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|Founded||Montreal, Canada, 1987|
|Vince Bruzzese, Lucy Lentini|
Totem Acoustics was founded in 1987 by current president and chief engineer Vince Bruzzese. Bruzzese cites his inspiration to start a loudspeaker company after having several poor experiences more than a decade earlier, such as quickly deteriorating performance lack of replacement parts, and mediocre service with so called high end speakers.
Vince valued excellence in products and found those that lasted functionally beyond its supposed designated lifespan, and continued to excel, were particularly endearing. And while he vowed that he would only develop superior, premium speakers, he adamantly wanted to provide this quality at affordable prices.
Beyond performance targets, Bruzzese wanted the design to be timeless so aesthetics never dictated a change of a perfectly functioning, acoustically pleasing product.
Thiele Small Parameters refer to a set of electromechanical parameters developed in the 1960’s and 70’s that define the specified low frequency performance of a loudspeaker driver. They are still used by speaker designers today to model the behavior of drivers and enclosures. At the time, 8” woofers were considered the smallest size that could produce acceptable bass and 15” woofers were commonplace in home speakers.
Bruzzese didn’t believe the Thiele/Small Parameters were applicable to the speaker he wanted to build and created his own set of scientific formulas for his speaker development.
Bruzzese’s educational background includes a degree in anatomy and his understanding of the physiological and anatomical make up lead him to believe that people are extremely sensitive to phase and it is correct phase response that truly would elicit the holographic, lifelike sound he sought for a speaker. Bruzzese also strongly believed that he could develop the bass response he desired in smaller drivers and from a cabinet with a slim form factor.
His first completed design was a flat, on wall speaker. This was in the early 80’s and the days of extremely deep tube televisions and equally boxy speaker so the market wasn’t exactly ready for such an avant-garde design. A cosmetically similar but acoustically inferior product with poor performance made it to market first and spoiled the potential of such a product. Bruzzese decided to take a new approach to the enclosure.
Keeping his original goal of producing an unobtrusive yet high performance speaker, Bruzzese decided to integrate his acoustic goals of accurate phase, wide soundstage and deep bass response into a diminutive yet extremely dynamic monitor.
This initial speaker was named the Model 1, it was the ultimate consequence of Vince’s unique approach and proprietary scientific tables, with a flat response starting all the way down the bass register to 30 Hz and up to 25 kHz. The speaker measured only 12”H x 6”W x 9”D, with a six litre volume.
The Totem brand name came in the form of a gift from a half native friend who had been experiencing tough times. Bruzzese lent him a pair of speakers and told him that the healing power of music would help him through the turmoil, which it did. In return, the friend suggested Vince name his fledgling company Totem and added that if the name, and company by extension, is treated with respect then it will bring good fortune.
Design Totem Acoustic design focuses on four key elements; Bruzzese’s proprietary scientific formulas, artisanal cabinet construction, customized drivers, and hand made crossovers.
In the world of speakers, Thiele Small Parameters refer to a set of electromechanical parameters that define the specified low frequency performance of a loudspeaker driver. They were developed over the course of decades and culminated in the 1960’s and 1970’s, at a time where 8” woofers were considered the smallest size that could produce acceptable bass and 15” woofers were commonplace in home speakers. Bruzzese’s belief was that scientific theories and formulas pertaining to loudspeaker development from two decades earlier were outdated and ripe to be rewritten.
He was thoroughly unimpressed by many aspects of most speakers being built, but particularly the uncontrolled, boomy, bass characteristics. Smaller British mini monitors had superior resolution but had positively anemic bass characteristics. He knew there had to be a way to get controlled, impressive bass and impressive resolution from a moderately sized, attractive cabinet, even if the recognized guides and experts of the day said otherwise. Throwing aside all the accepted loudspeaker textbooks and long followed recipes, Vince spent 10 long years writing his own Scientific formulas on drivers, driver alignment and cabinets, and conducted countless experiments confirming them and learning better building practises of all the components along the way. His equations emphasized achieving phase linearity and minimizing crossover parts, which is why each Totem has its own unique woofer and tweeter combination. Bruzzese realized that forcing drivers to work together with enormous, multi component crossover designs came at an acoustic cost while minimizing the parts and maximizing the phase relationship produced the magic he, and a good portion of the world, sought.
While all the components of a Totem speaker were still yet to come to fruition, such as the crossover, cabinet, and drivers, Vince’s preliminary tests on prototypes confirmed to him that his new scientific formulas were correct and the previously unheard of combination of forceful bass, impressive resolution, and an enormous, holographic soundstage from a conveniently sized, designer-friendly cabinet was possible.
Artisanal Cabinet Construction Beyond the math however came many other revelations of various speaker components born through extensive experimentation and testing.
Even though it was generally understood that the speaker cabinet had a tremendous effect on a speaker’s performance the majority were being built with a utilitarian, mass market approach using V groove and CNC (Computer Numerical Control) assembly with copious amounts of glue to keep it together. It’s an acceptable approach that was suited for basic boxes used for packaging or mass market mediocre speakers but didn’t provide an acoustic enclosure nor fine furniture durability on par to Vince’s standards.
The cabinet is rarely discussed in the sales pitch of a speaker because as an inanimate part it doesn’t have the visual impact or easily quantifiable specifications that people tend to rely upon for quality or performance comparisons. Audio engineers consider stiffness as perhaps the most important trait in a speaker cabinet because it minimizes distortion causing vibrations that negatively affect a speaker’s sound. Totem cabinets are made to be inert but also harmonically expressive, which means creating synergy between veneers, stains, and lacquers.
Lock mitred, monocoque construction is an intricate woodworking method in which a zigzag pattern is cut into the ends of panels so they provide substantially more surface area on each joining piece and in turn have more area to grip and physically lock together in a much stronger fashion. They are finally glued together at a 90-degree angle, making the Totem cabinet up to 5 times stiffer than conventional cabinet assembly. The medium density fiberboard (MDF) used is a unique recipe with a density of 90% on the exterior speaker side and 65% towards the interior. The denser extremities increase strength and help maintain shape whereas the less dense interior is acoustically preferred. One the cabinet is built, both the exterior and interior are veneered, an expensive step that’s invisible to the consumer so every other company doesn’t bother but it increases cabinet strength so it’s almost invulnerable to warping, maintaining its acoustic and cosmetic integrity for literally decades.
Totem’s enclosures have either very little or no internal damping materials, which results in better transient response, but some models feature yet another Totem exclusive. A thick, multilayer borosilicate paste, similar to compounds used on the space shuttle to prevent its heat resistant tiles from breaking up due to vibration, is applied to the interior of selected cabinets. If you applied a layer of this to an egg you would not be able to hard boil it. Popular dampening materials like various forms of poly fillers are like additives to the sound changing over time and as micro dust from them eventually settles on the driver and efficiency is affected. The industry unique dampening technique manages energy dissipation in a desired, controlled manner within the enclosure while keeping the cabinet musically alive. Perhaps what might put all this into the best perspective of Totem’s uncompromising construction is time. While some competitive companies like to brag about how many they can build in an hour, even a compact model like the Model 1 Signature, takes nine hours of labor to build. It’s also important to note that we’re talking about a product built in North America where the cost of labor is exponentially higher than anywhere in Asia, and yet our product still punches well above its weight and is always considered to offer competitively incredible value and performance.
Customized Drivers Since Bruzzese doesn’t follow the masses when it comes to the outdated norms of overall speaker development, the drivers he employs are as unique as his Scientific formulas. Therefore, every single driver used is completely unique to Totem and proprietary in design. Every aspect of it is engineered by Vince and then manufactured to the strictest standards by the finest raw driver suppliers in the world. Then Vince directs them to modify various parts and implement different materials, often absorbing a lot of the tooling costs in the process. Dynaudio, Seas, Scan-Speak, Vifa, Peerless, and many others are always willing to dedicate time to listen and partner with Vince on any project since he invariably raises their knowledge, capabilities, and reputation.
Totem can build their own drivers completely ourselves but the basic economics involved though make it dramatically more cost efficient to improve existing designs, in turn allowing us to keep the cost on products remarkably affordable and capable of outperforming speakers that are much more expensive. Beyond the acoustic goals, Vince also always wants his speakers to convey value as enormous as his imaging. But, in some specific cases where even the largest, highest driver manufacturing facilities simply cannot comprehend Bruzzese’s vision, Totem makes their own drivers.
Hand Made Crossovers Totem crossovers are not as complex looking as might be expected, or as those found in competitive product. The reason goes back to our design philosophy where every element of every speaker is manufactured to our exact specification with a synergistic approach so they mesh almost perfectly and therefore don’t require many crossover parts.
The parts we do use though are the world’s best and again, like our drivers, defy our retail price and are considered by the industry to be too expensive for speakers in Totems price range. Even our sub $2000 speakers employ air core coils with 99.999% pure and oxygen free copper, Clarity Cap MR, or Mundorf Gold/Silver oil capacitors. When we show our dealers that these parts are available on eBay for $250 each they’re shocked and truly appreciate the unbelievable value we pack into our speakers.
Bruzzese is quite proud of the elegance of his crossover designs and particularly the avoidance of resistors and his use of only premium components. For 99% of the world’s speaker manufacturers, a crossover network entails a PCB board (Printed Circuit Board) which uses a ferrite core, and added resistors and capacitors. PCB’s however are often exposed to environmental contaminations in their manufacturing process which changes their electrical properties rendering them subject to phase irregularities. Anything that can compromise phase is not acceptable. Our components are secured to a thin piece of fiberboard and then connected directly to each other rather than to copper traces.
These crossovers are wired by hand, in Montreal, by skilled and experienced technicians. We prefer to mechanically crimp wires rather than solder components into place because it simply sounds better. Solder affects micro dynamics and clarity but for the times when we must use it we use WBT Silver Solder, regarded as the purest and cleanest in the industry.
Crossovers are connected to the drivers with wire so it is as important as any other part creating the synergy. The wiring inside every single Totem speaker is unique and requires us to use roughly 40 different types. Each and every wire, inside each and every Totem network, feeding each and every Totem driver, has been painstakingly selected by Vince. While they are all different, all are 99.999% oxygen free silver plated copper and Teflon coated so they will never oxidize and keep the electron flow the same over the long life of the speaker. These ultra-high grade wires have also been chosen because the copper has been stretched slowly, allowing the molecular crystals to align themselves in a very cohesive fashion once the speaker has had a proper break in time.
Speaker Launched Status
Sky 2016 Current
Kin Mini 2015 Current
Kin Flex 2015 Current
Kin Mini Subwoofer 2015 Current
Kin Subwoofer 2015 Current
TAC 4 2014 Current
Forest Signature 2013 Current
TAC 6.5II 2013 Current
TAC8 II 2013 Current
TAC SS 2013 Current
TAW 6.5 II 2013 Current
TAW 8 II 2013 Current
Kin In Ceiling Angled 2013 Current
Kin In Wall 2013 Current
Kin Side Center 2013 Current
Thunder II 2011 Current
Element Ember 2011 Current
Element Fire 2011 Current
Element Metal 2011 Current
Element Earth 2011 Current
Element Wood 2011 Current
Tribe 5 2010 Current
Mite Design 2010 Current
Tribe Sub Double 8 2010 Current
Tribe In Ceiling Angled 2010 Current
Tribe In Wall 2010 Current
Tribe Side Center 2010 Current
In Wall Sub Double 8 2010 Current
Tribe In Wall Sub 12/12 2010 Current
Tribe Sub Double 8 2010 Current
Tribe Sub Module 2010 Current
Wind Design 2009 Current
Tribe In-Wall/In-Ceiling2008 Current
Tribe 3 2007 Current
Inner Spirit 2005 Discontinued
Rainmaker 2004 Current
Tribe I, II 2004 Current
Storm 2004 Current
Rainmaker center 2004 Current
Model 1 Signature 2002 Current
Thunder 2002 Discontinued
Lynks 2002 Discontinued
Mani 2 Signature 2000 Discontinued
Wind 2000 Current
Dreamcatcher center 2000 Current
Dreamcatcher 1999 Current
Hawk 1999 Current
Model 1 Signature center1999 Current
Shaman 1998 Discontinued
Forest 1997 Current
Arro 1996 Current
TAC 6.5 1996 Discontinued
TAC 8 1996 Discontinued
TAW 6.5 1996 Discontinued
TAW 8 1996 Discontinued
Mite T 1995 Current
Sttaf 1994 Current
mite TC center 1994 Current
Mite 1992 Current
Rokk 1992 Discontinued
Tott 1992 Discontinued
Tabu 1992 Discontinued
Mani 2 1991 Discontinued
Model 1 1987 Discontinued
- "Audiophile Theater: Totem Acoustic Dreamcatcher 5.1". Home Theater Magazine. February 21, 2002.