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Totem Acoustic Signature One Bookshelf Speakers Review

The culmination of 30 years of audio experience, these handcrafted bookshelf speakers deserved an in-depth listen.

Totem Signature One bookshelf speakers black Photo: courtesy Totem

When you love what you do, three decades can pass in the blink of an eye. At least, that’s what happened to Totem Acoustics founder Vince Bruzzese, whose company has steadily built a loyal following of hi-fi enthusiasts since its debut in 1987. This year, Totem celebrated its three decades of success with a new bookshelf speaker model—the Signature One. (Follow the links to find out how Mark Levinson and Nagra are celebrating anniversaries of their own.)

Available in two finishes—a mahogany veneer and a black, painted wood tone—the newest model is an 8-ohm loudspeaker with a 6.5-inch woofer and a titanium alloy tweeter. For the company, it represents the culmination of decades of experience and hours of driver matching to find the perfect fit. Totem speakers are deceptively simple in appearance: The company lets its drivers and wood grain speak for themselves.

Our review pair of the Signature Ones came in the mahogany finish, which has a semi-gloss sheen—so keep it clean because it will show fingerprints in the right light. Totem is calling its construction a “monocoque” design because its surfaces are precision-machined to interlock with their corresponding sides, and the whole thing is completely sealed using the veneer. The only entry points into the speaker cabinet are the front-facing cavities for the drivers and the back panel that contains the crossover and the speaker connectors.

Totem has also integrated some esoteric capacitors and resistors engineered for high-end audio into the crossover design. The jacks are all-metal WBT connectors, attached to a matte-black metal crossover panel. The only indicator of brand or model number is a small sticker below that panel.

The loudspeaker utilizes a two-way design featuring the 6.5-inch woofer and titanium-alloy tweeter. Totem does not use proprietary drivers, but an important element of its speaker-production philosophy is driver matching. The tweeter and woofer employed in the Signature One are a result of hundreds of comparisons and hours spent determining the best match. The speakers are protected by a grille cloth that attaches magnetically to the front surface. Overall, the Signature One appears sleek, well-built, and elegant.

Totem Signature One bookshelf speakers mahogany

Totem Signature One bookshelf speakers with mahogany finish  Photo: courtesy Totem

After some break-in time listening to the new Signature Ones, it verified my respect for the Totem brand. I’m absolutely smitten with its reproduction of the sound of a piano, and the Signature One seems perfectly built for this instrument. This is noteworthy because the decay of a piano note is one of the most notoriously difficult sounds to reproduce; the rich tone over time leaves ample room for distortion to occur. The Totems excel here, with an expressive yet delicate midrange voice that left an impression.

The midrange warmth is also evident on “Mompouana,” the fourth track on Esperanza Spalding’s 2006 debut album. The piano work of Aruán Ortiz feels so present through these speakers, even when using streaming service Tidal as a source. I have the same experience when switching to an LP of the Beaux Arts Trio playing Ravel’s Piano Trio. The piano has a weight and force in the room that makes it very easy to imagine it is really in front of the listener.

Some other elements of the sound presentation are unremarkable for a speaker at this price point. The soundstaging is accurate, and the bass production is defined—just as one would expect of bookshelf monitors. But the tweeter is very revealing: I picked up a lot more high-frequency vinyl surface noise and tape hiss with analog sources than I normally do. Still, the midrange driver is responsible for the overall warmth and approachability of the sound. These two components form a sort of perfect pair, where the high frequencies give me the detail and precision that I want, but the woofer balances it out with some romance and appeal that prevents the music from taking on a brittle or hard edge.

The company describes its products as having delightful “timbre,” and I think the word is apt to describe these loudspeakers. I think any listener would find this very capable set of bookshelf loudspeakers to be a great complement to any system that prefers organic music. The loudspeakers are priced at $2,650 per pair and are available from Totem dealers.

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