Totem

SKY Book­shelf Speak­ers

NOVO - - FEATURE: WHY DO WE NEED BETTER CABLES? - by David Mitchell

Totem be­gan speaker build­ing in 1987 in Mon­treal Canada, start­ing off with just one model, the now le­gendary Model-1 mon­i­tor, which even­tu­ally was up­graded to the Sig­na­ture ver­sion. Founded by Vince Bruzzese, a re­tired high-school math and physics teacher, and now Totem’s chief de­signer. All Totem prod­ucts are man­u­fac­tured in Canada, ex­cept for KIN units and some ar­chi­tec­tural speaker mod­els. The cab­i­nets are con­structed at an­other man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Que­bec, and the ma­chine shop where all metal and an­cil­lary com­po­nents are made is also lo­cated in Mon­treal. Since the Model-1, Totem has ex­panded into at least forty plus var­i­ous book­shelf, floor­stand­ing speak­ers (what Totem clev­erly calls “col­umns”), on wall speak­ers, cen­ter chan­nels, ar­chi­tec­tural (“in wall”) and sub­woofers. The Totem vi­sion is to give the lis­tener mu­sic, and noth­ing but the mu­sic. Ac­cord­ing to Totem,

build­ing speak­ers goes be­yond math and en­gi­neer­ing, it is in­stead an in­tu­itive and in­stinc­tive sci­ence.

DE­SIGN & FEA­TURES

Within the line-up of the Totem book­shelfs the SKY is po­si­tioned be­tween the Rain­maker, and the much more ex­pen­sive El­e­ment speak­ers, specif­i­cally the El­e­ment Em­ber. The SKY’s re­tail for $1,850/pair (USD).

It may ap­pear at first glance that the SKY speaker is po­si­tioned to re­place the now dis­con­tin­ued Model-1, how­ever I don’t be­lieve that is the case. The sonic sig­na­tures of the two speak­ers are vastly dif­fer­ent. The Model-1’s fea­ture a metal dome tweeter that can run a lit­tle “hot” some­times, whereas the Sky has a large, soft dome tweeter (more be­low). The two speak­ers are re­mark­ably sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance, though they both ex­hibit al­most the same di­men­sions. The SKY’s mea­sure in at 6.35” wide, 12” high, and 9” deep. The SKY is avail­able in three dif­fer­ent fin­ishes. A white satin fin­ish, as well as black ash and ma­hogany ve­neers. The re­view sam­ple pro­vided to me was ma­hogany and was quite strik­ing. The Totem cab­i­netry was, of course, up to its usual high-quality stan­dards. Joints were prac­ti­cally in­vis­i­ble, and the knuckle rap test in­di­cated the prod­uct is in­cred­i­bly in­ert. The SKY fea­tures a 5” woofer, with a 3” voice coil, and in­ter­est­ingly enough, a 1.3” soft dome tweeter, which ac­tu­ally ap­pears to be a unique to Totem, Wav­cor neodymium unit. This is a de­par­ture from the metal dome tweeter that was fea­tured in the Model-1. The over­sized 3” voice coil al­lows the SKY to be driven to as­tound­ingly high lev­els, with the peak power level top­ping out at 500 watts.

The SKY’s have an im­ped­ance rat­ing of 8 ohms, as op­posed to the harder 4 ohm load of the Model-1’s, and are rated at 87 db/w/m ef­fi­ciency. The SKY’s are rated to go down to 48 Hz, but “real world” in room fre­quency re­sponse can be in the low 30’s and lin­ear up to 29,500 Hz. Pretty amaz­ing for such a small speaker. They played at a much louder vol­ume than my Model-1’s did, I would have to turn my McIntosh amp sig­nif­i­cantly louder with the Model-1’s to achieve the same level of vol­ume as the SKY’s. I would only have to have to turn the vol­ume on my McIntosh MA66600 to 24 with the SKY’s to achieve the same level of vol­ume with the Model1’s. Ac­cord­ing to the me­ters on my McIntosh, I was us­ing be­tween 0.2 and 2.0 watts in both cases. Granted, the Model-1’s were wired to the 4 ohm taps on the McIntosh, and the Model-1’s were wired to the 8 ohm taps, so that could have ac­counted for some of the vol­ume dis­crep­ancy. There is lit­tle doubt, how­ever, that the SKY’s are rel­a­tively easy speak­ers to drive.

As with all Totem speak­ers, the in­ner cab­i­nets are damp­ened with borosil­i­cate to con­trol en­ergy, but yet still al­low the mu­si­cal­ity of the fine cab­i­netry to shine through. As a de­par­ture from the usual Totem phi­los­o­phy, the SKY speak­ers come in­cluded with mag­netic grills.

If you are used to the Model-1, there are also some other cos­metic and func­tional dif­fer­ences be­tween the two speak­ers. The Model-1 had dual WBT bind­ing posts that were flush mounted on the back of the cab­i­net, and were of ob­vi­ously high quality. The bind­ing posts on the SKY speak­ers are ABS plas­tic plate mounted, much like the bind­ing post ar­range­ment on the Sttafs. The SKY’s are bi-wire­able and the bind­ing posts are gold plated. The edges and cor­ners of the SKY’s seem a lit­tle more rounded than did the ones on the Model-1. Aes­thet­i­cally, they are beau­ti­ful speak­ers. Sim­i­lar to the Model-1’s, the SKY’s have a small port near the top at the back of the speaker.

The SKY’s were de­signed by Totem specif­i­cally for easy room place­ment. Even be­ing rear ported, they can be placed close to the front wall without be­com­ing boomy sound­ing. In fact, I found the SKY’s one of the eas­ier speak­ers to get place­ment right. They are not fussy like the Model-1’s were. I al­most drove my­self to dis­trac­tion try­ing to get my Model-1’s to im­age prop­erly, mov­ing them mil­lime­ters at a time to get a per­fect bal­ance. They SKY’s are ba­si­cally plug and play, place them in any rea­son­able equi­lat­eral tri­an­gle from your lis­ten­ing po­si­tion, and you are re­warded with an open, wide pre­sen­ta­tion with well bal­anced stereo im­age and a con­vinc­ing sound­stage.

PER­FOR­MANCE

I found the SKY’s gen­er­ally much eas­ier to drive than the Model-1’s. Place­ment of the SKY was very sim­ple. In fact, I put them on my cus­tom made stands where my Model-1’s pre­vi­ously were at home, and was im­me­di­ately re­warded with a wideopen sound­stage and per­fect left/right bal­ance. There was no need to ad­just them. Tweeter height sat just above ear level from the sweet spot. In my room they ac­tu­ally seemed to dig much, much deeper than the rated 48 Hz that Totem states. In fact, dur­ing the au­di­tion pe­riod I ran my sys­tem with my subs off.

Drums were snappy, tight and dy­namic. Cym­bal crashes ex­hib­ited the per­fect level of at­tack of de­cay. In fact, drums are one of the strengths of th­ese speak­ers, es­pe­cially cym­bals. Per­haps it has some­thing to do with the dome tweeter’s ex­ten­sion smooth­ing things out. Cym­bals were never brash or harsh but in­stead bloomed in a nat­u­ral, or­ganic way.

Thanks to the ad­vanced soft dome tweeter the sound sig­na­ture of the SKY re­minded me more of the Totem Sttafs than the Model-1’s, but a fair bit less warm and laid-back sound­ing than the Sttafs. They are very bal­anced sound­ing speak­ers as there seemed to be no em­pha­sis on a par­tic­u­lar fre­quency. Tonal bal­ance was ex­cel­lent, the in­te­gra­tion be­tween the woofer and the dome tweeter seemed flaw­less. Tre­ble, midrange and bass were per­fectly in­te­grated.

Joe Strum­mer & The Mescaleros “Global A Go Go” is a good al­bum to get a dif­fer­ent sam­pling of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments and sounds. Acous­tic gui­tar, pi­ano, flute, bon­gos and plenty of vo­cal harmonies are present on the al­bum. Joe’s voice was raw and raspy as usual, without be­ing scratchy or dis­torted. Sound ef­fects were wide and spa­cious. The vo­cal harmonies on the track “Global A GoGo” were ab­so­lutely as­tound­ing. Pi­ano on “At The Border, Guy” was clear and per­cus­sive, as it should be. The flute on “Bhindi Bhagee”, which is not nor­mally one of my favourite in­stru­ments, was airy, en­gag­ing and pleas­ant. Bon­gos panned nicely left to right and seemed to ex­tend out past the out­side bar­ri­ers of the speak­ers in “At The Border, Guy”. Acous­tic gui­tar was smooth but still plucky, strums were liq­uid, and string picks had enough at­tack to feel each note. Bass was tight, tac­tile and ar­tic­u­late. I could eas­ily dis­cern each in­di­vid­ual note in the bass line in­stead of the bass be­ing lost in a sin­gle note drone.

To switch gears a lit­tle bit, the next al­bum up was Iron Maiden’s “Pow­er­slave” al­bum. This is one of my all time favourite al­bums, and is very well pro­duced (be­fore the days of heavy dy­namic com­pres­sion). This al­bum fea­tures not only ex­cel­lent gui­tar tone, but one of the best bass play­ers in the busi­ness. “Aces High” was brisk and snappy, the SKY’s never let the mu­sic get ahead of them. The dual gui­tar tone in “2 Min­utes to

Mid­night” was smooth, spa­cious, wide and richly har­monic. Ev­i­dent on this al­bum was one of the pre­vi­ously men­tioned strengths of the SKY’s; the ac­cu­rate re­pro­duc­tion of drums. The open­ing se­quence of “Flash of the Blade” fea­tures a drum in­tro­duc­tion where the drums were again, tight and snappy. Bruce Dickinson’s voice had a nat­u­ral open­ness to it, and the SKY’s were able to re­pro­duce his falsetto notes with no strain what­so­ever. The re­verb that fol­lowed Bruce’s voice was spa­cious, ex­pan­sive and nat­u­ral sound­ing. The gui­tars in “Pow­er­slave” were meaty and chunky. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to men­tion Iron Maiden without think­ing of Steve Har­ris (as men­tioned). His bass play­ing is re­lent­lessly pre­cise and ar­tic­u­late. The SKY’s were able to re­pro­duce his light­ning fast bass lines ac­cu­rately.

Just for fun I de­cided to re­ally switch things up and put on some Glenn Miller Orches­tra. My dad was a huge Glenn Miller fan. He loved swing. In fact, I grew up lis­ten­ing to Swing mu­sic on an old McIntosh tube based con­sole sys­tem that took up an en­tire wall. I wanted to hear how the SKY’s would han­dle horns. “In the Mood” the brass was open and clear, without be­ing bright. Sax­o­phone was breathy and soul­ful without sound­ing raw or honky. In “Penn­syl­va­nia 6-5000” the clar­inet was smooth, woody and reedy sound­ing. “Moon­light Ser­e­nade” was as sweet as I re­mem­ber lis­ten­ing to Glenn Miller with my dad when I was a kid.

The SKY’s are def­i­nitely adept at han­dling any sort of genre you want to throw at them. I used to think that that Sttafs were the sweet spot in the en­tire Totem line-up. They were well built, af­ford­able, and em­i­nently lis­ten­able. I be­lieve that the SKY’s have su­per­seded the Sttafs as the sweet spot in the line-up. They fea­ture all the at­tributes of the Sttafs (be­sides the ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence of one be­ing a col­umn, and one be­ing a mon­i­tor speaker), but are an im­prove­ment on so many lev­els. The SKY’s take the Sttaf’s laid back na­ture and add a dose of ki­netic en­ergy that makes lis­ten­ing to mu­sic en­gag­ing and fun.

For less than 2k the SKY’s of­fer tonal bal­ance, a warm pre­sen­ta­tion while still be­ing punchy and dy­namic, and are of ex­cep­tional build quality. If the at­tributes you are look­ing for in a speaker are easy place­ment, long term lis­ten­ing ses­sions and the usual ex­cep­tional Totem build quality, look no fur­ther than the SKY’s. They re­ally should be on your au­di­tion and want list.

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