Totem Acoustic Model 1 loudspeaker

The word totem is powerful in its own right. Totems have conscious and unconscious meanings, depicting powerful supernatural forces in nature and within us. Native Americans of the Northwest Coast tribes, starting with the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, used the term for the animals or birds associated with their clans. Tall wooden columns were carved with the clan totem, which could be a bird, fish, animal, or plant. Later, the Kwakiutls of the Pacific Northwest held feasts called Potlatches, during which poles carved with family and clan emblems were erected. Totems were also involved in worship and rites of passage. So elemental were the forces depicted by these symbols that Freud used totem to depict basic cultural laws, both spoken and unspoken, that guide daily behavior and proscribe what remains forbidden. It is fitting that the Totem loudspeaker reviewed here comes from Canada, the home of the enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, where totems were so powerful.

Before they were sent to me, the Totem Model 1s had first been evaluated by Sam Tellig, who had been positively impressed by this tiny two-way system. Designer Vince Bruzzese mentioned to me that Jan Eric Persson, President of Swedish recording firm Opus III, now uses the Totem 1 as his exclusive recording monitor.

The Totem Model 1 is a small two-way reflex design featuring a 5" Dynaudio midwoofer with a large cast-frame basket and a 3" voice-coil, a 1.1" metal-dome SEAS tweeter, and a very rigid cabinet. Joints are lock-mitered. An internal full-plane crossbrace further reinforces the cabinet, while sidewalls are made of a light material which quickly dissipates energy. Humid-type gaskets, which remain in a fluid state, are used around the drivers to ensure both damping and decoupling. Vince Bruzzese has further damped the entire structure by having the interior of the enclosure hand-painted with a thick, multilayer borosilicate paste. Similar compounds were used on the Space Shuttle to prevent the craft's heat-resistant tiles from breaking up due to vibration. The borosilicate is also used on the reflex tube, this made of a damped acrylic material, and set into place with anti-resonant glue.

The 1" metal-dome tweeter is highly modified at Totem before being installed in the Model 1. When it arrives from SEAS, Totem dismantles and rebuilds the tweeter, removing the front phase plug and modifying and damping the rear resonance chamber to match the woofer's. The design of the 125mm midwoofer includes a type of mechanical damping that prevents the unit from bottoming under extreme dynamic musical peaks. No grille is used, as Bruzzese is concerned that any air resistance will lead to mechanical compression of drivers.

The crossover is a quasi-second-order unit with a 2.7kHz electrical and mechanical crossover point. It utilizes Solen air-core Litz coils, metal-oxide resistors, and multiple bypassing of polypropylene capacitors with polystyrene types. All wiring employs specially wound oxygen-free-copper solid-core wire, and a silver-coated and extruded Teflon shield. WBT crimping methods and terminals are used, as well as WBT silver solder where appropriate. The heavy-duty, gold-plated WBT terminals each easily accommodate two spade lugs for bi-wiring. Fit and finish in this minimonitor is as good as I've seen in any dynamic loudspeaker.

These loudspeakers are unusually small and conventional—on the outside. Smaller enclosure size helps reduce diffraction effects in loudspeakers, and allows the drivers to radiate from a common source, more closely approximating a point source than might occur with a large planar design. Also, small rigid enclosures are less apt to store energy and radiate it later, and thus cause interference and blurring. Of course, a small loudspeaker will not have the capacity to play deep, subwooferish bass, and may be limited in headroom. These design tradeoffs have been optimized in the Totems.

Totem recommends 85-90 hours of break-in time playing music at moderate to low volumes. I used this time to listen to WNCN FM stereo broadcasts over a period of two weeks. Specific instructions for placement are given, with the speakers set up 1' or more from back and side walls, and 4' to 8' apart.

The Totems passed all my usual subjective listening tests with flying colors. Pink noise was played to determine midband colorations and the optimum listening axis. Colorations were not evident, and the sound was natural over a wide listening area. This was confirmed by the sit-down, stand-up, walk-around test. The sound remained uniform, and sound changed character only when I was standing right above the speaker.

I tend to assume that the bass response of a 5" midwoofer will not be impressive, but when it came to the Totems, I was wrong. The pure test tones on Stereophile's Test CD 2 revealed that the Totems were able to produce clean bass down to 50Hz in my room, with no traces of doubling at lower frequencies. On music, the Totems delivered quality bass and plenty of it. Their small size is deceptive. On Target stands, they did a better job on rock and pipe-organ music than either the Sonus Faber Minimas or the B&W Matrix 805s. Lyle Lovett's wonderful foot-stomping gospel tale on "Church" (from Joshua Judges Ruth, MCA MCAD-10475, reviewed in Vol.15 No.6) had powerful driving bass that reached right down and grabbed on tight. Terry Bozzio's kickdrum and Tony Hymas's synthesizer on Jeff Beck's "Behind the Veil" (Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, Epic EK 44313) had bass slam and snap, particularly when the tiny Totems were driven by the Levinson No.27.5. The No.27.5 and KSA-250 amplifiers did best reproducing the punch of Bozzio's kickdrum on the Totems. Rimshots, kickdrum, and drumhead sounds were highly dynamic and clearly defined. The dynamic range and powerful bass drum were evident playing Owen Reed's "La Fiesta Mexicana" on Fiesta (Reference RR-38CD). The bass was rhythmic and had a good jump factor. While bass response did not descend much below 40Hz, it was lean, taut, and filled the room.