Totem Acoustic Reflects on 30 Years in the Biz & Designing Its Signature One Loudspeaker

The new Signature One loudspeaker combines elements of Totem Acoustic's first product, the Model One (circa 1989) with design advances the company has made over the past 30 years.

Totem Acoustic Reflects on 30 Years in the Biz & Designing Its Signature One Loudspeaker
Totem is embracing the custom installation market through its new architectural products and an increased emphasis on product interoperability.

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Totem’s determined foray into the realm of musical transducers has been a path to which we have strictly adhered. Uncompromising design, engineering, attention to detail...
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Robert Archer · August 23, 2017

Like a Robert Frost poem, Totem Acoustic has strayed from the me-too cycle that many loudspeaker manufacturers have fallen into and followed the "road not taken." Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year Totem launched its Signature One loudspeaker, designed to reflect Totem's heritage. The speaker combines elements of its first-gen product, the Model One, which was introduced in 1989, with design advances the company has made over the past 30 years. 

The Signature One launch is part of an "aggressive 2017 product development cycle," according to Vince Bruzzese, founder, designer and president of Totem Acoustic.

Bruzzese admits that some of Totem’s products had become “a little long in the tooth,” so he began work on developing a number of new products.

Just a few of Totem’s new in-room products include the Tribe Tower, which Bruzzese says provides integrators with a speaker that is vastly different than other products on the market. Dealers can place the Tribe Tower just about anywhere within a room, he says, and still provide clients with a full-range sound experience.

The Sky Tower, which will be available soon, augments Totem’s Sky Series and replaces the company’s Sttaf floorstanding loudspeaker.

“We are a solutions company,” says Bruzzese. “We can intermesh the sound of our products correctly. If someone has a budget, and say they don’t want overhead in-ceiling speakers, we can create a system without in-ceilings that intermeshes correctly and sound good in that type of environment.”

"You don’t build products for audiophiles, you build products for people that live in homes. Our first product was not a small pair of monitors, it was an in-wall that could also be used as an on-wall."
— Joe de Jesus, Totem Acoustic

Bruzzese credits phase correctness for Totem's ability to intermesh and complement different products throughout its line, regardless of what product is used.

The company’s new products highlight Bruzzese’s emphasis on phase as well as Totem’s proprietary Torrent driver designs and unique crossoverless loudspeakers, which he says enables Totem products to achieve broad dynamics from small footprint products.

“The speakers’ sound is supposed to seamlessly flow into the room,” he notes. “You can put them 20 feet apart at weird angles and they still sound good. They [Tribe Tower] also don’t need a subwoofer. They play down to 30Hz. We wanted to create a small footprint speaker with incredible flexibility, and that’s what I think we’ve done with the Tribe Tower.”

Joe de Jesus, director of global sales, Totem Acoustic, says that because dealers often find themselves having to deliver a quality sound experience in a range of home environments like great rooms, having a choice of speakers that are forgiving and not dependent on placement location makes installers’ jobs easier.  

He points out a few examples of Totem products, including the Tribe IIITribe V and Tribe Tower, that all use the Torrent technology and the company’s crossover-less designs to operate smoothly and naturally without beaming.

“We create solutions through the testing and designing of the speakers we develop. Our speakers perform though the torture tests we put our designs through,” says de Jesus. “The wonderful thing about our products is that our dispersion characteristics are so good they don’t have to be in the optimum spot to get good sound because of our phasing and dispersion.”

Totem Acoustic Philosophy from Model One to Signature One

As part of the company’s efforts to streamline its product line while also making it more applicable to the demands of integration, de Jesus says Totem specifically designs products for the world of custom installation.

“You don’t build products for audiophiles, you build products for people that live in homes,” stresses de Jesus. “Our first product was not a small pair of monitors, it was an in-wall that could also be used as an on-wall, and that product is where we mastered off-axis [performance]. Our first product was a custom installation product.”

That original Totem product had no name, and de Jesus and Bruzzese recall that back in the 1980s when Montreal served as a hub location for many audio companies, the audiophile mindset ruling those companies dismissed the product.

"Our guys have been building our products for a long time — they are craftsmen — it’s the human element that puts our products together."
— Vince Bruzzese, Totem Acoustic

Undaunted, Bruzzese took the “mathematics” of the original speaker and applied it to Totem’s first-generation Model One. Since the company’s early days Bruzzese has continued to build upon those original design concepts to meet his phase, dispersion and industrial design goals.

Citing Totem’s Tribe III as an example of how Totem’s designs have evolved, he says it's a ported product that features 7-pound woofers made in North America. He says the Tribe III plays down to 30Hz.

Bruzzese says the company’s crossovers utilize a minimal amount of parts, which took a year to select. Totem also manufactures its own drivers. When it does work with outside driver manufacturers, Bruzzese says Totem’s standards can take years to perfect.In the case of the Totem-made Element drivers, he says it takes approximately 2.5 hours to build a single driver. 

It took nine hours to build its $2,650 30th anniversary Signature One loudspeaker.

Bruzzese emphasizes that same attention to detail is also applied to Totem’s architectural products.

“We want continuity between our products,” says Bruzzese. “We offer amazing reliability with our speakers … including our in-walls. We hand ‘stuff’ the crossovers on our 6.5-inch in-wall. Our guys have been building our products for a long time—they are craftsmen—it’s the human element that puts our products together. Our architectural [products] will be the same as everyone else, but our build quality is second to none.”

Signature One Celebrates Its Heritage

The Signature One loudspeaker balances the attributes of the original product with modern appointments to make it applicable to today’s market. That includes making the speaker more amplifier friendly — 8 ohms vs. the original’s 4-ohm rating — and reducing its physical size, while retaining the original Model One’s vertical imaging, speed and articulation.

Totem points out the success of any loudspeaker design lies in the synergy between drivers. The Signature One features a 6.5-inch driver that utilizes a 3-inch voice coil, and underhung design that it says produces increased dynamics. The woofer also employs a neodymium-activated magnet that offers a high level of magnetic energy.

A 1-inch SEAS tweeter is also used for the speaker, featuring a chambered metal dome made from an aluminum titanium alloy.  

Totem Acoustics' soon-to-come Signature One loudspeaker

Highlighting the crossover network on the Signature One, Totem points out the product uses a second-order design. Crossing the drivers over at 2.5kHz the crossover is wired with custom wires, and it features Orange drop caps that bypass other specialized foil caps in the woofer section. Other elements of the crossover include the use of ClarityCap specialty grade high-voltage metal encapsulated paper/oil capacitors for the tweeter.

To achieve phase consistency, Totem says the crossover uses a mix of low tolerance and closely matched resistors from Dale, RC and Archromic.

Totem adds the crossover eliminates the use of magnets and iron through the implementation of various size air-core inductor crossover coils to produce high levels of accuracy and low levels of distortion.

Housing these custom drivers and second-order crossover network is a cabinet that marries old-school miter jointing techniques and modern CNC manufacturing.

Employing a single piece moncoque design chassis for improved structural integrity, the Signature One’s enclosure is made of 3/4-inch MDF, and it features rear-plate mounted gold-plated WBT binding posts that allow for bi-wire configurations.

Summing up his design philosophy and the ever-changing landscape of consumer audio, Bruzzese says that Totem’s products are designed to offer homeowners a choice of competitively priced products that unobtrusively blend into their lives without compromising performance.

“It’s not the streaming services or the amp that is the limiting factor within a room. You can put plants, couches … whatever in front of our speakers and still get stereo imaging,” says Bruzzese. “With Totem you are not limited because of your environment. You can use in-walls or floorstanding speakers and get imaging. It’s a unique thing. We also have more products coming. As a company we have invested into custom installation with more in-walls, and we are supporting integrators by introducing products that ‘play nicely’ with our other products.”

Totem Acoustic is exhibiting in booth #3115 during CEDIA 2017 in San Diego.

Check out the photos of Totem's Montreal headquarters.

  About the Author

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at [email protected]

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  Article Topics

Speakers · Loudspeakers · Architectural · In-Ceiling/In-Wall · Floor/Shelf · Audio/Video · Distributed Audio · Events · CEDIA · News · Products · Totem Acoustic · Whole-House Audio · All Topics
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