TOTALDAC D100 LOUDSPEAKER REVIEW

TotalDAC D100 Loudspeakers are big, boxy, and made in France, but how do they sound? Stuart Smith finds out.

Totaldac d100 loudspeakers 1

Large but they don’t overly dominate the room.

Vincent Brient lives not far away from Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France, and we’ve been following his audio exploits since he launched his first DAC several years ago and which we reviewed here. Dan reviewed the original DAC and loved it, but the truth of the matter is I found it a little too polite and “audiophile” for my tastes. However, since then the range of kit he makes has increased somewhat and includes DACs, amps, re-clockers, streamers, active crossovers, cables, and now loudspeakers – the D100s we have here (also available in solid chestnut for an extra (circa) €6000), the larger D150s, and a sub. The D100s in their standard black finish are €13800 including VAT in Europe and €12800 excluding VAT if you are outside of Europe. The cabinets on these are Baltic Birch plywood and are made in France.

Despite being described on the TotalDAC website as being a moderate size there is no escaping the fact that in most homes the D100s are a pretty substantial offering, measuring 118 x 32 x 47 cm (HWD) and weighing 38Kg, though Vincent does say that the speakers have been successfully incorporated and tested in smaller rooms.

TOTALDAC D100 DESIGN AND BUILD

Ok, they are a big speaker and they come without grilles, though these can be ordered separately at an extra cost, but they actually didn’t dominate the room overly. The look is pretty utilitarian and boxy and you are either going to love it or hate it – I’m in the former camp and really like its purposeful and no-nonsense aesthetic.

Totaldac Loudspeaker Review 2

On their wheels and being driven by our big ol’ Krell.

The front panel is dominated by two 12” drivers and then above these you have a small horn flare that conceals the non-metal dome compression tweeter. They are a 2.5-way design with both the 12 inchers playing bass but only the top one playing midrange. The mid driver is specially made and Vincent says it is ultra-fast. With that said the drivers do look like drivers I’ve seen when I’ve been poring over speaker catalogues, though I’m not expert enough in these matters to be able to tell you what they are.  Sensitivity is 98dB and so you should be able to drive these with pretty much anything you care to, though we plumbed them into the main system using the Krell KST100 as it’s what we know. Aside from the horn flare, there are a couple of ports that are positioned so that “most of the sound is coming from the top of the speaker, giving it a bookshelf coherency.” Now that seems a bit unlikely from a speaker of this size but we’ll see. At first glance what we have here is what looks like a pretty basic loudspeaker, and, I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t expecting very much at all from these and anticipated little more than a glorified PA loudspeaker.

Now, this last point about my expectation bias is an interesting one and something that gets discussed a lot on HiFi chatter-groups and with folk suggesting a reviewers expectation bias positively affects the review process. So, this will be a pretty negative review then, right? I like to think that whatever my first thoughts with regards to the look of a product I’m able to look beyond the on-paper specs and the looks – let’s hope so as I’m meeting up with Vincent in a couple of weeks in Paris and could do without any animosity. Genuinely, I expected to be writing an unpublished review and sending my findings back to Vincent with a “must try harder” comment at the end of the report.

The finish is very good on the speakers, though they do look somewhat monolithic and their only accoutrements are a pair of rather nice binding posts round the back which are by Mundorf.

There’s not much else to say about the design and build of the D100 and so I’ll get onto playing and talking about a few tunes to hopefully give you an idea of what these sound like.

Setting up the D100 should have been a right royal pain in the fundament given their size, but the fact of the matter is that they were a doddle. I plonked them in the usual place for speakers, got the lasers out, made sure all the angles and distances to the listening seat were equal and sat down to listen. After that, there was no need for further fannying about, though I did go out and buy a set of wheels for them to allow for ease of moving them about – most listening was done before I added these.

TotalDAC D100 Loudspeaker review 3

The upper 12″ deals with mids as well as bass. The horn flare hides a compression driver and either side of this you can see the ports.

As I mentioned, I stuck these on the Krell (it’s an oldie but went to Krell for a full fettle at a substantial cost and is now pretty much as new) but the speakers are good and sensitive and so you could well get away with a 300B SET up, though I do prefer that particular valve in the PSE configuration. I reckon this would be a good match for the speakers.

THE SOUND OF THE TOTALDAC D100

Well, how deceptive can looks be? From the very first lines of Bruce Foxton’s bass on The Jam’s Pretty Green (Sound Affects played off Qobuz) it was clear that these speakers were something special. I listen to a lot of loudspeakers and, like it or not, it’s pretty obvious what are good and what are less so within moments of hearing them, though that would lead to a pretty boring reading experience for you, dear reader. The bass is as life-like as I have heard on this track, and the snare with its big reverb is absolutely perfectly done. The speakers are said to go down to 25Hz (-6dB) and so I was expecting bass to dig deep.  As the tune opens up, that bassline still manages to underpin the whole track, but it doesn’t seem overblown or that it is dominating the rest of the tune. The bass is also speedy and agile, which if you read my reviews often you’ll know that’s a must for me, though it did come as a bit of a surprise with these speakers. It appears that I could have been very wrong in my judgement of these – I’d expected brash and unsubtle, but what I hear is a presentation that is detailed and incredibly consistent from top to bottom – as per the brands online bumph. But I’m Different from the same album opens with a guitar riff that just cuts through the room and you really can almost believe that you are in the control room listening to the take. Continuing the theme I pop on The Rezillos’ Top Of The Pops and again I’m rewarded with an amazingly solid performance with the rhythm section forming a robust foundation on which everything builds. Again, there’s no feeling that anything is being pushed to the fore over and above everything else and there’s a feeling of balance, but there’s also a sense of excitement and on-the-edge-of-your-seat anticipation when listening to these speakers. I think this latter point is an important one and one that many readers will appreciate – I for one want to feel excitement and involvement when I listen to music. I want to feel like an active participant in the performance and this is what these speakers allow.

TotalDAC d100 loudspeaker review 5

Around the back showing the single pair of Mundorf posts.

Shifting the pace a little and Cerrone’s wonderful Euro-disco, in the form of Supernature, is cued up and again it’s an absolute delight to listen to. The track itself is busy and a bit messy, but the TotalDAC speakers take it all in their stride. There is that solidity and sturdiness to the rhythm section, but what strikes me most of all here is the sense of space that is created around that relentless synth’ sequence (though it’s clear midi wasn’t a thing back then) and the way that it is projected out into the room. This projection helps create a really nice soundstage that manages to be both expansive and yet without the feeling of being forced. The vocal track is rock solid, slap bang in the middle of the mix and slightly forward. Moving around a bit, the soundstage still sounds pretty stable, though it really does snap into place when sat in the hot seat. The breakdown on Look For Love is all dancefloor arms in the air, pass the poppers wonderfulness. And this is what I like about these speakers so far – they have managed to be detailed and insightful whilst still maintaining that sense of involvement, excitement, and exhilaration. This is a good deal of what I want to hear when I listen to music – I want to feel involved and moved to be moved. Now, there’s a danger that you are going to think that these are just a glorified PA loudspeaker (as I anticipated before actually listening to them), but they are MUCH more than that and at whatever volume I play these (even with this kind of tuneage) there’s that sense of actually wanting to listen to the music properly. Often I feel that the level of interest in music can quickly wane with speakers less involving than these. It’s the same kind of excitement I get when I listen to our reference Audiovector R6 Arrreté, though I would say the latter have it on the level of detail and overall HiFI-ness they put out into the room, though you pay a premium for a sonically more refined and better-looking loudspeaker.

A 12” driver that’s doing some of the bass and the mids should really sound a bit muddled and a bit confused through the midband, but I genuinely find it difficult to fault these speakers and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, at a very low volume, sounds enthralling and captivating – I really do get drawn into the music here and there is a real feeling of “liveness” to the recording and the dark and smoky club vibe that the album evokes. Everything is present and correct and the instruments are separated in the mix as I believe they should be. This separation of players isn’t artificial sounding at all, it’s more of a natural-sounding experience with me “seeing” the musicians in front of me on a stage. Turn the volume up and there’s a little more detail to the percussion, but, other than that, just more sound filling the room.

Staying on the Jazz theme, José James’ amazing version of Strange Fruit has crisp handclaps and haunting backing vocals that sit back in the mix whilst the main vocal is projected out into the room. James’ vocal delivery is presented wonderfully and with his tone coming across very well – I can almost see him stood at the microphone and the expressions he might be pulling as he sings this awfully graphic song. There’s little colouration and sound of the speakers themselves and this comes as a bit of a surprise given their boxy build – let’s face it, they look just like a big box with some drivers popped in and I can only assume that something clever is being done (or not being done) in the way the crossover is implemented.

TotalDAC D100 Loudspeaker Review 6

Another shot from the front to show scale compared to our Avantgarde DUO XDs…and a houseplant.

On the point of the crossover, all the components are from Western European manufacturers, as are the drivers and cabs, with the crossover consisting only of air coils and film capacitors that Vincent has selected. The wiring is put together using point-to-point wiring and with no PCB  – the legs of the components are used for soldering. The inductor for the bass is made from, and I had to read this twice, 5mm square copper. The whole of the crossover for each speaker is placed housed in its own wooden enclosure.

Anyway, on with the music and I thought I’d play something that I consider to be both large-scale and yet intimate and which for a long time was my go-to track for testing out kit and how that kit dealt with representing room acoustics and with expressing small details within a recording. I’m talking about the tune Songbird from Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and whilst at first listen it appears to be a very simple recording (it is) there is so much going on by way of atmospherics – and it’s for this reason I find it a pretty useful tune to use. On the wrong speakers the tune can sound closed in and stifled, but when it is played on a good pair of speakers it opens up and I find I can feel myself in the upper seats of the auditorium and looking down on the spot-lit piano. Some speakers can also add a degree of sibilance to Christine McVie’s vocal delivery which has the effect of the track sounding as if it’s been recorded too hot. Both our Audiovector R6 Arreté and our Avantgarde Duo XDs manage to recreate the experience I’m looking for superbly. The D100s do not disappoint at all and I’m sat where I should be. The detail in the guitar that is at the back of the mix adds that dimensionality I’m looking for, and the vocal delivery is as clear as a bell. There’s detail and real perception as to the way in which McVie plays the piano and I feel connected to the tune – and this is important! I let the album play and the dry kick that opens The chain grabs my attention and I can’t help but play the rest of the track. As well as that dry kick I’m drawn to the picking on the guitar panned to the right and the slightly overdriven guitar panned left. I genuinely don’t know how what looks such a very basic speaker is managing to enthral me and deliver such detail and emotional connection. When the track begins proper there is real weight in the delivery and that famous bassline (the F1 theme) has a fantastic aural texture to it, whilst the lead guitar screams over the top but never seems to overpower what’s going on. It’s a dynamic and exhilarating experience.

CONCLUSION

Some speakers are great to listen to, but on close analysis seem flawed. Some speakers are highly analytical but feel a bit much when listening for pleasure. The D100s manage to be a fantastically engaging listen whilst at the same time being highly detailed. I don’t get it is the truth of it  – they look, as I’ve said earlier, like big boxes with some drivers whacked in them. However, despite their looks (and, personally, I don’t mind their utilitarian aesthetic) they pull off something sonically that is quite extraordinary.

I was having a discussion with my mate Dave Clark from American magazine Positive Feedback the other evening around the subject of accuracy in audio and we seemed to agree that what we experience as being accurate is largely down to our own perception. Let’s face it, 99.9999% of us listening to any record weren’t there at the final mixdown and have only an idea of what the engineer/producer/band were trying to get across on the master tape. However, some components just sound right and have more detail, insight, and rightness to the way they put across the music you listen to. Speakers that get this right consistently are the big PMCs and the ATCs, both widely used in studios. You can now, to my way of thinking, add these speakers from TotalDAC to that list for getting into (and visualising) the heart of a recording. As such they are a great tool and I could genuinely see them being used in studios.

totaldac d100 loudspeaker review 7

Sunlit for artiness.

Now, as well as appearing to be accurate and perceptive in their delivery, they also manage to be hugely entertaining in how they play music. They are fun, bouncy, and untaxing on the ear. They also present the music before you in a live and immediate kind of way that is hugely dynamic. Not once did I think they were getting flustered. So as well as a useful analytical tool, the D100s are a wonderfully engaging and satisfying listen. I’ll be having a chat with Vincent about buying a pair of these to add to our collection of review speakers in our main system and they will likely take the place of our Avantgarde Duos.

They have a subtlety and deftness of touch when a track calls for it and yet power and dynamics when needed. I’ve got The Doors’ Riders on the Storm playing as I type up my notes and there is just so much going on in what appears to be a very simple track – the organ sounds right, the guitar sounds muted and correct, and that walking bassline never gets lost – I look up and consider whether this is the best I’ve heard this tune sound, but then it’s not something I listen to a whole lot so I’m not gonna make a call on that.

Vincent reckons these speakers behave like bookshelf loudspeakers and I do get that comparison in the way they image and throw the stage – actually it’s quite an uncanny experience to have such big speakers behave like this.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, and that is the way these speakers look. They are big, they are boxy and they look like they are made up from readily available parts (I don’t know whether they are or not)…and grilles add to the price. In our room they don’t look out of place, but they won’t exactly represent the most aesthetically pleasing of loudspeakers to the majority of folk.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality:

Well put together but big and boxy

Quality parts inside

Prettier option available at a price

Sound Quality:

Dynamic and large-scale but intimate and relaxed when called for

Massively detailed without a feeling of the sound being etched and overdone

Big soundstage that isn’t overplayed

Value For Money:

Get over how they look and listen to them. They aren’t cheap but sound pretty incredible. They are less than half the price of our Avantgarde Duo XDs and do a lot in a quite similar kind of way sonically.

We Loved:

The scale and dynamic performance that you can have you either on the edge of your seat or laid back with a cuppa and chilled. Detail, openness and the way you can look into a recording.

We Didn’t Love So Much:

There’s no getting away from the fact that these are a big box.

Elevator Pitch Review: A big, standard looking 2.5-way loudspeaker that manages to transcend its looks with a sonic performance that draws you in and captivates with its rightness. They are dynamic and detailed in a way that they just shouldn’t be and with a presentation that seems neutral and natural whether you play them loud or at more moderate volumes. I want some!

 

 

 

 

 

Stuart Smith

SUPPLIED BY TOTALDAC

Review Equipment: Auralic Aries G1, NUC running Roon, Leema Libra DAC/Pre, Krell  KST100

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