The Axis Voicebox S loudspeakers are an Australian design, collectively envisaged and implemented by two Aussie engineers John Riley – the creator of the concept and brand, along with Brad Serhan. Dan Worth checks out this $(US) 2500 standmount loudspeaker that incorporates a 50mm metal ribbon tweeter. 

John collaborated with Brad in respect of integration of a mid/bass driver for a small box design loudspeaker which would compliment his choice of 50mm metal ribbon tweeter. Fortunately Brad had spent time just recently with a 5.25″ Peerless Nomex paper cone driver which he felt would make an excellent addition to the ribbon John wished to use. The overall compliment resulted in a crossover point at 3khz utilising a fifteen element linkwitz Riley fourth order crossover and the Voicebox S prototype was born.acitve_voicebox_1_online

Initial testing of the design concept proved to be very satisfying and the company’s goal was to produce a speaker that was a clear statement, a unique sound which had all the presence of great British designs of the past giving excellent vocal performance and presence.

Cabinet construction is top rate, a deep lustrous piano black finish, rear ported, with a pair of binding posts which sit one above the other to one side of the rear of the cabinet. It was evident from the designs overall size of 7″ x 12″ x 8″ and completely solid and inert cabinet (with use of the knuckle wrap test) that these speakers were not going to produce large amounts of bass, but eluded to the reproduction of extremely controlled low frequencies. The small bookshelf speakers also come with some very pretty magnetically attachable metal grills which are not advised to be used during critical listening due to their mass, they are simply provided for an aesthetically pleasing layer of protection whilst not in use.

The VB-S’s frequency range is stated to be 60hz – 20khz at +/-2db but with their density at 5Ohm and nominal impedance of 83db take some real power to truly get going as I found out.

The speaker cabinets are built and fitted in China and John being a stickler for perfection makes regular trips to the Far East in order to check on quality control and overall build parameters. My pair were sent directly from China at a time when John was actually there overseeing the subcontractors at around the time of the Chinese New Year. Delivery of the speakers was very swift from the point of dispatch and I must say the packaging is very effective, simple and well thought out. So many times I’ve had speakers arrive which are packed with more than adequate materials for packaging but the design of the internal protection has been overlooked and instead of transferring vibration around the product it actually transfers it directly to the item causing load damage. 

Knowing our own rooms very well, we all have the ability to judge how a speaker should be initially placed in relation to front and side walls and of course to each other, so I made the usual calculations for a speaker of this type and size and sat back to listen. The initial listening showed to me that I could be a little I fussy about exact placement as I moved them around a little due to the incredibly wide dispersion of the sound. A little closer to the front wall, just under a foot away helped the bass a fraction, although these are not to be used for organ replay they really do get going with some good watts up them.

Sound 

When confronted with a speaker such as the VB-S one is immediately focuses heavily on the immensity of the detail produced, I can fully understand the choice of mid/bass driver to the metal ribbon and memories of Proac Tablettes Spring to mind, however, treble response and transients were clearly more articulated and full of integrity, combining huge agility with the drive unit. These are clearly attenuated in the bass but in their respective response I struggle to find a comparison to really express how engrossing the sound is within the designs parameters.acitve_voicebox_5_online

The tweeter is an absolute star, making Nils Lofgren’s strings sound just so naturally well defined, in fact I’d say I haven’t heard a top end to produce these notes so well. The decay of notes just floats and fades into the darkness with so much realism. I could hear nuances that hung around the soundstage for a time period I really wasn’t used to. My own Accuton tweeter has been carefully integrated into my redesigned crossover to take away its sharpness and when this is achieved correctly they are an absolute treat, but I’ve always been ever so fond of true ribbons and the VB-S’s top end is everything I want personally from a tweeter.

In relation with the drive unit of the VB-S, coherence and timing is absolutely on the money, I flooded the speakers with numerous vocalists and one of my test tracks is ‘I Can Explain’ from the wonderful Rachelle Farrell, a record holder for her vocal range. Although piano notes were a little thin on the ground at lower volumes Rachelle’s voice was absolutely pristine, giving depth of tone, clearly controlled upper mids and dynamics that were bang on the money, conveying the true magic of her tones. In fact the sound is that good it just left me screaming ‘I want more the bass!’ to fill out the bottom end to engage with me a completeness from top to bottom that could only be imagined to be obsessive in its entirety.

If the VB-S’s were a lesser speaker I don’t think my comment would have been supplemented from brain to mouth but they are that engaging I want to hear this plus lower frequencies in a design that could be so advantageous that it’s implementation will truly set new standards.

Recently a British design company has been working on an extension to the famous LS3/5A. A pair of bass cabinets which act as stands for the monitors and also produce the backbone to the sound, adding lower frequencies which will match the speed and sonic signature of that speaker. I remember Neat Acoustics did this with the first Petite, manufacturing a pair of additional units called ‘Gravitas’. I’d strongly urge Axis to consider this, or a floorstanding design with split internal cabinet design in order to really make a mark on the market. If I had a seriously accomplished sealed subwoofer here at the time of this review I would have integrated it with the little VB-S’s but anything less than seriously impressive just will not stand up to the astonishing ability of this design within its own boundaries of frequency response.acitve_voicebox_6_online

Back to what I have here for review then…

The soundstaging of the Axis is equally as impressive as its natural detail retrieval, a small speaker by its very nature will image very well but the Axis VB-S manages to produce an image that seems beyond the boundaries of what the ribbon should be capable of, with extended depth that has a true encapsulation effect, with micro details floating mysteriously around the listener. Small acoustic venues and live events were particularly engaging, allowing for a real feel of the venue. Vocalists and musicians were clearly defined at the forefront of the performance while crowds applauded or made remarks of excitement.

With the sheer amount of detail the VB-S is able to convey and in such a controlled manner, I was intrigued to hear how lesser quality recordings would effect the stability of the sound. This really could go one way or the other as detail intense speakers tend to become grainy and well controlled treble can act almost as a filter for the overflow of this grain. I’m pleased to say that although the performance was reflective of the lesser quality music from say Spotify, the seesaw was better balanced than I expected and more towards what I hoped for. The VB-S seem to reproduce the top end to the point where its limit is reached and then say stop, that’s it, without ever sounding constrained, blunted or even boisterous through attenuation.

A few weeks later I took these over to Dominic’s place, he has a smaller listening space to me which we believed to be perfect for the Axis. I have brick walls and a concrete floor where he has plasterboard walls and floorboards. The suiting for the VB-S was more complimentary in the bass with added extension from the cavities in his home. Whether this is a true and effective response for the speakers could be debated as I still feel that they respectively require a specific design to lower the frequency range, but it was great to hear the upper frequencies shine as much as they did in my larger room, proving their implementation to again be a real triumph in differing setups and situations.

I’ve spent a great deal of time and emotional attachment to the Axis Voicebox S, they give a sense of freedom to the sound that is very hard to achieve and can only be found in few speakers. They have a complex crossover which is implemented in such a way that they sound as if they have none. The VB-S don’t limit themselves by musical genre, nor do they shy away from complex material. I could see these speakers in a floorstanding format and even an active playback studio monitor (not a monitoring speaker). Vocals are simply stunning and the top end is exquisite, I’ve really enjoyed my time with these speakers and commend John Riley on having the balls to produce a speaker of such capabilities that has such a high cut off point, but my God they work!

Conclusion 

The Axis Voicebox S loudspeakers from Australian company Axis are an absolute eye opener, although I wish I had more bass to compliment the maturity of information presented within their design boundaries, in the size of room I use as my listening space. In smaller rooms with adequate amplification and quality components, they are an experience I feel honoured to have had and I’m already considering the metal ribbon over the ceramic Accuton for my own speakers, which I have now ordered some even better crossover components for after hearing the VB-S’s top end performance.

The VB-S deserves the best associated equipment that you are able to pair with them.

They are tactile, agile and dynamic detail enriched small standmount speaker which can handle and prefer some good power up them. They are able to achieve good authority at louder volume levels, whilst at lower levels at night still have an insight to the music that is undeniably addictive and magical. This is how a high-end, small speaker is done – period.

AT A GLANCE HIGHLYRECOMMENDEDLARGE300DPIONLINE

Sound Quality: The Axis Voicebox S has a magical grip on the listener, presenting masses of detail that never border on analytical and strike an impressive balance between information and musical accuracy. 

Build Quality: Fit and finish is truly high-end, they look like they sound good! 

Value For Money: On audition one can appreciate value for money and simply fall in love with their captivating charm. 

Pros:

Intensity of natural detail

Super strong vocals

Imaging is exceptional

Communicative and exciting 

Cons:

Overall size limits bass 

Price:

$ (US) 2500 

Dan Worth

Specifications:

Type: Two-way, bass-reflex

Drivers: 50mm metal true ribbon, 5.25″ Peerless Nomex paper cone.

Frequency response: 60Hz–20kHz +/-2dB

Sensitivity: 83dB

Nominal impedance: 5 ohms

Dimensions: 7″ x 12″ x 8″

Weight: 14 lbs.

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