Over the last few years, it seems speaker manufacturers have started to come out of the woodwork. Many manufacturers who make other products (amps, cables, TV brackets, car stereos, on and on) are now making speakers. There are still a large number of the “old school” speaker manufacturers still around. Many of these companies were started by super nerds who either couldn’t afford, or more likely, didn’t care for the sound produced by the other guys’ stuff. And then there are the seemingly endless lines of copycat, re-branding, companies that, instead of bringing something new to the table, simply “borrow” technology and concepts from other companies. Many of these organizations have deep pockets for marketing, and the water begins to get muddy.

With all the “noise” out there, it really is hard to make decisions about speakers. It’s hard to know what to care about. It’s hard to know what’s worth the money, and what’s not.

The fact is, when it comes to buying speakers, there is no clear cut way to research. You can’t look at a speaker’s specifications and know whether they’ll sound good. You can look at price tags, but trust me, those can be the most misleading numbers you see on a speaker.

Personally I like knowing a little bit about a company’s history; how and why they got started, what their manufacturing process is like, where the equipment is produced, and most importantly, what their passion is. It’s a cliché I know, but a
sk a salesperson about a vendor’s story, and it will tell you more than you think.

With all of that said, the simple fact is you need to listen to a speaker in order to really determine its value. Much like cologne, wine, or the many other things in life that are impacted by your senses, there is no better test drive than to hear a device made for listening to.

I was fortunate enough to do just that with Totem speakers. Last year at CEDIA, I stumbled in to the Totem booth. I had heard of them before, but never knew much about them. As fate would have it, the founder and lead designer Vince Bruzzese, happened to be running the booth at the time. I can’t say I know Vince as I only chatted with him for a few minutes. My first impression is that he looked the part of a speaker engineer. Tall, glasses, hair reminiscent of Egon Spengler from Ghost Busters, and in general a bit nerdy. More than anything it was immediately obvious that he is extremely passionate about his products.

Mr. Bruzzese gave a group of us a brief presentation outlining the history of his company, which started in 1987 in Montreal, the goal has always been to produce a cost effective, high tech, reliable, and compact speaker that still delivers big sound. After a few years of tweaking, their Model-1 speaker came to market. Since then, they’ve developed additional tower speakers, book shelf speakers, in-wall & on-wall speakers, subwoofers, and sub amplifiers. Most recently, they’ve released their Tribe line. A series that in my opinion nails the design goals of Totem acoustics. Mr. Bruzzese was brief with his company’s history. He was excited to get to the demo.

The Tribe line is aesthetically.. Well, really cool looking. Mr. Bruzzese gave us a demo using a pair of the Tribe V on-wall speakers and a pair of the Tribe Subs, which happened to be displayed in a brilliant polished white color they call “ice”. The quality of the polish on the speaker alone is enough to show you these guys really pay attention to the small details. They offer other high gloss colors like dusk (black), sky (blue, my personal favorite), and fire (bright red). For the more conservative color pallet, they also offer the Tribe speakers in satin black, white, or silver. The speakers had no grills on them, but acoustically transparent, magnetic grills are available for the entire line.

Vincent began his demo with some upbeat jazz music, followed by orchestral, then rock, then finished with some R&B. The speakers never sounded like they were struggling. It didn’t matter what he played, it all sounded like it was meant to be played on Totem speakers. The imaging was better than any speaker I’ve ever heard that was that compact. (Keep in mind, the Tribe V’s are only 6.25″W x 3.5″D x 48″H.) The sound stage was enormous. I walked around the listening area, and short of losing some imaging near the corner of the space, there was virtually no drop off in the range the speakers were producing.

More importantly, the speakers sounded “real”. I’ve been in the audio industry a long time, so the above paragraph is difficult for me to really expand on. But I think anyone who’s ever listened to a speaker can pretty easily understand the idea of a speaker sounding real. When you close your eyes, and you can’t tell whether a speaker system or a four piece band is in front of you making noises, that is when a speaker sounds “real”.

We’ve since installed several of the Tribe and Mask series speakers. In every installation, the Totem speakers have exceeded our clients’ expectations. Many of our customers have mentioned that they feel the same as I do with regard to the “realism” of the speakers. As with many homes today, the environments we install speakers in are for both music listening and home theater. I’ve played several movie clips with big range, and lots of synthetic sound effects, and the Totems always reproduce them with shocking clarity and resolution as well.

In my nearly 20 years in the industry, I’ve not come across a product that looks as cool and still sounds as good as the Totem Tribe Series. Couple that with the affordability the line offers, and it’s hard to not suggest them to everyone.