Totem Acoustic is a company whose products I’ve long admired from a distance, but never had the opportunity to review. When I first became acquainted with the brand 15 years ago, its design aesthetic of simple, clean lines and veneered wood finishes appealed to me. Several of their current models—like their Arro and Forest floorstanding models, as well as their Sky and Signature One bookshelf speakers—continue this tradition.
Many of the Montreal, Quebec–based company’s current designs are more avant-garde, however. This progressive, adventurous design language is reflected in Totem’s website and marketing materials, which are adorned with artsy shots of beautiful women vibing to the company’s creations. Relevant? Of course not. But it speaks to the company’s philosophy: that there’s an ephemeral beauty in music that other high-end brands might lose sight of when their focus remains steadfastly—perhaps even obstinately—on objective, measured performance at the expense of all else. For your consideration, then, let’s jointly explore Totem’s flagship bookshelf loudspeaker: the Element Fire V2 ($7000/pair, all prices in USD).
“This Fire is hotter than ever before,” or so reads the product page for the Fire V2, the latest iteration of their Element-series standmounted design. At first blush, the two-way isn’t the most unorthodox or fiery design that you’ll encounter in the high end. Its angular cabinet measures 8.8″W × 16.6″H × 11.7″D, and weighs a substantial 32.4 pounds. It has a nominal 8-ohm impedance, and a rated sensitivity of 88dB. Its frequency response is listed as 30Hz–22kHz (presumably measured in-room) and the speaker has a recommended power handling of 50–250W. Straightforward stuff.
A gander at the cabinet—constructed from 3/4″ MDF—reveals a rather unusual shape, with non-parallel surfaces in every dimension. This is intended to reduce standing waves and, ideally, cabinet resonances. The cabinet’s entirely flat baffle may not be as beautiful as the baffles on Fyne Audio’s F700 or Bowers & Wilkins’s 805 D4, both of which I have recently reviewed, but it is a conversation starter. My review samples came in the Ice finish, a high-gloss white that has no fewer than seven base layers and topcoats and takes four weeks to complete. There was a hint of an orange-peel effect upon close inspection, though the same can be said of a brand-new BMW. A high-gloss black—dubbed Dusk—is also available. The contrasting black surrounds of the 1″ titanium-dome tweeter and 7″ Torrent midrange-woofer offer a nice visual flourish to the Fire V2, which is manufactured in Totem’s Montreal factory. On the back are two pairs of platinum WBT binding posts, which come preinstalled with solid, non-flexible jumpers for single-wire use.
The underlying tech is interesting. Both the tweeter and midrange-woofer are designed and manufactured in-house. Totem highlights its Torrent midrange-woofer as the star of the show. Unlike a traditional dynamic driver, where a wound voice coil travels through a doughnut-shaped magnet that subjects the coil to a constantly varying magnetic field, Totem’s Torrent driver features 17 neodymium magnets that completely surround the voice coil regardless of its position. According to Totem’s literature, the claw shape of the 2.5″ magnets serves to further “optimize magnetic efficiency and directionality.” The stainless-steel voice coil is wound with square copper wire, which, Totem explains, eliminates air gaps, maximizes magnetic strength, and minimizes distortion. Apparently, each Torrent driver takes over ten hours to assemble, and the finished product weighs a whopping ten pounds. Not exactly off the shelf, eh?
Much of the emphasis on the midrange-woofer is due to Totem’s conviction that simplifying the crossover in a dynamic loudspeaker allows, as the company describes it, “the purest flow of sound and energy.” By building the Fire V2’s 7″ Torrent driver to such exacting standards, Totem eliminated the need for a low-pass filter on the driver. In other words, the midrange-woofer is run full-range without any electrical intervention. The tweeter, meanwhile, crosses over to the midrange-woofer at 2.7kHz using a first-order (6dB/octave) high-pass filter. Corresponding with Vince Bruzzese, Totem’s founder and chief designer, garnered the following explanation for this arrangement:
Phase disturbances are kept to an absolute minimum and dispersion characteristics are maximized. Speed and reaction remain unaltered and it’s as pure a signal reproduction as the amplifier and system can provide. Add the totally unique, phenomenal 17Hz free air resonance of this Totem Torrent 7″ driver and huge throw potential (1″ excursion) of the motor/magnetics, and if powered correctly, one has a transducer with huge speed, total control, and extremely natural phase and spatial characteristics. What more could a designer wish for in a driver?
In terms of tonal objectives, Bruzzese explained that Totem uses a combination of objective measurements, as well as extensive subjective listening, to achieve them, with the goal being perceived realism above all else. “Reality and its associated ‘speed’ is our goal, with decay, harmonics, and spatial cues, as well as natural surprise factors, giving meaning to the music. Torrent technology in our Element Series speakers redefine a more real, honest, and definitive reality.” If you’re into metaphysical design briefs for your musical transducers, well, you’re welcome.
Don’t expect much in the way of accessories, with the only inclusion being a pair of magnetic grilles that I didn’t use, and nor should you. Port plugs were missing in action, which may be a bummer for folks looking to use the bass-reflex Fire V2 in a really small room, or backed right up against a wall. As you’ll read below, however, I doubt that will be an issue for many buyers. Finally—but importantly—the Totem two-way comes with a five-year warranty straight out of the box, no registration required.
Setup and listening
The Fire V2s were a cinch to set up. I plopped them onto my sand-filled, 24″ KEF speaker stands, spread 7.5′ apart from one another and 7.5′ from my listening position, with their backs 12″ from the front wall of my room. I find that some bookshelf speakers work better when placed closer together, but the Fire V2s were at their best with the maximum distance between them. I ran the Totems with my Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC, with my Intel NUC running Roon Core and Tidal HiFi and connected to the Hegel’s USB input. Wiring was a full complement of Siltech Classic Legend cables and cords, as detailed in the Associated Equipment section. Power conditioning was provided by my trusty Emotiva CMX-2, which helps eliminate electrical hum in my century-old home.
Given the somewhat subjectivist, philosophical approach that Vince Bruzzese and co. have taken in voicing the Fire V2, I was fully expecting to hear some kind of tonal coloration as soon as I started feeding music to the Canadian loudspeakers; instead, I found myself presented with a broadly neutral frequency response. What instantly stood out, however, was the sheer scale of sound that the Totems were able to conjure, with outstanding lateral soundstaging. Cueing up Kid Cudi’s double-Platinum debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day (16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC, Universal Motown), the intro lyrics of “Simple As . . .” came through the left channel first, then the right, seemingly presented from behind and beyond the outer edge of the respective loudspeaker’s baffle. The effect was spooky, and, combined with a splash of emphasis in the presence region, allowed the Fire V2s to project the kind of speed and articulation that Bruzzese intended. The overall sound was otherwise well balanced and easygoing.
“The Bridge of Khazad Dum” from Howard Shore’s original soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (16/44.1 ALAC, Warner Bros. Records) exercised the dynamic capabilities of the Totems as well as their soundstage depth. The track swirls from buoyant, to brooding, to epic, and finally, to mournful solemnity, and the Fire V2s handled each section with ease. The battle drums that drive the rhythm proved tight and impactful, favoring control over slam, and I was grateful for that. The melody from the orchestra’s brass section was ultraclean and concise, with good—though not class-leading—stereo separation and spatial definition. As the track draws to its conclusion, the mood turns funereal and Aivale Cole’s haunting soprano solo takes center stage. Her voice resonated in the massive soundstage, but sounded organic and unforced.
David Guetta’s remix of Farruko’s summer 2021 hit, “Pepas” (24/44.1 MQA, Sony Music Latin/Tidal), with its combination of Mexican and Puerto Rican influences, impressed through the Fire V2s on almost every metric. The opening beat was delicately placed in the ether between the two gloss-white cabinets, seemingly detached from each with holographic alchemy. Farruko’s softly intoned Spanish lyrics make him sound like a Latin Justin Bieber; that’s intended as a compliment, just to be clear.
The hook that follows is seriously catchy, and Guetta’s atmospheric mix of the chorus once again highlighted the spatial talents of the Totems. It’s hard to tell if this can be attributed to the tweeter, the simplified crossover, or a combination of the two. While, to my ears, this was the standout characteristic of the Totems, it has to be said that the track also sounded superbly balanced through the French-Canadian two-ways. Even the foundational bass line was unobtrusive, an unusual quality in a standmounted design, where designers usually take the liberty of bumping output a decibel or two around 100Hz to make a small cabinet sound bigger than it is. Overall control was good, and it never threatened to sound concussive; there wasn’t an ounce of puffery in terms of output level, which might be a disappointment to bass lovers.
How did the Fire V2s fare with late-1990s German industrial metal? I’m so glad you asked. Rammstein’s Sehnsucht (16/44.1 AIFF, Slash Records) was a formative album for me, and like any high-tempo, high-octane metal music, it must be played loudly. Comfortably loud enough to piss off others in your home, and almost loud enough to inflict lingering damage to your eardrums. My Hegel H590 outputs 301Wpc into 8 ohms and has loads of current on tap, so—confident I wasn’t going to run out of the good stuff—I cranked the living daylights out of it and queued up “Du hast.” There’s a certain grandeur to Rammstein’s most popular single, between lead singer Till Lindemann’s towering, almost operatic delivery, and the hyper-present electric guitar chords that propel the track forward. And the Totems didn’t miss a beat. They played very loudly without compression or hardening, the sound scaling linearly in the process. The articulation of Lindemann’s venomous delivery was excellent, while a hint of smoothness around the edges ensured that his voice didn’t become grating. Similarly, the wall of sound from the twin guitars of Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers proved to be well defined and was easily discerned in the mix, though the V2s perhaps lacked the whip and snap of more forward-sounding loudspeaker designs that champion alacrity above all else. I did find myself pining for a bit more bottom-end weight on the cut, but the Fire V2s still proved satisfying. As all-rounders, the Totems more than held their own.
Curious about whether the Totem Fire V2s had soul, my encore track was the live version of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” from her posthumous album At the BBC (16/44.1 FLAC, Republic Records/Tidal), and boy, I quite literally got goosebumps as the talented songstress poured her heart out. Recorded in 2007 at Porchester Hall in her home town, the Londoner was at her very best on the cut, such was her power and raw, emotive energy. The Totems exhibited an authenticity to the source material that I haven’t experienced with many of the high-priced, standmounted competitors that I’ve reviewed over the past couple of years, with a tonal purity through the all-important midrange that was impossible not to appreciate. I could almost see Winehouse as she belted out verse after verse, slightly obscured by a fine haze illuminated by the harsh spotlight on her face. The relaxed nature of the Totems made me feel I was standing a little farther back in the crowd than I would have with a pair of strictly neutral speakers, or with front-row speakers like the Fyne Audio F700s I recently reviewed here. I listened to the track several times in succession to focus on different layers of the performance, and the Fire V2s never outstayed their welcome.
Having reviewed Bowers & Wilkins’s 805 D4 ($8000/pair) immediately prior to the Totem Fire V2, I could compare the two standmounted speakers back-to-back, and the differences between the two speakers were stark. To my eyes, the curved, natural lines of the 805 D4 bookshelf speaker represented a total contrast to the hard, asymmetrical angles of the Fire V2. At only $1000 more than the Totem, both the materials and the fit and finish of the Bowers & Wilkins speaker are a clear step up in comparison to the Fire V2. Details like the English manufacturer’s “flying” tweeter, solid-aluminum backplate, and hidden mounting hardware all lend the 805 D4 a sophistication that the Fire V2 can’t quite touch. Rapping a knuckle on each cabinet provides further confirmation: the Totem feels the more hollow of the two large bookshelf speakers. This is all aside from the main point, however: how do the speakers sound, both in the moment and over the long haul?
The two speakers couldn’t sound more different from one another. The 805 D4s were firecrackers, with a notably elevated treble that made all material pop with a vibrancy and enthusiasm that wowed me on my first listen, but proved fatiguing in the long run. When I swapped the 805 D4s for the Fire V2s, the latter almost sounded boring by comparison. But within minutes my ears had acclimated, and the reality was that the Totems were much more balanced than the Bowers & Wilkins speakers. Engaging, but tactfully so; highly detailed, without beating me over the head with what they unearthed.
The Fire V2 makes for an easy companion; it’s a speaker that you can enjoy equally in the foreground and the background, for the short term and the long run.
While the Bowers & Wilkins speakers weren’t anywhere near as tonally neutral as the Fire V2s, they were more transparent to source material, with their diamond-diaphragmed tweeters providing a step up in detail retrieval and effortlessness. Their Continuum midrange-woofer drivers painted a superbly clear soundstage, though they couldn’t match the fantastic lateral width of the Totems. Bass-wise, the 805 D4s edged out the Fire V2s, marked by a control and textural definition the Fire V2s couldn’t quite replicate. The B&Ws also seemed to dig a few hertz deeper than the Totems. Despite many of these points being in favor of the 805 D4s, the Fire V2s were easier to live with as the days and weeks ticked by. They hadn’t demanded anything of me. They had never tested my patience—as the B&Ws had, with their insistent treble—and that let me forget their presence in the signal chain. Both pairs of speakers were attractive, but one you’d date, the other you’d marry; I’ll let you work out which is which.
Totem Acoustic’s Element Fire V2 may stand out from the crowd for its angular aesthetics, but crucially it doesn’t rely on artifice to differentiate itself sonically. It’s a bookshelf speaker that throws out a big, coherent sound, marrying inner detail with a neutral tonal balance that doesn’t impose itself on your listening material. No, it isn’t the final word in outright transparency, nor does it have a singular, defining talent. But for a loudspeaker whose intended purpose is to flawlessly execute the musical fundamentals, Totem’s Element Fire V2 assuredly fulfills its mandate.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4; KEF LS50 and Reference 3.
- Integrated amplifier: Hegel Music Systems H590.
- Digital-to-analog converter: Denafrips Venus II.
- Sources: Intel NUC computer running Roon, Tidal HiFi.
- Speaker cables: Siltech Classic Legend 680L.
- Analog interconnect cables: Dynamique Audio Shadow (RCA), Siltech Classic Legend 680i (XLR).
- Power cords: Siltech Classic Legend 680P.
- Digital interconnect: Siltech Classic Legend 380 USB.
- Power conditioner: Emotiva CMX-2.
Totem Acoustic Element Fire V2 Loudspeakers
Price: $7000 per pair.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.
9165 rue Champ d’Eau
Montreal, Quebec H1P 3M3
Phone: (514) 259-1062
Totem Acoustic responds:
We would like to offer thanks to Hans Wetzel and SoundStage! Ultra for an excellent and honest review of our Element Fire V2 flagship bookshelf loudspeakers; the very first one published in North America.
For the uninitiated, Totem Acoustic was founded in 1987 by Vince Bruzzese with a mission to design and manufacture loudspeakers capable of reproducing a genuinely musical and involving experience. Entering our 35th year of operation, we offer products across numerous price ranges for both the music lover and the home-theater enthusiast. Along the way, our products have developed a solid reputation for expansive imaging, accurate phase coherency, and remarkable bass performance that defies their physical size. Ultimately, Totem loudspeakers are very capable of accurately reproducing music of all genres with a lifelike and emotionally engaging impact, especially when the proper ancillary equipment is used.
Now we would like to address two particular aspects of Hans’s editorial: first, the direct comparison to the B&W 805 D4 with regards to build quality revealed that “both the materials and the fit and finish of the Bowers & Wilkins speaker are a clear step up in comparison to the Fire V2.” This is a consequence of their significantly better “economies of scale” while also keeping in mind that every aspect of the Fire V2—with the exception of the WBT binding posts and exotic electronic components found in the crossover—is handcrafted in-house; a very long and arduous process. Furthermore, every aspect of the materials found in the Fire V2 along with its unique physical design is chosen with the goal of achieving the very best possible sonic performance that fully encompasses all of the aforementioned attributes. It is also paramount that the overall physical appearance of the Fire V2 be as aesthetically pleasing so that it can effortlessly integrate into virtually any living space.
The other aspect of the editorial we’d like to address is bass response, specifically in the bottom octave. The “nature of the beast” in the Fire V2 is our proprietary Element V2 mid/bass driver; to reach its ultimate potential, amplification with significant output current is best suited for the task . . . anything less and those last “few hertz” that Hans refers to simply won’t reach full bloom. It’s truly unfortunate that Hans didn’t have an even more capable amplifier on hand for this review.
In closing, it is obvious that, at the very least, we have again met our goals with the Fire V2 based on the quality time that Hans spent with a pair of them. Thank you again.