Totem Dreamcatcher loudspeaker Page 2
The Dreamcatcher's magical combination of these attributes let me hear into recordings in a way I've rarely been able to with any component I've reviewed. It's one thing for a speaker to let me hear, in a familiar recording, new things for the first time; it's another if that recording is the Beatles' Abbey Road (CD, Apple 3 82468 2), and yet another if I hear something new in every track (footnote 1). Using my Creek Destiny combination of CD player and integrated amplifier, I played the entire disc, marveling at all my new discoveries. The resolution increased further when I substituted my Lector, Audio Valve, and Audio Research gear for the Creek duo and listened to the CD again. Throughout the entire listening session, I felt like producer George Martin listening to the playback of the master tape in EMI's Abbey Road studios. In "Come Together" and "The End," I marveled at the pitch and dynamic inflections in Ringo's tom-tom and bass-drum work: It was very clear exactly where on the skins he was hitting the skins. And the Totem's subtle dynamic capabilities made it very easy to compare the vocal phrasing styles of John Lennon in "Come Together" and Paul McCartney in "Oh, Darling."
With the Totem, I realized for the first time to what degree Abbey Road is a keyboard-driven album. I found the layering of piano and synthesizers in "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" subtle and ingenious, and had a similar reaction to how Paul's piano phrasing in "You Never Give Me Your Money" dovetails perfectly with the guitar and bass figures. My favorite keyboard arrangement, however, is the three-way arpeggio interplay of guitar, harpsichord, and synthesizer in "Because"through the Totems, each instrumental line was clear as a bell. And for the first time, I focused on the electric guitar played through a Leslie amp (a technique more often used by Pink Floyd than by the Beatles) in "Here Comes the Sun," and how that texture subtly supports the broken chords on acoustic guitar in the front of the mix. Finally, the Totem's overall reproduction of Abbey Road hit me emotionally, reminding me that I was listening to this gorgeous music in the 30th-anniversary year of John Lennon's death. In the end, it made me sad.
But the Totem had gotten my Beatles jones working, and during one of the many annoying snowstorms in New York City this past winter, when my entire family was trapped in the house, I cued up The Beatles in Mono (CD, Apple 5099969945120) and listened to the entire boxed set in one sitting. Although I enjoyed using the Dreamcatchers to analyze every detail of the band's evolution, my wife was less enthused. During a recent dinner party to celebrate her birthday, I again cued up the Mono Masters disc from this set, but my wife's reaction to the music contained a hint of A Clockwork Orange: "Is that all you ever play around herethe Beatles?" My son Jordan said, "How about some Lady Gaga?" So we cued up "Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)," from the Lady's The Fame Monster (CD, Streamline B0011631-02), at about 90dB. In my large listening room there was plenty of bass-synth slam and tuneful rhythmic bounce as, once again, I analyzed every detail of the layered electronic instruments in this track. Although I feel that Lady Gaga is a very talented singer and pianist and an even more talented composer, the Totems very clearly revealed that her greatest skill is in arranging.
The Dreamcatcher's aforementioned transient capabilities combined with the seamless integration of its midrange and high frequencies to make it a natural showcase for well-recorded percussion works. "Welcome Blessing," from Jack DeJohnette's Oneness (CD, ECM 1637), opens with a delicate and gradually building percussion solo from Don Alias that runs the gamut of percussive textures. The Totems completely "disappeared" with this tune; the startling realism of the widely varying transient and dynamic envelopes of Alias's bag of tricks was virtually indistinguishable from a live performance.
There was an interesting paradox in the way the Totem unraveled the differences among recordings of varying sound quality, clearly distinguishing between great and merely good recordings while still allowing me to enjoy the latter. For example, I've always been a fan of Richie Havens' Nobody Left to Crown (CD, Verve Forecast B0011631-02), but only when I listened to it after hearing Sonic Youth's Washing Machine (CD, Geffen DGCD-24825) did I realize that the Sonic Youth album is sonically far superior, even if its primary textures are those of distorted electric guitars and processed voices.
Footnote 1: Long ago, I wore out my original US Apple vinyl pressing of Abbey Road, as well as the one in my Parlophone boxed set. But ever since a copy of the marvelous 2009 remastering came into my hands, I've played it to death with every review speaker in the house.