The Totem Element V2 Series Fire Speakers A Triumph of Dynamics

By Jerold O'Brien

If you’ve ever had the chance to listen to Totem speakers, or perhaps you already own a pair, you know they pack a major punch. This Canadian company has a knack for making speakers with class-leading performance, and understated physical designs in enclosures that don’t dominate your listening environment. They always deliver more low frequency extension than you’d expect from a compact cabinet. Because this name is long, they will be referred to as the V2s going forward.

The V2s continue this tradition of excellence. The new V2 we have on hand has Totem’s latest Torrent drivers installed, consisting of a 7-inch woofer and 1-inch titanium dome tweeter. They weigh slightly more than 37 pounds each sport relatively small cabinets. 8.81” x 16.6” x 11.7” to be exact. You can read the full specification list here:

It is worth noting that while sensitivity is listed at 88db/1-watt, Totem claims an “easy 8-ohm impedance,” which lead to dragging a pair of Bottlehead 300B amplifiers out of the closet, along with my R&B skeletons. Going straight for the bass heavy tracks to get these babies breaking in, (Totem suggests about 200 hours) Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra gets the nod, with his World of Funk album that you can find on your favorite streaming service with ease.


Using the bass line in Jennifer Warne’s “Ballad of the Runaway Horse,” to lock in the bass and the bass to mid transition, takes the V2s from great to exceptional. Most of my listening for the context of this review comes from the borrowed (from our publisher) PrimaLuna EVO400 tube amplifier and the Pass INT-25 solid state amplifier. Both are equally impressive yet show off different aspects of the speaker – with the Pass amp slightly grippier, and the PrimaLuna somewhat more swimming in midrange magic. I could live happily ever after with either.

Because the V2s go deep (claimed down to 30hz) avoid tight corner placement if you can. Better yet if you can get the Totems about two feet from the back wall and about twice that away from the side walls, I think you will be really excited at just how large a sound field these speakers can produce.

Much like the Focal speakers with metal dome tweeters, careful fine adjustment of the rake angle removes the last bit of edge from the highest frequencies, without losing any of the resolution the speakers provide.

When you have it wrong, the V2s sound harsh, when you dial them in just right, they sound smooth and resolving. A solid hour or two with the help of a friend will get you there. Double that if you must ­do all the work yourself. While you’re at it, get stands that are as massive as you can deal with, somewhere between 20 and 24 inches tall, depending on your listening position. My main room is about 18 x 24 feet and while the Totems will deliver great sound either way, if you can access the wider wall, you will be rewarded with maximum image width and depth.

Bigger bottom

If you’re one of those people that always needs more bass (I’m saying this from an “it takes one to know one” perspective) Totem makes several great subwoofers that will mate perfectly with your Fires. Serendipitously, our publisher happens to have the Totem Tribe Solution in for review, so borrowing it for a long weekend was incredibly easy.

Available in satin black or white, this compact subwoofer is only 13” x 24” x 4.5” allowing it to fit nearly anywhere. Hence the name. As a single guy, I can enjoy having a Marshall stack on one end of my living room and a lot of gear everywhere. But for those of you with a smaller room, and a partner that you might have to convince the additional bulk of a sub is ok, the Tribe Solution is perfect. Even if you don’t stand it upright in the middle of the room and enjoy it’s pair of 8” woofer cones pulsating to the music at hand.

Commendable as the V2s are, an extra 500 watts on tap rocks even harder. With my favorite 90s electronica tracks, the ability to crank it up even further (than is reasonable and prudent) is always welcome. To be clear, the Fires are not small speakers with no bass, (Tune Tots, cough, cough) and you don’t need a sub to enjoy them. However, it is nice to know Totem makes a solution that’s a perfect fit should you want to increase your system’s capability. Personally, I like products that go together easily. Watch for our review on this one.  

Bigger everywhere

One of my least favorite audiophile cliches is “the XXX speaker defies the laws of physics.” Nothing defies the laws of physics. However, what Totem does do, is carefully optimize mechanical and electrical parameters, to give their products exceptional performance. I’ll take science over magic any day. Their crossovers are carefully constructed, delivering speakers that are easy to drive. The amount of signal that gets from the binding posts (and in this case, the V2s have exquisite binding posts) to the drivers can get lost in a complex crossover. One thing you might do to get just a little bit more upper midrange clarity from the V2s is to swap the factory jumpers for jumpers made from whatever speaker cable you currently use. This is not a Totem specific thing, we do this with every speaker we use that has jumpers. It’s not a “this one goes to 11” improvement, but a 10.7 to 11. It just depends on how OCD you are!

These speakers use a 2-way design with the woofer running full range, and no high or low pass filter in the circuit, resulting in an 88db/1-watt speaker that you can drive with anything. That’s part of that punchiness that Totems are famous for. While the cabinet looks deceptively simple, there are no parallel surfaces in it’s design. That’s about ten times harder (and more expensive to build) than a standard design. This attention to detail results in a compact speaker delivering a wonderful, open midrange and upper bass free of cloudiness.

It all adds up to a small speaker that sounds like a big speaker, and a speaker that delivers excellent performance no matter what you drive it with. Running the V2s in with a perennial favorite, the vintage Marantz 2215 (a sweet sounding 15 wpc solid-state receiver) is enough to bring serious insight to what the Totems are capable of, yet hooking them up to the PrimaLuna EVO 400 amp and a vintage Levinson preamplifier (with a Technics SP-10 table bringing up the analog) feels like watching a movie in Technicolor on one of those big, wide, curved screens from back in the day.

From the smallest acoustic music, to griding metal, the V2s can play as loud as the situation demands, yet they are very engaging at low volumes as well. Again, this is another example of great crossover design and driver optimization. It’s way tougher for a speaker that can wrap you up in the experience at low levels than one that can just play loud. (I’m coughing some more)

Another winner

Our publisher agrees the Totem Element Fire V2s are more than worth one of our Exceptional Value awards. On top of delivering so much sound for the price, they are built to an exacting level, and will deliver maximum performance with anything you connect them to. You’ll have to buy some pretty spendy gear before you consider trading your speaker in, and that’s what makes them worth every penny.