Totem Acoustic Model 1 loudspeaker Larry Greenhill April 2003
Vincent Bruzzese, Totem Acoustic's loudspeaker designer, introduced a biwired "Signature" version of the company's small, 4 ohm, two-way Model 1 back in 1997. The 2002 version reviewed here bears the same name but adds improved encapsulated silver wiring between its WBT terminals and crossover and from crossover to woofer.
I had praised the Model 1 Signature in the January 1998 Stereophile (Vol.21 No.1) for its smooth, sweet highs, strong dynamics, palpable three-dimensional imaging, and, within its 30-100W safe operating range, astonishing low-frequency response. John Atkinson's measurements of the original Model 1 in Vol.16 No.4 had revealed a solid, well-damped cabinet, a port tuned to 42Hz but with a low-level pipe resonance between 500Hz and 950Hz, and an upper-midrange prominence. While I still heard these qualities in the Model 1 Signatures, I remained enthralled by their tight, solid rhythmic bass and palpable imaging.
The newest Model 1 Signature, rated at 20-120W, maintains the previous edition's price of $1995/pair. When I placed the new, mahogany-finished Model 1 Signatures (serial nos. M1-2213 A & B) side by side with the earlier Signatures (serial nos. M1-1556 A & B) and the original Model 1s (serial nos. M1-150 A & B), the most obvious addition was a copper medallion, embossed with the Totem Acoustic logo and the designer's signature, attached to the rear panel between the speaker's port and the WBT terminals. Inside, the woofer leads use encapsulated silver wire, and the crossover uses physically larger, polypropylene-bypassed capacitors. Bruzzese was convinced that these evolutionary upgrades of the past five years allow the Model 1 Signature to deliver "better musical coherence in space."
As always, my listening took place in a room 26' long by 13' wide, with a 12' semi-cathedral ceiling that opens at the back into a 25' by 15' kitchen through an 8' by 4' doorway. The new Model 1 Signatures were set up on Target R1 speaker stands ($675/pair) 5" from the rear wall and about 30" from the side walls (which have sliding equipment shelves). I also tried Sumiko's "Franklin and Lowell" sand-filled stands ($350/pair). I rested the front legs of the stands against a line of blue carpenter's tape I had placed on the floor to position the Innersound Eros Mk.III electrostatics that I also review in this issue. My listening chair was positioned 10' away, centered between the speakers. The comparison two-way system was a pair of 1997 Totem Model 1 Signatures. Before I did any serious listening, I broke in the Model 1 Signatures by playing music from an FM source for 12 hours, followed by 12 hours of the "Special Burn-in Noise" from Stereophile's Test CD 3.
Everything I'd admired in my reviews of earlier versions of the Model 1 Signature—its tight, room-filling bass, startling dynamics, and pinpoint imaging—I heard in the new version. Both 1997 and 2002 Totem Signatures imaged well, placing the electric guitar finale of Richard Thompson's "Why Must I Plead," from Rumor and Sigh (CD, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2), just outside the right speaker.
Yet the 2002 version differed by projecting a huge, wide soundstage and pinpoint, three-dimensional imaging. Never before had I heard a tiny two-way minimonitor sound like a room-filling, floorstanding, 300-lb flagship speaker. When I played Mary Gauthier's captivating rendition of "Long Way to Fall," from Filth and Fire (CD, Signature Sounds 1273), her voice was solid and holographic, creating a disconnect between the wall of sound that surrounded her voice and the sight of those tiny boxes sitting 10' away. I became more aware of the depth and space surrounding the male singers on Cantus' Against the Dying of the Light (CD, Cantus CTS-1202). Emmylou Harris' voice was crystal-clear and luminous as she sang "Prayer in D," from Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM 25001-2). The Signatures projected a wall of sound, maintained pinpoint imaging, and captured midrange dynamics and timbre without breaking up.
But the laws of physics enforced limits at the frequency extremes. The treble remained rolled-off and sweet, as revealed by "A Call to Arms," from the Glory soundtrack (LP, Virgin 90531-1), without the silver sheen and clarity heard over the Innersound Eros Mk.IIIs, and the deepest pipe-organ notes lacked the mass I've heard with full-range speakers.
However, Vince Bruzzese continues to improve his Model 1 Signature in ways that continue to please me immensely. The wiring and capacitor upgrades have improved the speaker's overload characteristics, its midrange reproduction of vocal music has become more involving, and the soundstage now extends from wall to wall of my listening room. The latest Model 1 Signature from Totem Acoustic is definitely worth any audiophile's serious audition. Bruzzese's design talent has breathed high-end audio reproduction into a minimonitor costing less than $2000/pair.—Larry Greenhill