Totem Acoustic Model 1 loudspeaker Page 2

The Totem's midrange spectrum also caught my attention. Like many minimonitors, the Totems excelled on vocal, clarinet, and piano. Voices and strings floated free of the speaker positions. What the Totems added was an ability to better delineate distinct voices and instruments and accurately depict spatial positions. The lead singer's voice on the first Blue Nile LP, A Walk Across the Rooftops (Linn LKH1), has a sumptuous, full, three-dimensional quality which stood well apart from the music and special effects. Harry Connick, Jr.'s voice on "Don't get Around Much Anymore" on the When Harry Met Sally... soundtrack (Columbia CK 45319) had natural vocal timbre with none of the honk heard on lesser minimonitors. Suzanne Vega's startling acappella "Tom's Diner" on Solitude Standing (A&M CD 5136) was so lifelike that my son came running into the listening room to find out what was going on!

Imaging was first-rate, exceeded (in my memory) only by that of the Sonus Faber Extrema. The spoken "Well done!" was heard at the extreme left of the soundstage at the end of JA's recording of Anna Maria Stanczyk playing Chopin's Scherzo in b-flat, Op.31 (the first Stereophile Test CD). This shows how able the Totems are at re-creating an apparently enormous soundstage. The preacher's voice on Lyle Lovett's "Church" was placed well to Lovett's left, and was more clearly delineated from the other voices than through any other comparison speaker, including the Quad ESL-63s. The chorus backing up Lovett was layered, the space around and behind them well delineated. Test CD 2's "mapping the soundstage" track was handled just as well (see Vol.15 No.6, p.202).

The Totems created a seamless sonic image of a chorus spread across the soundstage behind José Carreras in the opening "Kyrie" of Misa Criolla (Philips 420 955-2), and their imaging abilities were further revealed on the instrumental finish of Richard Thompson's "Why Must I Plead" (from Rumor and Sigh, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2). There, the acoustic guitar was located just outside the right speaker. Soundstage depth and width were exemplary on Holst's "Chaconne," as played by the Dallas Wind Symphony under the direction of Howard Dunn on Reference RR-39CD.

The nit I have to pick was in the upper treble response. The Totem's upper octaves were smooth, sweet, and gently rolled-off, a sweetness that could be heard on the Glory soundtrack LP (Virgin 90531-1). The choir voices spread from wall to wall, and were rich and airy in the opening cut, "A Call to Arms." Yet the Totems did not seem as open as the B&W Matrix 805 on the top end. The 805's aluminum-dome tweeter is externally mounted for time-alignment, which appears to give the speaker an openness and transparency not heard from the Totems. The Totems also lacked the wonderful silver sheen and clarity of the Quad ESL-63. This same quality of cymbal sheen was missing when the Totems played Wynton Marsalis's Standard Time Vol.3: The Resolution of Romance CD (Columbia CK 46143, reviewed in Vol.13 No.10).

Even though The Totem's treble response seemed less open than the B&W Matrix 805's, it didn't strain at high levels in a big room as had the Sonus Faber Minima on the same musical passages. Even at high volumes, vibes remain liquid and smooth, as heard on Joe Beck's "Unspoken Words" (on The Journey, DMP CD-481). Vocals never developed the peakiness on soprano choral works, but were lilting and soft. In contrast, the other minimonitors developed a hardness on the Glory LP, particularly on the first cut.

The Totems did not seem to be particularly amplifier-sensitive. The Mark Levinson No.27.5 played with a vitality, speed, and rhythmic force that were very appealing. The KSA-250, whose huge power reserves were not entirely needed for the tiny Totems, played with a large jump factor on rock selections, with plenty of bass slam on kickdrum, and robust orchestral timbres when playing my Stokowsi LPs. The Woodside M-50 tube monoblocks were wonderfully synergistic with the Totems, playing with extreme smoothness and width of soundstage.

The Totem Model 1's small size makes it seem expensive. In addition, the total suggested retail can reach $2100 if one adds the $675 cost of the Target R1 or R4 stands, although the manufacturer claims that the loudspeaker does almost as well with the less expensive HJ or HS stands listed in the heading. Many three-way, full-range loudspeakers in retail audio stores cost less.

In their true high-end perspective, however, the Totems represent value for money. Their imaging and their highly defined, rhythmic bass rival those of other loudspeakers several times their price. The B&W Matrix 805 has a more open top end, but not quite the bass definition or imaging. Only by ascending to the Sonus Faber Electa Amators ($4500/pair) will one exceed the Totems' imaging, power, and bass definition in moderate and large rooms. For imaging, only the Sonus Faber Extrema exceeds this small two-way in spatial definition and depth of soundfield. The Totems benefit greatly from the use of quality amplification, bi-wiring, and topnotch stands like the Targets.

Perhaps my admiration of the Totems was influenced by the mysticism and power of their name. Perhaps. Yet time and again I returned to them, preferring the Totems to other loudspeakers in my listening room. Playing pipe-organ music or reproducing spoken voice, this diminutive Canadian monitor had a tight, solid bass response and an ability to image with a three-dimensionality not heard with the comparison loudspeakers. The Totems were smooth and undistorted, allowing long listening sessions free of fatigue and irritation. Their small size did not prevent them from performing well in both the small and large listening rooms. Perhaps the Totem's build quality contributed to my embarrassing enthusiasm. Who knows? I don't argue with Totems. Nor should you.—Larry Greenhill