Totem Acoustic Skylight loudspeaker

Reviewing a new loudspeaker from Totem feels like destiny—as if a formative moment 30 years ago has come full circle. That's because the first genuine audiophile speaker I ever owned was Totem's now-iconic Model 1, a product whose arrival altered many audiophiles' expectations of how much great—and wide-range—sound a small speaker can deliver. It's still being made today, at least in spirit (footnote 1).

Thirty years later and I'm reviewing for Stereophile the Totem Skylight ($1000/pair), a two-way ported standmount similar to the Model 1, but closer in kinship and appearance to the marginally larger Sky model, whose sound impressed me so at the 2017 Montreal Audiofest, especially in the bass.

Description
According to the manufacturer, the new Skylight shares with every other Totem loudspeaker a similar genesis: It was developed mostly by ear, from beginning to end. That doesn't mean that Totem founder and owner Vince Bruzzese has no use for cutting-edge measurement instruments and techniques. Rather, he's among the speaker builders who believes that no measurement technique can beat the human ear and brain in capturing the micro information that makes real music sound like real music. That's a logic I subscribe to.

The cabinet is a lock-mitered (its panels are interlocked at the joints) monocoque assembly using Variable Density Fiberboard—variable inasmuch as the material is denser on the outside than on the inside—creating a structure said to be more effective than regular MDF at reducing resonances. The cabinet panels are veneered inside and out to prevent warping, and the rear panel is fitted with a 1.38"-diameter reflex port.

520totem.white

Then come the Skylight's customized drivers: a 1" textile soft-dome tweeter housed in an aerodynamic anti-resonant chamber, and a long-throw 5.75" woofer; Totem says the long-throw design yields more linearity and a flatter response in the midrange. The driver's voice-coil is "wound with square wire to eliminate air in the gaps and then copper capped."

One result, according to Totem, is a more linear driver that generates less distortion and yields a flatter response, especially in the midrange.

Each Skylight has two sets of gold-plated connectors for biwiring and biamping, a first-order crossover whose components are crimped together point-to-point rather than soldered onto a printed circuit board. According to Totem's product literature, it sounds better this way.

I left off the magnetic speaker grilles, for no other reason than that I prefer not to cover drivers up with cloth.

Setup
The Skylights occupied the 27"-high stands I normally reserve for my KEF LS50s, which looked like beefy bar bouncers next to the compact Totems. Practical constraints dictated their placement in the center of the room, away from the walls, spaced about 8' apart. The Totems sounded best toed in by a little less than 45°, so that they beamed at the sides of my head, slightly above ear level. While I also own 24" stands, which would have aligned the tweeters with my ears, by moving my head up and down along the vertical plane between the speakers, I felt that having the tweeters radiate above my ears improved the music's sense of scale and the size of its soundstage.

The speakers sounded promising, but the bass was MIA—strange, because Totem's spec sheet lists the Skylight's bass extension as –3dB at 51Hz, which is much lower than that of my KEF LS50s (–3dB at 79Hz). Then it hit me: "They're small! They need walls!" Then I read in the user manual that, for optimal bass response, the speakers should be placed between 6" and 3' from the wall behind them. What's worse is that, for logistical reasons, such a near-wall setup in my listening room just isn't possible.

520totem.bac

I needn't have worried. After three days of listening, the Skylights—which, I reminded myself, had been marooned in a UPS warehouse during a snowstorm prior to their delivery here—popped open like a bottle of mousseux, radiant and sweet, with a limber undercurrent of bass energy that filled out the bottom end and warmed the room. The lesson being: If you set up the Skylights and they sound bass-shy, just wait.

After that, everything came together and sounded of a piece. And at the risk of getting ahead of myself, at the moment when the sound clicked, I was reminded again of how, all else being equal, a smaller speaker, by dint of having a lower parts count, a stiffer cabinet, and a baffle that hews closer to a theoretical point source, is considerably less prone to distortion than a bigger speaker.

Listening
I was reminded of that because the Skylights sounded pure. Case in point: Brit trumpet player Nick Walters's 2020 release Active Imagination (CD, 22a 031) mixes old-school and contemporary jazz elements to sound both familiar and fresh. Playing the album through the Skylights, the first thing I noticed was an illumined clarity in the midband that seemed to accentuate the colors and shapes of the sounds within it. This quality was one more of focus than detail, although detail was abundant. I could clearly make out the harmonic structures of notes, like those of the piano chords at the beginning of the opening track, "So Long Chef": That instrument plunked and resonated like a smaller-scale replica of the real thing. Also notable was the separation between sounds, each seemingly allowed to exist and peter out at its own pace, unmolested by neighboring sounds even during busy passages.


Footnote 1: Versions of Totem's Model 1 have been reviewed several times in Stereophile. Some of those reviews are collected here.
COMPANY INFO
Totem Acoustic
9165 rue Champ D'Eau
Montreal, Quebec H1P 3M3
Canada
(514) 259-1062
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Solo piano music is needed for 'un-masking' the distortions in loudspeakers ...... says, JA1 :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be RS could also review the Polk Legend L100, $1,200/pair ........ RS mentioned favorably about the L100 at a dealer demo :-) ........

Brian in Oregon's picture

Not sure that crossover could even be considered first order. It would appear that the woofer is rolled off between 1 and 4kHz at slightly less than 6dB/octave, before it peaks up again at 6kHz and then extends, with a couple of ripples, out to 10kHz, creating a phase nightmare due to its extended overlap with the tweeter. I suspect that only a single inductor is in series with the woofer, with no impedance leveling (Zobel), so that the rising impedance of the driver nullifies the lowpass coil's effect above 4kHz. I looked at some Stereophile measurements of earlier Totem models, and noted that they did not have this issue -- their woofers continue to roll off properly above crossover frequency.

However, it seems that most of those older Totems exhibit the same out-of-control port (and cabinet) resonances around 1kHz, although this is the most severe example yet. There's no way this "port noise complaint" can NOT be audible, especially as the speakers must be placed close to a wall due to their lack of baffle step compensation, and the port output will be reflected back at the listener.

Quite frankly, these look rather poorly designed, especially at their price point. Apparently the "designer" has little use for measurements or established speaker engineering theory, and voices his creations entirely subjectively, possibly for the distortions he finds most euphonic.

There are plenty of speakers out there of comparable size, at the grand-a-pair price or significantly lower, that are better engineered and would outperform these in just about every parameter. Thinking of recently reviewed offerings from Wharfdale, Elac, Quad, PSB, etc.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You can see the port resonance peaks at 800-900 Hz (Fig.3 red) :-) .......

supamark's picture

and only a 1st order high pass for the tweeter. I agree, that port is poorly behaved. It could be mostly tamed by placing acoustic foam directly behind the speaker to absorb the high frequency output from the port (or, preferably, a better design for the port) but you shouldn't have to modify a $1,000 mini-monitor to tame port output that exceeds the forward facing driver(s). They really should do a rev. 2 on this speaker and clean it up. Totem has shown in the past the ability to design a better behaved speaker, not sure how this one got out into the "wild," as it were.
.
I will say, keeping the impedence high is a refreshing change from a lot of today's speakers that dip into the 2 to 3 ohm range in the bass.

Brian in Oregon's picture

. . . due to the rolloff from 1kHz to 4kHz. But if the woofer has a rising impedance above that, it will keep pushing the reactance frequency of the inductor upwards, so that it ceases to attenuate output.

And there's probably just a capacitor and resistor in series with the tweeter.

The phase errors induced by the broad overlap between drivers will make it challenging to find the optimum, and very narrow, vertical and horizontal axes. The weak bass will be ameliorated by near-wall placement, but then there's that port whistle. Maybe just plug the damn ports with some rolled-up felt, and run 'em sealed? Should get an f3 about 90Hz, suitable for crossing to a decent sub.

Indydan's picture

How can there be such a disparity between the listening impressions and the measurements? Robert S. compares the Skylight very favourably to the KEF LS50. But, it sounds like JA is talking about a different speaker in the measurements section.

rschryer's picture

...is a great question.

Why did I hear what I heard?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be if you played more well recorded classical music, you might have heard more distortions? ...... I don't know, I'm guessing :-) .......

tonykaz's picture

You captured me with this one.

You are one hell of a Storyteller.

Mr.JA is probably the highest integrity person in all of Consumer Audio yet actual listening is what determines longevity of ownership ( doesn't it? ).

Thank you for bringing this transducer to us. We need more of your thoughts and discoveries. I wonder if you might do interconnect reviews ( as a specialist ), you seem to have what it takes.

Tony in Venice

ps. I imagine your Logo Cover Art of a Cabin deep in the North Woods with Mother Nature's Wildlife positioned to help Jury Audition and collaborate your discoveries. I can feel the fresh pristine quality of your ambient Air. You would be a must-read!

rschryer's picture

...North Woods with Mother Nature's Wildlife positioned to help Jury Audition and collaborate your discoveries."

And don't forget my soundproof-isolated 9000-watt generator of pure, off-the-grid a/c that powers my system.

It's the secret sauce to the great sound I'm getting in the Canadian wilds.

tonykaz's picture

Lets hope you "also" have a PS Audio PowerPlant P12,P15 and/or P20 to provide Electrical energy that's Pure as the Wind driven Snow. Made right here in North America and reliable as any piece of Commercial Power gear ever made. Every review should be based on the electrical gear having Gold Standard Power.

We all ( probably ) realize that the Air itself is cleaner the further North we go. Hmm, you could base up by the Arctic Circle. Imagine how the PURE Air alone would help with transparency revealing. Pure Air and Pure Electricity, what more could you hope for?

Solar panels with 18600 lithium storage batteries might suffice to keep your Wildlife from being Diesel exhaust & noise traumatized.

Tony in Venice

ps. I'll contemplate your reviewing future as i take my daily swim in our blue water pool set at 89F. Three laps will suffice.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There won't be any restaurants, bars, movie theaters, shopping malls, sports arenas, not even pizza delivery, McDonalds etc. etc. near the Arctic Circle :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

RS could invite some 'Sasquatch' to listen to his audio system in the Arctic Circle :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

The Vast watery reaches of our Great North Pole are now a navigable Transportation Route between Europe and China. A person can even book a birth on one of the Russian Nuclear Ice Breakers that keep the traffic moving smoothly. Ice breaking sounds like hitting a empty barrel with a hammer.

Our Great "Ends of the Earth" reporter/reviewer can even enjoy Air Transport from/by Buffalo Air, based in Yellow Knife.

Tony in Venice

ps. I just now got driven out of the Swimming Pool by a sudden cold shower of rain water. Oh well, take the good with the bad!

tonykaz's picture

These advanced creatures are known to prefer Pro-Audio In-Ear monitors, they can't carry around loudspeakers all day, where would they plug them in?

Besides, they take "Social Distancing" to extremes, don't they?

Please, Mr.BH, do try to not stray "off-topic".

Tony in Venice

ps. they "discovered" one in Belarus that speaks perfect N.Y & New Jersey accents. Is there something perfect about a NY accent???

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I don't know about NY 'accent' ...... But, NY-ers do have certain 'scent' ....... Even with 'social distancing' you can smell them ....... Just kidding ....... Just kidding :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

naughty

Tony in Venice

tonykaz's picture

I wonder if you mind or object to us "tire kickers" re-locating you to the far reaches of Off-the-Grid Solitude ?

It's because we love you and hope to protect your significant talents from the Marketing recruiters for Globalization.

Of course, Montreal and Quebec are both very far from any sort of Stateside image creators and key word manipulators.

You continue to have my applause.

Tony in Venice

JHL's picture

...is an excellent example of the sighted bias inherent in the presumed supremacy of the speakers' amplitude response. It pushes onlookers to consider where apparent aberrations to accepted conventional design technique become offensive to the ear, and how the ear responds to myriad of things not evident in simple amplitude.

The good news is that it's become a question instead of a flat denial. Given the complexity of asymmetrical multiway loudspeakers, it's a start.

Put another way, are we able to investigate all permutations of design, from the minimalist to the technically complex, as to sound? Given that the purpose of audio is in fact the ear, can we set aside the bias that favors what we *think* is superior and what is inferior and just listen?

There are an almost endless number of design types, each with a cluster of outcomes, whether to the microphone or the ear. I've thought for years that the assumption that simple amplitude linearity as the ne plus ultra of multi-way speaker was an unfounded assumption, and a proof of the bias of the straight line. If we were to challenge that bias - which we must if we're to be complete - how would we catalog our work?

None of this is an approval of the design in question, but it's certainly not a flat condemnation of it either. All we have so far is the assumption that function follows form, and since our assumptions are all rooted in static simple amplitude even though speakers are transient energy devices, we haven't begun to go steps below amplitude into how it composes itself on all design axes.

JRT's picture

... Floyd E. Toole's book, "Sound Reproduction: The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms (Audio Engineering Society Presents)", now in third edition. It is an easy read.

There is much well established science and engineering applicable to the subject.

https://routledgetextbooks.com/textbooks/9781138921368/

JHL's picture

...my third paragraph was specifically if indirectly aimed at Toolism, which for even more irony, typically misquotes that *segment* of the purported science. Do you know how and why?

Or did you think it was the whole bible on the subject?

JRT's picture

Though his is not the last word on the subject, Doctor Toole is an expert, is recognized as such by other peer level experts, and is an intelligent man who spent most of his life wrapped up in the subject matter.

I am not surprised that you think that you know more about the subject than Doctor Toole.

Your various rantings have clearly shown that you eschew the practice of engineering and applied science.

JHL's picture

...this latest salvo tends to confirm a reliance on the projected slight; the continuing presumption that not only does a Tool - as I'll call the armchair expert - think that by waving a title he knows something his imaginary interlocutor somehow cannot, but that the latter is also an intellectual hick and a rube where the research goes.

I don't have a problem with one exposing his hindquarters like that, JRT; I'm just curious if it dawns on him that it's out there like that. I mean, those are rather preposterous allegations even when it's apparent he means to make an argument where none had existed, instead of - as you allude - actually *knowing* something.

No, to answer my own question, it hasn't occured to too many of the Tools many of us know that not only are they taking the Vaunted Work far too simplistically, but that they're clueless as to what vacuum that entails where real sound goes.

The curiosity is just how far they'll take their folly before it dawns on them how it is one.

PS: The reviewer liked the sound of this speaker. This is because it is a good-sounding speaker. There are technical reasons for this sound. Evidence of some of it distinctly appears in the measurements but they are not the product of the measurements.

Knowledge of this technical basis is probably not in the Tool's library. What is in the Tool's library is an assumption about sound, about the engineers that make sound; and the degree to which reviewers can hear, engineers engineer, and knowledge is distributed.

The measurement is not sound. It is an abstract. It is therefore incomplete, meaning it needs interpretation.

This interpretation does not appear in the Tool's knowledge set to a sufficient enough degree to inform sound. The reviewer, on the other hand, hears it.

This is a conundrum, but only if we ask the wrong questions and jump to conclusions, and only when we forget or deny the reason for the endeavor.

Jim Austin's picture

I will endeavor to keep it brief, but I have two points to make, about Floyd Toole's audio science and about the Totem review. It's likely to take a few words.

Toole first: Several of us (me, Kal, JA1) are quite familiar with Toole's work, and admire it. Toole's project is important: To provide a scientifically rigorous foundation to inform the choices made by audio designers, especially designers of loudspeakers. I'm trained as a scientist: I approve.

The foundation of that sort of work is statistics. It averages over preference. That's precisely what needed (needs?) to be done. It does not, however, take into account individual variations in acuity and taste--or, rather, it does so only in a generalized way. A loudspeaker designed to the classical Toole template will sound the best to the largest numbers of people. (The fact that there tends to be agreement between trained and untrained listeners makes it clear that it's more than just a survey of consumer preference--that there's something deeper going on--but the work is nevertheless based on populations.)

It's necessary work, and the profession and hobby are better for it. Much better. And yet there are variations on the Toole theme, and outright radical experiments, and people--some of the most deeply committed people--who don't buy in at all. The world is better for that, too. Some people are going after something completely different. That is something I'm very happy about. When you go to audio shows (assuming you do), do you go in search of the most conformist designs?

So it is regrettable when speakers (and other components) that so obviously do not aspire to the "classical" model continue to be judged according to the classical model. As much as I admire Toole's work, I do not admire conformists who insist that everything be judged by such narrow criteria. There is I am sure a single best way to roast a chicken, but I'm glad all restaurants do not do it the same way. I am not sure--I haven't asked--but I assume Toole would agree.

Crucially, Stereophile was founded on the notion that what matters most about audio components is what they sound like. Measurements had achieved a hegemony that was not improving the sound. Much as I sympathize with the Toole approach, I would never have accepted this job if it had meant betraying almost 60 years of Stereophile tradition. Fortunately I didn't need to. I was never tempted.

As I've written before in the magazine, when it comes to judging the emotional impact of music, the scientists do not have hegemony. On the contrary: It isn't obvious that they have much (directly) to say on the subject of music's emotional impact, and won't until we start to use fMRI or some other technique to judge the response in the emotional centers of our brains to different crossovers, etc. The fact that, as Toole showed, most people prefer certain things counts for little in a world where the most passionate are often the nonconformists.

As for the review itself, there's not a lot to say, except this: According to the classical model, that port is obviously very badly behaved. Anyone who has ever read the Loudspeaker Design Cookbook knows the pipe is too long or too narrow or both.

You can bet that Vince is among the people who know this. Of course he does. He knows it, he considered it, and he kept it. You don't have to like it--Rob obviously did, but you don't have to--to acknowledge that a designer can have different aspirations than you would have if you were doing the work. And anyway, unless you've heard it, how can you know? (You could save a lot of money by not buying speakers but instead projecting JA's measurements on the wall in your listening room.)

That egregious violation of good design principle: How does it sound? It's clearly audible on solo piano. Solo piano, as a consequence, does not sound completely natural. If JA had done this review--or, I like to think, if I had--this would have been reported. The port behavior a legitimate strike against these Totems. But, sonically, as experienced, there are many points in favor, too. Clearly that port resonance does NOT destroy the sound, even if it's clearly audible. Even if it is a grave sin against loudspeaker design orthodoxy--and this from someone (me) who believes in loudspeaker design orthodoxy (but also variety).

Is this a manifestation of ignorance and incompetence? Unlikely. Vince was after something and he seems to have achieved it. If you don't like it, don't buy it. Even criticize it if you wish, but just have a little humility please. Don't assume that all noncomformists are ignorant or that noncomforming speaker designs are evil. Just please acknowledge that not everyone in this world likes or aspires to the same thing. Give people a little credit.

At Stereophile, we believe in providing a complete picture. We did that here. Our published measurements are the precise reason that you are attacking the subjective review. That's balance. You never would not have gotten that from our main competition. And for those who doubt the editorial independence of Stereophile reviews, please note that we did publish those measurements; if we hadn't, we would not be having this conversation.

Seek perspective. Look at the big picture.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

beave's picture

Edited. My mistake.

beave's picture

I haven't read Dickason's book, but I'm not convinced that the port dimensions are the problem here. The fundamental resonance of the port is sound, so to speak, in that it occurs at the right frequency, is of appropriate amplitude, and is of appropriate Q factor. Those are things determined in large part by the port dimensions.

The problem is the higher-in-frequency, unwanted resonances coming out of the port. Those too are related to port dimensions, yes, but reducing/removing them is more about placement of the port location and absorption of said resonances inside the cabinet via dampening material, or via some sort of flexible port ala KEF, and not so much about changing port dimensions, right?

Jim Austin's picture

You could be right beave. I'm thinking of the so-called pipe-organ resonance phenomenon. There are some graphs in the Dickason book that make the point quite clearly; I just pulled the book out to remind myself; I'll take a pic and paste it in.

This (below) is from a simulation. Plots for the different ports are offset for clarity. As you can see, the longest ports are at the top. The bottom-most plot is for a dual-port configuration. I'm not sure what diameter port(s) this assumes.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

beave, you are right about lack of adequate internal damping causing the resonance peaks ...... Look at Fig.2 in measurements ...... There are huge resonance peaks/vibrations in the upper midrange including at 800-900 Hz ........ These resonance peaks are causing cabinet vibrations and port resonances (Fig.3) ......... JA1 describes about them in the text :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Some old British loudspeakers were intentionally designed with thin walled cabinets and inadequate internal damping to produce certain kind of sound ....... See, Stereophile review and measurements of old model Harbeth M40.1 speakers (Fig.2, measurements) :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Those resonances are probably like harmonic distortions in amplifiers ...... They probably add certain euphonic quality to the sound :-) .......

AJ's picture
Quote:

It ("Toole" aka science) does not, however, take into account individual variations in acuity and taste--or, rather, it does so only in a generalized way.

Actually it does, just that it is limited to SOUND. The "Trust ears", "Just listen" variety of testing as done by "Toole"..and countless others, accounts only for **sound**. It doesn't account for looks, price, audiophile street cred, sighted awards/accolades, etc, etc.
THAT, is the distinction. Olives sighted vs unsighted bias test did, but that is another story.
The unfortunate reality is that many audiophiles lack cognizance of word meanings and say "Just listen", oblivious that defines a controlled aka blind test!

Quote:

Stereophile was founded on the notion that what matters most about audio components is what they sound like.

That, by definition, means blind listening. While Gordon Holt did advocate rather strenuously towards the end https://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/1107awsi/index.html
as JA points out, this was not the modus operandi. Still not.

Quote:

Measurements had achieved a hegemony that was not improving the sound.

That is precisely the opposite of what science aka "Toole" found.
Nor stereophiles own writers:
https://web.archive.org/web/20180521025158/http://www.onhifi.com/features/20010615.htm
https://www.stereophile.com/content/wheres-real-magazine-we-see-it-february-2001

Quote:

There was no doubt that I had experienced audio playback of considerably higher fidelity than I had ever experienced from a two-channel system -JA.

The reality is that audiophiles DON'T "Just listen", "Trust ears", etc.
So I am in full agreement with you that the market can and should support the "non-conformist" designs that please the eyes, street rep, etc, etc, needs of the market, even if they won't please "Just ears" in *sound* tests.
The entire experience goes well beyond sound.
Ultimately, it's whatever makes one happiest.
Stay safe Jim.

cheers,

AJ
Soundfield Audio

Jim Austin's picture

AJ, Just discovered this caught up in our spam filter--not sure why. While I disagree with much of it, your post certainly is not spam.

I will try to find time to respond, at least briefly, later today.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

AJ's picture

If I were to guess, it might be because I included several links, the one by Wes (RIP) had to be retrieved from Way Back Machine, unfortunately.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

As a side note ...... Also look at 'Blind listening at Harman International', article written by KR for Stereophile :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... see these speakers go, then why didn't he buy them?
If they were really that good, wouldn't he want to keep them as a reference?
(Presumably $1,000 speakers are not out of his budget range.)

Perhaps a longer term evaluation and comparison with the KEF speakers might determine whether or not the various resonances and spurious artifacts uncovered in the measurements might be acting as a form of embellishment, resulting in the Totem speakers being perceived to be a "better storyteller", while the LS50s might be truer to the source.

Likewise, some investigations could have been conducted into Totem's recommended use of their "Beak" accessory. The Beak is a cone-shaped device intended to be placed on top of the speaker and claimed to "control resonances and allow for better driver integration" resulting" in imaging and dynamic improvement."
Also, "the high frequency difference when using the “Beak” is measurable and quite apparent. The tweeter generally has better linearity in the 8 kHz to 20 kHz range. Therefore, better staging and imaging is evident. At the crucial crossover point, frequency dips both on and off axis can be alleviated by as much as 1.5dB. Outcome: better harmony between woofer and tweeter, resulting in enhanced speed, impact and transients."

https://totemacoustic.com/pdf/manuals/Totem_UserManual.pdf
https://totemacoustic.com/accessories/

JHL's picture

The LS50 is a good example of a speaker that jumped off the shelves until it was shown how it deviated from the popular straight line. In the LS50's case, the amplitude trend was significant enough and unrelated to crossover type - the latter being the complaint about the Totem - that it was ultimately relegated to the status of tone control. The tide shifted.

But the LS50 could always have been better. It had both inherent design challenges it could not circumvent, and it had tuning challenges it was apparently not developed sufficiently to solve.

Yet the assumption had been cast: The LS50 was, by dint of its amplitude uniformity - there's that term again - around the transfer function between drivers, assumed to image and focus better. Amplitude response met the assumed superiority of the coaxial amplitude uniformity and minds were made up.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

What is in your opinion, is an ideal amplitude response? ...... Is the amplitude response of this Totem Skylight speakers, is ideal in your opinion? :-) ........

JHL's picture

...that there is sufficient granularity in simple loudness uniformity graphics to warrant them predicting speaker sound?

Do we believe we have a sufficient grasp of the thousands of design permutations - once we include all drivers, all topologies, and all transfer functions; for obvious reasons which we've never tried to do - to warrant loudness-versus-frequency visuals being the standard?

Why would we immediately revert to asking what visual abstract constitutes sound rather then just hearing the speaker?

The reviewer heard the speaker and reported on it in depth. Isn't his experience sufficient, or are we in the perpetual mode of demanding his credentials in light of what we anonymous armchair experts want to think is our superior sighted information, itself really just a bias?

We need make a distinction between the limited theoretical ideal and the global real-world outcome. This is why we review.

Which raises the final question: Are we here to learn about sound or to second-guess whatever doesn't fit out preconception?

Obviously nobody knows what response is ideal. The "ideal" is severely flawed by gross want of information, and even then, the ears-on reviewer suffers virtually no such limit. He's been doing this for decades on average.

There's a popular internet meme to remind us: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/63/96/da/6396daf5550bc84954a7d47ea2b45f59.jpg

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Also, are those port resonances ideal, in your opinion? :-) ........

JHL's picture

...to a troll?

rschryer's picture

I think you're putting too much faith in the audibility of measurements.

I know you're well read, so I assume you know that Doug Schneider of Soundstage! Hi-Fi, a man who, like JA1, appreciates a good set of measurements, also praised the Skylights.

His words: "What sold me on the Skylights was how smooth they sounded in the midrange and high frequencies, the latter having an almost feathery lightness that I really liked."

And: "I liked the Skylight a lot. I think it’s the best-value speaker Totem Acoustic has offered in years."

Doug heard what I heard.

beave's picture

Calling this speaker the "best-value speaker Totem Acoustics has offered in years" just might be an example of damning with faint praise. Just because it might be a better value than prior Totem speakers doesn't mean it's a good value relative to several speakers from other brands.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Totem speakers with a 'Beak' on top, would almost look like 'Coneheads' :-) ..........

rschryer's picture

...was written in anticipation of the day I would return the speakers, which I planned to do right after I submitted the review. I knew I'd be heartbroken.

Turns out I still have the Skylights. They are currently on my stands while the LS50s, which I am also very fond of, are sitting on the floor.

I'm not ready to part with the Skylights. Not yet. I'm keeping them a while longer and considering buying them.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In addition to Polk Legend L100 (1,200/pair), if you could, compare them to NHT C3 (1,000/pair) or NHT C3 Carbon (1,100/pair), acoustic suspension speakers :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are several reviews available on-line for NHT C3, including Home theaterHiFi, with measurements :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are also, several reviews of Polk L100 available on-line :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... a new section in Stereophile entitled 'But wait, there's more'?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is like the 'Star Wars' movies or 'James Bond' movies ...... but wait, there is more :-) .......

jimtavegia's picture

I know that now that I am at 73 and have tinnitus and HF loss so that very few speakers would sound bright to me, (might make me a Klipsch customer??), that would be no surprise anyone might perfer one speaker over another if their measurements matched their hearing deficiencies/differences better.

Most amplifiers test very flat in EQ, but you all can hear differences that I probably could not anymore. We all have seen from JA1`'s measurements speakers are all over the place and will be again in OUR rooms. If the EQ of a speaker is a better match your one's hearing and what you like, enjoy it. If not, find one you like. I don't get on to someone for what they like, that is pointless.

AaronGarrett's picture

That Jamie Branch record should be a new classic.

NeilS's picture

"..Curious, I played a poor recording, Bob Marley & the Wailers' greatest hits package, Legend (CD, Tuff Gong CCID 103). "

Are you sure you were playing the Barry Diament remaster? His remaster of Legend sounds good to me, and I don't think I'm alone.

https://www.discogs.com/Bob-Marley-The-Wailers-Legend-The-Best-Of-Bob-Marley-And-The-Wailers/release/652959

Anton's picture

Their "house sound" is quite delicious, all in all.

They have also seemed easy on the room for set up - and they almost always show well at shows, which is not a universally easy task.

This was an interesting "measurement vs. subjective listening" exercise. I haven't heard this specific model, but I have encountered many Totem speakers on life's peyote walk and will lean toward trusting the reviewer on this one.

boMD's picture

Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die albums are some of the best music to be released over the last few years. They recently played at the 2020 Portland Jazz Fest (one of the last few live gigs I caught before lockdown) and they certainly delivered the goods.

I’m a Totem owner also, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Skylights share a similarly quality containing Totem’s “house sound”. Both Fly or Die LPs sound incredible on my Totem loudspeakers. Love Chad Taylor’s drumming too. Have you listened to the new Chicago Underground Quartet yet?

rschryer's picture

Yes, I'm new at reviewing, and I'm not as technically inclined as some posters here, but I like to think that after so many years of listening to audio gear I can spot audiophile sound when I hear it.

The Skylights are certainly not perfect — I apologize if I gave the impression that I thought they were — but they do possess a set of sonic virtues that appeals to me to a degree that any deviation from neutrality they're guilty of doesn't detract me from admiring their overall sound. The Skylights are expressive little devils, full of vim and vinegar.

That said, I didn't play any solo piano works through the Skylights, and maybe if I had their port-related behavior might have become an issue.

So from here on out, I endeavor to be more thorough in my reviews in terms of the music I'll use to review equipment, and of pointing out potential colorations.

One thing you can count on — I will always be truthful.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The designers of these speakers know Stereophile measures loudspeakers ........ May be they want to prove a point :-) .......

John Atkinson's picture
Bogolu Haranath wrote:
The designers of these speakers know Stereophile measures loudspeakers . . .

So do Stereophile's reviewers, who don't see the measurements until after they have submitted their review texts. I take my hat off to them for having the courage of their convictions!

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I feel sorry for RS ...... His first ever review for Stereophile, turned out to be a disaster :-) .......

rschryer's picture

I'm confident that six months from now most of those who will have heard the Skylights at some length will be like "darn, those Skylights really are sweet-sounding!" and we'll all laugh about what will go down in audio history as the Big Port Controversy.

I'm getting the celebratory pin buttons ready now. :-)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It would be nice if those fans send you few bottles of 'port' :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You did a great job reviewing the Skylights, RS ....... It was the cruel and vicious measurements devotees, who turned your review into a disaster :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Next RS could review the Lexicon SL-1 wireless speakers with 'steerable sound' technology ........ Speakers of the future :-) .........

Jim Austin's picture

In my opinion, Rob did a great job with this--no disaster here. (I suspect from the smiley that your disaster comment is tongue-in-cheek, but I can't just assume that, can I?)

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It was a 'tongue-in-cheek' comment :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Several loudspeakers which did not have 'flat' on-axis frequency response, or ideal, lateral FR dispersion pattern got favorable reviews by Stereophile reviewers ....... Couple of example are Wilson Sasha DAW and DeVore GibbonX ....... However, majority of Stereophile recommended speakers show ideal or near ideal on-axis and off-axis FR measurements :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA1 liked the sound of DeVore GibbonX in the 'barn' ....... That was before the Stereophile formal review and measurements :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If the port is blocked or partially blocked, like one of the commenter mentioned, some of the port resonances could tamed ....... Also, using a separate subwoofer for bass frequencies, should eliminate port related problems :-) ........

JHL's picture

...you even partly block a reflex port, will it remain a reflex port?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Of course not ....... I'm trying to suggest cure(s) for the 'disease' :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You can add a well designed 'ported' subwoofer and get the benefits of a port, if any :-) .........

Ortofan's picture

... which of HR's socks you use.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HR would probably say to JHL ...... 'Put one of my sock in it' :-) .........

Anton's picture

We argue so vehemently because the stakes are so low.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How low can we go? ....... Let us do the limbo rock :-) .......

Anton's picture

If Totem slapped a $20,000 price tag on these babies they’d sound a lot better.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In that case, they have to change the name on the speakers to Wilson :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If the Skylights cost $20k and had the name Wilson on them, they would certainly get Stereophile Class-A rating ........ Just kidding ....... Just kidding :-) ......

dial's picture

Probably a good speaker (bi-wiring isn't my cup of tea that said) but for bookshelves, a lot of people won't spend as much, they only got them because lack of space, these little boxes are designed for small appartments. Serious music lovers also agree for their nirvanas for big extreme systems like Wilson, Focal, Magneplanar, Martin Logan etc
But when visiting friends who listen to music, all very old now, I never saw two times the same bookshelf boxes.

Anton's picture

You accidentally conflated “serious music lover” with audiophile!

Common error.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be your friends could buy an external EQ unit, instead of spending money on multiple bookshelf speakers ....... There are several external EQ units available for less than $500 :-) ........

dial's picture

Audiophilie is near to folie, I mean they don't care much about sound quality as soon they can hear something pleasant from their records. Hifi freaks don't buy little boxes but enormous gear. You'll never see an integrated in their homes, but big pre-amps-cables (XLR prefered), loudspeakers about 2 meters tall and of course a gigantic plinth for the turntable.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Tidal is starting to stream music in Dolby Atmos ....... Time to upgrade, audiophiles :-) ...........

eriks's picture

Without looking internally, this speaker looks like a mistake.

The impedance curve suggests at least 2nd order filters, but the response does not.

This happens when you have mismatched the crossover values to the driver impedance.

What a truly curious set of measurements for a speaker to make. I feel like we are back at the design everything by ear and hope we get lucky world. Well, good luck with that.

If this is actually the intended results though it suggests Totem is paying for parts they aren't using.

Update: I found pictures online from an Italian site regarding the crossover. Ahahahahahah. Hahahahaha.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Totem is trying to create a classic 'BBC dip' in the presence region between woofer and tweeter :-) .......

eriks's picture

From what I've read, it's not needed in a speaker with such a small woofer, and second....

Hahahhaa, this is not that, this is failure to create a properly implement a low pass filter. It's not so much the dip which is curious, that's fine. You want a dip in the midrange, W shaped, V shaped, OK, that's a matter of taste. The extreme overlap in the midrange and tweeter create significant off-axis challenges, the very opposite of the intention of the BBC dip.

Also, have you seen the pictures of the crossover online? This speaker is definitely the product of ad-hoc design.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Take a look at Wilson Sasha DAW crossover between the midrange and tweeter ...... Totem crossover looks lot similar, although the Wilson crossover is better designed for the 'BBC dip' :-) ........

eriks's picture

Hey Bogolu,

Thanks for posting a specific reference point so we could talk about it, and why we don't agree with the interpretation.

First, I'm not sure the Wilson dip is the BBC dip. The Wilson dip accentuated imaging, and they've moved away from it, I believe. It's a choice they were free to make. That's a matter of house sound. I'm not going to critique them for that here, nor do I critique Totem for that either The problem is with the engineering that got there.

The difference between the Wilson dip and the Totem skylight is not in the finished FR (which honestly I haven't analyzed that much) it's in the response of the low pass filter AFTER the dip.

Note how the Wilson you cited rolls off smoothly and consistently after 1 kHz. It is the lack of overlap that causes the dip in the combined FR. The mid rolls off too soon, and the tweeter not soon enough.

By contrast, the rolloff of the Totem is completely uncontrolled, and causes significant interference with the tweeter. What's worse, is that the impedance curve tells me they attempted a 2nd order low pass filter, but did not achieve it. It's an unholy mess. :)

Of course, if that's what you are after, go buy as many pairs as you can afford.

Best,

E

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Wilson dip is the classic 'BBC dip' ...... Also see, Hi-Fi News review and measurements of the Wilson Sasha DAW ....... There is a lot of information about BBC dip on the Internet ....... Search Google ...... PS Audio blog also describes about BBC dip ........

The wrinkles in the impedance in the midrange and lower treble are due to resonances ........ JA1 describes about them in the measurements section ..........

Like you said, these speakers are 'ad-hoc' design purposefully designed to sound good on certain types of music ....... They may not sound good on all types of music ...... BTW, I'm not buying these speakers :-) .........

Buckchester's picture

To those of you who are defending this poorly measuring speaker, I ask you this: do you think you would prefer it over other better measuring speakers with similar to identical bass capability? If not, then I would argue this isn’t a great speaker. If so, then I would ask if you think your opinion would hold up in a properly conducted double blind listening test? If so, then I would encourage you to try one and write a column on your results. I'm sure it would generate a lot of interest. However, I’m willing to bet that you would prefer the better measuring speaker, just as Floyd Toole’s work has shown would be the likely statistical outcome.

Toole’s work has shown an 86% correlation between measurements and listener preference. In fact, when speakers with similar-to-identical bass response were used, that correlation increased to 99%. That means that in 99% of the cases, listeners would prefer the better measuring speaker.

Suffice it to say, it is statistically improbable that anyone of us posting here would fall within the 1% that would actually prefer the worse measuring speaker once all external biases are removed and all that remains is the sound.

When we have what seems to be a disparity between a reviewer’s subjective impression of a speaker and the speaker’s measurements, as we have here, I would question whether or not the review was influenced by some level of bias. And we know sighted reviews are full of bias. Nobody is immune to it. It’s the simplest explanation.

ChrisS's picture

...does DBT's.

For audio reviewing.

Nobody.

Ortofan's picture

... Hi-Fi Choice, as part of their group tests?

ChrisS's picture

...Hi-Fi Choice is "blind" testing anything these days.

Way back when they were "testing", it was not DBT.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I mentioned this above ...... KR wrote an article for Stereophile 'Blind listening at Harman International' ....... It is an excellent article worth reading :-) ........

ChrisS's picture

...for R&D.

Not audio reviewing.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Agreed ...... But, the reviewer could use aural memory for comparison with the product under review, using his chosen music recordings ....... Have you read that KR's article, which I mentioned? ...... KR did not participate in R&D :-) .......

ChrisS's picture

...the article.

It's the aural equivalent of the picture game "Spot the Difference".

"But, the reviewer could use aural memory for comparison with the product under review, using his chosen music recordings..."

Isn't this what reviewers do?

Stereophile does very, very well with their "sighted" audio reviews.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Yes I agree ..... We all do 'sighted' mini audio reviews, when we are shopping for audio equipment and when we attend audio shows :-) ......

JHL's picture

Defending this poorly measuring speaker, as you put it, is not the same as: drawing conclusions about the veritable universe of the/a speaker's variables on the basis of a speaker's sighted amplitude. I think that's the pushback you see.

Drawing conclusions on the basis of graphical amplitude does not allow for a thorough definition and interpretation of the data *related* to a speaker but not suitable to describe the *sound* of a speaker, yet assumptions about the data drive an enormous number of foregone conclusions.

If by bass capacity you mean speakers of a identical class then you've *begun* to control for variables, but there are dozens more arranged across an infinite number of intersections.

Toole doesn't change that. The problem is insufficient sample size, inclusion of virtually no outlying designs, analytical listening, listeners of a type, and so on. Whether those omissions fall neatly within the other 14% none of us know but they absolutely exist and they are absolutely pertinent.

As Jim said here recently, paraphrased: that's interesting work but we're not interested in the average; this is about the high end. Further, distilling a few average designs among a few average listeners into a statistical entity is not the science of the loudspeaker itself, and the science of the loudspeaker itself is fundamental to the sound it makes. Miss the variables and/or the outlying samples and you don't have a science of devices, you have a science of your own local test variables and their and its limits.

Jim Austin's picture

I've written similar things often, sometimes better, sometimes worse. For optimal clarity, I'll write here what I currently believe, regardless of what I may have written previously.

As Jim said here recently, paraphrased: that's interesting work but we're not interested in the average; this is about the high end.

Toole's project was to study preference statistically, averaging over tastes. That could have been a fools errand, but it turned out not to be because he discovered a lot of consistency in those tastes. (It wasn't just Toole; others contributed to this work, too, both at Canada's NRC and Harman, and at other research institutions.)

My point was not that the high end is necessarily different--that we are somehow better (but read on). It is that in this world of subjective high-end reviewing, we simply like what we like, and there is a lot of individual variation in that.

I am not an absolute subjectivist: I believe that, as with wine, some aspects of good sound can be quantified. There is "structure" to good sound. A loudspeaker with a profoundly nonlinear frequency response is a flawed loudspeaker; the same with poor dispersion, delayed energy, and so on. However, that speaker may be very good at other things--things that some people value more highly. I'm glad our industry produces loudspeakers for those people, too. And some of those things are intangible--which is to say, harder to get a quantitative grip on than frequency response, cabinet vibrations, and dispersion patterns.

So, it's not precisely that we're not interested in the average--it is possible to make an extraordinary loudspeaker that appeals to average tastes--indeed, I suspect that the loudspeaker that I, personally, would judge to be the best would be one that adheres to the classical template: even frequency response, excellent dispersion, low distortion, little cabinet vibration, and so on, and does so while getting right many less tangible things. So, on the one hand, there is no need for us all to agree: The average is only an average, even if it does, as Toole suggests, point us toward the truth.

But there is also this: Toole's methodology relies on relatively large effects compared to much of what subjective audiophiles (including reviewers) perceive. It has to to be rigorously quantitative--which of course was his goal. The tradeoff for such certainty is that his method is a rather blunt instrument and could easily miss a big part of what goes into making a speaker great. Much of the high-end game, then, wasn't necessarily captured by Toole's project. Of course there is no objective, quantitative evidence that this is the case.

Which is to say that your paraphrase isn't wrong.

I'll close by saying, in reference to some other posts in this thread--that the notion that Von Schweikert Audio, or one of their customers, would put this much into a loudspeaker in order to produce a flat frequency response--as if that were the main goal--is ludicrous. Obviously you can buy a flat frequency response for far less money.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Buckchester's picture

If I understand your position correctly, it’s that Toole’s work has shown us what most prefer, but not all. And you are suggesting, there may be qualities in some speakers that some people like that differ from what most would prefer, or, that our measurement techniques do not capture.

Fair enough. You might be right. But you might be wrong. And with all due respect, I don’t think the review in question here supports your position in nearly any adequate way. Because in order to determine this, we would need the reviewer to remove the external bias variables by doing the testing blind and level-matched with any comparison speakers. That way, all we are left with is the sound.

And if your view is in fact true, then it should be borne out in Toole’s work. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it was. I mean, I don’t think the tests showed that there were certain people that consistently preferred a deviation from the preferred response. We could always ask him for clarification on this. He posts regularly on AVS forum.

Jim Austin's picture

You did seem to miss a key point in what I wrote. The desire for certainty has consequences in that the methods required to establish certainty limit you to rather large effects. "You might be right. But you might be wrong," you wrote. That is absolutely true--but don't look to Toole's methodology for a decisive answer.

The body of research I described in my post certainly illustrates the hazards of sighted listening--there's no doubt about that. Some may conclude that this invalidates all sighted listening tests, as Toole himself appears to have done. In case it isn't obvious, I am a great admirer of Toole's work. If I believed that, though, I would not have become Stereophile's editor.

I don't think we need science to tell us that different people like different things--a fact that is illustrated in Stereophile every month and all across the world every day.

Stereophile arose from a belief that specifications and technical concepts were missing important aspects of the listening experience--that the best way to evaluate systems and components that reproduce music is to listen. While I do read the literature, I don't concern myself too much with how much of what I hear can in principle be explained by science; I just listen. And when I just listen, I hear things--things that are meaningful and that to me seem reliable. If you believe that measurements, specifications, and repeatable research capture everything, then you don't need Stereophile, except perhaps our measurements.

Sorry, I can't continue this conversation--I have a magazine to produce.

Best Wishes,

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

beave's picture

I believe you meant sighted listening, not sited listening. It seems our editor needs an editor! :-)

Jim Austin's picture

Heh, yeah, apparently.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Buckchester's picture

The thing is, when you do sighted listening, you are doing more than just listening. When you do it blind, you are doing nothing more than listening.

Since the science has proven visual cues can heavily influence listener perception, and since it has shown a remarkably strong correlation between measurements and listener preference, then if a reviewer believes a poorly measuring speaker sounds good, then it begs the question: did visual cues influence the assessment? It’s a question worth asking. It would be great if Stereophile were interested in exploring it.

I would like to think engaging with readers in the comments section is part of producing the magazine.

ChrisS's picture

...audio reviewing does "blind" listening.

How long do you think the influence of sighted listening lasts? Forever?

No... "Science" can show, depending on the listener's skills, abilities,, and training, that the biases of visual cues may only last for minutes.

No one shops by "blind listening".

No one else reviews by "blind listening", why should Stereophile?

JHL's picture

...against so-called sighted listening is an Audio 101 error. A novice error. It's physically and logically wrong.

Physically the ear of any reasonably astute listener - any fairly dialed in "high end" listener - easily and always transcends whatever the stack of boxes at the live end of the space *look like*. Without exaggeration I've seen and experienced this hundreds and hundreds of times.

Logically it's incorrect. For example, objectivism *looks* at simple measured audio outputs and behaviors, and solely on their basis arrives at conclusions that are really just crude estimates. Sighted objectivism can't suss out better than a ~3dB acceptable tolerance in a speaker amplitude response, when a good listener (and designer) can detect less than a 1/2dB deviation.

And that's just sighted amplitude, the trending ne plus ultra and go/no-go gauge of audio objectivism.

This all asks what the goal is. There is no functional, confirming, tangible correlation between visual data and adequate suspension of perceptual disbelief at the ear. Remember that by its rules, objectivism may not listen to audio to establish performance, much less true high performance. Objectivism instead extrapolates a wide tolerance, subjective version of it, and reflects this belief and conclusion internally where in a deeply ironic way it may become an ersatz replacement for live real music.

This is what's concerning to the audio high end. In places we're increasingly accepting the sound of subjectively acceptable, sighted audio data as the sound of nature.

Whether there is some majority cohort of people who encounter stereos and immediately project upon them some sound other than their own sound is unknown, irrelevant, and silly. Any fitting level of aural, mental, and emotional suspension of disbelief completely overrides this *purported* flaw in subjective listeners.

Shorter version. Nowhere in the pursuit of simple sensory gratification does a particular type of practitioner tell another type of practitioner what he or she may or may be experiencing *while engaged in the pursuit itself for its own personal, organic, human sake*. The very idea seems preposterous.

PS: "The science has proven" is not uncommonly actually scientism, the mere belief in an absolute. Further, the word you want is evidence, indicating a ongoing trajectory.

PPS: Begging the question is a type of logical fallacy, and not a term of inquiry.

beave's picture

"The thing is, when you do sighted listening, you are doing more than just listening." That's a key point often lost on audiophiles.

beave's picture

"Physically the ear of any reasonably astute listener - any fairly dialed in "high end" listener - easily and always transcends whatever the stack of boxes at the live end of the space *look like*."

Link to supporting evidence?

JHL's picture

Working title: "Who you gonna believe, comrade, me or your lying ears."

Buckchester's picture

http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/04/dishonesty-of-sighted-audio-product.html?m=1

John Atkinson's picture
Buckchester wrote:
http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/04/dishonesty-of-sighted-audio-product.html?m=1

I note that Sean Olive concludes his essay with a quote from Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt, who lamented in a recent interview: "Audio as a hobby is dying, largely by its own hand. As far as the real world is concerned, high-end audio lost its credibility during the 1980s, when it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor since Pascal. [This refusal] is a source of endless derisive amusement among rational people and of perpetual embarrassment for me..."

You can find my interview with JGH at www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/1107awsi. I was always puzzled by Gordon's implied condemnation of sighted listening, a practice that he pioneered, as he didn't take part in any blind tests until he participated as a listener in the tests Tom Norton and I organized for Stereophile in the late 1980s and 1990s. Following that experience, Gordon continued with sighted listening for his reviews in Stereophile and Stereophile Guide to Home Theater until he resigned in 1999.

Something that should be noted about the Olive and Toole listening tests, at least as far as they were performed in the early 2000s when I visited Harman's testing facility, was that they were performed with one speaker, not two. Floyd Toole said at that time that the stereo test results could be inferred from the mono testing. However, I have found that listening to one speaker emphasizes differences in tonal character and coloration.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Jim Austin's picture

However, I have found that listening to one speaker emphasizes differences in tonal character and coloration.

I recently bought the third edition of Toole's book and have been reading it. (I previously owned the first edition, read it years ago, and have consulted it occasionally.) This motivated me, over just the last few days, to audition a loudspeaker in mono.

I'll save my main conclusions for the magazine. Here I'll just agree with John that, for stereo programs at least--which of course are the programs of interest if the goal is to infer stereo behavior--a single speaker sounds very different from two speakers properly set up in a listening room. (There are differences with mono programs, too, but they are more subtle.)

But I think there is a larger point here that's implied by John's observations: In many respects, those seeking to evaluate a loudspeaker's technical performance, even subjectively (as in the case of Toole and Olive) tend to audition under conditions that few music-listeners would choose. Consider, in addition to auditioning a single speaker, the issue of listening volume. The louder you listen, the more you hear. Low-volume = low-dynamic-range. The answer for maximum information is to listen as loudly as you safely can. To do so, though, is to listen at levels that are unpleasant and may actually hurt.

Toole, Olive, et al. take an indirect approach to evaluating hi-fi gear. They assume that emotional communicativeness is a result of technical performance, so they evaluate that. It's a fine project. But Stereophile's project is to evaluate the emotional communicativeness of the products we review directly, in actual, musical use.

I do not criticize their approach; indeed I find much value in it. But we're doing something different, which also has value. Those who don't agree are welcome not to read our reviews--although they may still find value in John's measurements.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

JHL's picture

...review, in my comment above I inferred that

1. Sighted amplitude was the leading, if not the only metric of most objectivist speaker evaluation, and;

2. That that by that data objectivism indicts various products and persons.

The problem is clear. Interpretation of data is key even though interpretation is inherently arbitrary and subjective. *Data* is absolute and reliable, but casual objectivism doesn't make valid claims based on data as much as it itself infers go/no-go gauges without a further, concise parameter. For a speaker it comes to conclusions within roughly in a 3dB window, with little or no analysis of the speaker's complex behavior underneath it. It then stops shy of absolute assessments because it can't make them; the reliable technical data is, after all, abstract.

Meanwhile the subjectivist can be down in the sub-1dB window. He may even involve most or all of the speaker's fundamental workings. Change any one or a few of them by significantly less than the objective 3dB and that speaker finds itself rapidly off the recommended list. That's maybe 1dB. Or a design element either misses any notice from the data or doesn't appear there at all and subjectively it's clearly a different product.

One camp is on the outside looking in, making assumptions. The other is potentially on the other side, experiencing real phenomena a number of times finer. Those *do* exist.

All this is fine and good, as are all the studies and all the correlated results and all the approximate conclusions drawn from them. There's nothing unsuitable about any of that, *as far as it goes*.

The problem is insufficient granularity and no means to translate back to a functional, physical instrument. There's a barrier to translation and there's a gap in the presumption-based conclusion.

Where people push back, however, is when they're told what they can or should hear, and that their experience should conform primarily or even entirely to one of the findings of our incomplete science.

If any of us has indeed experienced overwhelmingly parallel opinions derived from hundreds of sighted experiences over many years, and we have not collated and peer-reviewed those experiences, obviously none of them or us are invalidated. Not only is the notion risible, it flies in the face of an enormous pattern of evidence, and science is made from evidence.

Indeed, the notion that experience is so irrelevant - and even grossly inherently contaminated by the human component - that only peer review is credible, than the entire body of Stereophile by-ear reviews is null and void.

Expect some pushback when you head over to the diners at the other table and pull out your wine guide to vet their palates for them.

rschryer's picture

"One camp is on the outside looking in, making assumptions. The other is potentially on the other side, experiencing real phenomena a number of times finer. Those *do* exist."

Love it.

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