Totem Acoustic Mani-2 loudspeaker

Following my review of two high-performance minimonitors last November (footnote 1), I received a letter asking why I recommended a stand-mounted speaker at all when it was possible to buy a floorstanding design with more bass for the same amount of money. Furthermore, the correspondent went on, when you consider that the minimonitor sitting on its stand occupies as much floorspace as the floorstander, it's hard to see why a market for minimonitors exists at all.

Strong arguments, perhaps convincing to some. But floorstanding speakers have their drawbacks, too. It's much harder to control the vibrations of the large wooden panels involved, meaning that lower-midrange coloration can be a persistent problem. With its typically wide front baffle, a floorstander's imaging precision cannot be as good as that of a narrow-profile miniature. And while a floorstander can have extended bass compared with a stand-mounted speaker, this isn't always the case.

In fact, the floorstanding vs stand-mounted debate is only really of concern to designers. What matters to audiophiles is performance. If the combination of a minimonitor and a good speaker stand floats your boat, then that's what's important.

This month, to continue my quest for minimonitor perfection, I review two small stand-mounted speakers, the Joseph Audio RM7si and the Totem Mani-2. Both are reflex-loaded two-ways finished in rosewood veneer, but there the similarity ends. One is affordable; the other expensive. One uses a conventional crossover but a compound woofer; the other uses conventional drive-units but a unique crossover.

Canadian speaker manufacturer Totem Acoustic burst onto the high-end scene at the 1989 Toronto Show with their excellent-sounding Model 1 minimonitor (footnote 2). Named after Manito or Manitou, the magical life force that the Algonquin People believed was contained in every object or being, Mani-2 is Totem's second model, hence the punning "2" designation.

"Mani-2 was designed as a statement in pure musicality," writes designer Vincent Bruzzeze, adding that "A speaker should exhibit true liveliness, a spaciousness of sound with all the qualities which make live music truly 'soul moving.' Dynamics, transients, decay, harmonics, timbre, and rhythm have to be realistically portrayed...[Totem] designs are all small-driver, dynamic, two-way; the only plausible design scheme for the coherence and musicality we seek."

Superficially, with its metal-dome tweeter and Dynaudio woofer, the Mani-2 looks like a slightly larger Totem 1. However, it costs more than twice as much. The justification for the price lies under the skin—and ultimately in its sound quality.

The Mani-2's tweeter is a version of the 1" SEAS unit. Whereas the Model 1 used a single Dynaudio woofer, the Mani-2 uses two woofers, each the Dynaudio 17W 75XL with its 3" voice-coil and its distinctive convex dustcap, which actually has as much radiating areas as the cone proper. The second woofer is mounted behind the one facing the outside world, mounted magnet to magnet, with a volume of air trapped between the two cones.

In effect, this is a version of the compound "Isobarik" topology, patented in the UK by Linn Products back in the '70s. For a given bass extension, the compound configuration allows a significant reduction in enclosure size. The price paid, however, is increased enclosure complexity, the cost of a second drive-unit, and a doubled current demand on the partnering amplifier. And while the sensitivity is essentially the same as that of a single unit—just over twice the moving mass is driven by twice as much motor—the maximum power handling remains that of the single unit (footnote 3). With the two woofers mounted in push-pull, however, the low-frequency linearity of the combination should be better than that of each unit on its own.

The Mani-2's cabinet, veneered on all six surfaces, is also complex. All cabinet joints are lock-mitered; full-plane crossbraces provide rigidity, to push resonant modes as high in frequency as possible; the internal surfaces are both veneered and covered with multiple layers of borosilicate damping material; and the rear baffle is secured with 12 hexhead bolts. As a result, the Mani-2 feels like a solid rock when you tap it.

The crossover is constructed from high-quality parts and electrical connection is via two pairs of gold-plated WBT binding posts. Overall, the Mani-2's construction appears to be first-rate.

Paranormal Tonbandstimmen
"Bass. A lot of it," say my listening notes. In fact, the modest-sized Totem produces an astonishing amount of low frequencies. "Digging in the Dirt" on the Peter Gabriel Live Secret World album (Geffen GEFD2-24722) has some thunder-fingering from bassist Tony Levin, plummeting from a low E-flat (39Hz fundamental) to a stygian C (32Hz) in the chorus. Okay, so my room does offer a little bit of extra kick in the 30Hz region, but the Totems were giving out full measure on these low notes. In addition, when I played the low-frequency warble tones from the third Stereophile Test CD, the fundamentals played cleanly down to the 32Hz band, without any obvious "doubling."

Footnote 1: Platinum Solo and Acoustic Energy AE2 Signature, Vol.18 No.11, p.108.

Footnote 2: $1595/pair. Favorably reviewed by Larry Greenhill in April 1994, Vol.17 No.4, p.225.

Footnote 3: My thanks to The Audiophile Network's Kal Rubinson for pointing this out.