If you spent just a few minutes listening to Axiom Audio’s designers talk about their new A1400-8 multi-channel digital amplifier, you may begin to ponder the idea of installing seatbelts in your couch. I’m not kidding! Axiom designed their new amplifier to deliver so much power it just might blow you off the couch during a loud action sequence. And why in the world would anyone ever need this much power? Well, today’s Hollywood movies come with incredibly dynamic soundtracks – think car crashes, airplane engines, explosions, etc. While a typical A/V receiver can reproduce most parts of a modern soundtrack, it can often fail to deliver enough power during a demanding dynamic audio passage. The result will be audible distortion and clipping of the sound. The A1400-8 promises to deliver performance normally associated with multiple traditional class A/B amplifiers from its single compact chassis. The A1400-8 retails for $3850 USD on Axiom’s website www.axiomaudio.com. The Canadian pricing is adjusted regularly on the website to reflect the fluctuating Canadian dollar. At the time of this review, the amplifier was listed at $3581 CAD.
The A1400-8 is an eight channel digital amplifier rated with a total output power of 1400 watts. This power can be distributed to any number of channels – from one to eight. For example, it can provide 200 watts to each channel (with all seven channels driven). The A1400-8 is designed to deliver more than enough power to drive any combination of speakers with impedances of 2 to 8 ohms. Inside the amplifier, four 2-channel boards share a common power supply. Any board that needs the power can draw from the main power supply. To ensure a match with the rest of your equipment, Axiom offers the amplifier in one of three finishes: silver, black or champagne. Either everyone with champagne-finished components will rejoice or Axiom is trying to start a new trend here! A digital design of the A1400-8 offers a few advantages over traditional class A/B analogue amplifiers: an extremely high efficiency, lower heat generation and a compact chassis measuring 4″ tall by 18″ wide by 17.5″ deep (which is less than half as tall as a typical multi-channel amplifier). But don’t let the smaller chassis throw you off, the A1400-8 weighs a hefty 54 lbs.
The rear of the amplifier houses eight input jacks that accept XLR, 1/4-inch stereo plug or RCA connectors. In order to connect RCA cables, the provided gold-plated 1/4-inch to RCA adapters must be used. Eight of each, straight and 90-degree-angled adapters are included in the box. XLR connections should be used to achieve optimal performance. Five-way binding posts for each channel will gladly accept any type of speaker connector or bare wire. Finally a 12 volt trigger allows a preamplifier to turn the amplifier on and off.
To start things off, I connected the A1400-8 amplifier to a Pioneer Elite VSX-84TXSi A/V receiver and a set of KEF iQ Series speakers. Although the A1400-8 is designed to be paired up with a high-end preamplifier/processor, I wanted to hook it up to an A/V receiver first to illustrate that this might be a logical component to upgrade for someone that has an existing A/V receiver. A dedicated preamplifier and sound processor can always be added a few months later. When I initially connected the A/V receiver and the amplifier using Gutwire RCA cables, my speakers produced a hum that was audible even at my listening position. This wasn’t the fault of the components or the cables but rather a ground loop issue – something that can happen between any audio components. After some troubleshooting and a few tips from Axiom, the only way I could eliminate the hum was to use RCA to XLR cables. By the way, Axiom offers very helpful technical support to all their customers, should you ever need help with your setup.
I began my test drive of the A1400-8 amplifier by listening to Collective Soul’s Home DVD, a live concert recorded with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. This stunning performance is one of the best produced rock concert DVDs I have come across yet. Ed Roland’s passionate singing and guitar playing together with the orchestra’s accompaniment make a brilliant combination. I turned the volume up to about the level of a live performance and instantly my room was transformed into a powerful rock show. After all, one of the design goals of this amplifier was so that it could play as loud as a real show. The audio presentation produced by the A1400-8 was so clean and so dynamic that I completely lost track of time and ended up watching nearly the entire concert. Even though there were so many layers of audio – Roland’s voice, his band’s instruments and the orchestra instruments – every piece was easily discernable. Every word that came out of Roland’s mouth was clear, I could pick out the individual notes played by each guitar and the intricacy of the orchestra was present at all times. There was no question – the A1400-8 was a very musically talented amplifier. The instruments sounded natural and the vocals were filled with real emotions. Surprisingly, after more than 45 minutes at this loud volume, my ears weren’t as fatigued as I’d expected them to be. This is usually a really good sign in a sound system.
Action sequences from the DVD Children of Men showed off an even more commanding side of the A1400-8. As Theo made his way through the refugee camp searching for Kee, all of the speakers surrounding me got a fierce workout. From gunshots to explosions to people’s screams, the movie became truly frightening thanks to the audio. Tanks roared through the street and an eerie soundtrack topped it all off. Each explosion rumbled my room yet the amplifier never sounded like it strained. Nor did it ever sound uncomfortable. Finally my large KEF bookshelves were given some substantial power to work with! This awesome scene contained too many layers of sound to mention. Thanks, in part, to the huge amount of dynamic headroom, the A1400-8 made each of these layers perfectly audible, with a killer punch and precise control.
It was time for me to substitute the Pioneer A/V receiver with something more suitable for the Axiom amplifier, the Lexicon MC-8 Digital Controller (preamplifer/processor). Now, with the two components connected using Ultralink Platinum Audiophile XLR cables, I would able to experience the full glory of the A1400-8.
I immediately enjoyed the sound from 2-channel CDs such as Diana Krall’s The Look of Love, Best Audiophile Voices III and SuperSounds! III (XRCD). The A1400-8 was able to create a truly wide and deep soundstage. Cymbals and triangles sounded full and decayed naturally, without excess sizzle. The lower frequencies were tight and provided authoritative forces. Voices sounded lifelike and portrayed emotion. Frequencies right across the spectrum were very well balanced overall. With clean recordings the background was completely noise free, proving that the A1400-8 was indeed a very quiet amplifier.
Gravitating towards multi-channel music again, I put on the Legends of Jazz Blu-ray album, a very well recorded jazz compilation. The A1400-8 presented this disc with an incredible warmth and richness. The soundstage arrangement of the instruments and performers precisely matched the picture. The biggest audible improvement with this disc was the vast amount of authentic musical resolution. The subtlest details were played with finesse and delicacy which resulted in the performers’ voices and various instruments sounding genuinely real. With the volume up, I felt like no less but part of the live audience. You know that an amplifier is doing its job when it can place you in the audience.
Digging deeper into my movie collection, I chose the action packed 300 on Blu-ray disc. As I skipped to the action scenes, the sound of swords slicing through the air sounded potently violent as did the punches exchanged between the Spartans and their foes. The action sequences in 300 sounded incredibly dynamic and frighteningly loud yet the A1400-8 never strained. Lightning pierced through the air with uber realism and the following thunder rumbled my room. The on-screen dialogue always came through with clarity so I never had trouble understanding what the characters were saying.
There is no question that if you want to experience music and movies in your home theatre to the fullest extent, you will need a powerful amplifier. Axiom’s foray in the world of amplifiers appears to be a success. The A1400-8 possessed all the characteristics that you should look for in a high-end amplifier – power, speed and grace. It was versatile enough to place me in the front row of a live concert and smack in the middle of Hollywood action sequences. Thanks to its compact enclosure it wasn’t a challenge finding a spot for it in my equipment rack. There was only one problem with this amplifier – inevitably I’ll have to return it to Axiom. But before I do, I should have just enough time to catch a couple more movies.
Price: $3581 CAD ($3850 USD)