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Effect Audio Axiom Review – All About Synergy

Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasised due to my measurement setup which I found to be the case here. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. I gave the Axiom 100hrs burn-in to ensure maximum performance prior to subjective breakdown.

Tonality –

Effect Audio tout a reference-grade tuning on their website, however, in both listening and measurement, I do perceive this as being a fairly coloured earphone. I do find it to be executed in a manner that isn’t obtrusive that said – the Axiom simply sounds fun and easy to like. Most notable is its large, slightly mid-bass biased bass boost that instigates a warm tonality and full, bassy character. The midrange follows up with moderate pinna gain and a smoother upper midrange tuning that avoids intensity or strain. The top-end is defined by a 5kHz peak that sits one step behind the mid-bass and helps to open up its presentation, making for quite a crisp sounding earphone. I don’t personally find the earphone to be bright as the peak sits behind the bass, however, the laid-back midrange does make it sound slightly more isolated by comparison. That said, do note that given the boost to low-end warmth in addition to the uptick of density, the midrange isn’t stretched thin or raspy but is rather imbued with a glossy and highly articulate character. Altogether, this provides a slightly u-shaped signature with a fun over accurate character.  

Tuning Variables

There are currently two modules available for the Axiom, the stock black modules and a silver module available for separate purchase. There is not an enormous difference between them in listening or measurement. Treble is the chief change, with the stock modules providing a brighter, airier top-end. However, for those sensitive to highs who may be concerned about the top-end, the silver modules are a good solution as they offer a darker background and a noticeable decrease in brightness. I personally found the black modules to provide a more balanced response, their more prominent treble better complementing the enlarged bass. By comparison, I found the silver modules became a bit stuffy and congested.

The stock ear tips also play a role in sound tuning with their horn structure and unique sound tube composition. They do indeed provide a slightly more open top-end relative to something like Final’s E-tips. I found them a great complement from a sound and fit standpoint. In terms of cable pairing, I used Effect Audio’s Ares II which is a fairly innocuous but high-quality entry-level copper cable that I find to pair well with most IEMs. It generally provides a slight midrange prominence which is a good match for the U-shaped Axiom. All comments below will be using the black modules, Ares II and stock ear tips.

Bass –

Lows are big, coloured and fun with adequate detail to inspire. The tuning plays a large roll in this impression as the Axiom simply has a large amount of emphasis here, bringing bass to the forefront of the presentation. Lows are big, somewhat mid-bass biased but offer sound cleanliness in the upper-bass to prevent excessive bloom. Notes are big and full but sub-bass commands a good amount of power and extends into the perceptual with some pressurisation and a defined rumble. The bass does sound slightly rounded but has sufficient control to avoid bloat. However, it is clear the Axiom has been tuned to impress rather than to accurately portray, which isn’t a bad thing at all just a miscommunication of expectations.

The actual driver provides some interesting qualities. It is an impressively dynamic sound with great drive and impact, especially with regards to the mid-bass. I also found myself impressed by the level of texture and detail here. The Axiom combines an assertive attack with a slower decay. At the same time it feels reasonably well-damped and controlled so low are never sloppy or muddy. However, some smearing of fine detail is definitely evident on faster tracks due to this style of presentation. The fuller tuning also doesn’t help as separation is just ample. While the Axiom isn’t the instrument for those wanting the most intricate deconstruction of a complex track, they are fun and offer a big, super punchy and impressively textured note delivery.

Mids –

In some senses, the Axiom is reminiscent of the recently reviewed Balmung albeit executed in a slightly less balanced manner to my ears. By this, I am referring to the combination of elevated articulation in the lower treble that is counteracted by a further enhanced bass warmth. Though very evidently coloured, the two play a healthy complement that yields a surprisingly natural and euphonic listen. The 2kHz bump provides sound vocal presence and size, more so than a similar 3kHz bump, and the midrange is slightly laid-back but never comes across as diminished nor strained. Above, there is a small nadir which further counteracts the effects of the earphone’s enhanced articulation, achieving surprising coherence altogether. This combination of features is pivotal in achieving the non-fatiguing quality that Effect Audio targeted during the earphone’s inception.

The net result is a slightly head-voice biased sound with a highly articulate nature, medium warm tone and generally sound body and timbre. The voicing is generally natural, but a slight nasal character may bother those especially sensitive to midrange timbre. Otherwise, I found the Axiom achieves a good balance between male and female vocals that both sit slightly in front of midrange instruments. They are presented in a rich, well-bodied manner yet clarity remains very impressive. Like the bass, I wouldn’t consider the Axiom to offer the highest raw resolution and separation is just ample. However, it is a charming style of colouration that brings small details to the listener’s attention, taking best advantage of what is there. If you enjoy a clear and articulate sound but are sensitive to sharpness or intensity, the Axiom is a unique proposition.

Highs –

The earphones peak at 4.8kHz right on the crossover point before falling off into the 6kHz region and picking back up around 10kHz for air and sparkle. Consider the measured 8kHz peak to be coupler resonance as this was not apparent to me in subjective listening. Overall, treble sits one step behind the bass so it shouldn’t be taken as a bright or fatiguing earphone, especially so with the silver modules. Rather, it simply has a crisp and energetic voicing, not forward positioning. The treble voicing is quite enjoyable to my ears, again, if you go into this without the expectation of a reference, accurate voicing. I do personally find 5kHz peaks more enjoyable than 6kHz or higher emphasis as it provides a slightly warmer voicing with less over-sharpening. The Axiom does just that, sounding pleasantly well-bodied but similarly crisp and engaging in its delivery. Instruments are still a touch thin with an emphasis on percussion and the initial leading edge over huge texture and body.

This instigates its crispness, with a standout sense of bite that enhances the immediacy of fine details. Notes also decay quicker than neutral, not ideal for perfect instrument timbre once again, but also serving to enhance separation. The Axiom sounds nicely composed on complex tracks here as a result as its presentation never becomes too busy. This is aided by a cleaner background imbued by the darker middle-treble tuning. It isn’t perfectly black but aids contrast between foreground and background. Above is a small bump that imbues a pleasing sense of sparkle, albeit I am not hearing the same extension and micro-detail here that similarly priced high-end IEMs provide. The Axiom isn’t a poorly extended IEM by any means and provides a good amount of headroom on top. However, to my ears, it does fall behind the competition in raw resolving power of micro-details. Still, if you enjoy a crisp and well-detailed foreground but are averse to brightness, this is once again quite a unique option simply by virtue of its atypical yet well-executed tonality.

Soundstage –

The Axiom is performing at a good level with regards to soundstage presentation if, again, not being a technical outlier. Dimensions are solid, providing the ability to stretch beyond the head in both width and depth in addition to offering a nicely rounded presentation. Its portrayal of distance is also quite involving due to the combination of focused foreground and dark yet nicely resolved background. While speed isn’t a standout and imaging aren’t holographic as a result, positioning is impressively accurate, and the centre image is stable and solid.

This impression is aided by tack sharp directional cues and strong layering. While it doesn’t hyper-delineate between many layers, foreground and background have great contrast and definition which aids immersion and the perception of a multi-dimensional image. Separation is where I feel the Axiom falls slightly behind both due to its full, warm bass and midrange voicing in addition to its slower bass decay. While not congested or sloppy, the Axiom simply isn’t as effortless as many competing IEMs during complex passages. On the contrary, treble showcases a superb ability to discern fine details.

Driveability –

With a higher 112 dB sensitivity and a medium 32 Ohm impedance, the Axiom is easy to drive due to its efficiency and slightly higher impedance which makes it more source agnostic, especially given its multi-driver design.

Output impedance sensitivity

I was expecting the Axiom to have a considerably less linear impedance curve but, for the most part, it is quite consistent. Below 4kHz, the curve is dead even and this is likely due to the dynamic driver covering bass and mids, giving them a consistent character. Above, however, treble does become brighter as the output impedance rises. This provides a crisper, more sparkly sound for those wanting more energy. For my ears, I did prefer low OI sources as I find the Axiom bright enough out of the box. This may be an avenue for tuning with the silver modules that attenuates these frequency ranges.

Driving power

The Axiom sounds good from portable and lower powered sources due to its efficient design. Despite the impedance being higher than many high-end IEMs, I found it required less volume than many competitors. Switching from a dongle like the S9 Pro to my desktop stack revealed a slightly tighter bass and a more affirmative sub-bass slam. However, otherwise, the tonality and control were similar. If you want the largest stage, a good cable and source is recommended, but this isn’t a necessity if your budget doesn’t permit. In addition, the earphone isn’t overly sensitive to the extent that they are hiss prone. Connected to the Shanling M2X with the amp circuit on and volume set to 0, hiss was just barely audible and completely inaudible when music was playing.

Suggested Pair Ups

The warm yet articulate nature of the Axiom does make source pairings somewhat tricky as both bright and warm sources are not ideal. A neutral, reference source is ideal and this is not to be mistaken for a revealing source, many of which have a brighter treble. The output impedance is best kept low but impedance adaptors can be used to increase treble response for those wanting this style of sound. They aren’t difficult to drive otherwise, playing well with portable sources and can handle a source with a slight background hiss since they aren’t too sensitive.

Next Page: Cables, Comparisons & Verdict

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