Totem Acoustic Signature One

The Power of One

Equipment report
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Stand-mount
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Totem Acoustic Signature One
Totem Acoustic Signature One

The much-lauded Totem Acoustic Model 1 mini-monitor was the speaker that got the ball rolling for the young Montreal-based company in 1987. For its time and price, this two-way bass-reflex design heralded a new era in speed, transparency, and resolution. Success begetting success, the passing years led to various iterations of the Model 1, most notably the hot-rodded Model 1 Signature of the late Nineties. In that version designer Vince Bruzzese installed improved crossover components, and upgraded to silver wiring and two sets of binding posts. Further on, a limited-edition version known as The One commemorated Totem’s 20th in 2007. We turn now to the Signature One, which commemorates Totem’s 30th Anniversary and represents the largest series of changes to this iconic model.

Although the Signature One is still a “mini,” owners of the original will immediately clock how much it has grown—roughly an inch and a half in each dimension. Further examination reveals just how much other things have changed. Gone is the 5.5" woofer of the original, replaced by a 6.5" unit sourced from Totem’s up-market Forest speaker. Equipped with an oversized three-inch voice coil and a neodymium magnet, this underhung design yields more dynamic potential. (Totem claims that it can handle 600W transients without a whimper.) The 1" SEAS aluminum tweeter is similar to the original although heavily modified with better materials and components. It features a metal dome made of an aluminum/titanium alloy that is mounted within a rear chamber to reduce resonances and provide isolation. The crossover is a second-order design with a 2.5kHz crossover point. Nominal impedance is 8 ohms, making the Signature One more accommodating of amplification than the 4-ohm Model 1. Internal wiring uses Teflon-coated silver/OFC copper conductors. Other features include matched resistors from Dale, RCD, and Archromic for phase consistency.

Totem has always been proud, and rightly so, of the craftsmanship of its cabinets. The Signature One carries forth that tradition, seamlessly and exquisitely. Described as a one-piece monocoque chassis, the enclosure is compared, by Totem, to the chassis of Formula 1 race cars—a stretch perhaps given the modesty of a two-way. However, I will give the Totem team credit for having produced a cabinet of serious sophistication and obvious rigidity. Using a hybrid of techniques, Totem employs CNC technology for driver and rear-plate cutouts and Old School craft for the lock-miter corner joints. Materials are ¾" variable-density MDF, geared to lower resonances. Another tradition carried forward is the veneering of internal surfaces and further treatment with borosilicate for energy dissipation, plus full-plane internal cross-bracing between the woofer and tweeter for increased rigidity and damping. Precision front joints are rounded to lower diffraction. Moving to the back panel, classy details abound. Just above the rear port an annealed aluminum rear plate harbors the gold-plated WBT bi-wireable binding posts. Magnetically affixed grilles are included.

Sonically, the classic Totem virtues prevailed. Having recently reviewed its smaller sibling the Sky in Issue 275, I wasn’t at all surprised that the Signature One shared a similar high-revving, high-output character that doesn’t shy away from combustible dynamic swings or the demands of orchestral bass or pop rhythm tracks. It only took a few moments with Dick Hyman’s From the Age of Swing to feel the seat-of-the-pants big band excitement that this speaker communicates. While no product is ever without an issue or two, the Signature One conveyed a contagiously positive, upbeat, three-dimensional musicality. Most noteworthy were the familiar inner detail, the speed out of the starting blocks, and instantaneous transient snap. As I listened to the Dixie Chicks’ cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide,” guitar and mandolin transients and harmonics were on full melodious display. Similarly, the high-hat figures behind The Carpenters’ “Close to You” had weight, not just metallic sizzle. The responsiveness of the Signature One to low-level passages is where its cabinet rigidity pays off. Its ability to vanish within the confines of a small listening room (like mine) remains astonishing. I still recollect how remarkable these attributes were in 1987 when two-way mini-monitors from the likes of Spendor, Rogers, and Proac were all the rage. While time and technology have allowed a wider cross-section of this segment to close the gap somewhat, the Signature One continues to break ground in this area.

Tonally the Signature One has reasonably neutral response, anchored by a tuneful, full-bodied midrange that is rich in color and texture. It is a little forward sounding, but not aggressively so. Treble response is extended and articulate as I expected from the metal dome tweeter. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t describe its character as all rose-petal sweetness. The tweeter has a revealing, somewhat clinical signature and, as is so often the case with metal domes, a cooler cast. Still, thanks to the lush midbass, the Signature One has a warm overall personality, always an admirable trait in a small monitor in my view.