Review: totaldac d100 Speakers

Public Address (PA) systems are used in any public venue that requires an announcer, performer, etc. to be sufficiently audible at a distance or over a large area. In hifi, clarity is also prized but in measured doses. Too little and music sounds like mud, too much and you end up in a house of mirrors blasted by harshness.

The d100 from France’s totaldac are the company’s smaller speakers. Standing nearly 4’ tall, 1’ wide, and 1.5’ deep, the Baltic birch plywood cabinets of the d100 are painted a subtle shimmery near black and are hard to miss in room. Even a room as big as the Barn. With a pair of 12” exposed drivers — the lower Neodymium driver is for bass only while the top custom made driver handles bass and midrange handing off everything above 3.5kHz to a horn-loaded 1″ compression tweeter with bass ports on either side — the d100 don’t sound the way they look. At least to me, as their looks suggest a kinda casual nod to refinement.

We are told that the crossovers, which reside in their own wooden enclosures inside the speakers, are made from hard-wired air coils and select film capacitors. Those air coils are about the size of a man’s hand, using 5mm2 pure copper. Think thick and heavy. Vincent Brient, the mind, body and soul behind every product from totaldac, shares that the d100 have a 98dB sensitivity (@ 1m @ 2.83V) with an 8 Ohm average impedance making them an easy-ish load for your amplifier.

The back side of the d100 are as plain as night, with only a single pair of Mundorf binding posts protruding from the lower end. The d100 weigh a somewhat surprising 92.5 lbs, looking heavier than that due to their cubic units. I have to admit that I was not initially taken with the d100’s appearance, but as I said in the recent review of the tiny Totem Tribe Towers, let’s not judge a speaker by its cover.

I tried to capture the d100’s subtle sparkle finish and kinda succeeded

I paired the d100 speakers with a few different integrated amplifiers including the Ayre EX-8 Integrated Hub, Marantz Model 30, and the beauty of a beast Technics SU-R1000. The beastly beauty Parasound JC 5 Amp also saw some play time with the Technics acting as preamp. The digital source was the totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer getting music from Roon via my NAS-based library along with Qobuz and Tidal. The Rega P3/Nagaoka MP-110 MM Cartridge combo also joined in the fun.

The d100 ended up roughly 4’ from the side walls and 6’ from the front wall (the one behind the speakers), 8’ apart (measured from the center of the drivers), with the Eames red chair and I a bit over 8’ away and toed in so I could see just a slice of the inner side. This is about where most speakers sound their best in Barn, but the d100 ended up a bit farther from the front wall to better blend bass response — the nearer to the wall, the more bass you get.

the review pair suffered some minor shipping-induced cosmetic damage. Vincent Brient has since taken measures to further bullet-proof the packaging

The Big Man Dances

In some ways, the d100 sound smaller than their looks might suggest. That is, if you got the impression they may be kinda clumsy and rather brutish, I am happy to report that the opposite is the case.

Having reviewed six totaldac DACs and their stand alone streamer, I feel I’ve got a handle on the company’s house sound. If you travel up the line of DACs beginning with the least expensive, one thing you get is greater clarity. While I’ve never heard a totaldac DAC sound harsh or edgy, some people may prefer getting off the bus before the top of the line, as was the case in a few small group listening sessions where we compared, among other DACs, totaldacs, where systems and preferences had some listeners enjoying the comparatively less resolving sound of a lower cost totaldac DAC. One thing I can say about every totaldac DAC I’ve had the pleasure to live with is they imbue digital-based music with a natural sound and energy that makes listening to music through them exciting. And this experience is very much like hearing things the way they sound in the real world, which is also oftentimes exciting.

The d100 speakers are exciting speakers to listen to. They are very light on their big footprint, able to dance along with every beat I had to offer. This gets me back to the fact that the d100 don’t sound the way they look and bears repeating because more than a few people have commented on their looks and not one of them said, “I bet they sound nothing like they look.”

“Terminal Paradise” from Big Thief’s Live At The Bunker Studio is all swaying beauty, with Adrianne Lenker’s addicting vocals standing out from the mix. With the d100, she stands out more than I’m used to in a manner I would typically associate with a single driver speaker — that near eerie Lowther-like presence making Lenker feel embodied in Barn. Since the totaldac speakers also have two honking 12” drivers sitting below their horn-loaded tweeter, driver integration becomes an issue that single drivers happily avoid. Perhaps a more apt reference would to be a speaker like the Altec Valencia, which I owned and enjoyed for a number of years, where its mid/treble compression driver with a cast-aluminum horn imbued music with a presence in the presence region that was also addicting.

Overall, the d100 sound nicely balanced, not suffering from dissimilar voicing throughout the full frequency range, and fittingly fast. That being said, I would suggest that care should be given to associated amplification, erring on the warmer side of neutral to avoid upper register harshness that is hinted at when listening to bright and crunchy recordings. The d100’s horn-loaded tweeter is capable of great detail, not too dissimilar from PA systems from days gone by, which unsurprisingly can also make great music makers but can lean toward sounding a bit unrelenting if the driving amp is itself on the hard sounding side.

As I put more listening time on the d100 speakers with a number of amps, I settled in with the Technics SU-R1000 for the longer haul, as it combines a wonderful grip from top to bottom along with a rich voice. Grinderman’s “When My Baby Comes” from 2010’s Grinderman 2 is laid out like a revenge flic, starting out on the soft side to tell its story until everything explodes in frustration, mayhem, and noise. The d100 make listening to “When My Baby Comes” as thrilling as I’ve heard, and I’ve heard this song on a lot of systems. I’m talking about edge of your seat, heart-pounding, adrenaline pumping pleasure to the nth degree. The d100 love, love to play loud and I would say they are happiest a bit above my normal listening levels. Big Barn-filling sound, as electric as a fork in an outlet. Hair raising. Fun.

To my mind, the most obvious in Barn comparator are the DeVore Fidelity O/96 ($13,200/pair), which also present an easy load to the accompanying amplifier with a 96 dB/W/M sensitivity and 10 Ohm load. The O/96 is two way design, with a 10″ paper cone and gently horn-loaded 1″ silk-dome tweeter. To my ears, the O/96 are more refined sounding compared to the d100, offering a richer tonal palette, greater nuance, with more coherent body from top to bottom. The O/96 are also happier at lower volumes than the d100 which can sound ever so slightly splashy when playing softly. In the d100’s plus column, they can sound bigger than the O/96 which is not surprising given the size and placement of the drivers, and they have that sense of super immediacy that lends music an extra jolt of pure excitement. If I was throwing a big Barn party, which I really have to do some day, I’d wheel in the d100 for the event. Then, when everyone went home, the DeVore’s would come back in to sooth. Or so I imagine.

Even after weeks of listening to the totaldac d100, I still sat up straighter and got nearly aflutter with anticipation when cueing up power music. Boris’ “Absolutego” is one such beast, from their album Dear, and here the d100 are a perfect mate for Boris’ flame-throwing sound. I saw Boris perform this album live and had to run from the room as the volume levels pushed so much air, my Levi’s felt as if they might tear to pieces while my Etymotic ear protectors flew from my ears in protest, beating me out the door. With the totaldac DAC, Technics amp, and d100 speakers I could adjust the volume in Barn to a comfortable live level which still offered a wonderful mix of physicality and nuance.

Alfred Schnittke’s Faust Canata offers a hair-raising ride, and by the time we reach act VII, things turn pure carny tango. Madness, mayhem, organ, orchestra, and mezzo-soprano Ingor Blom sounding like “…some Ethel Merman of the apocalypse” as Alex Ross famously wrote, are all deftly handled by the d100. Just for fun, I switched back to the Ayre EX-8 Integrated Hub and found that the Ayre’s wonderful upper register sweetness and sparkle also made for a lovely d100 companion, bringing out more triangle-ness in the triangles. While the Technics made things sound a bit more powerful, as if I was getting more from those 12” drivers, the Ayre seemed to dig a bit deeper into the finer details while still delivering a very moving performance. Bravo!

Beauty And The Beast

The totaldac d100 speakers have character, something I’ve come to expect from totaldac DACs. This character in the d100 is best described as a level of excitement and energy that is very addicting. To my mind and eyes, the d100 are not for everyone, what speakers are?, but if you want listening to music on the hifi to be an event akin to attending a live event, give the totaldac d100 some serious listening time. You may find yourself listening longer and louder and having loads more musically-oriented fun than you’re used to.

totaldac d100 Speakers
: 13900euros incl VAT in Europe, 12800euros excl VAT out of Europe

Specifications / Features

  • 98dB @ 1m @ 2.83V even in bass thanks to two 12inch drivers
  • 2.5way: both 12inch drivers are producing bass but only the top driver is producing midrange as well
  • bass cutoff: 25Hz at 6dB in room
  • 8ohm average impedance with smooth variations
  • easy matching with any amplifier, including low power triodes
  • constant directivity horn used only above 3.5KHz
  • equally resolving from top to bottom
  • most of the sound is coming from the top of the speaker, giving it a bookshelf speaker coherency
  • drivers and crossover components from Western Europe manufacturers
  • Neodymium bass driver with very high force
  • custom made ultra fast bass/mid driver
  • very extended treble 1 inch compression driver with organic dome
  • crossover made of air coils and selected film capacitors only
  • point to point wiring crossover, no PCB trace is used, only the component legs are used
  • inductor for the bass made of 5mm2 copper wire
  • crossover isolated in its own wooden enclosure
  • Mundorf binding posts for any kind of banana and spade cables
  • cabinet made of Baltic Birch Plywood (grey other color on request), or 100% massive wood (chestnut) option
  • made in France
  • Dimensions ( W x D x H): 320mm x 470mm x 1180mm
  • Weight: 42kg

Company Website: totaldac