Reach for the Sky
speakers have their advocates, but I’ll admit up front that they’ve never been my bag. I guess you could say there’s something about the stateliness of floorstanding towers that appeals to my personal taste. And then there’s the problem of the shelf itself: every time I’ve tried to listen to compact speakers installed in a place where books would typically sit, I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed with the sound. Flat imaging, indistinct bass—to me, those are the hallmarks of shelved speakers. Not a problem for background music, but for critical listening, stands are a must.
Canada’s Totem Acoustic is a company that makes a wide range of bookshelf speakers (along with floorstanding, on-wall, and architectural speakers, and also subwoofers). And while Totem seems fine with applying the bookshelf label to its more compact models, they also provide highly specific recommendations for getting the best sound from them. The Sky ($1,850/pair), for example, is meant for placement on stands 6 inches to 3 feet from a rear wall and 2 to 8 feet apart. Totem further stresses the need for at least 70 to 100 hours of break-in time (more on that in a bit). To me, there’s nothing casual about those directions; Totem clearly designed the Sky not for background/bookshelf listening, but for serious sound.
The Sky’s looks aren’t overly fancy, but it does exude a sense of quality and fine craftmanship. The speaker’s 6.35 x 12 x 9-inch (W x H x D) cabinet is notably slimmer than a typical boxy bookshelf speaker, and it comes in satin white, black, and mahogany finishes. Lock mitered joints help create a seamless appearance, while internal borosilicate dampening, according to Totem, “controls energy release yet keeps the cabinet musically alive.” Twin pairs of high-quality, gold-plated binding posts are provided on the back panel, and the speaker also comes with magnetically attached grilles.
On the specs front, the Sky’s frequency response is rated at 48 Hz - 29.5 khz (± 3 db), impedance at 8 ohms, and sensitivity at 87 db. The two-way ported design uses a first-order crossover that divides up frequencies headed to the speaker’s 5-inch mid-bass driver and 1.3-inch tweeter at 2.5 khz. A 500-watt peak power handling capability means it can be mated with a wide range of amplifiers, though the 150 watts-per-channel
Hegel Music Systems H190 inte- grated amp that I primarily used for testing was more than up to the task of driving the compact Totem speakers.
Along with the Hegel H190 integrated, other gear I used for my testing included a Pioneer BDP-88FD universal disc player and an Elac Discovery music server connected to the H190’s coaxial and optical digital inputs, respectively. Speaker cables used were Nordost Purple Flare. A Paradigm Defiance V12 subwoofer and Anthem STR integrated amplifier (review on page 44) were also briefly added to the mix during my evaluation, but for the most part I listened to the Sky minus the subwoofer and the Anthem room correction processing.
Upon first setting the Skys up and doing some casual listening, the compact speaker’s extended highs and generous bass were immediately apparent. When I eventually sat down for a more critical listening session, however, my impressions were mixed: The Sky’s sound had a uptilted quality that I found a bit fatiguing.
After poring through Totem’s manual, I opted to carefully follow the written instructions, first breaking in the speakers for the recommended 70-100 hours, and then installing them a foot out from my room’s back wall and 7.5 feet apart from each another. (Speakers typically get a wider spread in my 16-footwide by 20-foot-deep listening room.) I also did an audiophile