Totem Acoustic: TRIBE I, TRIBE II & STORM Reviewed

Totem Acoustic: TRIBE I, TRIBE II & STORM Reviewed

Totem brags that their speakers will "stir your soul" or produce "dimensionally extravagant and accurate sound production." After testing them, our reviewer found that the company was probably being modest. "The delicacy, depth, airiness, then attack and impact--completely devoid of any harshness or edge--are a pure pleasure to listen to..."

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About 19 years ago, Vince Bruzzese in Montreal, Canada, founded Totem Acoustic. The mission was pure: to create an affordable “soul mover” for the music lover. There is more to it of course, but that is the heart of the matter. Totem Acoustic has remained true to their mission, acquiring a loyal fan base and great word-of-mouth advertising, as well as dealer support. The Tribe on-wall series and Storm Subwoofer are new offerings from Totem. The Tribes, in particular, are designed for use with flat screen video displays, so Home Theater is the focus, but they could certainly be used for discreet music applications where an in-wall is not desired.

Unique Features
I am not easily impressed, and then again, I am. The grills on these speakers are great! I avoided the temptation of calling to find out exactly how it is they work, and just enjoyed the fact that they work wonderfully. There are no tabs to break, no pins to line up, no way to not get them on correctly if you are even close-honest. No matter how the speaker is oriented, the Totem logo can be positioned exactly as needed. The speaker cabinets are very slim at 3.5 inches (3.75 inches with the grills). Although the cabinets are plain, they are nicely finished and elegant with a fine “feel.” The Tribe I is 26 inches high, and the Tribe II is 29 inches high. Both speakers are 5.9 inches wide and ported on each end. I found the flush mount brackets a bit aggravating to use, though they are secure and flush.

Additional Resources

The Storm is Totem’s newest subwoofer offering. It uses a front-firing 8-inch driver and two side-mounted passive radiators. The grill is optional. The Storm is available in four finishes; mine was a mahogany veneer. Like many woofers, the Storm features an auto on/off cycle in the presence or absence of a signal. One feature that is included, which every subwoofer manufacturer should offer, is a crossover bypass (YES). The Storm is pretty small at 12 inches high, 11 inches wide, and 14 inches deep.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
I find that the nicer the gear, the more trouble I go to in making my listening area conform to what is needed so that their performance matches the manufacturer’s indications. In the case of these speakers, I was within all the parameters Totem allowed. I was using a receiver with them, and even though it was a $1,200 receiver with more than the recommended power that Totem suggests, I would have preferred separates. All the interconnects were more than adequate for the task at hand. Because the room where these had to be tested does not currently have a flat screen display in it, or a way to actually mount the main speakers directly to the wall, I had to “fake” it on the front of a large wall unit by fabricating a wall on either side of my video display.

Totem sent this system to review as a 5.1 system. Of course, this is what I did. When I evaluate speakers, I like to listen to plain old stereo music as well. This gives me a better take on what the speaker can do as a speaker. It didn’t matter what genre I chose; everything sounded just as I hoped it would. Nothing disappointed, and many things surprised me with more than I expected. Imaging and staging were consistent and rock solid. There was a very wide “sweet spot” or no “sweet spot,” depending on your outlook. After going through many of my old favorites (and spending way too much time doing this), I got busy with the task at hand, evaluating these speakers for their intended purpose, Home Theater.

Lately I have been spending an inordinate amount of time with Peter Jackson’s King Kong, getting familiar with several scenes and using them for evaluation. The size of the sound produced by this ensemble is more than impressive. I explained that I used a receiver to drive the speakers. Out of interest, I also used the receiver’s on-board Auto Setup tool via an accessory microphone. The receiver set the front speakers to the “large” setting each of the three times I ran it. The Tribes use two 4-inch drivers per cabinet!

There is no one thing that reaches out and grabs you with the Tribes. This is how it should be. In a perfect world, you should be listening to what is happening on the screen as if it is really happening. Of course, the Tribes can only let you hear what they get, but if they get it, you will hear it. The delicacy, depth, airiness, then attack and impact–completely devoid of any harshness or edge–are a pure pleasure to listen to. My only criticism is with the woofer. Unless Totem or someone else learns how to circumvent the laws of physics, I do not see how to get around this one. The sub is small and can only move so much air. On some of the more demanding low-bass passages on King Kong, and some of the other movies I used, there were times when the Storm couldn’t hide some difficulties. Still, this is one awesome subwoofer. The blend with the Tribes is magnificent, and it adds to the “size” of the sound in a way that transcends bass. Positioning is precise with this system, and I think the bass positioning is better than I have ever heard.
Click to Page 2 for the Final Take

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Final Take
Walking the walk is not always done in advertising. The job of a
copywriter is to write words that sell products or services–so when the
customer reads an ad for a particular product, they feel as if it is
the “best” one. When one reads Totem Acoustic ads, it is no different in
that you read about how they will “stir your soul” or about
“dimensionally extravagant and accurate sound reproduction.” How about,
“The superb, long throw, soft dome tweeter seamlessly interacts with
these woofers to fashion not only a wall of sound, but also a façade of
subtle, rich harmonics woven into rich sonic holography”? The difference
with Totem–and, mind you, this is merely my opinion after doing this
review–is that they are being modest.

One of the things I also do during a review is to see how sensitive a
speaker is to seating position. There isn’t always space to talk about
it, or sometimes it isn’t among the most important points. In the case
of this setup, I think I almost would have had to point them away from
me and wire them out of phase to make the Tribes sound less than
incredible. I also tried them away from the wall, and with some
subwoofer adjustments, they were still fantastic (better on the wall).
Totem says they are “Probably the world’s best on-wall.” Most companies
would just say, “The World’s Best…” and leave out the “Probably” (that
ad copy thing again). At $4,350 for the five Tribes (plus $995 for the
Storm), I think Totem is “Probably” right.

Additional Resources

TRIBE I
Flat TV Size compatibility 40″-45″
Weight 14 lbs.
Crossover 2.2 kHz 1st order
Impedance 6 ohms
On-wall Frequency Response: 54 Hz-25 kHz +/- 3 dB
Sensitivity 88 dB
Minimum Power 30 Watts
Maximum Power 110 Watts
MSRP: $750 each

TRIBE II
Flat TV Size compatibility 50″-55″
Weight 18 lbs.
Crossover 2.2 kHz 1st order
Impedance 6 ohms
On-wall Frequency Response: 50 Hz-25 kHz +/- 3 dB
Sensitivity 88 dB
Minimum Power 30 Watts
Maximum Power 110 Watts
MSRP: $950 each

STORM
In-Room Frequency Response: 26 Hz-350 Hz
Amplification 300 Watts specially
designed low noise/distortion unit
Driver 8″ cast frame
Passive Radiators 2″ x 8″ cast frame
MSRP: $995 each

MSRP: $1,999
MSRP: $2,999


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