Now more than ever quality-conscious speaker makers are working overtime to develop on-wall systems that deliver legitimate high-end sound quality, and some of today’s best on-wall systems achieve truly spectacular results. A good example of this new breed of highend on-walls is the Tribe/Storm system from Totem Acoustic.
Tribe on-wall speakers are offered in three sizes (called the Tribe 1, 2, and 3), which share similar core designs, but with enclosures of differing dimensions. All Tribe models feature two-way, threedriver, D’Apollito-type arrays with two small but potent 4.5-inch midbass drivers flanking a centrally mounted 1.25-inch fabric dome tweeter. The Tribe’s mid-bass drivers can move a surprising amount of air, thanks to beefy motor structures powered by neodymium magnets. The Tribe’s sturdy, slim enclosures feature bass reflex ports at both ends, meaning the Tribes should always be wallmounted—never used on stands (stands would block the lower port). Totem’s clever wall-mounting system provides vinyl-clad brackets that present upraised fingers that slip into mounting slots on the rear panel of the Tribe. It’s a simple, solid system.
Complementing the Tribes is Totem’s versatile 300-watt Storm subwoofer, which features an 8-inch long-throw woofer, supplemented by two 8-inch passive radiators. The Storm is an elegant, minimalist design that foregoes grilles (they’re an extra cost option), allowing users to the watch the drive units in action. The Storm provides both line and speaker-level inputs, and continuously variable phase, volume and crossover frequency controls. Crossover points are adjustable from 40Hz–250Hz. I tested a 2.1-channel system based on a pair of Tribe 1s and the Storm in my reference 2-channel high-end audio system. The Tribes were mounted on rigid, purpose-built test plates positioned directly against my listening room wall, closely simulating a proper on-wall installation.
If you’re among those enthusiasts who consider on-walls to be “toy” speakers, the Tribe/Storm rig will quickly change your mind. This little system produces a huge sound that is astonishingly full, with powerful bass. You might think the system’s bass output comes primarily from the Storm, but in fact the Tribes go surprisingly low in their own right (down to the mid- 50Hz range). I tried the dramatic opening movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 [Abaddo/Berlin, Deutsche Grammophon] with the subwoofer turned off, and discovered the Tribes did a fairly credible job of covering the orchestra’s robust stringbass section. The only small problem I noted was a tendency for the Tribes’ lowest register to sound slightly under-damped.
On the whole, though, I preferred running the Tribes full range, using the Storm only to add a dab of low-frequency reinforcement from about 60Hz on down. For greater dynamic range, however, you might want to cross the Tribes over to the Storm at a higher frequency—say about 80Hz. The Storm produced vigorous and well-extended bass, though careful setup was necessary to avoid an overly prominent mid-bass sound.
Overall, the word I think best describes the Tribe/Storm system’s sound would be “sumptuous.” There’s an uncanny richness and lushness about this system that, if not strictly accurate in a textbook sense, certainly produces beautiful tone colors unlike those I’ve heard from any other on-wall system. While the Tribe/Storm system’s tonal balance might be tilted slightly toward the warm side of perfect neutrality, I think this represents an intelligent compromise given that some A/V components and many film soundtracks err in the direction of an overly thin, bright sound. The Tribe tweeters are quite smooth and expressive, though perhaps ever so slightly rolled off, but the mid-bass drivers are the real stars of the show. From the middle of the midrange on down, those drivers serve up an evocative, engaging sound that makes everything from acoustic guitars to French horns on down to cellos and contrabassoons sound heartbreakingly beautiful.
On good recordings, such as Holly Cole’s rendition of the haunting Tom Waits song “Falling Down” [Temptation, Metro Blue], the Tribes presented a remarkably wide and deep soundstage and captured the sounds of Cole’s voice and of her sidemen with great intimacy and warmth. I particularly appreciated the way the Tribes created stable, three-dimensional images of performers on stage, though I never did get used to the way those stages seemed to extend far behind the wall on which the speakers were mounted.
Though the Tribes are articulate and expressive, I would not classify them as speakers that bowl listeners over with exceptional levels of definition and detail. But this system is less about inducing audiophile-grade “shock and awe,” and more about creating a rich, accessible, organic sound that draws listeners in and keeps them coming back for more. TPV