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.
DESIGN & FEATURES
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!