Totem Acoustic Mani-2 loudspeaker Mani-2 Signature, October 2009

John Atkinson reviewed the Totem Mani-2 Signature in October 2009 (Vol.32 No.10):

The loudspeakers Vince Bruzzese designs for Canadian manufacturer Totem Acoustic are intended for the long haul. His Model One has been in continuous production since its introduction at the end of the 1980s, and I recently gave a listen to its current iteration, the Signature, to see if the Model One was worth continued inclusion in our "Recommended Components" listing. Similarly, I first reviewed Totem's second loudspeaker model, the stand-mounted Mani-2, in February 1996, with a Follow-Up in October 2001. Eight years later, the Mani-2 is still in production, now in its own Signature edition. It was high time for another audition.

The original Mani-2 cost $3995/pair in 1996; in 2009, the Mani-2 Signature costs $4895/pair in black ash or mahogany, $5295/pair in maple or cherry, and $5825/pair in white. A two-way design of modest size, it combines a 1" metal-dome tweeter with two 6" woofers, one mounted in front of the other in the so-called "isobaric" configuration. This compound drive-unit is loaded with a port on the rear panel 1.75" in diameter. (A full description can be found in the Web reprint of my earlier reviews.) As with all Totem speakers, the Mani-2's fit'n'finish were superb. The 2009 review samples were finished in maple veneer.

Although Totem supplied their own stands for the Mani-2, I used my 24" Celestion SL stands, which place my ears on the tweeter axes. Each of these stands has a single pillar that I've filled with a mixture of dry sand and bird shot; they are acoustically inert, and I place small pads of Blu-tack between each stand's top plate and the base of the speaker. This reduces the amplitude of cabinet resonances (see www.stereophile.com/features/806). Both speakers were toed-in to the listening seat.

With the Totem Mani-2s placed where the Spendor SA1s had worked so well (see my review in the August 2009 issue), the sound was much as I remember from 2001: an enormous but still well-defined soundstage, clarity and a lack of coloration in the midrange, and a slightly forward treble coupled with surprisingly powerful, clean, and extended low frequencies from a relatively small enclosure. There was actually too much midbass, so I moved the speakers about 9" farther away from the sidewalls, which brought the low frequencies into better balance with the midrange.

The Mani-2 really did excel at reproducing bass instruments. My bass guitar on the channel-identification tracks on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) had a nice "purr," but without low-frequency definition suffering. During the review period I was archiving to DVD-R the various live recordings I've made over the past decade of my jazz trio with pianist Bob Reina, all sampled at 88.2kHz with a 24-bit word length; even with the relatively distant miking I routinely use, my bass sounded satisfyingly rich without boom through the Totems. And even if I was aware of the port's resonance problems in the midrange, I couldn't ascribe any consistent coloration to that measured behavior. Yes, Richard Lehnert's spoken voice on the Editor's Choice ID tracks was a little more fruity than usual, but Kate Ceberano's contralto on Bittersweet, her recent collaboration with trumpeter Mark Isham (CD, MIM 10270 01670 6), sounded rich and uncolored.

While the Mani-2's treble was far from reticent—definitely more lively than the Spendor SA1's—the speaker didn't sound too bright, particularly when compared with the Acoustic Energy AE1 Mk.3 Special Edition minispeakers, which I write about elsewhere in this issue. However, I had noted a very slight "whispiness" in 2001, which I then conjectured might have been associated with the Mani-2 tweeter's dome resonance, which has very high Q and a very high amplitude. I didn't consistently hear this top-octave character in my auditioning of the 2009 samples; high-sample-rate recordings—for example, the 88.2kHz master files for Live at Otto's Shrunken Head, my new recording of Attention Screen (CD, Stereophile STPH020-2)—had a sweet high end, free of spuriae, as did the Trondheimsolistene's 88.2kHz recording of Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony (originally released on the SACD Divertimenti, 2L 2L50SABD).

A problem developed toward the end of the review period: I was hitting the speakers hard with solo bass guitar, to try to unmask midrange colorations, when one of the pair, serial no. M2MA2922, developed a crackle on sustained bass notes between 60 and 100Hz, and started to sound boomier than it had before. As the other speaker, serial no. M2MA2923, continued to behave correctly, I assume this was a one-off problem rather than an indication of limited LF power handling.

Summing up: It was 30 years ago that I heard Laurie Fincham, then with KEF, say that "anyone can design and make one good speaker; the hard thing is to make thousands of duplicates of that speaker that perform identically." Certainly Vince Bruzzese and his team have solved that problem.

Totem's Mani-2 remains one of my favorite stand-mounted speakers, and its Signature edition well deserves its Class B rating in "Recommended Components."—John Atkinson

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