Totem Acoustic Forest loudspeaker

Those who have read this magazine regularly over the past five years know that Canadian designer Vince Bruzzese has been marketing his small, two-way loudspeakers under the Totem Acoustic brand name. Every review of one of these designs has raved about their strong bass response and three-dimensional imaging, but ends with a "but": "the sound is totally awesome, the imaging is holographic, and my wife thinks it looks terrific in the living room, but..."

An example: Totem's Model 1, a small, 7.2-liter minimonitor, showed a strong low-frequency response, sweet highs, wide dynamic range, three-dimensional imaging, and smooth, velvet highs...but the midrange was too prominent (Stereophile, Vol.16 No.4). Bruzzese reintroduced the speaker as the Signature Model 1, with improved power-handling and increased bass response...but its midrange was still too strong on-axis (Vol.21 No.1). Then came the Totem Tabù ($2995/pair), with its transparent highs and palpable, three-dimensional imaging...but an overly analytic midrange and a tendency to sound a little hollow when listened to directly on-axis (Vol.20 No.2). The Totem Mite-T ($895/pair) was "pleasant and seductive"...but its resolution was limited by a recessed upper midrange (SGHT, June 1998). Would the Stereophile magazines ever cut Vince a break?

John Atkinson did, when he enthusiastically recommended the Totem Mani-2 for its "clean treble, transparent midrange, natural dynamics, and powerful extended bass...[which] allowed the music to communicate in a most effective manner." (Vol.19 No.2.) Although JA almost uttered the B-word when considering the Mani-2's price ($3995/pair), he restrained himself out of admiration for the speaker's musical qualities and test-bench performance.

Of course, it's a reviewer's nature and job to find tiny irritants in the most perfect of products, and it's a designer's nature to continue to invent new speakers and send them to reviewers. So, instead of quitting while he was ahead, Vince Bruzzese sent along his latest minitower, the Forest.

The Forest
The Forest is a two-way, floorstanding tower loudspeaker with two drive-units—a 1" SEAS aluminum-dome tweeter and, below that, an Acoustic Technology International (ATI) 6.5" midrange/bass driver—mounted in a narrow, 3'-tall cabinet less than a foot wide and a foot deep. Such a narrow profile helps optimize diffraction effects, and allows the drivers to more closely approximate a point source than might occur with a wide-baffle design. Bruzzese claims that small, rigid enclosures are less apt to store energy and radiate it later, leading to interference and blurring. On the other hand, small minimonitor enclosures lack the capacity for playing very deep bass, and can be limited in dynamic headroom.

The Forest's cabinet, veneered on all six surfaces, appears to be very rigid, with a gracefully rounded front baffle with flush-mounted drivers and an angled rear baffle. The enclosure's sharply angled inner floor breaks up standing waves, and the joins are lock-mitered to create a monocoque structure. An internal full-plane cross-brace further strengthens the cabinet. Sure enough, when I tapped it, the Forest felt very dense and rocklike—like the Revel Salon. Humid-type gaskets, which remain in a fluid state, are used around the drivers to ensure both damping and decoupling.

The Forest comes equipped with Claws and Beaks, Totem's anti-resonance devices. The Claw is a self-centering ball-bearing floor interface and support (available separately; $395/set of 6); the Beak Tuning Pod ($100/pair) is a supercomputer-modeled device for providing more linearity in the bass. These beautiful, bullet-shaped devices, machined of aluminum, are said to tighten and damp the enclosure of any loudspeaker.

The midrange/bass unit's reflex port opens onto the rear panel, just above the four W.B.T. gold-plated speaker terminals (for biwiring). At the bottom of the panel another, smaller hole opens into a compartment separate from the rest of the enclosure; this space can be filled with sand and plugged. Bruzzese also included the same mechanical damping used in the Model 1 to prevent the Forest's mid/woofer from bottoming during extreme dynamic musical peaks.

Bruzzese further damps the entire enclosure by hand-painting its interior with a thick, multi-coat borosilicate paste. This paste is also used on the tube of the reflex port, which is made of damped acrylic and affixed with an anti-resonant glue. The borosilicate is a more lasting and stable damping material than foam, which tends to oxidize and degenerate over time, changing a cabinet's Quality Factor (Q).

The crossover, a quasi-second-order unit, uses air-core coils and polystyrene capacitors. All wiring is specially wound, solid-core, oxygen-free copper wire coated with silver and shielded with extruded Teflon. Most connections are mechanically crimped, not soldered—Bruzzese found that soldering "robbed" the loudspeakers of their wide soundstage. W.B.T. silver solder is used where Bruzzese found it appropriate. The twin pairs of gold-plated W.B.T. speaker-cable terminals easily accommodate the four spade lugs per speaker required for biwiring, and no grillecloth is used—Bruzzese is concerned that any air resistance could lead to mechanical compression of the midwoofer. A grillecloth is available as a modestly priced option.

Overall, the Forest's construction appears to be first-rate.

I placed the Forests where the Revel Salons I reviewed in March 1999 had sounded best: 63" from the rear wall and 36" from the side walls, out in the room and sitting on a circular area rug. I inserted the requisite ball bearings (supplied by Totem) into the bottom of each speaker's Claw, and placed two Beaks atop each cabinet. My narrow listening room is 26' long, 13' wide, and 12' high, with a semi-cathedral ceiling; one long wall is covered with bookshelves, the other is a glass bay window. The opposite end of the room opens into a 25' by 15' kitchen through an 8' by 4' doorway. I positioned the Forests to face the room's long axis.