REVIEW: Totem Skylight Mini Marvels

By Jeff Dorgay

Ironically, this review starts out with the title track from the Kinks classic Low Budget. However, low budget doesn’t mean low quality.

Just because you don’t have $60,000 to spend on a pair of speaker cables, doesn’t mean you don’t love music – right? These highly capable, yet diminutive two-way speakers do an excellent job unraveling this dense recording, keeping the vocals and harmonies intact.

Some audio enthusiasts associate the term “pace” almost exclusively with British speakers, yet these Canadian masterpieces are masters of keeping the musical pace of a recording intact. If you’re new to the world of obscure audio prose, think of musical pace in the context of hearing live music. When you hear a group of musicians playing together, whether acoustic or amplified, the music blends together so that it’s tough to hear one instrument standing out (unless a particular player is soloing). Yet listening to recorded music on a HiFi system, on a less than awesome pair of speakers, perhaps the drums or the vocalist doesn’t seem to “keep up” with the rest of the music. There are several reasons for that, and at least for me, pace is something that I notice more when it’s not happening. I hope that makes it a bit clearer. Pun intended.

The Skylights do an excellent job with pace, and overall balance. Building anything to a price point means something must be compromised. Totem resists the urge to emphasize any aspect of the music spectrum, creating a $1,000 pair of finely balanced speakers. If you’ve ever listened to Totem speakers at a HiFi show, you’ll notice they always use high-quality amplification for their demos.

Totem speakers are very resolving, at the top of their class for the price. Unlike many modestly priced speakers that plateau quickly, the Skylights are true to the breed in the sense that they keep revealing more musical information as the electronics behind them improve. The Skylights turn in an acceptable performance with the SVS Prime Sound Base ($499), a PS Audio Sprout II ($599), and a recently acquired vintage Marantz 2220B ($150), so you don’t have to have primo gear to build a nice system.

However, plugging them into the VAC i170 integrated ($10,000) is an ear-opening experience. The Skylights no longer sound like a great pair of thousand-dollar speakers. Mated with a small sub in the 13 x 15-foot room, they are installed, even better. You don’t need a subwoofer to enjoy the Skylights, but should your involvement and budget improve, these speakers give you a lot of room to grow – that’s value.

Further down the value path, the Totem Skylights are built at their Montreal facility – this is not a “designed in Canada, built in China” speaker, and it shows. The level of finish on the cabinets – from the joints to the way the drivers bolt in, is outstanding. Totem builds honest products.

This two-way system is available in a black ash veneer, mahogany veneer, or a white satin finish. Our review samples arrive in satin white, and I must admit this has become a real favorite.  Those with more traditional décor will probably gravitate to the black or mahogany, but in a newer home, the white cabinet blends into the background in a lovely manner.

You can get the full specs here (, but the diminutive cabinet of the Skylights holds a 5.75″ woofer and a 1″ soft dome tweeter, with a claimed sensitivity of 88db/1-watt. As someone that doesn’t make purchasing decisions based on spec sheets or measurements, the Totems perform well beyond what their conservative specs suggest. And they will deliver an equally good performance with solid-state or tube electronics. Shaking the dust off of a vintage Dynaco SCA-35 makes for a heavenly, musically involving setup with the Skylights in a 10 x 12 room at a modest listening level.

Because the Skylights have a very gentle roll-off in their low-frequency response, they respond well to being placed close to the wall. This way, they can utilize room gain to achieve some extra bass grunt, without sacrificing the detailed, three-dimensional image they present. You’ll know when you get too close to the walls when the upper bass becomes cloudy and non-distinct. We had excellent luck with the speakers about 8 inches from the wall when using them without a subwoofer, delivering solid output down to around 40hz. Those in more compact spaces will appreciate this.

The Skylights offer excellent vertical and horizontal dispersion, so they are not as critical of speaker placement as some, and this contributes to the large, coherent soundfield they generate. Yet, a little bit of fine-tuning when you get the chance will make for an even bigger musical window. We found toe-in to be more of a determining factor than rake angle with these speakers, and getting the distance between them just right will help you to get the maximum image size.

Going through a wide range of musical selections, both acoustic and electronic, reveals no weaknesses in the Skylights – no music is off limits. However, lovers of bass-heavy music may want to invest in one of Totem’s excellent subwoofers sooner than later. You know who you are.

Refinement is the word that sums up the Totem Skylights best. As you move up the food chain with real HiFi manufacturers, the best offerings reveal more musical information without emphasizing one part of the musical spectrum over the other. These speakers provide that wealth of experience at an easily attainable price. After a few hours with the Skylights, you’ll understand why Totem owners are as loyal to the brand as they are.