Totem Acoustics with Bret D’agostino – CES 2017

by Rafe Arnott

The sad passing of amplifier-designer Bret D’agostino (eldest son of amplifier scion Dan D’agostino) in early January made hearing his latest M5 mono-block power amplifiers, and Reference L5 stereo pre-amplifier paired with Totem Acoustics Element Metal floorstanding loudspeakers a bittersweet affair at CES this year.

Bret’s latest pre-amp design focuses on isolating the power-supply, control system, and audio circuitry sections to the point that he created three separate chassis comprised of individual machined-aluminum enclosures that are mounted on one solid-aluminum platform for the L5. Like all things D’agostino, the amps, and pre-amp are big, heavy beasts. The L5 is built around a quadrangle of discrete, complimentary, direct-coupled, and differential Class-A circuitry that flows from input-to-output ensuring nimble, and cohesive signal-transmission quality.

The big M5s held the Totems in a vice-like sonic grip with the lower octaves being reproduced with such absolute control, that the woofer excursions seemed hypnotic. The M5’s heart is a 1,450 VA Plitron™ toroidal transformer which is mounted to a sub-chassis, and then to the machined outer chassis. Separate power-supply, output stage, and driver-circuitry sections are also in use for the M5 with complimentary, discrete, and Class-A pathways throughout. With the Totems rated at 91 dB, but with a four-Ohm nominal load, the M5s are dumping 300 watts into their platinum WBT connectors. My experience with Totem designs is that they love big, powerful amplifiers, so pairing the D’agostinos with them was a stroke of genius on multiple levels. The Elements responded beautifully to the control the mono-blocks were able to assert over them, and the transparency afforded by the M5/L5 combination to the Ayre CX-7eMP compact-disc player was apparent in the meat left on the bone of every performance. Never strident, lean or dry, this digital presentation conveyed all the best bits of ones, and zeros with big, controlled dynamic swings, a dead-silent noise floor, and tonal color that never sweetened to ripe, or soured to sparse. This was a wonderfully balanced, synergistic set-up that was just begging to have the volume hit peak SPLs.