Totem Acoustic Model 1 loudspeaker Larry Greenhill January 1998

Larry Greenhill wrote about the Totem Model 1 Signature in January 1998 (Vol.21 No.1)

Vincent Bruzzese, Totem Acoustic's loudspeaker designer, used the 1997 Winter CES to introduce a Signature version of the company's first loudspeaker, the diminutive Model 1. I had reviewed this small two-way system in April 1993 (Vol.16 No.4, p.225), and had praised it for its smooth, sweet highs, strong dynamics, palpable three-dimensional imaging, and strong bass response. In his measurements section, John Atkinson found that the Model 1 had a solid, well-damped cabinet. Its bass reflex port was tuned to 42Hz, which allowed the small speaker to produce more bass than expected, although the port featured some low-level pipe resonances at 500Hz and 950Hz. Its on-axis response featured an upper-midrange prominence. But even with these characteristics, the Totem Model 1 was praised for its tight, solid, rhythmic bass and palpable imaging.

At $1995/pair, the Signature Model 1 costs $400 more than the standard version. How do they differ? Placing the mahogany bi-wired Signature Model 1 side by side with standard Model 1, the most evident difference was the Signature's dual WBT gold terminals for bi-wiring. The rear of each Signature 1 is also outfitted with a copper medallion with the designer's signature.

Written materials supplied with the speakers described other differences: internal woofer leads now use larger-gauge silver wire; the crossover features no common grounding and uses different, larger, oil-dielectric capacitors; also used are metalized polypropylene capacitors bypassed with additional polystyrenes for each single capacitor position. Totem claims that these modifications have enlarged the Model 1's image size, improved its off-axis response, and increased its speed.

My listening room is 26' long and 13' wide, with a 12' semi-cathedral ceiling that opens into a kitchen through an 8' by 4' doorway at the back. This adds an additional 25' by 15' space. I sat 8' away from the Signature Model 1s for most of my listening. I also tried my favorite listening spot for larger loudspeakers—18' away—but found it less satisfactory. Auditioning also was carried out in a 15' by 10' study with wall-to-wall carpet, an area rug, and a couch. The Signature 1s were set up 3' from the rear wall of my room (which is faced with framed watercolors 8' from the floor) and approximately 30" from the side walls (which have sliding equipment shelves).

The Signature 1s were used with the Target Model R1 ($675/pair) sand-filled stands, and with Sumiko Franklin and Lowell stands (also sand-filled, $350/pair). Power amplifiers were the Mark Levinson No.331 and a pair of Krell FPB 250M monoblocks. The preamplifier was a Krell KBL for CDs, and a Mark Levinson ML-7A with a Duntech MX-10 head amplifier for LPs. Vinyl was played on a Linn Sondek/Lingo/Ittok/Sumiko setup. The digital source was an Adcom GDA-700 D/A processor, or an Audio Alchemy DDE v3.0 HDCD (over its I2S bus) D/A processor, both driven by a Krell MD-1 transport via 75 ohm Silver Starlight digital coaxial cable and an Audio Alchemy DT-1 jitter attenuator. Day-Sequerra FM Reference Classic and Fanfare FM-1 stereo tuners provided music from WQXR, our local New York classical station. Interconnects were Krell Cogelco Yellow balanced cables, and speaker cable was a bi-wired set of Sumiko OCOS cables. All amplifiers were plugged into a 200-amp AC outlet.

I broke-in the Signature 1s by playing music from an FM source for 12 hours, followed by the "Special Burn-In Noise Track" on Stereophile's Test CD 3 for 12 hours. The comparison two-way loudspeaker system was a pair of original Totem Model 1 loudspeakers.

Follow-Ups like these often compare two different versions of the same audio product. The best outcome is when the newer product captures all the strengths of its predecessor while adding new qualities that don't detract.

Such was the case with the Totem Model 1s compared here. All the things I had admired in this minimonitor—its stirring bass response and pinpoint imaging—were nicely preserved in the Signature edition. Bass-drum dynamics were fully evident through both versions when playing Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana (Fiesta, Reference Recordings RR-38CD). While bass notes didn't descend much below 40Hz, they were tight, strong, and filled the room. Both pairs of Model 1s also gave a convincing soundstage width and depth to the instrumental finish of Richard Thompson's "Why Must I Plead" (from Rumor and Sigh, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2), placing his acoustic guitar's sonic image just outside the right speaker. Soundstage depth and width was very realistic and involving, as heard on Holst's Chaconne (Howard Dunn, Dallas Wind Symphony, Reference RR-39CD).

The Signature differed from its predecessor in being more open and clean with vocal music. Take Odetta's stunning rendition of "America" on Strike a Deep Chord: Blues for the Homeless on Justice Records. Through the Signatures her voice became a solid, holographic image. I could hear her sibilants clearly, and her plosives did not overload the Signatures as they had the original Model 1s. I was more aware of the reverb added to Maggie Doyle's voice on the opening of James Horner's Patriot Games soundtrack (Milan 66501-2). Pavarotti sounded full, dynamic, passionate, and wonderful over the Signatures when he sang the Duke's opening solo, "Questa o quella per me pari sona," from Verdi's Rigoletto (London 414 269-2). This ability to capture midrange dynamics and timbre without breaking up constitutes the main difference between the Signature and original Model 1s. The treble, however, remained rolled-off and sweet, as proved by "A Call to Arms" on Horner's Glory soundtrack (Virgin 90531-1, LP). But here, even the Signatures were bettered by the clarity and silver sheen of my Quad ESL-63s.

Vince Bruzzese has improved one of his company's best products, the very simple Model 1s. The speaker's external changes now allow bi-wiring, and the internal upgrades of wiring and capacitors have improved its overload characteristics. Its midrange reproduction of vocal music is even better, thus improving upon the speaker's original assets of bass response and imaging. The Totem Signature Model 1s are definitely worth serious audition by anyone in the market for a pair of $2000 minimonitors.—Larry Greenhill