Totem Acoustic is a spectacularly successful Canadian speaker maker that has a devoted following around the world. Perhaps that’s because it’s always stayed true to its roots: design loudspeakers that evoke an emotional connection with your soul when listening to your favourite music. Another reason Totem has achieved such a high status among music lovers is because they produce honest products that are simply fun to listen to. For the most part, Totem steers clear of expensive exotic materials and unnecessarily complicated designs, like so many other manufacturers. Instead, Totem focuses on the core design elements that result in great sound: solid, well built cabinets, dynamic, high performance drivers and tweeters, and highly desirable point-to-point wired crossovers.
At the end of 2018, Totem launched the KIN Play, the company’s first powered Bluetooth speaker aimed squarely at the next generation of music lovers. This speaker quickly found resounding success with listeners of all ages and paved the path for numerous new KIN series product designs. This fall, at the CEDIA Expo, Totem introduced several new products into the KIN series, aiming to strike all the right chords with those who desire simplicity, excellent sonics and a price point that everyone can dance to. The KIN series currently consists of two powered Bluetooth speakers (the KIN Play and KIN Play Mini), a pair of passive speakers (the KIN Monitor and KIN Mini Flex), the KIN Sub and several architectural (in-wall / in-ceiling) speakers. Brand new to the series is also the KIN Amp – Totem’s first-ever integrated amplifier. In this article, I take a closer look at the KIN Play bookshelf speakers.
The Totem KIN Play ($1,250 CDN) is essentially an all-in-one music system housed inside two bookshelf cabinets – all you need is a music source and you’re off to the sonic races. This versatile duo will happily let you stream high resolution music wirelessly from your phone or laptop and they even offer a phono turntable connection. The KIN Play speakers are designed to be used as dedicated music system or as a system that is paired with your TV set. Their wireless connectivity comes courtesy of a Bluetooth 4.1 chip (Qualcomm aptx HD; capable of sampling rates up to 48 kHz), while their turntable compatibility is a function of the built-in phono input stage (compatible with moving-magnet cartridges; 47 kOhm input impedance). Power comes from an internal amplifier that pumps out 2 x 120 watts (RMS) which easily allows the speakers to rock out at house party volume levels. How’s that for flexibility?
Each KIN Play speaker is outfitted with a 1-inch metal alloy dome tweeter, complemented by a 5-inch natural hybrid woofer. The KIN Play system has a frequency response rated from 39 Hz to 22 Hz (+/- 3 dB). To achieve the best sonic performance, Totem recommends placing the speakers 6 inches to 2 feet away from the back wall, with a distance of 3 feet to 12 feet between the speakers. The wide range of placement options means that the KIN Play will be very easy to position just about anywhere in your home.
The rear panel of one of the KIN Play speakers houses a stereo analog RCA input that can be switched between phono and line level, a 3.5 mm mini jack input, as well as an optical input capable of receiving 192 kHz / 24-bit audio. This optical input is designed to connect a TV’s output to the speakers, or other music sources with an optical output. There’s also a subwoofer output for those whose desire to connect an external subwoofer to get more bottom end oomph.
The KIN Play speakers come available in your choice of matte white or matte black. Each speaker measures 7” x 14” x 9.25” (WxHxD). Included in the box, you’ll find a number of goodies: a remote control, speaker wire, power cable and a pair of interconnects – basically everything you need to get started. Visually, the KIN Play speakers are neither small nor large. They’re a comfortable size that will easily fit into just about any room – whether it’s a teenager’s bedroom or a family living room. Personally, I prefer the matte white finish, which my review pair was provided in, over the matte black version because they “appear” to be more compact.
To get the party started, I set up the KIN Play speakers atop my bookshelf speaker stands, about 12 inches away from the back wall, in the dining room – the space where much of the music listening takes place at my house, especially when entertaining friends and family. I paired my iPhone via Bluetooth to the speakers in seconds flat and connected my Gold Note Giglio moving magnet turntable to their phono input.
I sat myself in an armchair, with my phone in hand and began selecting tunes through my TIDAL streaming music app. I started with the BORNS Dopamine album and tracks such as “Electric Love”, “10,000 Emerald Pools” and “American Money”. The fluid and mesmerizing vocals of Garrett Clark Borns had me lost in the music in no time. The KIN Play did an excellent job at conducting the energy of BORNS’ music and painted a surprisingly large sonic landscape. The soundstage extended well outside the side walls of my room and reached just as far in depth behind the speakers. To me, a speaker’s ability to produce a soundstage with an extended width and depth are paramount because this characteristic makes the music sound more exciting and immersive. In this regard, the KIN Play managed to put a great big smile on my face.
Another rock / pop band I’ve really been enjoying lately is Arkells, from Hamilton, Ontario. I’ve seen them perform live several times over the last few years and they continue to release incredible music. Coincidentally, I ran into lead singer / guitarist Max Kerman at a local bar in downtown Toronto the weekend before I wrote this and shared a quick drink with him. I queued up some of their latest hits on TIDAL such as “11:11”, “My Heart’s Always Yours”, “Knocking at the Door”, “People’s Champ” and “Relentless”. The KIN Play speakers reproduced the upbeat emotion of the music very well and teleported me sonically to the live performance. These attributes are definitely some of the hallmarks of a great speaker.
Changing up the pace, I listened to my favorite tracks from Billie Eilish, Lorde and The Weeknd. The KIN Play speakers delivered a consistent, detailed sound from all the tracks I listened to from these artists. They also managed to produce a respectable amount of bass, which provided a solid foundation to the tracks. To be honest, I didn’t hear any earth shattering or precisely articulate bass here but that wouldn’t be a fair expectation from a modestly sized bookshelf speaker. Such tricks are best left to subwoofers and that’s why Totem gives you the option to hook up an external subwoofer, like its own KIN Sub.
While I tested the KIN Play speakers, I tried them in different locations around my house to get a better sense of how they performed if placed in less-than-ideal environments. I quickly learned that they are remarkably forgiving in terms of placement because they offer a large sweet spot, meaning that they’ll sound very good even if you’re not sitting perfectly in front of them. This is a highly desirable speaker character. I found them to play well with even just a couple of feet between them, although for best imaging I recommend placing them at least four feet apart. Also, if you’d like to “pump up the bass” a little, simply move them a little closer to the rear wall. Those who like to tweak the sound to their liking, will be pleased to know that the provided remote control also allows you to adjust the treble and bass.
If you own a turntable, you’ll be happy to know that the KIN Play speakers offer a phono input, a feature that is not offered by any other powered speakers that I’m aware of. This input allows you to hook any moving magnet turntable, like my Gold Note Giglio directly the speakers.
Milky Chance and their record “Sadnecessary”, as well as Muse’s “Simulation Theory” record, once again demonstrated that the KIN Play excel at creating a large soundstage with great width and depth. The vinyl versions of these records definitely sounded more “alive” than the digital files. The vocals and instruments in the midrange benefited from finer gradients in musical details which made them sound more fluid and realistic. There was also an increased amount of air between the various layers of instruments. With the Muse album, especially, the KIN Play’s created a vast, out of this world sonic immersion.
With Don McLean’s “American Pie” record, the strumming of the acoustic guitar sounded genuine and articulate. On the title track, I could easily hear the soft guitar pick dancing across the strings. Meanwhile, drums and other instruments that reach into the higher frequencies played with just the right crispness and rolled off gently. Listening to records demonstrated that the built-in phono stage was quite capable and easily allowed the warmth of vinyl albums to shine through.
I also played several Lana Del Ray records, including “Ultraviolence”, “Honeymoon”, “Lust For Life” and the latest release “Norman Fucking Rockwell!”. With these albums, right from the outset, the KIN Play’s generated toe-tapping energy and excitement. And once again, I noticed that the KIN Play’s were very good at achieving great separation between vocals and instruments. Only when the music featured a large number of layers, the vocal / instrument separation started becoming less apparent – but in order to get this right, you’d have to step up to much more expensive speaker models. Of course, Totem offers plenty of choice in truly high-end designs.
All in all, I spent many hours listening to different records and music genres and can say with confidence that every time I walked away from the music, I walked away very satisfied.
Pleased with the KIN Play’s performance with music, I moved the speakers onto the TV console in my living room and launched Netflix. Do you ever wonder where your TV sound comes from since you don’t see any speakers in the front? It usually comes from one or two tiny speakers mounted in the back, which rely on reflections from the back wall to deliver sound to your ears. While this is a neat solution design-wise, it leaves much to be desired in terms of sound quality.
With the KIN Play speakers in place, I was immediately rewarded with sound that was far more enjoyable and did a great job of bringing the on-screen action to life. In contrast to the puny, congested sound from the TV speakers, I was presented with a significantly richer, more detailed sound. Voices became fuller and more palpable, while the soundstage became much wider thanks to the increased stereo separation. Busy city scenes in Murdoch Mysteries gave the impression as if I was standing in the middle of a crowded street. Action scenes from sci-fi series Dark Matter and blockbuster movies like Bumblebee benefited from increased impact and energy.
Last by not least, I also played a few games on my PlayStation 4, including NHL20, Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot and Contra: Rouge Corps. With the KIN Play speakers providing the sound, there’s no question that the level of immersion was far greater that with the built-in TV speakers. Voices became more realistic, alien noises became scarier and gunshots were at times frightening. Overall, the improved quality of sound made me feel more like I was in the game, rather than just playing it. It would be tough – no, it would be impossible – to go back to watching movies and playing games using the TV speakers again.
The KIN Play powered Bluetooth speakers strike a superb balance between immersive sound, compact dimensions and price. There’s something very honest and deeply satisfying in the way they reproduce sound – something we’ve learned to expect from all Totem speakers. For $1,250 CDN, there is a lot of value here: you get a pair of well-built speakers, an integrated amp, Bluetooth connectivity and even a turntable input. These speakers are likely to provide you with many years of listening pleasure, without having to sacrifice a lot of space that a full blown audio system demands and without chowing down too much of your disposable income. If you’re in the market for powered speakers, these puppies should definitely make your short list.
Totem KIN Play Powered Bluetooth Speakers
Price: $1,250 CDN