I heard a pair of the new Totem Sky monitors on a visit to a dealer, it was only a short listen but long enough to recognise the sheer quality and make me want to hear them at home. A couple of weeks later I picked them up and since then they have been making some beautiful sounds in my smaller listening room. The Sky is almost the size of the famous Totem Model One but in my opinion it's more 'grown up', it’s a small speaker, just 12 inches high, and combines a five inch, long-throw woofer with a 1.3 inch soft-dome tweeter. Totem says these drivers cover a frequency range of 48Hz to 29.5kHz when properly positioned. The crossover is a hard-wired first order type with only large gauge, air core inductors for a crossover point at 2.5kHz. The bass reflex port has a small diameter but is 16cm long, and you won’t find damping material inside the box, just borosilicate coating on the walls to "control energy release" and keep the cabinet musically alive. The speakers should be placed on stands for the best results and need to be placed 15-90cm from the rear wall and 60-250cm apart. On the back are bi-wireable, 4-way cable terminals. The baffle can be covered with a magnetically attached grille to keep the units safe from inquisitive fingers. Break-in time is 50 to 100 hours and the recommended amplifier power is 30-125 Watts. So all in all a pretty flexible speaker design, on paper at least.
To play music I use a digital source, a Bluesound Node 2 server, with a coaxial cable to my Metrum Acoustics Adagio DAC/preamp. Balanced VdH cable takes the signal to a Pass Labs XA-30.5 power amp. The loudspeaker stands are the lightweight wooden Tonträger ones normally found under my Harbeth monitors. The Totem Sky tweeters end up 50cm from the side walls, 90cm from the back wall and 100cm off the floor. They are placed 180cm apart and toed-in to face the listener. I tried heavy stands too, only to find they add more bass weight but take away the speed and openness of the speaker. Totems can be a little bass heavy and combining the Sky with an open, lightweight stand prevents them from sounding too dark in smaller rooms, but remaining deep and tight in the bass.
Being a long-time fan of Katie Melua I was happy to lay my hands on her latest album In Winter. Most of the tracks are recorded with a Georgian female choir and only acoustic instruments. Playing some songs I find the choir in the back and Melua in the front on the Totem speakers. With instruments close to Katie, the guitar she plays almost appears in her hands. The choir consists of voices all separated from each other, women standing side by side in several rows, at least that is how the producers made it sound. The Sky is a very communicative speaker, throwing the soundstage wide open with a large stereo image, populated by precisely positioned singers and instruments. Playing loud is no problem and only adds to the listening pleasure on this CD. On Agnes Obel's album Citizen of Glass the track 'Familiar' is filled with her voice, male voices, and a wall of instruments with a special role for the cello. It sounds beautiful and has an even larger soundstage that fills the end of the room in front of me with music from wall to wall and beyond. Less complex and with fewer instruments is Patricia Barber's CD Split where the song ‘Early Autumn’ is not as well timed as the best monitors in this price range and not as engaging as possible, on the other hand the Sky is totally even handed and honest in its presentation. The separation of all instruments and the clear voice of Barber with her fast piano playing deserves high praise, not for a single moment does the music lose composure. A much slower track like Greys has fabulously fast piano, tight bass and speedy percussion. Giving a deep insight into the composition with as much detail as possible. This 1989 recording is an example of how dynamic recordings were before the loudness wars started.
Peter Ratzenbeck is a Spanish guitar player and recorded Peter’s Fancy in 2001. If you want to hear a real guitar sound get this CD and play it on the Totem Sky. The tracks I play all show how fast the speakers is and how natural it sounds, the lightweight stands adding to the dynamic and open presentation. The same goes for a trumpet in the hands of Chet Baker. When he starts ‘Time on My Hands’ the sound explodes from the left speaker, soon accompanied by bass and piano in both channels. The image is as stable as can be, whispering cymbals on the right in contrast to the loud trumpet to the left. Piano and bass are both clear and fast sounding with enough weight to make the sound realistic. More jazz comes from Christy Baron and her album Steppin’. This is a very intimate recording that sounds excellent on speakers like the Sky. Percussion plays a lead role around the voice, a typical sound for Barron's music on Chesky Records. It's a pleasure to listen to and I soon find I'm no longer enjoying the system but hearing just the music. A violin and a cello on the track Thieves in the Temple reminds me to play classical music as well. But I keep Christy in front of me for as long as the CD lasts.
On the Kreisler Album played by Joshua Bell, the opening track sounds very tender at times but strong when the piano and violin vie for the listener's attention. Violin has a natural sound with enough sharpness but it's never a pain in the ear thanks to a tweeter and midrange that are really well balanced. The lower piano notes are strong and nicely done. More instruments enter the stage with the Gabetta family playing Vivaldi’s Il Progetto. A leading role for Sol Gabetta and her cello attracts all the attention with these beautiful works that are played with so much enthusiasm and spirit. Sure I love Vivaldi’s music but it still needs a decent system to shine on the listener for longer than a single track. The Sky invites me to keep on going to the end of the album and listen to all the parts of this concert. On tracks where the harpsichord has an important role the Totems seem to enjoy themselves even more and bring out the best in this old instrument. I have to mention the bass, the other violins and everyone on stage since the Sky seems limitless in its handling of detail, joy and engagement.
The Totem Sky is not just made for jazz, pop or classical, it is made to present all kinds of music to listeners who want the best from their sound systems. This two-way speaker is able to throw a large soundstage with even a modestly powered 30 Watt amplifier so long as it’s a decent, high quality device. Its transparency brings all of the detail out in a very musical way, never sharp, never dull, and never too heavy. The Sky is a universal tool for translating electrical energy into a natural sound, and it’s a lot of fun. I love them on lightweight stands because that way they sound fast and open, although it might take away a little bass energy. They make playing music a real pleasure and I could live with them for far longer than the review period.