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Totem Rainmaker review

A real drought-buster

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Our Verdict

A pretty little standmount that offers a surprisingly big sound


  • Big sound from a very small speaker.

    Laid-back and smooth midband and presence


  • Top end is bright and exposed

    Cabinet shows economies on close inspection.

    Bass end could do with more authority, warmth and punch

Canadian brand Totem is best known for making speakers that fall firmly into the 'small but perfectly formed' category, and that description is entirely appropriate for this pretty little standmount.

To call a speaker 'Rainmaker' might seem to be tempting fate, particularly here in Britain at a time when flood warnings have replaced drought orders in weather-related tabloid headlines.

But the model sits alongside the Dreamcatcher in the Totem hierarchy, and its name is entirely consistent for a product range that borrows much of its nomenclature from American Indian folklore.

The £895-per-pair price tag is far from cheap for a compact (nine-litre) standmount, but Totem has always been very much a premium brand, and the Rainmaker is actually one of its less costly models. Although the practised eye can detect some economies in cabinet-work compared to the classic Model 1 (which is smaller and considerably dearer), it would hard to spot the difference without placing the two side by side.

The Rainmaker comes in a choice of four real-wood finishes: black ash, cherry, mahogany and maple. Close scrutiny reveals that each panel is veneered with several strips, the curved quadrants around the front and back panels don't quite match and the stain application looks crude.

Pretty little speaker

But for all that close-up nit-picking, this is still a pretty little speaker, and if the cosmetics are a little less than the very best, plenty of work has gone into maximising the acoustic performance of the enclosure. Borosilicate damping is applied to internal surfaces, mitred joints ensure serious structural integrity and a full vertical brace adds further stiffness.

Predictably enough, it's a two-way design, port-loaded at the rear, and based on the combination of a 130mm bass/mid driver and a 105mm-diameter flared cone, probably made of doped paper, plus a 25mm aluminium dome tweeter fitted with one of Totem's enlarged back chambers.

Whereas the tweeter is flush-mounted into the front panel here, the main driver's shaped cast frame stands proud of the surface. Twin socket/binder pairs are fitted on the rear terminal panel, permitting bi-wiring or bi-amp drive.

This might be a small and relatively simple little speaker, but its size belies its sonic power. Surely no speaker this compact has any right to sound so big. Part of the explanation at least lies in the fact that the small-diameter port is tuned to a relatively low frequency, around 37Hz, which is well below the frequency at which such a main driver can be expected to produce realistic output levels.

Its purpose is therefore primarily to increase the effective low-frequency extension, and in this it's clearly successful, when measured under far-field in-room averaged conditions.

Thanks in no small part to the gain provided by room modes and reflections, this tiny speaker actually delivers realistic output right down to 30Hz. Less favourable - and doubtless as a direct consequence - is a significant lack of output in the mid to upper bass region, between 55Hz and 125Hz.

Under some room conditions, siting close to the wall could provide useful compensation, though this will almost certainly also result in a significantly less even midband. It's impossible to generalise here, and in our relatively large (4.3x2.6x5.5m) room, the Rainmakers performed best when positioned at least 1m out from the wall.

Above 125Hz, the frequency response is smooth and well ordered, while also showing a gentle down-tilt with a slightly suppressed broad presence (1-3.5kHz). Above that, the treble makes a pronounced recovery, running some 3dB above the presence zone between 4kHz and 9kHz. While these departures from true neutrality will undoubtedly introduce a measure of character to the sound, the transitions are mostly smooth, and the net effect is unlikely to be unpleasant.

Totem claims a sensitivity of 87.5dB; our far-field measurements put it at about 86.5dB. While this is somewhat below average, it's a fair trade-off for the surprisingly good bass extension, especially since the minimum impedance is closer to five ohms than the specified four-ohm minimum.

Large scale

Placed on the same Partington Heavi stands that were specified for Totem's Model 1 Signature, and fed from high-quality Naim components - CDS3/555PS, NAC 552, NAP 500 - plus a Linn/Rega hybrid vinyl-spinner, the little Rainmaker caused much surprise in the testing room with the sheer scale of its sound.

By coincidence, its tonal-balance trends correspond pretty closely to those of the massive B&W 800Ds that constitute my regular reference speakers these days, so comparison between the two was interesting, revealing and indeed relevant.

Although the B&Ws obviously boasted superior bandwidth, dynamic range and expression, the two models' sonic similarities were also obvious, particularly when listening to relatively undemanding material, such as television speech.

It was strange to find Totem's tiddlers doing such an impressive imitation of the B&Ws' much bigger design - provided the programme didn't contain dramatic contrasts or significant bass weight and complexity.

Given something truly meaty to get its teeth into, such as Squarepusher's Ultravisitor CD, the Rainmaker's bottom-end limitations become readily apparent, in terms of limited authority and modest grip at the bottom end of the bass range, as well as some lack of drive and warmth higher up. But for such a small speaker, it certainly punches above its weight.

Its rather strong and obvious top end is probably the Rainmaker's most contentious feature, and the consequences of this will depend very much on the kit it's used with. Combined with the bright but top-quality NAP 500 power amp, the sound was indeed bright, but also clean, open and very detailed; things might not be so comfortable with a less capable solid-state amp.

Connected up to a high-quality Proteus valve amp with a sweet but more restrained top end, the Rainmaker's bright top end proved just about ideal. In some systems, therefore, the brightness will be an advantage, while in others it might prove a handicap.

However, the Totem's biggest strength lies in its very even and smooth midband. Its slightly laid-back character helps the speaker to avoid sounding aggressive, but it is also well enough controlled through the crossover transition to avoid sounding 'shut in'. There's little, if any, coloration or boxiness, and stereo images are well formed, with good air, transparency and depth perspectives.

The Rainmaker is a fine musical communicator that's easy to like. Its simplicity is a real virtue, the more so because of the obvious care that has gone into creating a seamless crossover transition and minimising unwanted enclosure effects, and deliberately low port tuning delivers a surprising impression of scale.

Dramatic and dynamic bass-rich material inevitably betrays its modest size, but for most of the time, the Rainmaker does a remarkable job of hiding its limitations and playing to its strengths via a beautifully judged midband and presence. Paul Messenger