Totem Acoustic loudspeakers debuted on the high audio scene in 1987 and first gained notoriety with the wonderful and diminutive Model 1 Loudspeaker. I was very taken with its detailed and very dynamic sound, and was one of the main reasons I began to write about high end audio. It's been a pleasure to observe Totem's growth over the years into one of the few long-term success stories of our industry. Totem is the brainchild of Vince Bruzzese, a charming ex math teacher from my hometown of Montreal.
We've reviewed a fair number of Totem loudspeakers over the years, either in show reports or full reviews. I've always enjoyed the sound design, but none more than Bruzzese's original champ and its slightly larger sibling, the Mani-2. The Mani-2 was also stand mounted but packed an even more dynamic wallop and went a lot lower, or, at least it felt that way. In any case, both were superior designs and very popular with audiophiles and reviewers.
In the interim, Totem manufactured lots of different sized and shaped speakers. And, even 'Beaks'. Bruzzese once gifted me with a set of Beaks for my speakers.
'The “Beak” was developed to control parasitic vibrations that occur on top of a speaker cabinet. These resonances actually interfere with speaker performance, specifically the waveform symmetry emitted by tweeters.'
This review was researched and prepared unbeaked.
Getting back to the subject, the Element Fire is part of the Totem 'Hi-Fi' Series -- the top of the line 'Bookshelf' model. This series boasts gorgeous finishes, proprietary drivers and wonderful cabinetry. The chassis is multi-angled to mitigate standing waves. Your eye will be hard pressed to see the subtle oblique angles.
Technical details include the 7-inch Torrent™ hand-assembled drivers (front and rear, and one hell of a hunk of metal and neoprene), platinum W.B.T. connectors (bi-wireable), milled rear port housing, magnetic field technology with no active or passive cross-over parts in the woofer section.
Setup is easy. I prefer speakers shooting straight out into the room for a wider/deeper soundstage. The Fires were very happy with this placement. The manual suggests that a toe in may be required in very large rooms. Your imaging sensitivity may warrant a toe in even in smaller rooms. Any decent stand will do, but the Fires look so good, you'll want a match in black (or white -- the Fires also come in gloss white) metal. As always, tweeters at ear height should work perfectly. We used Blu-tack to adhere the speakers to the Target stands.
As set up, the Totems threw a very satisfying sound stage. Well beyond the physical barriers of the speakers. And imaging was just fine straight shooting. The very soupy acoustic of the Jesus Christe Kirke in Berlin (the eight sided modern cathedral downtown) was a favourite of Karajan and his DGG engineers. God knows why. They always managed to get fairly good results, but the murk! The DGG vinyl pressings never helped. Yet, heard through the Totems, the imaging, while still not crisp and to the inch, allowed this listener to discern the Berliner Philharmoniker's physical setup. Woodwind solos in Schumann's Second Symphony sounded beautiful and I could tell easily that it was Karl-Heinz Zoller on flute and Lothar Koch on oboe playing the sessions. Their sounds are very distinctive and the speakers did an admirable job of unravelling specific timbres through the air density.
Ever since those heady days listening to the Model 1s and Mani-2s, I feel Totem lost its way slightly, at least to my way of hearing. Bruzzese's speakers have certainly not needed my imprimatur -- he sells pallet loads and has legions of admirers. I'm not sure whether it was driver selection, voicing, cabinet design, or crossovers. As such, we drifted apart for a while. I heard some of the larger speakers at shows. Always very good. Very professional. But never a wow factor to me.
These Element Fire speakers have the wow factor. I came across them at a local dealer and was very impressed. I wanted to hear a lot more. They capture the Totem essence of early days -- open, natural sound with a refined delivery. But here, the delivery is even finer, and the speakers seem to be able to handle real power. Coherently. The tweeter matches the Torrent 7 driver seamlessly.
The power reserve was readily available when I played the monster LP of all LPs for power needs -- Reference Recordings' Arnold Overtures with the LPO conducted by the composer. This is one of the finest LPs I own. Everything about it is golden. But, the power needed in amplification and playback to get the full LPO in Watford Town Hall (not KIngsway, but good) is very considerable. The Fires did not flinch. No matter the volume, the focus of the orchestra stayed dead centre (I dare you to crank the coda of 'The Smoke' overture -- it always scares the hell out of me!). So many systems crap out and the soul of the orchestra disappears while the volume screeches. I've heard so many people at shows nodding their heads in admiration like the damn system goes up to 11. Sure, hellishly loud, but the orchestra has already buggered off to the pub. Designers like Bruzzese know that with great power comes great responsibility.
Voices joined the magical lineup of sounds. Janet Baker in Elgar's Sea Pictures (the famous EMI) was positioned as I remember and her voice soars effortlessly over Elgar's thick orchestration. The LSO also sounds magical here under the watchful eye of Sir John Barbirolli. The bass on this album has always been deep and powerful -- like so many great composers, Elgar's bass lines moved better as he got older.
I messed around with lots of non classical items and they sounded just as wonderful as the classical. Talking Heads and Art Pepper's Smack Up in particular. Whether the music is electronically or instrument sourced, loud, soft or in between, the CAD$6,000/pr Element Fires never lost their focus. A sweet and very extended treble, wonderful and balanced mid range and deep bass that fit clearly into the musical fabric. Nothing jars you, nothing upsets the musical equilibrium. Here, Bruzzese has scored big with a beautiful looking and highly musical loudspeaker. As such, I'm looking forward to my next Totem Acoustic review. Very highly recommended.
Further information: Totem Acoustics