Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer Totem is weell known and well loved the world over, today Mike Twomey speaks to the company’s president Vince Bruzzese for Hifi Pig

Mike Twomey (Hifi Pig): Today I have the pleasure to be speaking to Vince Bruzzese the President and Designer of Totem Acoustic in Montreal Canada. Totem has been in the loudspeaker business since 1988 which, I believe, is a remarkable run given the nature of this business. My own company Big Kids Toys AV sells Totem speakers so we have a good perspective on the line and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for speaking with us.

I have to ask, what was your first Hifi system?

Vince Bruzzese: In my mid teens (1969) I had scrounged around for my first Stereo System and it was principally made up of a pair of Acoustic Research AR2ax speakers, a pair of tube Quad II mono amps with a succession of various small pre-amps and a Thorens TD125 tt

Mike Twomey (Hi-Fi Pig):  When you think about designing a speaker do you have an “end point” in mind?  By this I mean do you say that I want this new speaker to have this technical profile or are technical specs secondary to how the speaker sounds?

Vince Bruzzese: I must say that technical innovation and serious evolution was always a guiding foundation. More importantly I wished that a speaker maintain attributes that made it strong technically (in a Totem way) but also has distinguishing characteristics, both audibly, emotionally and psycho-acoustically that would  endear it for its particular and individual attributes and strengths.

Mike Twomey: When we sell loudspeakers (including Totem) we rarely talk technical spec’s unless the customer asks. We’d rather let the customer decide what speakers sound enjoyable for his or her music. It’s our opinion that Totem speakers sound warm and rich and many of our customers talk about this. So how do you design a speaker so that it sounds rich and warm?

Vince Bruzzese: I must say that the ‘End’ Totem sound is a result of all that we hold dear. Technical strengths from our systems are and will remain a de facto pillar, but our real DNA remains in the correct phasing, speed, emotion, off axis natural presentation and spatial articulation of our speakers. Any slight alteration of our carefully crafted product just for extra technical merit is certainly a no-no. We meticulously sound test in normal environments for months and sometimes years on end from a multitude of positions to make sure that things are not disturbing and are intellectually and emotionally stimulating. The result has to surprise, exite, pamper, stimulate and incorporate easily into home environments! And, we hope, bring you to the next level.

Mike Twomey: One of the concerns that we as a dealer have is to introduce new customers to our amazing hobby and passion. To this end, Totem has introduced the KIN series of speakers and recently you added the KIN FLEX. We view this speaker as an important new product that pretty much anyone can afford and we think it sounds great. Can you tell us more about what you were after in designing the KIN FLEX and KIN MINI?

Vince Bruzzese: I have been a ‘consumer’ all of my life, one who values excellence in ‘any’ product and who finds it endearing to have something that lasts functionally beyond its supposed designated lifespan. People live to follow and chase something that allows them a different insight into things and I would rather have less of something but of a higher calibre and quality and I think most people come around to that – a good belt, a great cutting knife, a proper piece of furniture, a great pair of shoes!! All these quasi artisanal products that have a certain soul and functionality should be made as available options to everyone. However, less should not really ‘be less’. People on a certain budget should be exposed to ‘quality that is affordable’. Totem has put enormous efforts to initiate revolutionary, very affordable products, that when properly used are absolutely engaging, and have sound and aesthetic qualities second to none. It has always been our credo. Everyone deserves to experience what we believe to be ‘ultimate’ in terms of affordable sound.

Mike Twomey: One of the trends that we’ve seen in the past few years is the expanding role of subwoofers. Traditionally subwoofers were used only in home theatre applications, but now we sell the smaller subwoofers like the KIN SUB and the KIN MINI SUB to augment a pair of stereo speakers; a 2.1 system. Is this a trend that you see around the world in other markets?

Vince Bruzzese: In our distant past we had done everything possible to have speakers that were full range or quasi full range (even our smaller monitors) and benefited from the sonic and phase advantages of minimalistic set-ups. Knowing that human physiology concentrates most of its computing power in the central octaves of sound, extracting frequency extremes has certain cost downfalls and adds unwanted complexity that actually interferes with our finely tuned sensory anatomy.

It took decades of critical listening and observations and many years of development to create subwoofers that were “phase friendly” inter-collators . We had to develop these friendly, yet high performance systems not only for our excellent architectural offering, but also for multi -channel demands and also the great resurgence of stereo and 2.1.  Once we mastered the materials, design and science of these very friendly space friendly small enclosure subs, it became natural to offer fantastic bass supplementation for an extremely wide variety of needs.

Not all environments and homes are created equal. We sell throughout the world and certain European homes have walls and structures that offer much more in terms of natural bass supplementation than American/Canadian homes that are built and constructed differently. Some markets actually utilize subwoofer bass supplementation more than others, but simple, very correctly managed/accomplished 2.1 and 3.1 systems seems to be getting great traction everywhere. We think we are at the forefront there with our subwoofer offerings.

Mike Twomey (Hi-Fi Pig): Speaking of Subwoofers, of all the issues we have in getting speakers to blend in to perform well, subwoofers tend to be the most challenging to tune well. This is especially so when we use two subwoofers. Any thoughts on how our readers can get their subs to behave well?

Vince Bruzzese: In larger area environments or multichannel systems, consumers who can afford or manage two subs will benefit from the doubling effect. Contrary to common belief, we like to sometimes intermix our offerings. In a large system, the Tribe Double 8 sub’s transient speed, quick impact and musicality blends perfectly with the larger and slightly deeper Thunder II. Placing one in the front and another in the back often improves things, allowing for a complete overlap that benefits the environment.

We know that the Kin Mini Sub is extremely, extremely phase friendly and will offer bass supplementation for any speaker and any brand. The Storm and Tribe Double 8 follow suite.

I think that the immediate reaction by most people is to use the sub at too high a volume whereas I would generally like to use as little volume as allowable to get full benefits. When one hears the actual image size and foundation improve, you’re on the right track. As in a proper shallow crossover, also allow the speaker and sub to overlap in frequencies. If a speaker’s in room lowest point is let’s say 50 Hz, then use the sub’s crossover to intermix at 70-100 Hz. This is why our subs can actually reach a coherent 200 Hz plus…easily. This facilitates intermeshing.

‘ All ‘ our subs have a phase dial allowing adjustments from 0 to 180 degrees and

it’s not just a single 0 or 180 degree switch. We find that most adjustments are actually between 75 to 115 degrees on the phase dial (corresponds to 10 to 2 o’clock position on a watch). Phase adjustment is the most difficult so start at 90 degrees and then go up or down  5-10 degrees at a time to adjust . If another person can help moving the dial while you listen, this is beneficial. Of course these recommendations are for Totem Subs.

Mike Twomey: Totem’s flagship line of speakers, the Element series, uses a torrent driver which you’ve spent considerable time developing. Can you tell us about your goals in designing the Element series?

Vince Bruzzese: The Element series follows our Totem philosophy of having having a small chassis produce a holographically huge, dynamic and immersive sound (stable image) from a more radically dynamic and speedy package.

We had most areas covered with our traditional lineup. Making larger speakers was not to our liking and certainly not Lucy Lentini’s who directs our company. I believe that a speaker has to intermesh in a room in a more fashionable, but also more discreet fashion. The trend is to incorporate intelligently rather than dominate a room. Things have to be timeless yet add to the visual (discreetly) and aural environment (hugely).

We believe the Element Line to be a huge step in Dynamic speaker design. The larger 7 inch Torrent driver has a 15-17 Hz free air resonance and therefore stays out of trouble in producing anything above 20 Hz. Not having any crossover parts in front of it also helps in the correct phase interactivity in a room. It’s lightning fast one inch throw in or out allows transients, speed and  image size that seems completely out of proportion .

It’s radical claw shaped internal radial magnet design allows incredible control over the voice coil and woofer movement. We even ‘copper clad’ the multi layer square voice coil wire protecting it from any danger. We put over 7.5 man hours into each of these exquisitely and extensively  machined and hand assembled 7 inch Torrent drivers. Depending on the electronics one can extract not only life size (stand up) imaging but excruciatingly wide and large staging. These speakers can easily be put close to the wall (Fire and Earth) or positioned in as a statement in the middle of a room (Metal) . The Fire monitor has the added benefit of performing very well even on a ‘low-boy.’ It will image super tall and large 1 foot off the floor. It can also phase in (lock in imaging) very far apart.

Being vertically oriented Totem does all work internally and our smaller than normal margins allows the Element product to come out at the retail level at a very modest price point. We think that properly driven the Element line represents extraordinary performance at any price. Using crossover parts only in the tweeter section ( to protect it from excessive lower frequencies) and having this enormous magnetic control over the hugely dynamic yet smooth woofer allows things never before experienced .

Mike Twomey (Hi-Fi Pig): What music are you listening to these days? Any recommendations for our readers?

I seriously like all types of music. From avant-garde Electronica, true to tradition Led Zep and Hendrix to Monteverdi and 50-60’s Jazz.

It seems to me that my source changes when the music changes. I have a wide jazz and classic array collected over the years on vinyl and on a great TT on this is magical. For Modern  Electronica I prefer a digital source as most material is only available on this format. I would say that musical preference evolve and I think Totem is a valued guide to bring you to a fuller realization of what you truly enjoy.

Mike Twomey (Hi-Fi Pig): You love cars. Any interesting cars that you have owned?

I seem to be a bit of a gear head and interesting  cars have been part and parcel of my life. Driving big American cars was fun but I seemed to appreciate handling and feeling over raw acceleration. Here are some …..The first car I owned (16) was a Fiat Arbarth 850 Coupé. Then a succession of  Older Mopar.  Later ’70 Volvo 144 ( I still have it in storage) . Datsun 280 z, A Saab 99 FB. Multitude of Diesel Mercs ( Still have a 84 300sd) couple of Ferrari 308 GTS ( Still have a ’78  Weber equipped one)

A recently acquired Porsche 911 S ’83 Cabrio I drive occasionally , and a 6 speed Gallardo I drive very rarely because of the poor roads here. (For sale HA! ) . So all in all cars that last and are super fun. Feeling and texture over extreme ! There were many many others but that’s enough! Thinking of installing a pair of Kin Mini  Flex   in my next large sedan.

Mike Twomey (Hi-Fi Pig): Thanks again for the time Vince.

Mike Twomey is the owner of Big Kids Toys

 

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