According to this month’s issue of Stereophile magazine (May 2011), our Totem Dreamcatcher is a speaker which fully lives up to its name! Allowing those who dream of enjoying $2000.00 monitors, an equivalent musical experience without the cost! (See review by Robert J. Reina). Reading his review will make you want to own a pair for yourself. We have been thoroughly enjoying them since shaking hands with Vince Bruzzese (Totem’s Chief Engineer/CEO) at Totem’s state of the art factory in Montreal. Totem, as their name may suggest, uses mostly native components from North America, but adds the worlds very finest drivers, which are made in Europe. Not a single part in a Totem speaker is sourced from Asia. Vince is a firm believer in quality sourcing, and states unequivocally, that though his components cost him many times more, it is because of this, that he is able to maintain the highest standards in all aspects of production, quality control, fit and finish! This extremely high level of quality production is evident in every single model. Yes, all the way down to the Dreamcatcher. Most speakers built with this level of engineering cost three to four times as much from other manufacturers. In fact, most manufactures don’t build anything themselves, but only design & outsource!?! Personally, I feel this is due more to “greed than necessity”. And those who do some of their own manufacturing more often source everything under $2000.00 to China.
I highly suggest not only reading Robert’s review, but looking over what John Atkinson’s test bench report revels. As this is a perfect example of a very common disparity in true state of the “art” products, like the Dreamcatcher, and those most common these days, which are designed and built by computers. Which brings up another little know fact – most speaker names today are just that -“names” with the designers who started the company long gone! These companies were taken over by the suites, who use computers for their designs and “never” actually listen to their own products??? How on Earth can you claim you’re building a great “sounding” product, if “humans” never listen to the design prototype? The good news is, Totem’s are designed by humans. They undergo multiple listening tests, and are hand tuned by ear not oscilloscope. Of course, they use computers for the preliminary designs, but the speakers are FAR FROM finished at that point. Vince will experiment with lots of different drivers, crossovers, and designs before he is satisfied that is the absolute BEST he can do for a particular model. And what’s particularly entertaining about John Atkinson’s report, is that in the end, he too concedes the sound quality, albeit begrudgingly.
In my experience, it seems far too many “techie types” can’t get their heads around what truly makes an outstanding speaker, or audio component. If they can’t “see it on paper” they can’t understand the artist’s vision, or accept the outcome. They seem to forget some of the most important things in the equation, such as the human ear. Only the very finest speakers in the world are built in this way, and sadly, too often, the street prices for these stay well into the thousands of dollars. This is where Totem is a true breath of fresh air, sculpting each work of art with the same dedicated love and devotion, making absolutely beautiful speakers affordable for everyone!
By now, everyone knows I’m rather fond of our new Golden Ear Triton II speakers. And as we have been getting a lot of customer interest as well, I decided to test the reality of some of their assumed merits. The biggest of which, is their rated efficiency of 91db. The average speaker has an efficiency rating in the mid to high 80’s, so a rating of 91db suggests they “should be” easy to drive with lower powered amplifiers. It’s interesting though, that in our particular industry (consumer electronics), the governing body that sets the rules for product claims, “the FCC” does a very poor job of placing any meaningful limits on what manufacturer’s can claim. Watts per channel for instance is an excellent example. Haven’t we all done the preverbal double take when seeing the little plastic stereo boom box at the local chain store, claiming “100 watts per channel” (w/p/c)….now do we actually believe that if we connect said amplifier to a pair of “real speakers” of ANY EFFECIENCY RATING, that the little microchip amplifier there-in, will drive them??? For most of us who have some grasp of basic electro-mechanics, lets’ hope not! However, watts per channel has caused a surprising amount of confusion over the years, as many customers try to make decisions about what to buy and connect together. And far too often results- versus expectations are pretty far off. This rather loose FCC standard is a major reason that our more respected amplifier manufacturers build in safeguards, preventing customers from over driving amplifiers when connecting to less efficient speakers. So to get back to my story, I had a couple of customers audition the afore mentioned speakers. One plans to drive them with our McIntosh amplifier which will definitely do the job, and with great ease and musical integrity. The other however has a more conservative budget and was mentioning that with the Triton’s high efficiency rating, he was considering a very modestly amplifier with a low power rating of about 40 w/p/c. So knowing that rated speaker efficiency, rated amplifier power, and a few other variables does not guaranty that any given set of components are going to behave as expected, I decided to put said assumption to the test. Now here’s where it gets interesting. First, I grabbed a 40 w/p/c amplifier, similar to that suggested by the customer. Also, let me say that I use about 20 different standards to measure performance. Two of the more appreciable standards are “size of sound stage” and “enjoyable frequency range” or (top to bottom fullness). With these two standards, I was simply amazed by what I heard. The 40 w/p/c solid state was giving almost the same level of performance as our reference amplifier, to which these speakers had been connected. The reference amplifier is about 175 w/p/c. and costs about 10x as much. Of course, the other harder to define characteristics were being done with somewhat less integrity, but for most people, it would be difficult to identify what those performance differences actually equate to, especially in monetary terms. The second test, which involved an even lower powered (and priced) tube amplifier, netted yet different results. Not only was the sound stage equally impressive but the tube sound actually made the overall system synergy seam like a more expensive rig, with a sweet liquid midrange usually reserved for much more expensive systems. So obviously I have to conclude, that Golden Ear has been conservatively rated at 91db. Thus, I must say, the Triton II has demonstrated to me a much more rare speaker attribute. Obviously, Sandy and Co. knows a thing or two about speaker design, in that a high efficiency rating does not automatically equate to “easy to drive”. Other factors, such as a stable impedance plays a significant role when using lower powered, and priced amplification as well. To which Golden Ear is obviously in tune! This almost tempted me to go get that boom box amplifier and hook em’ up…but perhaps that’s a bit silly, after all, these are serious speakers, which will absolutely pay you back with greater and greater sonic rewards, as you improve various source components such as those in our reference system. This allows them to give every ounce of musical nuance, detail, and range, that the ultimate source has to offer, and makes for a very fulfilling and satisfying musical experience!
So in summary I must say, yes Virginia, there really is a low powered amplifier solution to a Golden Eared system. And it could get you amazingly good performance at a cost not much more than the speakers themselves. Imagine, a $2500.00 pair of full range speakers, being 1/3 the physical part of a $3000.00 sound system. For most people, this is absolutely Absurd!
The Montreal Salon Son & Image: Annual Hi-Fi Show
Every Spring, Montreal throws a party for both enthusiasts and those of us who are in the trades. So this past weekend, we have been indulging ourselves in essentially a giant toy store overflowing with tempting goodies from all reaches of the world. Some of the latest and without a doubt greatest gear created to date was on display for our aural pleasures. Exotic audio artwork from Ayon, MBL, Specimen Horns, Roksan, Luxman, T+A, Totem Acoustics and Oracle were some of our favorites. And this year, about 98% of the show was about AUDIO. In fact, we saw only one manufacturer showing video, which is just about right. As more customers today are interested in “sound quality” rather than the compromises which have permeated too much of the industry for the past ten years, with ever changing video technology and formats. Thankfully the “High-End” has reached the same consensus, and most of the more astute companies have dropped video processors altogether. By employing a high integrity integrated by-pass the high-end can stay with the “music first concept,” offering customers a much better audio experience. So be sure to stop by soon to check out even more of what’s new in cherry picked gear here at The Sweet Spot. Cheers!