Totem Acoustic Sttaf Floor-Standing Speakers May, 2007 Piero Gabucci
Putting together a reference
audio system is really quite a challenge, and in fact it usually becomes a
lifelong pursuit. Establishing a budget or not, you begin assembling the
pieces that ultimately will either frustrate you to no end, or provide the
nirvana we all seek – or I'm sorry to say worse yet, somewhere in between.
Nothing more frustrating than listening to your system and thinking, hmmm, sounds ok.
Most begin with speakers, I think. I'm not sure I buy into how much percentage each component should take of the pie. Somehow I would think you research the best sound that appeals to your ears and let Visa® worry about the cost.
Others look to manufacturers that present signature work with consistent quality of sound and build quality known for value.
I'm fortunate to be able to hear a lot of speakers during the year, not only
at home but at the various shows I attend. One of the earliest manufacturers
I discovered that I just seemed to connect with was from Totem Acoustic, and
no matter what show I attend, I'm drawn to their exhibit. Enough to request the
Rainmaker monitor I reviewed last year, and fortunately this year, to welcome
the Sttaf floor-standing speaker when it was offered.
Totem Acoustic, for those unfamiliar, is a Canadian-based speaker company begun in 1987 by Vince Bruzzese near Montreal. Their early success came from the very well received Model 1 monitor that is still available today in the Signature line. Twenty years later, they've built onto the early development with a complete line of speaker products.
Any dedicated two-channel audiophile would never voluntarily accept anything other than a floor model for their reference system. Spending upwards of $8,000 to $12,000 for a pair nowadays hardly raises eyebrows. So, when presented with spending substantially less, say under $1,600 not each but per pair, well, you raise your eyebrow with curiosity.
Sttaf is not even a new product; it's been around awhile. Yup, that's an unusual spelling. Try typing it over and over again without typing Staff at least once. Like all Totem Acoustic products, Sttaf is a name inspired by Native American languages. Gimmick or not, the products speak for themselves.
Like most Totem speakers, Sttaf is compact and takes up very little floor space - barely 6 ½" wide, 9 ½" deep, and standing 35" tall. The speaker is attached to its base via a putty compound placed at the four corners. The base is also equipped with carpet spikes.
The finish is typical of Totem - excellent veneering, in this case Cherry, but also available in Maple, Mahogany, and Black Ash (Mahogany is shown in the photo above). The edges are chamfered on all eight exposed edges - no grilles either, please. Internally braced, the cabinet is constructed of solid MDF, and I'm told it is also dampened with borosilicate.
The mandatory knock-around yielded solid yet interesting
results. The sound differs whether you knock on the back, front, or top – the
sound is rather chamber-like instead of dead, unlike most MDF enclosures.
The modestly scaled Sttaf has the tweeter and woofer mounted right at the top. In a sitting position this places both drivers at approximately ear level. The tweeter's flange measures almost the width of the modest woofer. It's a typical two-way design with the crossover set at 2.5 kHz, 2nd order. Complimenting the 1" textile dome tweeter is a 5 ½" "long throw" polypropylene woofer.
Sttaf is rated at 8 ohms with a sensitivity of 88 dB, and it handles up to 100 watts. It also boasts deep enough bass to 39 Hz within typically ± 3 dB. I can attest to the fact that bass was never an issue.
On the rear you'll find a pair of holes – one approximately 2" in diameter is a cabinet port placed about half way up, and the second, smaller one is placed much lower, about 5" up, for filling with some form of ballast (lead shot or sand). Up top, Sttaf has a pair of binding posts and gold-plated bridges installed if you have no interest in bi-wiring.
Having said all that, I set up the Totem pair approximately 6 feet apart with very little toe-in and about 3 feet from the rear wall and side walls of a 12 foot wide space.
Playing with the placement will alter what you hear – bass
mostly affected. I actually found the bass a bit "fat" too close to the rear
wall but pulling it away cleaned up the chestiness.
Marrying the Sttaf with the right amplifier was a no-brainer for me, as I predominately used an integrated tube amplifier from Onix rated at 55 WPC, the UDP-1 Universal Player from McCormack and cables from Wireworld.
Totem Acoustic strongly recommends long term break-in for their speakers – for Sttaf they suggest 60-80 hours. To say they sonically changed dramatically after such a lengthy break-in would be an exaggeration. Simply, they immediately impressed me, and I've enjoyed them from the start.
Totem has a distinct sonic character about them as I recalled auditioning the Rainmaker monitors. And frankly why not – similar cabinetry, drivers, damping, and overall construction tend to connect these speakers musically. And that's just fine with me.
If you read the literature about Sttaf, Totem claims any music can be enjoyed. What that really means is the speaker's ability to respond to speed and timing, whether it's pounding bass in rock music or delicate airy strings in classical. Frankly, I spent most of my time playing a significant amount of jazz through the Sttaf, as I was influenced in my selection by the Totem's dynamics.
Count Basie's swing CD Straight Ahead and the title track "Straight Ahead" is so indicative of the range of the Sttaf speakers. Basie's piano is punchy and vibrant while the upright bass is authoritative and full.
I was particularly interested in vocals, and the Sttaf shined with clean, precise imaging. Dare I use my favorite female vocalist CDs these days from Rene Marie who offers an amazing soulful performance in every song! I especially enjoy her Serene Renegade CD. "Wishes" is a lovely track that begins slowly and develops into a full rangy song. Sttaf was magical in placing her voice, rendering it lively and natural. The instruments were articulated with substance and delineation.
Perhaps the "tube" sound helps, but Sttaf introduces a bit of lushness – instruments were tonally balanced and voices rich in character. Sting's CD Songs from the Labyrinth is an unusual collection of music from the writings of John Dowland. I'm still not sure what to make of this CD, as there is some awkwardness between Sting's voice and the phrasing. However there is some wonderful music played with string instruments. The Totem Sttaf transforms you into an Elizabethan realm of delicate and simplistic music.
Edin Karamazov's lute playing is particularly enjoyable. Sttaf reproduced each string plucked with a faithful timbre, (having said that, I'm not sure when the last time I heard a lute played live). Regardless, Sttaf also presented Sting's readings and slightly nasal singing with warmth and depth.
I'm a sucker for a rich midrange, and the Sttaf is silky and smooth. In fact, besides the pleasant surprise of deep bass, the midrange sold me. Steely Dan's Gaucho on SACD had me toe-tapping and head-bobbing to the wonderful rhythms Sttaf exuded. The vocal harmonies were so spatial – soundstage was well extended, and the voices hovered just inches back of the speaker's plane.
Moving off-axis, the sound varies slightly, only revealing a bit more detail directly in front – but I had to do the close-my-eyes and move back and forth several times to notice the minute difference.
It truly has been a distinct pleasure to have the Totem Acoustic Sttaf for several months – it reminds me of why I do this, for the sheer pleasure of fine audio. If I were putting a modestly priced two-channel system together at this very time, I wouldn't say I'd consider Sttaf for my speakers, they would be my speakers.
- Piero Gabucci -