By Blair Roger
Totem Acoustic of Montreal, Quebec has been designing and manufacturing loudspeakers since the late 1980s, and to say that they have an international cult following would be a mild understatement. I was very pleased when the company’s chief designer, Vincent Bruzzese, followed up on my request to review the company’s new floor-standing model, The Forest, that was premiered at the 1998 Toronto Hi-Fi Show.
Topping out at about 34 inches (270 cm) in height, this high quality two-way design is available for US$3000.00 in two veneer finishes: black ash or dark mahogany. A very handsome low-luster light cherry veneer (supplied on the review sample) is available for an additional US$250.00. The quality of the Forest’s cabinetwork is stunning and deserves plenty of time to be fully appreciated. The box itself is a lock-mitered monocoque chassis featuring substantial internal bracing. A layer of high-tech Borosilicate damping material is applied to the inside surfaces of the cabinet, and even the parts not visible to the casual onlooker are veneered for added structural integrity and balance.
Two pairs of gold-plated, five-way WBT speaker terminals reside on the back of the cabinet, approximately at its midpoint. The Forest was clearly designed to be bi-wired, as failing to do so results in the speaker giving less than its best. This is a high-performance speaker designed for use in truly high-end audio systems, so the requirement for bi-wiring will likely not be an issue to the prospective purchaser.
The Forest’s crossover, a second order design with a relatively high 2.5 kHz crossover point, features air-cored coils by Solen and special metallized polypropylene capacitors, many of which are bypassed (no ferrite coils are used in the Forest’s crossover.) Uniquely, according to the manufacturer, no solder and no printed circuit board is used in the crossover assembly procedure. Instead, wires and the flying leads of electrical components are fused together under tremendous pressure, causing them to be mechanically welded. No solder, no bad solder joints. Internal wire is oxygen-free, silver plated copper of varying gauges, insulated with Teflon dielectric.
The tweeter used in the Forest is a 1 ½ inch aluminum dome unit made by SEAS, the same driver used in Totem’s Mani-2 and Model 1 Signature loudspeakers. The 6 ½ inch mid/bass unit is a Dynaudio look-alike, unique to the Forest (for now), and manufactured in Canada by Acoustic Technologies International (ATI). This driver is said to feature a massive cast aluminum frame and a nearly indestructible 3 inch voice coil capable of huge excursions.
Overall impedance for the Forest is quoted at 8 Ohms (6.4 Ohm minimum), a benign load compared to some of the European competition, and maximum rated output is 110 dB per pair at 2 meters (plenty loud, I can attest). Totem’s confidence in the Forest is reflected in the product’s five year warranty.
It took several weeks of hard playing to break in the Forests - upwards of 100 hours in total. I must admit that the first few days with the Forests left me less than impressed with their performance. Things began to fall into place, however, when I removed the jumpers from the WBT terminals and bi-wired the speakers for the first time. After bi-wiring, I heard a tremendous improvement in clarity, bass extension, and a dramatic reduction in midrange honk and grain. I left my workhorse NAD CD player on repeat-play for several days and nights until the Forests’ performance began to plateau. At this point, I felt I was hearing them at their best and could review them fairly.
This review assignment proved quite challenging, as it forced me to put aside my prejudices towards box speakers - two-way box speakers, in particular. I spend most of my time listening to Quads and vintage three-way studio monitors, so I have to go through a considerable period of adjustment before I can listen to something more conventional and judge it on its own terms.
Listening at first with analogue source and the Jadis Orchestra amplifier, I found the Forests to be detailed, but somewhat lightweight, with a balance biased towards the treble. Fortunately, the Forest’s top end was neither “spitty” nor sibilant in nature. The midrange was direct and present, but my expectations of bass performance were not being met. The soundstage, however, was deep and clearly imaged. I particularly enjoyed an old LP collection of recordings entitled The Unforgettable Nat King Cole; [Capitol/EMI W20664] narrated by the incredible British announcer, Allan Dell, produced shortly after the singer’s death. The warmth and fullness of Cole’s voice was very pleasing as was the astounding accent and diction of the narrator. The music never lacked for emotion and bounce, sounding as fresh as the day it was made.
I replaced the Jadis Orchestra with the Bel Canto SETi-40 single-ended integrated amplifier, the latter utilizing one 845 triode per channel to produce a believable 40 W/channel. After auditioning a selection of jazz albums from the Japanese Blue Note series, such as Finger Poppin’ with the Horace Silver Quintet [BN 4008] and Superbass [CAPRI 74018], a collection of standards by a group of three acoustic double-bass players (including Ray Brown), I decided that the Forests’ mid-treble was a bit too prominent. Moving the speakers from a position about eight feet from the side and back walls to less than four feet from the back wall improved the balance considerably and showed the Forests capable of producing deep, tuneful and articulate bass. I delighted in the precocious string writing of the twelve-year old Rossini as recorded by The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields lead by Neville Marriner on their LP Rossini String Sonatas [Argo ZRG 506]. This recording is particularly revealing of the purity and simplicity of the young Rossini’s compositions, which never lack wit or harmonic invention. The Forests were adept at revealing the loving care with which the Academy caressed each sublime note.
Unfortunately, this recording also forced me to focus on the limitations of the Forest’s design - limitations that proved bothersome throughout the review period. Simply put, the Forests are not able to reproduce a full range of frequencies with the smoothness and fullness that a three-way or full-range electrostatic loudspeaker can - particularly throughout the midrange. In fairness, this limitation is not exclusive to the Forests, but is present in many (if not most) of the two-way, box designs I’ve auditioned. Listener’s accustomed to the two-way box experience will likely not be put off by the Forest’s lack of midrange bloom. In comparison with my reference Quad ESL-63s, however, the Forest’s limitations in this area were sadly evident.
The Totem Forests are beautifully crafted loudspeakers that can play exceedingly loud with composure, and can throw a deep, wide, soundstage with pinpoint image placement when so encoded on a recording. They are quick in the treble in a way that reminds me of a Lowther (without the latter’s liabilities) and, with proper placement relative to room boundaries, can reproduce deep bass frequencies with panache. For my tastes, however, they are balanced a bit too heavily towards the frequency extremes and simply don’t have the midrange bloom and beauty I desire in a high-end transducer at this price point.
Manufactured by Totem Acoustics
4665 Bonavista Ave., Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3W 2C6
phone: (514) 259-1062 , fax: (514) 259-4968
e-mail: email@example.com, web: http://www.totemacoustic.com
Source of review sample: Manufacturer Loan