You have a hifi plan right? A map, an idea of where you’re headed. You know how you want your music to sound and carefully plotted purchases bring you closer to that sonic ideal. Most fellow enthusiasts I speak to do and I certainly have, with my journey treading a single ended path through valves and high efficiency speakers to midrange nirvana once I’d seen the glowing bottled light.
So the purchase of a pair of Totem Acoustics Forest speakers might be seen as a bit of a departure from that route. Yet there they are, sat either side of the fireplace in the spaces usually occupied by my beloved Audio Note AN-es. I’ve been devouring reviews and they’re here on a promise. A promise of big speaker performance from small, front room friendly towers. A promise of unrivalled soundstaging and imaging, of immense low end reproduction. They’re also here out of curiosity. If I’m being completely honest I’d got rather used to Peter Qs superb boxes and found myself wondering what another speaker might bring to the party. Canadian Vince Bruzzese’s Totem brand has a dedicated following, with innocuous looks hiding the lock mitered monocoque chassis, hard wired crossover and Borosilicate damping that sets them apart from other loudspeaker designs. Intrigued, this SET convert bought some. I’m not even sure I have an amplifier that will power them.
Listening time and I’d called for back up. Fellow sty mate Jerry arrives on the dot and makes surprisingly light work of hauling his mammoth Parasound power amplifier into the sitting room. Phil appears a little later – engine management unit problems apparently. The 200 watt Parasound is connected to the Forests and an Audio Aero Capitole Mk2 gets the nod on source duties amp direct.
James Blake’s latest collection is a mixed bag but the standout track ’Fall creek boys choir’, a collaboration with Bon Iver songwriter du jour Justin Vernon is one of his best. The bass punch in the first few bars raises eyebrows, and as the composition fills the room it becomes clear that we’re dealing with some pretty serious kit here. The soundstage is surprisingly high and wider than I’m used to. The Totems seem capable of throwing sound well beyond outer walls of the enclosures and we’re being peppered by the abstract sounds of the track from all angles. There’s a glazed light above my sitting room door that vibrates occasionally when the Es plumb the depths. Today it resonates constantly. Jerry asks if the subwoofer closeby is on and I shake my head. There’s a palpable pressure in the room as the track smashes into us. In truth it’s a bit much. We mass load the towers with a few kilos of Atacama’s Atabites and things balance out.
More listening, and ‘Mumbai’ from oOoOO’s eponymous EP is on the attack. The Totems latch on to any hint of rhythm and fire it out at us helpless listeners. The track sounds younger and even more lively than when I’ve played it before and Phil’s comments about a percussive assault are spot on. One of the drum loops is playing about six inches above the floor and a good foot to the right of the speaker. Impressive – a big tick for both imaging and bass music.
Onto something a little less hardcore. I might be in love with Lianne La Havas and her beautiful ‘Lost and found’ disc is awash with emotion on my Audio Note rig. Today’s rendition sounds a little sterile in comparison and we switch to the 15 watt power section of an EAR Yoshino 869 amplifier. The amp copes admirably with the 88db rating and the resulting sound is richer, with the Totems responding well to a little valve magic. I know this material well and the vocals are more forward than I’m used to. The less mature sound doesn’t work so favorably here and the Forests appear to take the heartfelt sentiment less seriously than my reference. That said the sound is dynamically engaging and the imaging impresses again. I’d previously scoffed at reviews recounting images that the writer could ‘walk around’ but those comments made more sense now. I’m not sure I’d get right ‘round the back of Lianne (a shame) but I could probably kiss her on either pretty cheek. A couple rockier numbers from the Whitest Boy Alive’s debut ‘Rules’ go down well and Jerry suggests that they are perhaps better all rounders than my usual suspects.
It’s not all gravy though. Midrange reproduction is pleasant, with voices and instruments full bodied and property formed but there’s a slightly strident, attention seeking nature to the treble. A switch to some of Jerry and Phil’s favorite classical and chamber music reinforces this top end, ‘look at me’ heat. It rather pushes itself on you and I feel like I want to turn just that element down a little and tie it back in. Jerry’s a little less kind, using words like tizzy to describe these findings.
We’ve reached the end of the day. Jerry and Phil are packing up so lets pull all these comments together. The Totem forest is an excellent loudspeaker that gets a gold star for its imaging, soundstage and attack homework. A bold exciting listen, they manage to sound much bigger than physical size suggests and they disappear better than any other tower I know. The solid, believable midrange is tonally accurate but is somewhat let down by an overly eager top end that shows its hand a little too quickly. They aren’t the most relaxing ride but excel with rock, reggae, R&B and bass music and do a more than competent job with folkier reflection and singer songwriter musings. Classical heads might look elsewhere as both Jerry and Phil thought less of the portrayal of real instruments with orchestral numbers than I did with my acoustic favorites.
Compare those positives and negatives to your own priority list. A good match might make this your perfect loudspeaker. I dare say that experimentation with less neutral amplification and even cable matching could help tame the top end. I plan to find out – The Audio Notes can stay in the cupboard for a little longer whilst I enjoy establishing if this is the case..
Author – Jake