Totem Acoustic Mani-2 loudspeaker Page 2

This is the most extended bass I've ever heard from a small speaker, beating out for low-frequency extension even the Platinum Solo that I reviewed last November. More important, the Mani-2 didn't achieve its awesome bass at the expense of definition. The speaker went deep, but it went deep clean! There was no puddingy loss of definition, no boom to drive you crazy. (Talking about boom, check out the laserdisc of Live Secret World, Real World 14381-3051-6—what did the producers do, wind up the mid-bass to make Home Theater owners think their inexpensive powered subwoofers had suddenly acquired another 6dB headroom? More loud is always more better, right?)

This impressive bass hadn't been obtained at the expense of upper-bass clarity. The tonal differences between the three bass guitars Timothy B. Schmitt uses on the Eagles' live reunion album (Hell Freezes Over, Geffen GEFD-24725, CD, Geffen Home Video 14381-3061-6, laserdisc)—a big-assed Fender Jazz, a more evenly balanced active Carvin 4-string, and a growling Carvin fretless—were well-differentiated.

However, the Mani-2's generous bass prowess made it fussy about setup. Its owners should expect to have to fiddle rather more than usual with exact positioning to get the room to work with the speaker rather than against it.

Moving higher in frequency, the Totem's midrange was uncolored and grain-free. Paula Cole's sympathetic answering vocal on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up," for example, sounded natural, with all the little inflections of pitch that give a voice its humanity preserved intact. And when I dragged out a recording I hadn't played in 10 years, Paul Young's No Parlez (English LP CBS 25521), Pino Palladino's chorused fretless Music Man StingRay bass on the remake of Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Lay My Hat" sounded simply wonderful. There were no midrange speaker artifacts to get in the way of the musical communication.

The speaker's highs were also superbly transparent. While analog hiss was a bit more apparent than with the B&W Silver Signatures, there was no sense of steeliness or metallic edge, no brightness, no feeling of exaggerated clarity. In the version used by Totem, this metal-dome SEAS is obviously a great tweeter.

Despite an obviously low sensitivity, the Mani-2 appeared to have good dynamics. Jerry Marotta's thunderclap tom toms on "Wallflower" from Peter Gabriel's 1982 album (Charisma PG 4, English LP) came over without apparent compression. Stereo imaging was of the "disappearing speaker" type, with no audible clues to the speakers' positions. The result was a wide, deep soundstage which, if it didn't have quite the image palpability of the revised Thiel CS7 samples that WP reviewed last month, was still excellent. Image precision was stable and pinpoint where necessary, unlike the Josephs, which tended to broaden everything by comparison.

Sun's Coming Up Like A Big Bald Head
I had misgivings about trying the Mani-2 with the Cary CAD-300SEI tube amplifier; that compound woofer configuration demands to suck amps from the amplifier, and those are in short supply with a singled-ended design. Yet if my 20 years working on audio magazines have taught me anything, it's to expect the unexpected. What works on paper can produce horrendous sound in practice. And what theoretically can't work can sometimes produce a truly moving musical experience.

Such proved to be the case with the Totem Mani-2s driven by the little Cary. As expected, the tonal balance changed, becoming rather tilted-up in the treble. The maximum volume was also quite limited compared with the mighty Mark Levinson '333. But listening to the master CD-R of Stereophile's new Festival orchestral recording was a magical experience. When I engineered this recording, high on my list of goals was to try to capture the essential fragility of live sound, that feeling that if you dared even breathe, the music's edge would be dulled. This sense itself seems very fragile, easily destroyed by poor playback. With the Cary-driven Totems, however, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat. The images of the individual string instruments at the start of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring as they joined in the depiction of the musical dawn were palpably real, floating between and behind the speaker positions, yet without the unreal sense of artificial spotlighting that you get from high-end systems optimized for such hi-fi attributes as "detail" or "transparency" rather than the whole musical experience.

Even though I'd heard every measure of this recording literally hundreds of times during the rehearsals, recording, editing, and mastering, I found myself entranced and listened to the entire disc in its entirety. Magic.

O Superman
On the face of it, the Totem Mani-2 represents poor value for money—nearly $4000 for a pair of conventional-looking minimonitors, not including stands. Yet its combination of clean treble, transparent midrange, natural dynamics, and powerful extended bass allowed the speakers to step to one side, allowing the music to communicate in a most effective manner. It is one of the few speakers I could happily live with. If you have a smallish room, and you value bass extension and are prepared to pay for it, the Mani-2 can be enthusiastically recommended.