts the Axiom has a more layered and textured lower end with better distinction between notes. The only area I feel the Axiom hybrid loses out is grounding. Let me explain. The lower end is fantastic with texture and the layered feeling is more evolved than that of Mest MK2 but the Mest MK2 takes the note up and drops the note on the same plane it rose from. Axiom doesn’t do this thing as cleanly. The note starts to rise just before dropping to the same plane with busier tracks. With slower tracks the base is wider than it should be. This is a minor problem and most of us won’t ever notice this but this robs the Axiom off of some precision and making it lose points in the technical abilities department.
Everything else about the lower end is perfect. The decay speed is paced accurately with a musical tuning in mind which helps with weight and body. Upper bass is well energized with very good clarity and transparency.
Mid range is slightly on the thicker side but totally depends on the source. When used with Fiio KA3 the whole mid range is more aggressive but when used with Tri TK-2 the mids are thicker and lush. If James Blunt doesn’t sound sharp it has to be on the smoother side.
The transition from upper bass to lower mids is flawless since the DD and BA crossover comes at 4.8khz mark. The energy from upper mids is carried into the lower mids delivering excellent clarity and transparency. Thankfully the Micro Signature brings the accuracy and precision of James Blunt’s vioce, delivering required amount of sharpness and texture. If male vocals are spot on female vocals are even better. If you listen to someone like Lakeyah or Katy Perry, texture and definition on the body of each note can be heard effortlessly. This level of detail is not available with either MEST Mk2 or Solaris 2020 apparently. I definitely would have liked a bit tighter bases though. It kind of gets less clear at the floor.
Instruments around the vocals are nicely defined with excellent height and transparency but given that the Axiom has one of the biggest stages, these instruments could have been more evenly distributed like the MEST mk2. Axiom can feel a bit concentrated. Thankfully, pair it with anything, notes do not get overly sharp or thin even in the upper mid region. Yes, there is a bit of extra energy but that adds extra definition to it, rather than being bothering.
This is where the compound BA drivers take over and thankfully it doesn’t have a thin or sharp sounding typical BA type timber. This timber is more accurate. Expecting notes beyond upper mids to be smoother is unnatural to be exact. Axiom maintains exceptionally good sparkle and definition till the end of spectrum. Extension overall is as good as it gets but isn’t of the endless type we can find with MEST Mk2.
Layering and separation are better than all the competitors. Instruments do feel a bit closed in when I perceive the space near the periphery. All the instruments hit closer to the head and their decay takes those outward. I think the instruments could have been more evenly spread. Both back and fore ground instruments have fantastic clarity and crispiness though. This does rob it off of some subtleness. The stage is not as flexible and as the notes fill the stage vertically, there isn’t much space left for dynamic cue placement. Then again, the clarity, details, transparency and finishing definition is nearly impossible to find around $2000. If you like your details, not much worried about musicality, Axiom has nailed it.
Axiom has one of the biggest stages irrespective of the price. It’s taller and wider than flagships like Earsonics Grace. What Axiom doesn’t have is the sonic abilities since its notes fill most of it’s not so flexible stage. This stage is not very dynamic either, it doesn’t adjust its shape according to the song.
It must have a very 3d stage then? Not really as the Z-axis lacks depth compared to the other two axis making it a bit more flatter than others.
Imaging is fantastic nevertheless. All the notes originate from a single plane except the bass notes which have slightly higher projection. Bass notes are placed inside the head and they project into the head keeping things clear. Vocals are adjacent to the lower end while most of the instruments are placed outside the head. Each part of the spectrum take the required amount of headroom but the density of instruments could have been more even.
There will be more modules but as of now I have only one extra module with me and this doesn’t sound a lot different than the stock one. It still has similar notes presentation, accuracy and precision but with a slightly different emphasis.
The lower end is a bit less voluminous and tighter, the sub-bass extension feels a bit less extended, the mid bass has lesser punch and weight to it. Mid range is a bit more forward with extra emphasis going to the vocals while the instruments around it is slightly less emphasized. The treble region is a bit less energetic too. Stage is a touch more evenly spread but is slightly smaller with height and width while the Z-axis depth is better.
In other words this module has a more precise sounding lower end with a vocal focus and an aptly sparkly treble.
Let me help you, if you don’t have a good quality spare cable this is not the IEM to buy with a budget ceiling of $1500. If you have a warm and thick source like Hip DAC this might not be the best IEM either, unless thicker and fuller notes is what you want. If you want a lot of accessories, this not the best IEM you can get. Who is it for then, you must ask..
Axiom is for the more seasoned Audiophiles who already has invested in good cables and wants the best possible details and transparency out of their IEM, and when looking for a more musical sound will just swap a cable or module and enjoy similar technical abilities. It is for those who want one of best technicality, texture and musicality. This doesn’t sacrifice timber or tonality while achieving this while with a good SPC or silver cable. Don’t forget to pair it with an analytical source, a warm or musical source will make it loose definition and resolution.
To put it bluntly, its two prime competitors sound a bit less transparent, less defined and less resolving than Axiom. This is one the most technically capable IEM, more than flagships like even the VE8. Don’t expect a very musical sound though, without a copper cable.
Ahh.. Man, this IEM is hard to explain without complicating things. So many variables, but as many possibilities, that’s the beauty. And don’t forget the modules. Wink wink!!