There’s a kind of hierarchy of prestige among speaker manufacturers (which may or may not have anything to do with the sound quality of their offerings). At the bottom you have manufacturers that use off-the-shelf drivers which are available to any hobbyist, and don’t do anything other than mount these speakers in an enclosure and connect the drivers to a crossover (which may also be an off-the-shelf unit). Then you have manufacturers that start off with an off-the-shelf unit but modify this unit to their purposes. (The modification can be as simple as adding a bit of mass to the cone or adding a foam ring around the tweeter cone.) The next higher level in the hierarchy are speaker manufacturers that have the drivers made to their specifications by a specialist manufacturer of speaker drivers. And at the very top of the hierarchy are the speaker manufacturers that make their own drivers. This allows them to not only control of every step of the manufacturing process but also the ability produce drivers that are proprietary.
It is this top level of speaker manufacturer hierarchy that Totem has reached with the new Element series, shown in JA's photo with designer Vince Bruzzese. The 7” woofers used in the Element Series are of the Canadian’s company’s own design, manufactured in-house, which requires three hours of machining and more than four hours of assembly. I don’t know enough about loudspeaker driver design to talk with any authority about how the new Totem woofer differs from other woofer designs (the magnetic design was inspired by something called the Halbach array); suffice it to say that it has a free-air resonance of 1617Hz, and its mechanical top end frequency rolloff is such that it’s matched with the tweeter without any crossover components in the woofer path. The top-of-the-line Metal ($12,995/pair) sounded good in a brief listen. I look forward to having more of an opportunity to listen to these new Totems at the 2011 Montreal show.
Totem is expanding their Element line, which features bass drivers running full-range up to the tweeter’s passband. The latest speaker in this line is the Ember ($4200/pair) a two-way using a 6" Torrent driver designed and made by Totem. Driven by Boulder electronics, a pair of Embers produced a full-range sound, with the sort of bass that made you wonder if there was a subwoofer in the system. Not bad for a 6" driver!
Have you ever attended one of those speaker demos where a large pair of floorstanding speakers were supposedly playing, and then it was revealed that the speakers playing were small hidden ones? (I recall Joseph Audio doing one of these.) Well, it was something like that in the Totem room, but not intentionally. The speakers that I thought were playing were the Metal floorstanders ($12,000/pair) and I was particularly impressed by the deep, dynamic bass produced by these speakers.
And then . . . in discussing the performance of the speakers with designer Vince Bruzzese, I found out that the speakers playing were not the Metals but the much smaller bookself-type Fires ($6000/pair) . . .
Canadian Totem Acoustic specializes in manufacturing loudspeakers that are small is size and price but big in sound. Perhaps no speaker of theirs exemplifies this better than the cheapest model in the line: the $450/pair Dreamcatcher. Here’s designer Vince Bruzzese with the Dreamcatcher.
Totem always makes a splash at shows; this time the demos featured the Element series that was introduced at the 2011 Las Vegas CES. As a nod to the Image part of the name of the show, they also had a huge screen with four commercial-grade projectors, and a very stylish video presentation. The man with the "Einstein" hair on the left side in the picture is Totem president Vince Bruzzese, one of the recipients of SSI's Lifetime Achievement awards.
The other recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 SSI was Vince Bruzzese of loudspeaker manufacturer Totem, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. To tell the truth, this surprised me. No, not the fact that he was given the award, which was certainly well-deserved, but it seems like yesterday that I first encountered Vince at the Toronto Show, where he was introducing a small speaker that sounded uncommonly good. Has it been really that long?
Simaudio, represented in my photo by Lionel Goodfield (left) and Dynaudio, represented by Mike Manousselis (right) often exhibit together, an arrangement that seems to represent the friendly relationships between people in these companies as well as the synergistic relationships between the products. They certainly sound good together, and both companies seem to be guided by a desire to offer not necessarily the cheapest possible products, but ones that offer high quality combined with good value.
Many speaker manufacturers give their various speaker lines fanciful names that make it difficult to determine a given speaker's position in the manufacturer's intended quality range. Polk, in contrast, simply places their speakers in three categories: Good, Better, and Best. I suspect this helps sales staff in stores enormously in communicating what the differences are between various speakers from Polk.
Some think that the high-end audio business is a competitive, cut-throat endeavor, leading to animosities, but this picture of (l–r): EveAnna Manley (Manley Labs), Dennis Had (Cary Audio) and Kevin Deal (Prima Luna) shows that it isn't always that way, at least for purveyors of tube equipment.
Ultra Systems' Robert Stein cornered me—in the nicest way possible—at the Stereophile/Home Theater party Wednesday night, telling me that he had a great new acoustical damping product that I should check out in his booth. I was going to give this one a pass until he mentioned that it's small, easy-to-install, and inexpensive.