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December 2011
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Totem Elements Metal Floorstanding Speakers
A great speaker for large scale music… and orchestral music in particular.
Review By Phil Gold

 

Totem Elements Metal Floorstanding Loudspeaker  Quebec's Totem Acoustic is going upscale this year with an important new range of speakers – the Element Series. The first three are here today, the stand-mounted Fire ($5,995) and two floor-standers, the Earth ($8,995) and the Metal ($12,995). A center channel and a subwoofer are on their way. Element speakers made their first public outing at CES 2011, but final adjustments led to a much more impressive showing at the Montreal show this spring. We're taking a look today at the range-topping Metal, but before we zero in on this particular model, let's take a look at the technology behind the Element Series, because this is most certainly not another me-too product line.

The cabinets taper towards the top and to the back, leaving no two sides parallel, thereby avoiding standing waves and minimizing cabinet resonances. It also makes them stand out from the crowd, and quite a departure from the rectangular boxes found in most Totem speakers to date. Four coats of polyester, white (Ice) or black (Dusk) gloss, make for a dramatic presentation. The cabinet material is a graded mix of different densities of fiberboard which controls and spreads the resonant frequencies. Totem provides magnetically attached driver covers but most people will leave them off since the drivers are so strikingly elegant, and of course they sound better that way. The luxurious finish extends even to the rear which features a custom machined aluminum terminal plate and a set of bi-wirable Signature Platinum WBT connectors, plus the tapered aluminum ports. Both floor standing models sit on a triangular arrangement with an adjustable claw up front and two rear skid plates incorporating a rubber ball decoupling device.

The real innovations are not obvious from the outside. Designer Vince Bruzzese has developed a directly connected midrange/woofer system which means no intervening capacitors, inductors or resistors. The tweeter still needs a simple crossover network to match its level and response curve to the characteristics of the midrange/woofer system, which maintains a smooth and distortion fee significant output level up to around 5 kHz before smoothly rolling off.

This arrangement requires special purpose built drivers. The 7" Torrent midrange/woofer uses a thin polypropylene cone backed with three different damping materials and is powered through a very large 1" movement by a compound magnet system of unusual geometry and remarkably high magnetic flux. This very expensive driver is designed and manufactured in-house by Totem. The magnetic material alone costs more than the entire woofer in most high end speakers. Even the wiring is unusual. Instead of round wire Totem uses a square cross-section to eliminate gaps between the conductors and to maximize flux density. The compact Fire uses one 7" driver while the floor standers use two, one of which is passive in the Earth.

The tweeter, also designed and built in house, is a very rugged air cooled radiator with a titanium dome for wide dispersion. Heat is conducted away from the moving parts through a ⅜" thick aluminum faceplate and fins which are incorporated directly into the aluminum alloy body. No fluid coupling is necessary and the tweeter is claimed to be pretty much unbreakable. A broad dispersion pattern is a feature of both driver designs, making precise positioning of the speaker less critical than normal.

The benefits of directly connecting the midrange woofer can be substantial, as users of active speakers and owners of Reference 3A speakers can attest. You can forget about the distortions and inefficiencies introduced by the crossover and allowing the amplifier to directly control the excursions of the drivers improves response time and reduces overhang.

 

The System
The stand-mounted Fire uses a single 7" Torrent driver with the 1" tweeter and offers an 8 ohm load which makes it easy to drive. I had great success pairing it with the Bryston 4BSST² and it was also pretty comfortable with the inexpensive NAIM UnitiQute and the Micromega AS400 integrated amps that were in house at the time, easily revealing the differences between the amps and between the various sources I connected.

On the other hand, the Metal, with its two 7" Torrent Drivers driven in parallel, is a flat out assault on the high end speaker market, and is very demanding of its partnering electronics. It's a tough 4 ohm load and while quite efficient at 91dB it requires a high current output from the amp. Vince Bruzzese has had very good results from big solid state amps from D'Agostino, Classé or Accuphase, but the Metal was not a good match with my Bryston 4BSST². The result was rather slow and bottom heavy. So I tried a variety of different amps, including a Jadis integrated amp that certainly improved things, but the best match was with the new Modwright KWA 150 Signature Edition, an 84 pound high bias solid state stereo power amp which will be the subject of an upcoming review. You are going to have to put your amp and the Metals into the same room to see if you have a match made in heaven. Just reading the spec sheets is not going to do it for you. The speaker cables will also be important for optimal system matching. I found the Nordost Valhallas an excellent match, while the Cardas Golden Cross with their warmer overall balance did not play to the Metal's strengths. Lastly, the most important single component in your room is... your room! The Metals need room to breathe. This is true of larger speakers in general, with their more generous bass output, and particularly important for rear ported speakers such as these. In fact my room (24' x 12' by 8') proved a better match for the smaller Fire. For that reason I also took the opportunity to listen to the Metal in a number of other locations - a local dealer, the Montreal Show and the new TAVES show in Toronto. At the shows the partnering electronics were from Classé (CA-M600 monoblocks) in Montreal and Bryston (7BSST² monoblocks) in Toronto.

For my most critical listening sessions I used my Linn Sondek LP12/Itok/ClearAudio Virtuoso Wood feeding into an Avid Pulsus phono preamp, and from there into an EMM Labs Pre2 and the KWA 150SE, all wired together with Valhalla cable.

 

The Listening
The picture that emerged is one of effortless power and spacious imaging. Nothing stressed the Metals. Not even the organ. I turned the wick up with Peter Hurford's magnificent Bach set The Organ Works- Volume 3 [Argo D150D3]. The Metal's specifications claim a bandwidth of 30 Hz to 22 kHz, but my measurements also show in-room output well below 30 Hz. The color of the instrument, which varies from track to track as Hurford switches his stops, comes through clearly while the deep pedal notes can be felt as well as heard.

For lovers of the classical guitar, I cannot recommend Ida Presti and Alexander Lagoya's Guitar Duets too highly [Philips 6768657]. The interplay between the two has never been surpassed. The Metal has no trouble keeping up with the rapid fingerwork. On Solar's "Sonata in D-Major" the sound is well located, warm and remarkably tuneful in the bass, but a downward tilt in the upper frequencies is noticeable compared to the Fire and the other speakers on hand – Wilson Benesch Act 1, Totem "The One" and YG Carmel.

I moved on to some spectacularly well produced LP's. First, the famous Direct to Disc recording of Dave Grusin – Discovered Again! [Sheffield Lab-5], and its standout track "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow", better known as the theme from Baretta. The Metal shows off a deep powerful bass and amazingly realistic drum sounds. Every instrument has a precise location, but the high point is the excellent depth on display and how easy it is to hear right into the recording. This track brings out the best of the Metal.

Totem Elements Metal Floorstanding SpeakersEven that track doesn't beat the superb sound emanating from Porgy & Bess, brought to you by Ray Charles and Cleo Lane on Rhino [Classic Records JP 1831]. Listening to "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York", both performed twice, once as an instrumental and once with voices, well that's a special delight. The sound captured into those tiny grooves is very special indeed. The bass line is so firm through the Metal, the rhythms so secure and the jazz instruments infused with such warmth, you are right there in the room with the musicians.

Switching to CDs, Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust" from Rare, Live & Classic [Vanguard VCD3-125/27] brings a strength to the deep bass line that I have never heard before, and an overall warmth that leads to a softening of the low level and rather tinkly percussion that can mar an otherwise exceptional performance. But that warmth also reduces the drive and attack some other speakers bring to this music. For a pop record where no apologies are necessary for the sound, look no further than Love by the Beatles [Capitol 09463 798102 3]. The balance once again is certainly towards the lower octaves, with remarkable weight to Ringo's heavy handed moments. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is warmer and more enveloping than usual, with a tremendous amount of deep bass energy in the mix.

 

The Finale
Common threads emerge from the various listening sessions. The Metal is a very low distortion device with enormous headroom. It maintains its aural balance no matter how low or high you set the volume (not a common characteristic of loudspeakers). It has the ability to play much louder without distortion than any of the speakers I have compared it with, and it images extremely well. It is not at all fussy about positioning and it also gives you a very broad sweet spot. It is on the other hand extremely fussy about the partnering electronics and about the shape and size of the room in which it is playing. With the right combination of room and electronics, it's a great speaker for large scale music and orchestral music in particular, while my vote would go to the smaller Fire for smaller scale music and smaller rooms. The price of $12,995 a pair puts it into direct competition with a number of other seriously good speakers, such as the B&W 803 Diamond, Revel Studio 2 or Wilson Audio Sophia but below the exotic Magico V2 and YG Carmel. Totem has taken a different approach and deserves to be auditioned in the safety of your own home if you are ready for its big sound.

 

Manufacturer's Comment
I wish to thank Phil Gold and Enjoy The Music for the review of the Totem Element Metal. It was a ton of work, a labor of love really, these last few years to bring this Torrent technology into an avant-garde series which we call the Totem Element Series. We thoroughly understand that to some this might just seem to be "another" product, but we firmly believe this to be the "Sound Of A New Era". Totem has invested immensely not only in the technology and industrial capacity to make this happen, but especially in the precise internal fabrication process that allows us to bring these world leading "flagship" products to the high fidelity fan, at affordable pricing.

Phil certainly recognizes that this is not another "me-too" product that comes and just as easily goes, in this field of supposedly high end audio. We at Totem wish to make a courageous and honest statement with all Element products…that they are and will remain the most sonically advanced, musically encompassing, and revolutionary products among high end extreme performance speakers for an extremely long time to come. We have three Element models presently that not only strive to psycho-acoustically satisfy slightly different tastes, but actually define performance levels in many different and new ways. Their compactness is revolutionary and outstanding. The quality of their deep finishes is second to none. The machined alloy drivers are not just beautiful to look at but are a technological "Tour De Force." The sound they produce is unique, and they define it through their collective voice. Are we excited to present music in a new fashion in this "New Era?" You better believe it! If you wish to hear and feel emotion, scale, musical involvement and whatever else is possible though these wonderful communicators, we know you'll bring them into your life and be as proud of them as we are.

Best to all,

Vince Bruzzese
Designer,
Totem Acoustic

 

 

Specifications
Type: Floorstanding loudspeakers
Frequency Response: 30 Hz to 22 kHz
Sensitivity: 91dB/W/m
Recommended Power: 50watts to 300 watts
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Dimensions: 43.5 x 11.7 x 14.9 (WxDxH in inches) 
Finish: Black (Dusk) or white (Ice) high gloss
Speaker Terminals: Signature Platinum WBT binding posts, bi-wireable
Warranty: Five years limited warranty
Price: $12,995 a pair

 

Company Information
Totem Acoustic
9165 rue Champ D'Eau 
Montreal, Quebec
Canada H1P 3M3

Voice: (514) 259-1062 
Fax: (514) 259-4968
E-mail: info@totemacoustic.com
Website: www.totemacoustic.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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