Totem Acoustic makes some wonderful loudspeakers that don’t break the bank, but sometimes – like most loudspeaker designs – they don’t tick as many aesthetic boxes as they do sonic ones. Relative to the rest of the loudspeaker industry, Totem’s stand-mounts and floorstanders look great, but a little ‘boxy’… and ‘boxy’ isn’t the kind of shape that will please those with more 21st Century design-led concerns. The Tribe Tower addresses those concerns.
That 21st Century quip is more than just a throwaway. The days of the dedicated audiophile ‘man-cave’ are increasingly a function of the 20th Century, not this one. With property prices skyrocketing and young families increasingly having to shoe-horn themselves into ever smaller spaces, a loudspeaker that places installation and aesthetic demands on the user is something increasingly unconscionable in today’s society. However, the reaction to those concerns is often overshot; in making a product that fits snugly into today’s spaces, the usual position is to sacrifice the sound quality. Put simply, what we need is equipment that can compromise on size and positioning but doesn’t sound compromised. A few companies have tried to resolve the problem through digital signal processing with varying degrees of success, but inevitably that creates a different set of compromises… the “I can’t afford it” set of compromises that limit the number of prospective owners in a different way. So, to continue down the ‘what we need’ line of reasoning, what we actually need is a speaker that doesn’t look like a ‘monkey coffin’, doesn’t sound compromised when you don’t have it in an ideal installation, and doesn’t require the listener to spend thousands on dedicated DSP room correction. Which is precisely where the Tribe Tower comes into play.
The Tribe Tower should perhaps be called the Tribe Shard, because its shape is not that dissimilar to the Shard skyscraper in London (currently the tallest building in Europe). The 93.5cm tall Tribe Tower has a narrow rectangular base, but this tapers out as you move up the cabinet. This needs to be highlighted for most audio enthusiasts; a cursory look at the images, especially when the speakers are photographed at their mid-point, makes them look like really tall uniform floorstanding loudspeakers, photographed from below. In fact, it’s a trick of perspective that goes away when you are faced with a pair of the speakers in the real world. In print, they might look like giants, but unless you are ant-sized and looking up, these are small, tapered designs.
The apex of the loudspeaker is cut through at an angle (meaning the loudspeaker doesn’t end in a point, or the kind of flat top-plate that would end up being a beer-rest at a party). It’s also borosilicate-damped internally, which is unique to Totem in the audio world. This whole enclosure has the advantage of breaking up internal standing waves (the structure is completely non-parallel) but does place limits on the size of cone on offer. Totem gets around this by a pair of fast 100mm long-throw, low distortion Torrent drivers hand-built by the company itself. These have sufficient surface area to move some air but are also small enough to fit the front baffle. A first-order crossover network with no components in the low-frequency signal path also gives the Tribe Tower its rare speed, but it means the loudspeaker relies on the twin rear ports and the natural roll-off of the drive units to deliver an accurate bass response.
The mid-bass units are paired with a 33mm laser-etched textile dome tweeter that sits in a 13mm thick metal baseplate, with a tidy WBT-sporting by-wire panel at the rear. The combination gives a reasonable 88dB sensitivity and an untroubling four-ohm load. Totem recommends partnering the Tribe Towers with amps with a power rating from 50–200W and recommends a good 200–300 hours of run in with music (rather than test tones or white noise). Ours came fully run in from a few shows so how this speaker actually warms up remains a mystery.
The great thing about the Tribe Tower is that it’s the antidote to high-end obsessiveness, while always sounding enjoyable. So long as they are at least 60cm apart and at least 16cm from the rear wall, you are golden. They sit on metal decoupling/levelling cones that level and a good start is to make the speakers free from rocking and at least relatively level. But I can’t stress the unfussiness enough; have one speaker 16cm from the rear wall, have the other 60cm from the rear wall and they’ll sound pretty good. If your idea of toe-in is five seconds of vaguely pointing the front baffles at the listening position, they will sound pretty good too. In fact, you’d need to actively try to wreck the performance of the whole system in order to not deliver something that sounds pretty good. While this might result in a light miffing for the ‘three angstroms to the right’ obsessives in the audio world, it does make for a loudspeaker that fits the real world with a high degree of snugness.
So what does ‘pretty good’ actually sound like here? Put simply, extremely enjoyable. The Tribe Towers have a sense of speed and bounce that touches everything, but not in an imposing or forced manner; listening to the Totems is ‘fun’ not ‘funishment’. For loudspeakers that don’t insist on precise positioning, they image really well, too. Image depth and especially any vestiges of image height are a function of a precise installation, but if you cannot or will not do that, you are still met with an image that has some depth and layers. The image itself is more around and between the boxes than significantly wide of the cabinets, but the outstanding aspect of the Tribe Tower’s imaging properties is just how hard it is to create a hole in the middle of the soundstage. You practically need to have speakers in separate rooms to break up the image.