But it’s not all about voices. The Tribe IIIs are clean and dynamic enough to play the instruments as well as the vocals. It seems to be pitched perhaps more at the rock and jazz end of the spectrum – saxes blare and guitars wail and chime well here, but violins sound a touch scratchy and a full orchestra didn’t have quite the scale expected – but not so much as to prevent someone who loves classical music from thoroughly enjoying the Tribe IIIs.
The speakers do have limitations that are a function of a thin loudspeaker designed to hang on a wall. They give surprisingly good stereophony, but the image width is not as expansive and the solidity of images is not as rooted as one might get from a good pair of speakers at this kind of price. The idiot answer – lack image depth because there isn’t as much air behind the loudspeakers – is as wrong as ‘silver cables sound bright because they are made of shiny silver stuff’. These speakers have good image depth, and project sound into the room with a high degree of transparency and accuracy, but image width was always coming slightly up short, wherever you placed them. It was an enveloping, forward sound for all that.
This is not to say the performance I got from these speakers was world-class – the likes of Marten (also tested in this issue) have nothing to fear from the Tribes – but they perform as well as many £1,000-£1,500 floorstanders. Which is pretty damn incredible for a wall hanger speaker, at any price. Where the conventional free-space speakers win out is in the bass. The Tribe IIIs do give good low-end performance, but they cannot side-step the laws of physics. For deep bass, you either need more cabinet volume or a subwoofer. It’s as simple as that. Still, if you are making the what appears radical step of hanging your speakers off the wall, a sub or two is not too big a next step to make.
There’s another slightly less well known bonus about hang on the wall loudspeakers that doesn’t often make it into the public consciousness. For reasons that don’t make a whole lot of sense, generally on-wall or in-wall (2π) loudspeaker designs need less room acoustic treatment than free space (4π) loudspeaker systems. This shouldn’t be the case – there’s still a first reflection to cope with and the need for bass traps in the corners and ridding the world of flutter echos should still be important considerations. But for some reason, the need for such treatment never seems quite as vital when the speaker is near enough one whole wall of the room.
For all these reasons, it’s a shame on and in-wall loudspeakers don’t get the credit they deserve among audiophiles. The Totem Tribe III manage to harness most of the properties of Totem’s free-space designs, without that annoying whine from the upper wife as she grumbles for the 567th time that loudspeakers shouldn’t be out in the middle of the room. Real estate floorspace is increasingly at a premium these days and sometimes you have to be pragmatic. The Totem Tribe III is a pragmatic solution to the sometimes-vexed question of loudspeaker placement that doesn’t sound like a compromise. It sounds like music.
Drive Units: 1x 30mm fabric dome tweeter, 2x 100mm polypropylene cone ‘Torrent’ mid-woofers
Frequency Response: 40Hz-25kHz ±3dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
Recommended power: 30-200W
Dimensions (WxHxD): 15x91.5x9.5cm
Price: £1,650 per loudspeaker
Manufactured by: Totem Acoustic
Distributed by: Totem Acoustic UK