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Totem Acoustic Rainmaker 5.1 Speaker System

Part II

November, 2005

Piero Gabucci

 

Thunder

Out of the north comes Thunder! As there is no Rainmaker subwoofer available at this time, Totem sent the hearty Thunder. All Totem lines are available in any of the finishes, and the subwoofer was perfectly matched in mahogany. Totem did not send along the grilles which are available separately. Sitting on three solid rigid foam feet, Thunder is nicely sized at about 16" high, 18" deep, and 12" across. Itís hard not to spin this unit without seeing a 10" driver, because it has three. Thunder sports a front firing active driver, and two passive radiators on the sides. All are "variable shaped non resonant" metal cones with a carbon graphite conical dust cap.

It has a 500 watt amplifier and in-room frequency response is specified at 20 Hz to 200 Hz. On the rear youíll find a volume control, line level connections including one pair of RCA inputs, one pair unfiltered, and a pair of high-pass line-level outputs for satellites.

Youíll also have control over phase and frequency, and the crossover can be disabled to allow the processor to have a say. Lastly, there is an auto on/off switch. Thunder will automatically detect a signal, and a pretty bright blue LED lights up when activated.

Set-up and Listening

Set-up for me is straightforward: I have a 12' wide room, about 16' deep with 8' ceilings. The Rainmakers center was placed directly on my television, about 40" off the floor. The front right and left units were placed about 9' apart, approximately 18" off the sidewall, and a full 2' from the rear. Surrounds were set about 12' back, while the fronts were up against the wall. On their stands, the monitorís horizontal sweet spot was about 32" - 36" from the floor.

A word about aesthetics: On more than one occasion, I was complimented on the appearance of the Rainmakers set-up as people came through our living room. This has never happened as much as it has with the Totem package. As I would tell them that they were review units and would be returned, the reaction was always, "Thatís too bad, they look so good in here".

At my disposal, I was fortunate to use the Parasound 7100 controller/5250 power amplifier, and also the Integra DTR-10.5 receiver (future review). For some of the two-channel-listening, I also paired the Rainmakers with the remarkable Onix integrated tube amplifier, a knock-out combination. Realizing the price-point Totem was after, I also spent some time with the package running off my own Denon AVR-3805 receiver. All cabling, speaker, and interconnects were from Ethereal.

I do strongly recommend the best possible amplifier for the sound these speakers are capable of delivering. I can only say this from my experience running them from a variety of sources.

Speaker break-in is very important at Totem; in fact their website lists all their products and the recommended break-in time, some as long as 250 and 300 hours. You may or may not subscribe to this theory, but I respectfully allowed the 100 hour minimum Totem recommends for Rainmakers before I conducted a serious listening evaluation.

I hoped that what I heard from the Rainmakers several times over the last year, including the NY Shows and CES, would be recaptured in my own home. Speaking to Vince Bruzzese during auditions, I heard him repeat words like timing, snap, and rhythm. What I came away from their demonstrations was a feeling of clean, articulate imaging, rich tones, lightness and air.

Do also keep in mind, the new Rainmaker center originated the review, and much of my reference will deal with this particular aspect of the 5.1 system. But as all speaker systems are founded on two-channel sources, I could not help but spend up front time with the rangy Rainmakers bookshelf speakers.

Although there is some sense that the Rainmakers "talk to you" almost intimately, you never feel the speakers have a narrow listening field; on the contrary a nice broad soundstage was the immediate impression.

Feeling nostalgic for some Canadian music content (nope not Celine, please), and considering the origins of Totem (ok, this was for fun), I knew Gordon Lightfoot was soon to be playing in my area. His folksy rustic style and raspy voice along with some fine guitar playing, the Rainmakers were loyal to his music. By that I mean, very nicely detailed, neutral imaging and reproduction. You knew I was going to say it: "Sundown" was exhibited with wonderful pace and richness. (Iíll keep April Wine and The Guess Who on the shelf.)

However, in keeping with my Canadian theme, into the CD tray went Diana Krall. The opening track on her sweetly recorded CD, The Look of love, "SíWonderful" was presented softly and forward through the Rainmakers. Soundstage was large and open. I felt the Totem was a perfect match for her voice, perfect!

Rainmakers have influenced me enough to enjoy music I hadnít previously appreciated. Having heard a track from Bonnie Raittís new CD Souls Alike, I was curious to know how it would sound on the Rainmakers. Track 8 "I Donít Want Anything to Change", a cross-country/pop song was sultry and rich. At least I give Totem credit for that description. The Rainmakers portrayed the song less as a studio recording and more as a live performance.

I have more test CD material than I care to admit, one of which is the Rives Audio Test CD 2. It includes partial tracks from Mapleshade and track 72, John Cocuzziís jazzy New Orleans style recording "Slipped Disc", challenged the Rainmakers with horns, percussions and wonderful xylophone playing. I heard Vinceís voice repeating, timing and rhythm, and I agreed with him. Track 73 with a deep heavy stand-up base solo by Euforia, called "Allegra" forced the Rainmakers to reach down, and I found the bass extension almost but not quite there. I looked over to the idol Thunder sub, but said to myself, not yet.

No matter your musical taste, Paul Simonís Graceland should be in your CD collection. I was hoping that someday Graceland might find its way onto multi-channel, I donít care which, DVD-Audio or SACD, but it never came. Regardless, itís a CD that is simply soulful, and it sounded outstanding played back on the Rainmakers. "Homeless" performed acapella, truly brings out the width and depth of the possible from the Rainmakers: soft, sweet, and rich.

Having lavished praise enough for the Rainmaker monitors, I did feel them a bit lacking in bass extension. I then set up my receiver for a 2.1 playback and engaged Thunder, the subwoofer. I then proceeded to replay the same CDs and immediately appreciated the deeper bass. Donít get me wrong, the Rainmakers with or without the subwoofer were extremely pleasurable.

Multi-channel audio was no less satisfying. In fact I understate the beauty and delicate performance I heard while playing back Lyle Lovettís DTS Joshua Judges Ruth. The last track "She Makes Me Feel Good" engaged the surrounds nicely for backup vocals, and harmonies. All four Rainmaker monitors engaged is double the fun and enjoyment.

Most multi-channel music doesnít take advantage of the center channel, so therefore I turned to DVD to explore the performance possible of the Rainmaker center-channel.

The Fifth Element is still an excellent reference DVD and the operatic Diva scene 21 is mesmerizing and sublime on the Rainmaker center channel. This scene is demanding on the center channel, as it not only produces the singing but also the overlaid dialogue and fight sequences. The Divaís voice was portrayed in an elegant and natural way.

For the entire Rainmaker setup, the DTS version of Master and Commander is bass-intensive. Canon fire and the subsequent shattering of the shipís wood hull were handled smoothly with great detail. The musical duets by the Captain and the Doctor were surprisingly sweet.

Always fun to watch, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with its epic soundtrack by John Williams is a great DVD. The scene where Indiana disguises himself as a Scottish Lord takes place in the entry hall of the castle; the center channel subtly conveyed the slight echo heard from the hard stone walls.

Iím not a big fan of The Chronicles of Riddick, but I will admit it has some terrific surround sound and visual effects. The center channel Rainmaker shone with the voices, presenting them all with clarity and precision, never muddy. Doors slammed with authority, while cages rattled as metal does. The initial attack of the Necromongers onto the city brought Thunder to life with explosions and enormous ships landing, right in my living room.

Conclusions

As Iíve stated, the initial intent for the review was to explore the addition of the center channel to the Rainmaker line. I soon discovered an appreciation for the entire package, from stands on up. Violins were warm and woodsy, acoustic guitars were sweet and full, brassy instruments were throaty, and vocals both male and female deep and natural.

The Rainmakers never disappeared for me, something you might think contrary to good speakers. However, I say it because I feel the Rainmaker speakers make their presence felt, like a cello or a piano on stage.

The Totem Rainmakers (and Thunder sub) achieve a tonal balance and richness I admit I rarely hear in speakers. Itís that tangible tonal quality that Totem Acoustic has accomplished that makes me say confidently, I highly recommend the Rainmaker line.


- Piero Gabucci -

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