Totem is best known for its high-quality free-space loudspeakers. But it also makes on-wall designs. Often, that bespeaks of a larger company than Totem, but it’s also a sign of the company taking the whole loudspeaker world deeply seriously. Especially when the on-wall offerings are as good as the Tribe tribe.
The speakers could easily be mistaken for a home cinema sound bar, if turned through 90°. It’s a slim, thin and elegant array with a D’Appolito (or ‘MTM’ for midrange-treble-midrange) array of drive units. As you go up the range, so the drivers get bigger and better, but the basic layout applies universally. We went for the Tribe III, which features the company’s Torrent neodymium, long-throw mid-bass units.
Perhaps the reason why hi-fi magazines give these products such short shrift is the fact they generally need to be bolted to a wall, and there comes a time when bolt after bolt after bolt going through your wall becomes a costly and domestically unacceptable exercise. This is a unique problem for the reviewer though, because the end-user will generally only bolt one set of speakers to a wall per house (or at worst every few years). Nevertheless, because the reviewers fight shy of making with the masonry drill, the on-walls get overlooked. Totem solves this particular conundrum with a set of elegant stands that place the speakers close enough to the wall to make no odds.
The only real issue surrounding the installation of the Tribe III is the mounting bracket and the bi-wire loudspeaker terminal block are very close to one another. This means install the speaker cables before affixing the speaker to the wall (which is fairly obvious really, just back to front from the usual way of wiring speaker cables to free-standing loudspeakers). This becomes a real pain when using the optional floor stand for those not wanting to bolt speakers to the wall. It works if you have two people (one with the speaker with wires fitted, the other offering up the speaker to the stand) but trying this solo ends up trying to stuff your hand in a place hands don’t fit. While I recognise the double entendre potential of that statement, it doesn’t make for ease of connection. But, we have to suffer for our art sometimes.
The specs speak of a loudspeaker that isn’t power hungry, but that’s not strictly the case. Yes, these are not tough speakers to drive, but neither should you make the mistake of thinking these to be hang-on-the-wall cinema speakers that could be used with any ol’ AV receiver. Feed them a thin gruel of underpowered amps with specs that suggest lots of power, but only when driving one channel and you will hear a thin and weedy sound. We used them with a number of products to good effect, but the sound of an old Primare all-in-one device spoke of how well these components work in reality. We also fed them some delicious BeChocolate (more on this in next issue) to see just what they can do in a style-led environment.
The big thing about Totem speakers in general is the midrange, which is what makes them such a success in the UK (generally making loudspeakers that aren’t the size of barn doors helps in the UK, too… but getting the mids right is a trait UK listeners have always praised highly). What this means is the loudspeaker gets everything from the deepest quack of a bassoon to the widdly-wee shredder guitar solo notes about four octaves higher is covered perfectly. Put another way, it means the full range of the human voice gets the loudspeaker disappearing trick. Although this is not a home cinema magazine, it’s hard not to point out that a loudspeaker designed to hang on a wall that’s about as thin as a flat-screen TV, when used on its side is about as wide as many wall-hanging flat screen TVs and is particularly good at the whole dialogue thing is going to be something of a shoe-in for the dialogue channel in a home cinema system. And, given the high-quality of music Blu-ray discs, the Tribe III are a natural choice for the music loving videophile. In such a market, almost £1,700 per loudspeaker is at the upper end of the price spectrum, but in the hang on the wall speaker market, the Tribe III represents the best of breed, so it still works out as the video-users best sonic bet.
Two channel enthusiasts having cleansed themselves of the aforementioned ‘TV’ unpleasantness should also consider joining the Tribe tribe, because what works so well for continuity announcers, works wonders for music too. The speakers have that lithe, bouncy quality that you always get from a Totem design, but in a package that takes up precisely no valuable floor space.
They are (as you might expect) particularly good with voices, whether massed choirs or singer-songwriters wailing their lives away. I played the Tallis Scholars through the tribes and the tingles I got up my spine made me think I was giving thanks for not getting the plague. Then I played Teardrop by Massive Attack, a whole glum of Radiohead and felt like it was noose-tying time.