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Totem's Rokk speakers

Totem Rokk Loudspeakers

Little Speakers Rokk and Roll

by Jim Bray

Note: TechnoFILE's samples for this column were provided by K&W Audio of Calgary, Alberta.

Remember pet rocks? Well I've just played with a pet Rokk that actually returns some tangible benefit to its owner.

The Rokk in question is a $900/pair loudspeaker that gives a lovely aural experience from a small and attractive package.

Montreal's Totem Acoustics, maker of the Rokk, is the corporate child of designer Vincent Bruzzese, a man who marches to his own drummer. Bruzzese designs and tests his speakers unconventionally - he dares to use his own ears rather than relying totally on test labs and technical measurements.

I like this. While some might laugh at his approach, I can't fault someone who actually listens to his speakers in the real world. After all, that's where they're going to be used!

Besides, I've participated in listening tests in controlled environments and, though I have nothing against them, they're more "scientific" experiences than they are musical. When I want to get a feel for how a speaker sounds, there's no better place than in my own home theater: I know the environment, the best places to sit, and I'm familiar with its many idiosyncrasies.

This is why you should always try speakers at home before you buy them…

So having heard the Rokks at my local dealer's, and listened to their virtues being extolled with gusto, I brought them home for a real listen.

Rokk is the second from the bottom of Totem's line. The two-way (they contain a woofer and a tweeter only, no midrange) ported speaker's cabinet measures 15 x 6.5 x 9.75 inches and weighs 11 pounds. The pair I tested came with optional heavy duty stands that raised them nearly two feet off the floor.

Totem recommends the Rokks be placed two to three feet from your listening room's side walls and at least a foot away from the back wall. You can move them as far away from the rear wall as you want, though Totem says you should increase their toe in (angling the faces a bit toward each other) the farther into the room you bring them.

Experimentation is encouraged here, and I was pleased to comply. I ended up putting them back in their original recommended positions, about a foot from the back wall, because they sounded fine there and didn't get in anyone's way.

Rokk's combined midrange/woofer is a very small 4 ½ inches in diameter, yet it puts out a surprising amount of good, clean bass. The tweeter is a one inch titanium "dome" type. The rear panel includes two sets of gold-plated terminals connected by removable jumpers (you can separate the terminals and bi-wire the speakers) and the bass port.

Despite there being no speaker grilles (in fact, there's no logo or other sign of pedigree except for a small sticker on the back), the mahogany box - which is also available in black ash - is very handsome.

You'd have to be some kind of nut - or overly concerned with your image - to buy a speaker based on its looks, of course. My reference speakers are just about the ugliest I've seen, but I'll keep replacing blown woofers until I can't get parts any more rather than trade them in.

Fortunately, the Rokks come through where it counts: they sounded wonderful with any type of music I tried.

They positively disappear, creating a wide and spacious soundstage that has to be heard to be appreciated. If you close your eyes, you'll forget about the dinky little woofer and imagine that you're listening to a speaker that's much larger than it really is.

You'll also imagine that the rear wall of your listening room has been moved back substantially to make room for all those musicians and their equipment.

Unfortunately, I didn't think the Rokks really cut it when it came to home theater duties. While they sound great with music, they aren't nearly as good with helicopters, explosions, laser beams, and the like. They'd probably be fine if you paired them with a good, powered subwoofer (which, alas, I didn't try with the Rokks), but on their own they weren't up to snuff.

That's okay in the grand scheme of things, though, because not everyone wants a bone rattling home theater speaker. Many people just want a wonderfully warm musical experience, and that's the market at which Totem's Rokks are clearly aimed

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc. Copyright Jim Bray.


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Updated May 13, 2006