In 1987, Vince Bruzzese introduces a loudspeaker model that runs counter to what is generally offered. It was a small box of less than 10 litres with two unusual transducers – a small woofer with a 3 inch voice coil coupled with an aluminum dome tweeter, without any internal damping of the cabinet, nor any kind of grill or protective screen … all in a pretty spectacular finish. It’s the birth of the Model 1. The Totem story begins. A few years later, an anniversary model is introduced which is the Model 1 Signature. As time passes, Totem’s success story grows. And today, 30 years later, to celebrate this milestone, a pair of loudspeakers called Signature ONE is launched. Let’s get ready to blow out the candles!
For the brand’s fans, Totem‘s new Signature ONE’s look might trigger a sense of déjà-vu, because if you quickly evaluate what you see, Model 1 and Signature ONE are indeed similar. But that would show a great unfamiliarity with Totem’s reputation as to believe that they would simply offer a revamped version of the Model 1 simply for the sake of its 30th anniversary. In fact, as Vince Bruzzese himself said in an interview, the anniversary model had to be fresh take, another salvo across the competition’s bow. Yet one can immediately recognize a family resemblance, this Signature ONE does not deny its heritage.
It is initially the size of the cabinet that differs – increased size to accommodate a 6.5 inch bass driver in place of the original 5.25 inch woofer. For the tweeter, however, it’s practically the same – manufactured by SEAS – except that the dome is now made up of an aluminium and titanium alloy, while still enjoying the personalized touch of the designer where one finds the rear chamber modified using a closed glass tube, which lowers the resonance frequency of the tweeter, in addition to timbre matching it with the bass driver. The real wood veneer is similar, since I was given a pair with a mahogany finish that looks exactly like what I had had a few years ago. The contour of the cabinets is slightly rounded at the front, and beveled at 45 ° for the rear. The veneering work is of all beauty and masterfully crafted.
Looking at the back of the cabinet, the tuned port located in the tweeter’s axis and the large black anodized aluminum plate that supports the two pairs of WBT terminal blocks are found. It is good to see the Totem’s fidelity… to high fidelity! Here no imitation, no dubious copy of the original WBT four layered gold plated terminals. These binding posts chosen by Totem are real jewels that clearly show why they’ve been used by the builder for a very long time and with reason. We are therefore offered a double pair of binding posts with the possibility of bi-wiring (or bi-amplifying) this 30th anniversary model of the Signature ONE speakers. It will be interesting to experience the bi-wiring possibilities once the amplifier is selected.
As for the hidden inner part, Totem uses only the best materials and above all, and very much worth mentioning, materials that pass very strenuous subjective testing. This is reflected in the different types of capacitors and resistors the designer chose in order to integrate them into the signature sound he desired. We see the profound desire to offer a musically pleasing, specific timbre. In the kitchen, we would be talking about seasoning each ingredient in the recipe to make the dish we serve, and put it to the chef’s liking, as if to affix his signature. Obviously, the selected components are of very high quality, as well are the wires for the internal connections, with a particular concern in regards of their implementation. For example, the wires are blocked so they do not vibrate, the air turbulence inside a cabinet is quite incredible, in addition to encasing them in foam in order to almost completely eliminate their presence in the air volume. The mounting of the two drivers – including their fasteners – as well as the performance of the filters, are exemplary, as is always the case with Totem.
The interior of the cabinet does not reveal any traditional dampening (fibreglass or synthetic foam), but is faithful to its original design. The manufacturer chose a Borosilicate coating for cushioning, placed on all the internal surfaces of the cabinet. A perforated wood separator connects all the walls and acts as a regulator before the air passes through the tuned port. Again, the interior is as neat as the exterior or, in other words, what you don’t see is just like what you do see. That’s Totem!
The Courage, The Legend …
It took a good deal of courage to produce a small speaker model 30 years ago and make it last until today, because not only did it persist, but it did bring Totem to the forefront. A kind of starter spark that ensures a permanent light. About courage, I remember the introduction of these loudspeakers without any protective cover or grill on the front part of the cabinets – and that was controversial … And yet it is the designer, Vince Bruzzese, who was right, because, in fact, why give himself so much trouble during the sound design of the product and ruin everything with a cloth hiding his drivers in addition to a frame to maintain the tension? I also understand the idea of protection that a grill or loudspeaker cover is practically obligatory to protect the drivers from curious fingers. Thanks to the powerful little magnets of today, the aesthetic problem is solved, as these disappear under the veneer and ensure that a protective grille is seriously fixed while presenting a convincing aesthetic.
A spirit of perseverance and determination that has made it possible to face many preconceived ideas in audio … Here’s the one for example that’s pointing at the metal dome tweeters. In my opinion, those who criticize this type of tweeter have never hit a cymbal or heard the harmonics flowing. Only the compression chambers sound authentic in terms of energy in the treble, but the metal domes are immediately in second position, especially those reinforced with (or built of) titanium or beryllium. Then I would place ribbon tweeters (in pure metal, too) and finally, last, the fabric domes, although I do know of some exceptional versions of these. I am talking here about pure energy, and not a notable superiority for one or the other type of tweeter. Of course, in all cases, the filtering should be at the height of the speakers chosen and in concordance. To be able to create an audio legend, and Totem is in the process of achieving this, it is necessary to have this particular mixture of audacity, perseverance and conviction.
Ready To Listen – Let’s Light Up The Candles
I placed the Signature ONEs on my usual stands and I positioned them exactly in the same place, with the same spacing, and at the same distance from the walls as mine. That’s how I start and then I change if need be. During the first musical tests, I had to bring the loudspeakers nearer to the rear wall to adjust the overall response and balance. I did not place them as closely as what Totem proposes in some cases (2 or 3 inches), but rather at 13 inches, which is half the usual distance to my rear walls. The front surfaces were not oriented towards the listener in order to better benefit from the three-dimensional imaging of small loudspeakers. Of course, the listening was made without grills and with single (normal) wiring, as usual.
Here Is The Music – Now, We Blow The Candles
Sarah Toussaint-Léveillé’s Ta Tempête gets the Totem Signature ONE test to a good start, because I hear perfectly the background noise from the guitar amplifier. Of course, it’s only during the intro that we perceive the sizzling, because later on the retake, everything disappears. For starters, this is strong because I had detected this noise with my headphones. For Dans mon cahier, the tempo is continuous and present with the Signature ONE. The bass is deliberately discreet, but I can follow it easily. On the other hand, the voice now seems to be indented in relation to Ta Tempête where, there, the sound engineer has instead placed the voice in the forefront with a more intimate take. It is quite nice and advantageous to be able to perceive the different choices of sound mixing.
After a beautiful young woman’s voice, follows that of a man whom one recognizes amongst thousands, the voice of Richard Desjardins. Beautiful work that is this album Kanasuta – accurate and mixed very close to perfection. Beautiful performance by the Totem Signature ONE loudspeakers in general, with a present and generous bass response compared to the size of the loudspeakers. It is always surprising to hear so much bass from such a small box, and if the balance is good, the desire to seduce the listener with a physiological accentuation of the top and bottom of the spectrum. The ear is flattered making listening easier, with a restitution that can please any audiophile, seasoned or less interested by small speakers. The least that can be said is that listening is always pleasant and accurate like for Le Gala where the bass follows the voice of Richard Desjardins who recites the lyrics. Some strings then come to tickle us with an Italian text. The diversity of interpretation of this disc makes it possible to realize the versatility of the Signature ONE from Totem. If we recognize the voice, we are propelled into another universe at each of the pieces, and Totem accomplishes this mission.
Now for Jazz – Everyday Learning is next for the Signature ONE. A classic grouping of four musicians, guitar, keyboard, bass and percussion, and a really nice listening experience because of its bright accuracy, thanks especially to this physiological effect that makes listening to this type of music slightly shimmering, and so much more enjoyable. I know that this disc does not shine by its staging – there is very little space between musicians, but priority has been given to the presence of all of the instruments that are revealed accurately.
Once again, the Totem Signature ONE charm and amaze, especially if the volume is a little high. In fact, we must underline this very important point, I do not believe that Mr. Vince Bruzzese makes loudspeakers for a low-level listening or simply for background music, but rather to enjoy serious listening at a serious volume too. Often, loudspeaker manufacturers indicate the range of use of their models. For example, they write for amps from 50 to 150 W in the list of features, which tells us about what should give the most enjoyment from the loudspeakers as well as the power of the electronic components to use with said model. For my part, I always noticed that a powerful amp gave more interesting results in terms of dynamics. In fact, I believe that it is always advantageous to have a good reserve of power in order to be able to better enjoy the possible dynamics, whether in analog or digital, and this is even more true if the loudspeakers are of the monitor type. Beautiful presence with this recording of Vue d’Ensemble, the music flows, we listen, we vibrate, and we are seduced. Each track is faithfully performed by the Signature ONE.
Now it’s Charles Dutoit’s turn to conduct Carmina Burana, a piece that normally proves to be so difficult for audio devices. Immediately, the grandiose side marks the minds when listening, and if your loudspeaker model is cramped or unable to make a coherent demonstration, if your loudspeakers are not able to create a soundstage that must exceed your own walls, it is boredom or worse, complete failure. In the case of Signature ONE, it was this disc that allowed me to position the speakers well and get a nice spectral balance in my room. The heart of the performance usually comes out pretty well, but it is when the orchestra intervenes aggressively that things get complicated for most loudspeakers. In the case of the Totem’s, and thanks to this voluntary physiological effect on the part of the designer, one is entitled to a musical performance completely in accordance with what is expected. The choirs are beautiful and articulate, the spikes of dynamics are impressive and they are even more so if we open our eyes to better see what fills our room with such beautiful music is so physically quite small. Lovers of classical music are likely to be pleased by the lively transmission of Signature ONE which will always seduce the listener. The image can be large, or punctual when it should, corresponding quite well to what is happening on the recording. Like I said above, a difficult recording, but a work that is performed in a masterful way and well transmitted thanks to Totem’s brain-child, which does not have to blush for the modest size of the Signature ONE.
I purposely chose works and performers from Quebec to celebrate the anniversary of a company that was born in Montreal, Quebec, thirty years ago, now popular around the world. But what can explain such success? In my opinion, I would say that it is the guideline of a business philosophy that goes right to the goal for the listener as well as for its distribution. Totem exudes commercial righteousness and the very great respect of their client, whether he is conquered or to be conquered, and I believe this to be main explanation for this success. The amateur of Totem speakers can be well seen and well recognized in these products which he follows the evolution, whether a new Totem offering – for example this eagerly awaited anniversary model. And it is worthy of the enthusiasm it will arouse.
For my part, I can easily understand why there is such a loyal clientele of loudspeakers designed and proposed by Totem. With a particular sound, which bears the masterful signature of its designer for so many years, one can only congratulate so much duly deserved success. The enviable notion of fidelity is not easily acquired especially if, like Mr. Vince Bruzzese, one has not chosen the easy path represented by the diffusion of music. Happy 30th Anniversary, therefore, to the Honorable Quebec company that is Totem, and we wish to underline the presentation of other models in the following years. TED mag@zine will be happy to talk about these always interesting new products by Totem, that are most importantly, always awaited by audiophiles.
Sarah Toussaint-Léveillé, La mort est un jardin sauvage, FLCD-1747
Richard Desjardins, Kanasuta, Distribution Select, FUCD-6
Vue d’Ensemble, Everyday Learning, Direct and Independent Distribution
Carl Orff, Carmina Burana, Ch. Dutoit, Decca London, 455 290-2
Available finishes: Mahogany, black ash or satin white
Price: $3 300CDN per pair
Warranty: 5 years, parts and labor
Manufacturer/Distributor: Totem Acoustic, Tel.: 514.259.1062,