Totem Acous­tic

Sig­na­ture One Loud­speaker


Does mu­sic move your soul? I’ve been fas­ci­nated by mu­sic ever since I can re­mem­ber. Play­ing var­i­ous in­stru­ments and lis­ten­ing to mu­sic has al­ways made me feel good in ways that I couldn’t ex­plain. Now as an adult I un­der­stand ex­actly why. Re­search shows that lis­ten­ing to mu­sic im­proves men­tal well-be­ing and boosts our phys­i­cal health, among other ben­e­fits. Isn’t that as­ton­ish­ing? I guess I’m in the right line of work. Mon­treal-based Totem Acous­tic, led by in­dus­try icon Vince Bruzzese, has been in the busi­ness of mak­ing peo­ple feel good for a long time and to­day, the com­pany has a lot to be happy about. This year marks the Totem’s 30th birth­day and things have never looked brighter. Since 1987, the com­pany has de­vel­oped award win­ning loud­speaker de­signs that con­nect mu­sic lovers around the planet with their beloved mu­sic in the deep­est of ways. Totem is also one of the very few hifi man­u­fac­tur­ers that has man­aged to make their prod­ucts sexy and ap­peal to broader au­di­ences, not just au­dio­philes. There’s a head­line on Totem’s web­site that res­onates re­ally well with me - it reads “Mu­sic is like space travel, it brings you places”. It is one of the best ways I’ve heard to de­scribe mu­sic, ever. This is pre­cisely how I feel when lis­ten­ing to mu­sic.

To­day, Totem makes over 50 loud­speaker mod­els, rang­ing from book­shelves and tow­ers, to cen­tre chan­nels, sub­woofers and even on-wall, and in-wall speak­ers. To cel­e­brate its 30th birth­day, Totem in­tro­duced a few very spe­cial loud­speak­ers this year, in­clud­ing the Tribe tower, SKY Mon­i­tor, Sky Tower and Kin Ar­chi­tec­tural se­ries mod­els. I had a chance to lis­ten to the first two this spring and was very im­pressed with what I heard, but when I learned about the Sig­na­ture One speaker, I knew that this would be “the one” (pun in­tended) that I wanted to bring into my lis­ten­ing room for a closer lis­ten. Why all this ex­cite­ment about the Sig­na­ture One? It’s a speaker with a great story and a prom­ise of out­stand­ing sound.


Back in 1987, Vince Bruzzese be­gan work on a loud­speaker called the Model 1, Totem’s very first loud­speaker. Af­ter two years in de­vel­op­ment, the Model 1 was re­leased in 1989 and re­ceived with re­mark­able ac­claim. It of­fered an ex­cit­ing, highly mu­si­cal per­for­mance that eas­ily com­peted with

loud­speak­ers many times larger than it­self. The Sig­na­ture One, the sub­ject of this re­view is a highly an­tic­i­pated fol­low up to the Model 1. But don’t mis­take it as an evo­lu­tion of the Model 1, the Sig­na­ture One is a com­pletely new de­sign, uti­liz­ing to­day’s tech­nol­ogy and crafted to mod­ern stan­dards. Per­for­mance­wise, the Sig­na­ture One is said to de­liver the same lev­els of ver­ti­cal imag­ing, speed and ar­tic­u­la­tion as the com­pany’s ref­er­ence­grade El­e­ment Me­tal loud­speaker, but in a much smaller form fac­tor. I’ve lis­tened to the El­e­ment Me­tal on a few oc­ca­sions, and so I know that’s a tall order.

Let’s take a closer look at the Sig­na­ture One. Its de­sign mar­ries a 6.5” mid/bass driver – de­rived from Totem’s pop­u­lar For­est model - with a 1” SEAS tweeter. The mid/bass driver has a mas­sive 3” voice coil and is said to ef­fort­lessly han­dle dy­namic peaks up to 600 watts, with­out dis­tor­tion. The tweeter, housed in its own cham­ber, fea­tures a me­tal dome made of an alu­minum/ti­ta­nium al­loy. The speaker’s nom­i­nal im­ped­ance of 8 ohms, makes this a much eas­ier speaker for am­pli­fiers to drive, ver­sus the 4 ohm im­ped­ance of the Model 1. This care­fully de­signed drive com­bi­na­tion cre­ates a syn­ergy be­tween them re­sult­ing in spec­tac­u­lar phase lin­ear­ity and un­canny holo­graphic imag­ing.

From the out­side, the Sig­na­ture One is a clas­si­cally styled speaker, of­fer­ing an age­less de­sign. It looks like a tra­di­tional speaker box and it shouldn’t look aged a decade from now, un­less all speak­ers sud­denly be­come egg-shaped. As a mat­ter of fact, the cab­i­netry is a sin­gle piece mono­coque de­sign chas­sis for bet­ter struc­tural in­tegrity just like a For­mula 1 race car, fea­tur­ing lock miter cor­ner joints with all in­ter­nal sur­faces that are ve­neered then fur­ther treated with borosil­i­cate - the best en­ergy dis­si­pa­ter for this type of ap­pli­ca­tion. The re­sult is a loud­speaker built to last for an­other 30 years just like the orig­i­nal Model 1 has. How much is it go­ing to cost you? A very ap­proach­able $2,650 US.


With the Sig­na­ture One con­nected to my Jeff Row­land Con­tin­uum S2 in­te­grated am­pli­fier, I sat down in my arm­chair and started queu­ing up my favourite record­ings. My sources in­cluded the Sonos sys­tem as well as the Gold Note Giglio turntable. The cables in my sys­tem con­sist of a mix of Nor­dost and Sko­grand Cables. To warm things up and get a gen­eral sense of the sound from th­ese Totem speak­ers, I started off by lis­ten­ing to a few of my ‘sum­mer of 2017’ playlists. Th­ese playlists in­cluded bands such as The Re­vival­ists, Mondo Cozmo, Death From Above 1979, City and Colour, Muse, Alt-J, Sir Sly, Al­lan Ray­man, The Head and the Heart, and The Weeknd. Af­ter just a few tracks, it be­came clear that the Sig­na­ture One is a nim­ble lit­tle speaker, ca­pa­ble of much big­ger sound than its di­men­sions sug­gest. Just as im­pres­sively, it of­fered a re­mark­ably en­gag­ing, highly mu­si­cal sound that was a plea­sure to en­joy for hours at a time.

To take a deeper look at its per­for­mance, I fired up Phil Collins’ “... Hits”, the English singer-song­writer’s first great­est hits al­bum, re­leased in 2008. Tracks such as Against All Odds, An­other Day in Par­adise, One More Night and In the Air Tonight played smoothly and melod­i­cally on the Sig­na­ture One. On An­other Day in Par­adise, Collins’ dis­tinc­tive voice sang gen­tly, con­vey­ing all the melan­choly and emo­tion that form the foun­da­tion of this song. The in­stru­ments, backup vo­cals and sonic ef­fects on th­ese tracks com­bined to pro­duce a large at­mo­spheric sound­stage. In the Air Tonight played with a soft mix of vo­cals, key­board notes and drums, a sound that’s in line with most of this al­bum. But as we all know, the best part of this songs comes in about three quar­ters through, when the drum fill jolts into ac­tion. This small Totem speaker man­aged to pump a marvelous amount of en­ergy into my room, putting a big grin on my face. Pic­tur­ing the go­rilla play­ing the drum kit in my mind, from the vi­ral Cad­bury com­mer­cial, al­ways helps me paint the full pic­ture for this song. The flu­ent, nat­u­ral pre­sen­ta­tion of the Sig­na­ture One made it im­pos­si­ble not to lose my­self in the mu­sic, one of the hall­marks of a well de­signed speaker.

Next up was “Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones 1971-1993”. This al­bum starts out with the band fir­ing on all cylin­ders with tracks like Start Me Up, Brown Sugar and It’s Only Rock ‘ N Roll. The Sig­na­ture One speaker of­fered a fast, dy­namic, room-fill­ing sound that im­me­di­ately cap­tured my at­ten­tion and had me strum­ming my favourite air gui­tar in no time. Softer tracks like Angie, showed that the Totems were also ca­pa­ble of de­tail and fi­nesse, ac­cu­rately por­tray­ing Mick Jag­ger’s del­i­cate, quirky vo­cals. The midrange was clean and ar­tic­u­late. The highs were sparkly and nu­anced, while the bass of­fered great ex­ten­sion and played tune­fully. The to­tal bal­ance was right on the money.

Other well recorded al­bums, such as Songs of Anarchy: Mu­sic from Sons of Anarchy, Dire Straits “Broth­ers in Arms”, and var­i­ous record­ings from Florence + the Ma­chine, demon­strated that the Sig­na­ture One was also ter­rific at stereo imag­ing - paint­ing a wide, well de­fined mu­si­cal stage, with a re­spectable field of depth. This al­lowed me to peer deep into the record­ings. At times, I like to lis­ten to mu­sic loud and I was able to turn the vol­ume way up be­fore my ears be­gan de­tect­ing any dis­tor­tion.

But what if you’re host­ing a party? I en­ter­tain fam­ily and friends of­ten, so this is cer­tainly an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for me. And what bet­ter place to start with than Luis Fonsi’s Des­pac­ito (the Justin Bieber remix), the su­per hit of this sum­mer? Crank­ing the vol­ume up to house party lev­els, the en­ergy of the mu­sic be­lied the phys­i­cal di­men­sions of the com­pact Totem speak­ers. The sound was re­mark­ably large, the pre­sen­ta­tion clean across all the fre­quen­cies, and the bass played with an ar­tic­u­late, hip-shak­ing depth. Was it the deep­est bass I’ve ever heard from a book­shelf speaker? Close, but it wouldn’t be fair to ex­pect that from a com­pact speaker at this price point. Just as im­por­tantly, thanks to the wide dis­per­sion char­ac­ter­is­tics of the Sig­na­ture One, the mu­sic sounded great even when I moved around the room, spilling well into my open­con­cept liv­ing room and kitchen. Th­ese speak­ers are cer­tainly happy to en­ter­tain you, as well as your fam­ily and friends.

My time spent with the Totem Sig­na­ture One speak­ers was de­light­fully fun. Th­ese are mighty lit­tle speak­ers that should be a big hit with both se­ri­ous, long-time mu­sic lovers and younger lis­ten­ers look­ing to el­e­vate their sonic ex­pe­ri­ence. Re­gard­less of what genre of mu­sic I asked them to serve up, th­ese speak­ers re­warded me with an en­gag­ing, mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. My re­view pair came in a stan­dard black ash fin­ish, but you can or­ders yours in a va­ri­ety of other col­ors, in­clud­ing a ma­hogany ve­neer and a satin white. Happy birth­day Totem - well done!

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