The audio video tech media loves to focus on giant televisions. It’s easy to do, because a giant, gorgeous, TV in your living room will always garner attention. A great sound system probably won’t. However, most would argue that at the very least, having a great audio setup is at least as important, if not more so, than the video screen to having a great home cinema experience. There has always been one major hurdle to a achieving a nice surround sound setup: all the wires. That’s the biggest problem that Axiim looks to solve with their new Q wireless surround sound system.
What is the Axiim Q?
The Axiim Q is a wireless audio/video receiver (AVR) and speaker system. You could call it a home theater in a box, but we never think high-end when we hear that phrase. Axiim is definitely shooting for a higher-end experience with the Q. The idea is simple. You order either a 5.1 or 7.1 system. It comes with the AVR, a subwoofer, center channel, and four or six surround speakers. Instead of a traditional surround setup, there aren’t any wires between the AVR and the speakers with the Q. The speakers each have an amplifier built into them, so instead of running a wire back to the AVR you simply plug the speakers into the nearest electrical outlet to power the amplifier. The audio signal is transmitted wirelessly to the speakers.
Because all of the speakers are individually powered, the AVR in the Axiim Q system is incredibly small. It also doesn’t consume very much power. At max Axiim claims, it only consumes 13 watts. Despite its diminutive size, the Q doesn’t lack for inputs or features. It has six HDMI inputs. It also includes multiple USB ports, and even an eSATA port. Those can be used for connecting external storage devices that can hold your music library. The Q then offers the ability to play the music files directly from the external storage devices.
There are three types of speakers in the Axiim Q system: a center channel, a subwoofer, and surround speakers. While Axiim calls them surround speakers, these are actually the speakers that you would place in any location except for the center channel.
The center channel speaker is laid out horizontally with a 1″ tweeter in the middle of the unit flanked by two 4″ woofers. It’s a little over 14″ wide, and a little under 6″ in the other two directions.
The subwoofer offered in the Axiim Q system is a 10″ driver inside of a sealed enclosure. It boasts a frequency response of 20Hz-100Hz, and it will consume 15.9 x 12.5 x 12.5 inches of space.
The surround speakers are smaller bookshelf-style speakers. They have a 4″ mid-range woofer and a 1″ tweeter. The box is sealed and measures 10.6 x 5.7 x 5.7″. The speakers are small enough to be set on a shelf or end table, but Axiim also sells a custom-made floor stand for them. Wall mounts will be coming soon.
We find the modern sleek design to be appealing without being overly controversial. They will certainly fit in to a modern living room quite well, but don’t look out of place in a more traditional living room. The smaller size of the surround and center channel speakers helps to keep them from being the center of the visual attention also.
The Remote Control
The Axiim Q also includes a remote control that won’t overwhelm you. It doesn’t have dozens of cryptic buttons. It is also Bluetooth, so you don’t need to be pointing the remote at the AVR to control it. While we like the size, it doesn’t feel the greatest in the hand. It would have also been nice to see backlit keys on a remote for a high-end device. We also do not like the “hamburger” button, and were even more discouraged to see that it’s not even intended as the more standardized menu button.
The biggest feature in the Axiim Q is of course the wireless speaker arrangement, but when purchasing a high-end AVR for your home theater there are many other things to take into consideration. The Q features six HDMI 1.4 inputs, and one HDMI output that supports audio return channel (ARC.) It also fully supports HDMI CEC, so it has the ability to control, and be controlled by, other devices that are connected to it. This also means that the Q can automatically switch inputs when you power on an HDMI CEC-equipped device on. You can also stream to the receiver via Bluetooth, or play music files stored on hard drives connected through either USB or eSATA.
The Axiim Q also has companion apps for iOS and Android. These apps can be used as simple remote controls, but they also have more advanced features. You can use the app to manually adjust individual speaker volumes and calibrate the speaker distance. The 10-band graphical equalizer can also be modified from the app. It has another neat feature that parents might particularly enjoy. If you’d like to watch a movie or listen to music, but you can’t have the volume high due to disturbing others in the house, the Q can send the audio straight to the device where the app is running, instead of the speakers.
To be clear, we knew going in to this review that we weren’t going to be able to analyze the sound quality of the Axiim Q to the same extent that high-end audiophiles might. There is a reason you’ve not seen reviews for other high-end AVR or speaker systems on The Digital Media Zone. We told Axiim from the very beginning that we would be basing our review more on ease of installation and use than overall sound quality. That being said, we are happy with how the Q sounds.
It produces very clear audio, something that is crucial for understanding dialog in movies and television shows. The bass from the subwoofer more than adequately filled the living room we used for testing. It wasn’t muddy, but it also doesn’t have the size to pressurize a room to the level of causing you to feel the punch in the chest that some very high-end systems can. It seems to us that the target buyer of the Axiim Q system is someone who wants better sound quality then the buyer would get from a decent sound bar, and they are looking to upgrade to a true surround sound experience. If that is the main comparison for the Q, then we think buyers would be very pleased with how the Q sounds.
Ease of Use
Simplicity is really the main reason most would want to evaluate the Axiim Q system. With the Q, you don’t have to figure out which complicated AVR you need. You don’t need to spend time trying to decide if the center channel will match your mains. Perhaps most importantly, you do not have to figure out how you are going to run speaker wires to six (or eight) speakers.
In terms of getting everything unboxed, positioned, and connected, it is unreasonable to think any standard AVR could even come close to the simplicity of the Axiim Q. The process is straightforward. Put all of the speakers where you want them. Plug the speakers’ power cable into the nearest outlet. Plug your cable box, game consoles, Blu-ray players, etc., into the Axiim Q via HDMI. Run one HDMI cable from the Q to your TV. Power it on, and you will be guided through a simple setup process. The Q first scans the network to find all the speakers in your room. Once it has done that you simply select a speaker, it will play a sound through it, and then you tell the Q which position it is.
The built-in support for HDMI CEC, as mentioned earlier, makes using the Axiim Q easy too. Simply power on the device you want to use, like a Blu-ray player, and the Q will automatically switch to the correct input. It will even control the power on your television. Depending on your specific needs, this might even mean you won’t need an extra remote control. However, if you’ve got a remote you really enjoy, like a Logitech Harmony, that you would like to continue using, then you’ll need to purchase an infrared receiver for the Q. Maybe Axiim really doesn’t think people will want to use other remotes, but not putting an IR receiver in the AVR’s case seems like a feature that would have been a cheap no-brainer. Instead, they left it out, and it ends up in the “cons” category.
Power management is a feature that can just be burdensome on many AVRs, but with the Axiim Q it’s done well enough to make note of. We primarily use an Xbox One for media consumption in our living room, and we power it, along with the rest of our devices, using the Xbox One’s Kinect IR blaster. We figured the Axiim Q would not show up as a supported device for the Xbox, and this could have been a major hurtle to usage. Fortunately, because the Q goes into a power-save sleep mode when not in use, and immediately turns back on when needed, Xbox integration just does not matter at all. Every single time we have turned the Xbox on the Q has been ready.
Like the missing IR receiver, we are puzzled by the lack of any indicator lights or a power button on the Axiim Q. Maybe we border on obsessive-compulsive, but a simple light to indicate if a device is on brings comfort to us. Similarly, being able to press a power button, and actually turn the device completely off, would have been nice. There were times when things went a little quirky that we know would have been resolved by a simple power cycle. Unfortunately, the power button on the remote just puts the Q to sleep. If you really want to power cycle the device, you will need to unplug it.
While the Axiim Q has plenty to offer, there are also some major features it doesn’t have. It’s 2016, and there are three big technologies that are taking over the A/V space. Those are 4k Ultra HD, high dynamic range (HDR) video, and next-generation surround sound (like Atmos and DTS-X). Unfortunately, the Axiim Q doesn’t support any of these technologies. On the video side, it tops out at 1080p 60fps with support for 3D video. The HDMI ports are HDMI 1.4 also, which limits some of the newer functionalities of 4k and HDR. On the audio side, it tops out at 7.1. There is nothing Axiim could do to improve that, as it is technically a limitation of the underlying WiSA technology.
While all of those missing features might be enough to turn high-end audiophiles away from the Axiim Q, there is still hope. The Q is just the receiver, and the speakers that come with the system would theoretically work with future versions of the Q. Therefore, when WiSA finally gets around to laying out the specifications for supporting more channels, Atmos, and DTS-X, a new Q could easily swap in place of the current model. In addition, the Q does not prevent you from using a 4k television. You could simply use the audio return channel functionality of the TV to send 5.1 audio from the TV to the Q.
So Many Possibilities
In many ways, the Axiim Q feels more like a computer than a receiver. It is not huge, loud, or power hungry. However, more importantly, the software of the Q is one of the key focal points of the team at Axiim. During our short review period, we have already seen them release multiple software updates for the Q. That goes a long way towards showing their commitment to improving the device through simple upgrades. The updates are also easy and quick to perform via the built-in Wi-Fi.
With software being one of the cornerstones of the Axiim Q, we could easily see the company releasing many great new features. For example, we could see them adding the ability to create zones of speakers. Maybe instead of a 7.1 setup in your living room you actually want a 5.1 configuration there and two more speakers in a stereo environment in the kitchen or family room. It seems completely reasonable that this feature could be added, and there is already a simple way to control it from other rooms: the mobile apps.
Axiim has chosen to go a unique route in terms of pricing for the Q. They are currently in a beta period with the device, and because of that, they are offering it a significantly lower price than their intended full retail price. Currently a complete 5.1 setup (including the AVR, subwoofer, center channel, and four satellite speakers) will set you back $1,499. If you would like two more speakers to complete the 7.1 experience, the total package can be had for $1,999. Once the Q comes out of beta, the price will shoot up to $3,143 and $3,741 respectively. Those prices may seem too high to justify for the non-audiophile target market, but even the post-beta price actually comes in about $1000 less than a similar package from one of their competitors.
The Axiim Q is one of the only systems on the market utilizing WiSA technology to bring wireless simplicity to the surround sound market. It is also launching at a significantly lower price-point than most of the competitors. We experienced a couple of minor glitches while testing, but they were small and infrequent enough to write-off as symptoms of the beta software.
The Axiim Q doesn’t tick every single box for features that audiophiles might demand, but you’d be hard pressed to find an easier 5.1 package to set up and use than the Axiim Q. Absolutely anybody could set up this surround sound system! We are pleased with the features it currently has, and we look forward to seeing what Axiim could bring to the Q in the future. If you’re a renter, or unable to run speaker wires all over your living room, the Axiim Q is a no-brainer. It is simple, beautiful, relatively affordable, expandable, sounds nice, and can only get better as time goes on.
We’d like to thank Axiim for providing the Q for review purposes.