- Manufacturer & Model
- Axiom Audio AxiomAir N3 Wi-Fi Speaker Review
- $849 base ($998 as reviewed)
High-quality construction with custom finish options, incredible sound quality delivered by a stereo driver array, onboard 150-Watt amplifier, Wi-Fi compatibility and support for 24-bit/192 kHz audio, optional battery and remote Wi-Fi functionality for audiophile sound on the go, multiple input options, unique control interface, compatibility with common operating systems and devices.
Axiom’s AxiomAir N3 is a relatively new entry into the high-end wireless speaker segment. Featuring rugged quality construction and customizable finish options, the N3 can blend with any room décor. The speaker’s onboard Wi-Fi functionality allows it to stream Hi-Res audio files within and outside of a home. And the speaker’s audiophile grade drivers and internal componentry deliver amazingly clean sound punctuated by deep controlled bass. Axiom provides users with lots of source options, including wireless (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), USB, Ethernet, and analog inputs.
Enthusiasts want more than just convenience from a wireless speaker; they want top-notch sound quality too. Today’s expansive wireless segment is loaded with options, ranging from inexpensive compact Bluetooth speakers to more sophisticated whole-home systems. Axiom Audio is a brand that’s opted to inject their take on wireless audio with a flavor of innovation and design that’s meant to bring high-end performance to life. Today, we’re taking an in-depth look at Axiom’s relatively new AxiomAir N3 wireless speaker ($849 base; $998 as reviewed), complete with an exciting sonic test drive.
Prior to unleashing the N3 in my home office, I had an opportunity to chat with Axiom’s founder and president, Ian Colquhoun. Aside from enjoying his infectious sense of humor and a laugh that matches his wit, I was struck by undertones of pride in Colquhoun’s voice as he ran through some of the speaker’s unique features. And I could tell he was confident that my ears were in for a real treat. To be quite honest, that conveyance of confidence and passion ratcheted my interest in the speaker (and it wasn’t too long after our conversation that I holstered my keyboard and brought the N3 to life).
Colquhoun’s audio enthusiasm has driven his company for the better part of 35 years, and Axiom’s speaker reputation is sterling. Obviously, sound quality is a huge part of that reputation, but words such as “value” and “reasonable pricing” adequately describe what helps to make Axiom’s high-performance speakers special. Part of the company’s pricing advantage likely derives from its internet-direct sales model, and I suspect that same model has allowed Axiom to foster a more personalized relationship with its customer base.
While most associate Axiom with traditional speaker designs, the Canadian company also offers quite a few other Axiom branded audio products, including amplifiers, computer speakers, subwoofers, architectural speakers, and innovative omnidirectional tower speakers. Its wireless speaker aspirations were launched during 2015 when the company embarked on an aggressive Kickstarter campaign. That campaign ultimately doubled its $75,000 fund raising goal and the AxiomAir N3 was officially born.
Before we get technical, let’s talk aesthetics because the N3 is quite a work of art. The speaker’s unique oval shape (10.25” high x 19.5” wide x 6.75” deep) is super easy on the eyes, and its gentle rounded lines help to minimize its footprint. Those same lines lend to some visual trickery, making the speaker appear smaller than it is, allowing it to gently disappear in a room. That’s not to suggest the N3 is dainty, as its build quality is extraordinarily competent and rugged.
Axiom allows buyers to infinitely customize the exterior appearance of the speaker, with options that are sure to suit a wide variety of personal tastes. Buyers can choose from two body colors (black or white) and various finishes for the top panel of the speaker. My review sample shipped with an attractive “Real Wood Walnut Veneer” top, but buyers can select from six different custom wood finishes, over a hundred stains, or just about any color/sheen imaginable (just supply a color code). Buyers can even request to have the speaker’s top panel laser engraved. And for those that truly want finish flexibility, Axiom sells separate interchangeable tops that can be swapped to radically alter the look of the speaker.
Our review sample shipped with a gorgeous Real Wood Walnut Veneer top.
Of course, Axiom charges extra for each of the various custom options. Selecting a real wood finish top adds a minimum of $50 to the final price, while a customized paint option costs an extra $100. The laser engraving service is an additional $115. So, tweaking the stock look can quickly increase the out-the-door cost of the speaker, but the having the ability to customize is invaluable.
A majority of the speaker’s front facing surface is a mesh grille that’s painted with automotive-grade scratch resistant gloss black paint. This paint provides the surface with a wonderfully delicious velvety feel and a low-sheen softness when exposed to light. That same softness is conveyed by the exterior surface texture of the N3’s plastic enclosure, which is also pleasing to touch.
A look at the N3's front controls and inputs.
Axiom’s design intention was to make the N3 capable of delivering knockout sound in your home, with the ability of being unplugged and tossed in a car for great music at an outdoor event. The company smartly designed the speaker’s carry handle to double as its rear firing port, which provides a manageable way to pick up the 16-pound N3 and move it about (the upper inside lip of the port handle is even scored to create better purchase for finger grip). In addition to the port handle, the backside also houses the speaker’s power connection, a single subwoofer output, and an analog input. Moving around to the front, the bottom edge of the N3 houses a flip-down panel that conceals four USB ports, single Ethernet and 3.5mm analog inputs, a power button, an analog volume control, functionality lights, and optional microphone inputs (for those of you that fancy karaoke or public speaking).
Tech Behind The Sound
The N3's rear port doubles as a convenient handle.
The AxiomAir N3’s sonic engine is designed to take advantage of the information-rich bandwidth afforded by Wi-Fi, which allows the speaker to stream 24-bit/192 kHz audio files (a significant improvement over standard Bluetooth). In situations where a home Wi-Fi network is out of reach, the speaker doesn’t automatically resort to Bluetooth, rather it creates a Wi-Fi network of its own. And if streaming isn’t your thing, you can feed the N3 music via USB memory sticks, Ethernet, and analog audio from an exterior source.
The N3’s brain is a Raspberry Pi unit running a unique operating system developed by Axiom. That mini-computer is paired with an onboard digital to analog converter and a 150-Watt Class D amplifier, which powers dual 6.5-inch aluminum cone drivers and two 1-inch titanium dome tweeters. The drivers are arranged as a stereo pair, with the tweeters positioned at the top left and right corners of the speaker and the drivers situated side-by-side in the middle.
Axiom says the drivers are crossed over at 2.2 kHz, delivering a combined frequency response of 60 Hz – 20 kHz. My in-room measurements of the speaker (positioned in the corner of my office roughly 1.5-feet from room boundaries) showed excellent bass extension well below 60 Hz, and (as you’ll read) that extension was on full display during demo sessions.
An in-room frequency sweep of the N3 illustrates the speaker's low end capacity.
The N3 ships with a fairly lengthy power cord, but can also lose the cord and play tunes remotely with an optional 9-hour ($98) or 18-hour ($198) Lithium Ion battery. My review sample shipped with the 9-hour version, which proved to provide seemingly endless playback without any sound or functional degradation.
Out Of The Box
On the packaging front, Axiom scores huge points for one of the most creative unboxing experiences I’ve seen in recent years. The N3’s thick double-wall box is designed to resemble a crate from an Indiana Jones flick, complete with exterior graphics simulating distressed wood slats and crookedly affixed product stickers made to appear as if they were haphazardly applied by dock workers. Great little touches!
The box features removable lids on the top and bottom (held in place by thick plastic straps for shipping purposes), with internal storage spaces dedicated to holding the speaker’s medium-sized external power supply (6.5” long x 1.5” tall x 3.25” wide) and a detachable power cord. A detailed – full color – user manual is also included. Axiom ships the speaker swaddled within a soft drawstring bag and protected by generous foam padding – my review sample arrived in pristine mint condition.
Click on the video image below to experience the unboxing process.
The N3's control interface is loaded with useful options and features.
The N3 is compatible with Mac/Windows based computers and iOS /Android devices. In my particular case, I operated the speaker with both Mac (macOS Sierra 10.12.6) and iOS (11.0.1) platforms, all with relative ease. The set up process began by allowing the N3 to gain access to my home Wi-Fi network. Once connected, the speaker was controlled through a streamlined browser-based control interface broadcasted by the speaker.
There are several ways to play music through the N3. Music streamed directly from a Mac or iPhone (including music sourced from apps such as TIDAL) can be played by selecting the speaker as an available Wi-Fi device via iTunes (Mac) and through the easily accessed iOS control center screen. Both playback functions and volume are then controlled directly from the linked computer or device (the speaker’s volume, for example, can be adjusted via an iPhone’s external volume buttons or within the phone’s control center). Note: Android users can download an AxiomAir app available from Google Play.
Other media, such as Internet radio, files stored on a USB stick, or music sourced through a direct external analog connection, requires the use of the N3’s control interface. The interface allows for quick switching between these sources, in addition to giving users the ability to create playlists and view available digital song files. It also reveals an interesting world of unique options and functionalities, including advanced features such as selecting an audio buffer size (up to 12 MB) and percentage of media to buffer before playback (up to 40%), setting a baseline startup volume, creating a music alarm, setting sleep times, and more. I experienced a small learning curve as I gained comfort with the interface, but Axiom deserves a pat on the back for making the system relatively intuitive and easy to understand.
The N3's control interfaces makes for an easy playback experience.
The vast majority of this review’s critical listening took place in my 900-ft³ office, but the speaker was also exposed to my home’s larger rooms. I listened to the N3 for roughly three weeks (pacing it through hours of enjoyable demo sessions), and no matter where or how I challenged it, the speaker responded with a refined sound punctuated by a smoothness through frequencies and deep controlled bass. It certainly stepped outside of normal portable speaker territory, encroaching on what I’d expect to hear from a smaller two-channel system. The speaker also handled every source and Hi-Res file type I tossed its way (never a hiccup, skip, or dropout).
Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack/C&J Street Mix” (TIDAL, iPhone) immediately demonstrated the N3’s surprisingly smooth bass capabilities, issuing a low end that slowly pulsed with a fluid confidence. And while the song’s bass had a warm and rounded presence, the N3 didn’t allow it to dominate the presentation. The speaker’s balance, evenness of sound, and bass confidence was confirmed by Bruce Hornsby’s “Mandolin Rain (Remastered 2003)” (TIDAL, iPhone), a song that maintained composure as volume levels were taken to extreme heights.
Both Mark Morrison’s and Bruce Hornsby’s albums showed off the N3’s ability to deal sound with refinement, loaded with intricacies and dynamic pop; truly a high-quality experience for the ears! Imaging-wise, the N3 delivered those artists’ tracks with a pleasing centrality that sparkled with notable life outside of the speaker’s boundaries. This effect was lessened as I moved away from the N3, however, but creating distance between a listening position and the speaker instantly unveiled the N3’s room-filling capabilities (which might be more important to buyers looking to stash the N3 on shelf or bookcase top in a family room). Make no mistake; this relatively compact speaker is a sonic howitzer that’s ready and willing to deliver astonishingly large sound with real impact. The speaker simply plays two to three-times its size, and never feels lost or minimized in larger spaces.
Switching to USB, I immediately fed the N3 one of my favorite demo albums: The Persuasions The Persuasions Sing U2 (24-bit/96 kHz). “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” was loaded to the brim with plenty of sonic subtleties: small echoes, the faintest of breathes, and whispers caught on the recording. And the group’s bass singer sounded natural and whole (not minimized or overly emphasized) as his voice opened “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Both songs were presented with a raw and revealing nakedness that allowed the recordings to spring to life. Then there was John Mayer’s sensational Paradise Valley (24-bit/96 kHz). For this album, I upped the volume and let the N3 run free. The first track (“Wildfire”) immediately demonstrated the power of the N3’s bass capabilities, with blossoming pulses of sound that didn’t appear to emanate from the speaker. The album proceeded to present loads of minute complexities and a wonderful smoothness, not to mention a pleasing recreation of Mayer’s raspy voice.
No matter what I threw the N3’s way (from rap to techno and pop to rock), it performed to extraordinary levels, punctuated by a cleanness that sounded nearly impossible given its physical size. And the speaker didn’t shy away from larger rooms, possessing the capability to play loud and clear without distorting or losing control. Frankly, I can’t imagine wanting (or needing) to tap the speaker’s bass output feature, especially considering most are likely purchasing the N3 to take advantage of its space saving design.
Some of the speaker’s fun add-on features (such as access to Internet radio and the programmable alarm) all worked flawlessly, completing a package that presents a wide range of functionality that should more than meet the needs of any modern music fan seeking wireless convenience.
The wireless segment has a logjam of models hovering in the $200 to $400 price range, most of which claim to offer a miniaturized and convenient high-end experience. That begs the question: at roughly twice the price, is the AxiomAir N3 worth the extra coin? From a build-quality perspective (not to mention size), Axiom delivers the goods. The company has crammed quite a bit of speaker into the N3, making it ridiculously room friendly in the process. And its sonic performance certainly exceeds that of speakers I’ve experienced in the aforementioned price range. Toss-in the N3’s ruggedness and Wi-Fi portability, and Axiom's offering can issue amazing sound quality in a variety of environments. I was blown away by the N3’s performance factors and will miss having its audio presence in my home, making it easy to recommend as a sure-shot buy.
AxiomAir N3 Specifications
- Enclosure: Bass Reflex
- Amp Power: (continuous RMS): 150 watts
- Crossover Frequency: 2.2 kHz
- Frequency Response + 3 dB/- 9 dB: 50 Hz - 20 kHz
- Frequency Response +/- 3 dB: 60 Hz - 20 kHz
- Max SPL Continuous: 115 dB
- Tweeters: Dual 1 inch Titanium Dome
- Woofers: Dual 6.5 inch Aluminum Cone
- Bottom Depth: 9-in / 228-mm
- Height: 10.25-in / 261-mm
- Top Depth: 6.75-in / 172-mm
- Width: 19.5-in / 497-mm
- Weight: 16-lbs / 7.3-kg