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Australia is a literally and figuratively a hot bed for great audio. Many great products have come from down under, including the fabulous Burson gear I reviewed for PF. The list grows. Marc Phillips, of importers CCI, contacted me about a pair of monitors that he felt were right up my alley in the price to performance scheme of things.
He was talking about the Axis VoiceBox S, a two way, ribbon tweeter equipped, rear ported, stand mount speaker, priced at $2495. The VoiceBox S was designed by two gentlemen named John Reilly and Brad Serhan, who are held in the highest regards in the Australian audio community. Axis is owned by Reilly, who is of part Chinese descent and maintains dual citizenship so he can manufacture his speakers in China on a cost effective basis, while maintaining the highest level of quality, with the products made under his supervision.
The VoiceBox S is currently available in a high quality gloss black finish, but more finishes may possibly be available at some point. The build is superb, with the speakers exuding quality in feel and appearance. They are supplied with metal grilles, but I believe these are to protect the drivers, and for serious listening, the grilles should be removed, which is the only way I listened.
I set up the VoiceBox S in my system consisting of a McIntosh MA6600 integrated amp, a Bryston BDA-1 DAC, a Simaudio MiND streamer, a Sony TC-350 Reel to Reel, with Transparent and Audio Art cables. They sat on Sound Anchor stands, toed in about 12 degrees or so, roughly the same as my usual reference for this system, Harbeth Compact 7ES3's.
I was sent a brand new pair that still had the protective plastic seal around the finish, hot off the production line. CCI told me that about 100 hours of break in would be appropriate and would allow the VoiceBox S' bass driver to loosen up. I was a good way there around the 75 hour mark, and let the process happen naturally.
First impressions? Impressively transparent and distortion free midrange, and a smooth as silk treble range. This speaker was obviously voiced for accuracy... and musical enjoyment. I have recently complained to anyone who will listen about the current trend of designing speakers with red hot tweeters, for more high end "extension". The problem is, mated with super inert cabinets, another generally misguided trend, you can peel the paint off the walls. What fun is that? The VoiceBox S was not only extended, but sweet sounding on top.
Interestingly, when I mentioned to a few fellow audiophiles that the VoiceBox S had a ribbon tweeter, their first question was. "I thought ribbons were very bright". This is a myth, and could not be farther from the truth. I have had half a dozen ribbon based designs in house and none were bright, as a matter of fact, one was even on the dark side tonally. It is all about implementation. The Axis team's implementation is superb, and there is a reason they were able to transition from being the go to monitor for the top recording studios to audiophile favorites in Australia.
The Voice excels at image specificity, as a matter of fact, it may be best I have heard in this category for speakers of its size and price. I think this may be due to the fact that the presentation is essentially distortion free, and ribbon is beautifully integrated with the woofer. Complex mixes, like Robert Plant's brand new Lullaby...And The Ceaseless Roar sounded dynamic, vivid, and lively, with no artificial smoothing over, or homogenization. The same held true for Plant's brilliant 2005 effort, Mighty Rearranger. The title song, and the majestic track "The Enchanter", chock full of subtle, exotic touches, seemed to float in space, unattached to any surface. A neat trick.
Perhaps the key to the VoiceBox S' ability to hook the listener is its coherence. The Axis makes sense of the music, regardless of genre, format, or vintage. No spotlighting, no congestion, no blurred musical nuances. On the flip side, no etching, no unnatural or artificial framing, or exaggerated presence.
A quick word about the bass presentation. I found it to be very articulate, fast, accurate, and natural sounding. NO monitor is going to ultimately provide real life bass weight. The best designers voice the speaker so that the limited bass extension is not a liability...quality over quantity, and that is what you get here. Stating the obvious here, these are relatively compact monitors. They need to be used in a small to medium sized room. The listener is rewarded with careful set up, with desired toe in, good cables, and high quality amplification and sources. The reward is accurate, fatigue free, and musically satisfying performance.
As you can see from the specifications posted below, the sensitivity of the VoiceBox S is on the lowish side, at 83dB. This means a decently powered amp will be needed, but you won't need some mega-watt behemoth. The Axis VoiceBox S is easy to recommend for those looking for an affordable, neutral, and very satisfying two way stand mount monitor that will fit into any decor. If you are in the market, I highly suggest an audition. Andre Marc