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.



7 thoughts on “Totem Acoustics with Bret D’agostino – CES 2017

  • Hi Rafe

    Thanks for another interesting article and intro to D’Agostino’s latest offering as well as the unfortunate passing of Bret.

    While I am quite familiar with the Totem Brand I had no previous exposure to the speaker in question. Where would you position it in terms of price and sound versus the PSB Tower 3’s or the Harbeth 40.2?



    • Thanks Jerry, appreciate the kind words. I’m not familiar with the PSB Tower 3, but compared to the 40.2 the Totem Element Metal is $12,995 USD, while the 40.2 is around $15,950 – $17,950 depending on finish. These are very different types of speakers in the sense of construction, drivers, crossover and cabinet design. Both can make beautiful music, but to get there requires a very different approach in amplification, and each plays to different strengths of musical reproduction IMHO.

      • As I feared the answer is rarely simple. I am looking for that combination that
        sounds the closest to live music and real musical instruments. Sometimes I wonder if we have lost sight of the pursuit of music versus the pursuit of audiophile stereo and false descriptions of attributes such as image depth, width etc.

        This concern has continued to grow beginning last year when Stereophile hosted Graham Nash at the 2016 CES show and afforded him the opportunity to listen to various high end systems up to and including those costing $250k plus. They also took him to hear the a Devore Fidelity speakers in less costly system.

        Without having any idea who/what/cost Devore Fidelity Speakers were all about, he chose them as sounding the most like real music and his new album “this Path Tonight.”

        Ok maybe once is a fluke but this year Stereophile conducted the same exercise again, with a well known Hawaiian Ukulele player, (who’s name escapes me at the moment, and included him playing live and then comparing to several recorded songs by that artist) and with the same “sky is the limit” systems and ending up with the Devore Fidelity Orangatun 96 speakers and a modest Sudgen Amplifer.

        And low and behold the he chose the Devore speakers/system as sounding the most like a real Ukulele and replaying his live recording!!!!

        WTF!!!! Shoudn’t that be a wake-up call got those chasing speculator Hi-Fi versus music? You eat, dream and sleep this stuff all day long! Tell me what is going on!

        • Jerry,
          You’ll never get an argument from me when it comes to pairing Sugden with DeVore (or Shindo). One of the most lifelike presentations around, and one of the best buys of high fidelity. Period. But the ultra high end has its place. Without cost no object pursuits there would be limited advancement in design, development and production of equipment/materials aimed at making the reproduction of a recording as flesh and blood as humanly possible.

          • Thank you Rafe for confirming the musicality of Devore speakers and your overall response.

        • Just buy some Devore speakers, that would be my recommendation

  • Thank you, Rafe. This review would have warmed my father’s heart, as it does mine. So glad you enjoyed our gear!

    Best Regards,
    Brandon D’Agostino

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