Totem Acoustic Tribe III On-Wall Speaker System

Sophisticated sound, elegant solution.

To fully appreciate and enjoy a flat-panel television, you must team it with a speaker system of matching elegance and quality. Floorstanding speakers seem like old technology. In-wall speakers are an option to consider, but they involve more work to install and have fewer placement options. A better solution in many cases is on-wall speakers, such as the new Tribe III speakers from Totem Acoustic. They're easy to install and are designed to match the finish of many flat-panel displays. Indeed, the Tribe IIIs' black or gray finish gives them the appearance that they came with the television.

The Tribe IIIs are Totem's third on-wall speaker model and the largest of the trio. They measure 36 inches in height, so they're aesthetically compatible with flat panels ranging from 60 to 72 inches. The Tribe I and Tribe II are shorter and designed to look appropriate with smaller screen sizes, down to 40 inches or so.

New Torrent Woofer Introduced for Totem's 20th Anniversary
Totem Acoustic is a Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer known for designing and building high-performance speakers, including floorstanding, in-wall, and on-wall models. A few years ago, I reviewed their Inner Spirit in-wall speaker and was impressed by its no-frills design and great sound quality. The Tribe III is the company's latest on-wall speaker, complete with an exclusive new woofer dubbed the Torrent.

The introduction of the new model and the Torrent driver is timed to celebrate the company's 20th anniversary. The Torrent is a small (4-inch) but beefy driver that Totem custom builds in their Canadian factory; it is tuned specifically for the Tribe III speakers. The long-throw Torrent's poly-

propylene cone is coupled with a neodymium magnet structure. According to Totem, this gives the woofer the ideal frequency range and roll-off characteristics.

As a result, the Torrent driver is hard-wired directly to the speaker terminals, bypassing the crossover. The Tribe IIIs are also biwire- and/or biamp-capable if desired. The dual Torrent drivers flank a 1.2-inch, soft-dome tweeter in a bass-reflex cabinet with ports on the top and bottom of the enclosure. The enclosures are extremely well built, solid, and beautifully finished.

A Storm of Bass
Even with two 4-inch drivers, the Tribe IIIs are capable of putting out a respectable amount of midbass and are enjoyable to listen to without a subwoofer. A sub is needed, however, for real bass, especially for sources with an LFE track. For a sub, I used the Totem Storm, a compact subwoofer with one 8-inch woofer and two 8-inch passive radiators powered by a built-in, 300-watt amplifier. The powered driver faces forward into the room with a passive cone on each side of the cabinet. The Storm is small enough to tuck neatly away, yet it's capable of more than adequate bass output in many situations. The Tribe III speakers and the Storm sub integrate well.

My opinions about the system's sound quality changed progressively during the first several hours of listening, reflecting the need for a break-in period. In fact, Totem Acoustic recommends at least 85 to 90 hours of extended break-in time, although I noticed a distinct improvement after about 30 hours. At that point, the system revealed much more midrange openness and greater detail. Additional playback time yielded continued improvement.

The Tribe III in Stereo and Multichannel
The Tribe III system performed quite well with multichannel sources, both film as well as music. "Dreamer" and "One Note Samba" from the David Hazeltine Trio release Jobim Songbook in New York presented a coherent, three-dimensional soundfield that completely enveloped the listening space. Mosaic from Laurence Juber exhibited excellent guitar detail. Piano was reproduced with appropriate attack.

Dialogue was succinct and clear with film and television sources. The horizontally mounted center-channel speaker easily revealed subtle details in soundtracks. Good dialogue intelligibility is essential for film and television sound reproduction, and the Tribe III is one of the clearest speakers I've heard. It's important to note that the Tribe IIIs are capable of relatively high volume output, certainly enough to satisfy action-film enthusiasts when used in modest-sized rooms.

Stereo reproduction was also very good. "No One After You" from Anjani's Blue Alert revealed natural bass, even without the subwoofer. Anjani's sultry voice also had a natural sound quality with no coloration. The Spryo Gyra song "The River Between" reproduced excellent detail in the numerous percussion instruments. There are so many instruments layered in this recording that it can sound congested, but the Tribe IIIs easily separated the multiple percussion elements.

The Tribe III speakers are simple to install and attach firmly to the wall using one steel bracket (included) for each speaker. The speakers weigh 27 pounds each, so it's important to secure the bracket to a wall stud. The most difficult part of the installation process is routing the speaker wires inside the walls for a truly neat, customized appearance. Experiment with placement before you mount the speakers to the wall to ensure adequate separation for the best imaging and soundstage. My 60-inch flat-panel television is approximately 5 feet wide, and 6 feet of separation between the left and right speakers provided enough space at my listening distance.

A Fine Finish
The Tribe IIIs have a satin finish that reduces light reflection from the screen, especially when you install them directly next to the television. They are available in a black or gray finish (my review samples were black) that will match almost any flat-panel TV. The speakers use magnets embedded in the cabinets to attach the grilles, and when placed near the speaker's baffle, the grilles snap neatly into place.

Sales of flat-panel displays have hit record levels with a clear upward trend. However, the home theater experience is incomplete without the audio. The Totem Acoustic Tribe III speakers make a great match, both aesthetically and sonically for larger flat-panel displays. Once again, Totem has succeeded in crafting an elegant loudspeaker system that brings out the best in stereo and multichannel recordings. At $1,500 each, they are clearly intended for high-end audio enthusiasts, but a high-definition video display deserves a high-resolution speaker system. If you're considering a smaller display, check out the Tribe I or Tribe II models, which are priced at $750 and $950 each, respectively.

• The Tribe IIIs bring out the best in stereo and multichannel recordings
• Makes a great match visually and audibly for many flat-panel displays

Totem Acoustic
(514) 259-1062