Reach for the Sky

Sound & Vision - - TEST REPORT - By Al Grif­fin


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

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