In all my years of being an audiophile, of being a high-end audio importer and distributor, of being an audio reviewer, I had never seen a pair of loudspeakers get split up in a shipment and sent to different locations. That happened, unfortunately, to the TotalDAC d100 loudspeakers on their way to my house in Oregon.
None of this is TotalDAC’s fault. If you’ve heard me recently joking about the chaos that is currently domestic shipping in 2021, here’s just one of many examples. I opened my door one day and there was a huge cardboard box on my front porch. After the obligatory jokes about the “limited mono edition” of the TotalDAC d100 and a few obligatory and snarky guesses about the real meaning behind the shipping company’s name (“U Pay Severely”), I made a few phone calls. Three weeks later, the other speaker showed up in in a cardboard box that had been to many places and seen many distant, far-off lands judging by the ragged forklift holes and the random slashes and the asphalt skid marks on the crumpled, barely intact cardboard box.
I feared the worst, but the speakers were intact. I hooked the TotalDAC d100 loudspeakers up to the Allnic Audio T-2000 integrated, made the sign of the cross even though I’m not Catholic and never have been, and I flipped the power switch and hoped for the best. Music flowed. All was well. Soon, the d100s had charmed me completely and I forgot all about the United Package Smashers adventure.
This wouldn’t have been a big deal if the TotalDAC d100 speakers had been another pair of small two-way monitors, but no. The TotalDAC d100 speakers are big black boxes, perhaps one of the biggest speakers I’ve hosted. I wasn’t convinced at first that I wanted to review them—I’ve been sticking with the smaller speakers lately because the egress into my current digs has a very high difficulty rating and that’s not how I want to die. But Vincent Brient of TotalDAC assured me they weren’t monsters, and that he could easily maneuver them around and he did not consider himself that strong of a man.
Indeed, the TotalDAC d100s were big and boxy but unusually light for their size, which seems to be against the grain of most five-figure speaker designs. When you rap your knuckles against the side of enclosure, the d100s turn into a wonderful cajon. The matte black finish on the d100s is smooth and yet plain and utilitarian, almost like pro audio. These are big black monoliths, and as you see they’re not easy to photograph. They don’t look like high-end audio speakers, at least in the usual cosmetically obsessed manner.
So why review the TotalDAC d100 loudspeakers? Because of the buzz, that TotalDAC buzz. This French company, known mostly for its innovative digital products, is something of a well-kept secret among audiophiles who want something a little different, a little better than most. Remember when Grover Neville reviewed the TotalDAC d1-tube-mk. II DAC? He loved it. Why did he review it? Because our publisher, Scot Hull, also heard great things about it and arranged for one to be sent. He re-routed it to Grover, our resident digital guru and technical wizard, for official evaluation.
Shortly after the review appeared, Vincent informed us that he also made speakers, and they were considered really good in Europe, and would we be interested in reviewing a pair? I easily imagined Scot and Grover waving frantically, trying to get my attention, whispering that I should try out anything this gentleman makes, that I will not regret it if I say yes.
So I said yes, obviously.
Inside the TotalDAC d100
Inside the TotalDAC d100? Yes, I could probably squeeze inside this speaker. I don’t know if it’s the biggest speaker I’ve had in this room, but it might just have the biggest footprint—mostly because it’s a fairly deep cabinet. From the listening position they don’t look imposing, but from any other angle you’ll think wow, these things probably rawk. Just look at those woofers! Look at the size of this box!
The TotalDAC d100 is a 2.5-way design—there are two 12” drivers in each cabinet, but the upper driver also handles the midrange. The two big drivers cross over to the “constant directivity horn” tweeter at 3500 Hz, and there are two big vents on either side of the horn that push this design toward open-baffle—you can reach right in and feel the entire horn assembly. That’s also part of the recipe for the d100 sound, that most of the air and the sound comes from the top of the speakers which gives them the tight, coherent feel of a small two-way. Brient describes the drivers as custom designs coming from Western European manufacturers—I’m sure there are plenty of audiophiles that can take one look and identify the origin of the drivers, but I’m not that guy.
The crossover involves point-to-point wiring—no PCBs here. It uses air coils and carefully selected film capacitors, and the whole crossover is isolated in its very own wooden enclosure inside the cabinet. Speaking of the cabinet, I know I may have dissed the plain matte-black finish and the surprisingly light feel, but this is Baltic birch ply, and that matte black finish is actually lovely and just a tad sparkly up close. If you check out some of my recent photos of LPs and CDs for the Vinyl Anachronist, you’ll see that I used the top of the TotalDAC d100 as a background. As I discovered with the Volti Audio Razz, a black non-glossy finish can still be striking in the way it reflects light bouncing around the room.
Here’s my favorite part. The TotalDAC d100 speaker is 98 dB efficient and 8 ohms. I know, that’s SET territory. A 300B amp sounds like a usual suspect, but I bet you can get away with 2A3s and 45s if you wanted. Here’s another good part: the TotalDAC’s frequency response goes down to 25 Hz, albeit +/- 6dB. This is where the d100 sounds like just a bit more than a two-way bookshelf monitor. This is the reason for the size of this cabinet.
The binding posts are from Mundorf, by the way, which is the first time I’ve seen them on a loudspeaker. I love the feel. The post knobs look like they’re made from acrylic and they are so smooth in operation, and the spade lugs cinch down evenly and quickly. Between these and the cool Argento binding posts on the Vimberg Amea, I’m developing a well-engineered binding post fetish.
A pair of TotalDAC d100 speakers in black retail for $12,800 plus shipping in the US—VAT boosts the price up to $13,900 in the EU. The d100-chesnut version, with its “100% massive wood cabinet,” is $17,000/pair here in the US. I know that sounds like a big uptick for the wood, but I’d be tempted to pay for it.
TotalDAC d100 Set-Up
As I mentioned, I was excited about the TotalDAC d100 loudspeakers due to their efficiency. I’ve spent the last year or so dealing with “big iron,” massive solid-state power amps with hundreds and hundreds of watts per channel. Now I’m swinging back toward lower-powered tube amplification. Nothing grabbed the TotalDAC d100s and danced the night away, however, quite like that Allnic Audio T2000 integrated amplifier did. This pair remained together for most of the review period, although the d100s were introduced to both the Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 125 power amplifier and the Balanced Audio Technology VK-3500 with good results.
The Allnic, which uses KT170s as output tubes, also has that neat feature where you flick a switch on the front panel between tetrode (120wpc) and triode (60wpc). I bet you already know which one sounded nicer—although I will say in tetrode’s defense that the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition monitors were far more engaging with the extra juice. But the TotalDAC d100 clearly gravitated toward triode and never looked back. There was just an unmistakable sense of richness to the sound that didn’t quite materialize with the other option.
The match was so strong, so full of positive vibrations, that I let this affectionate couple stay together for as long as possible. It was like watching Before Sunset for the first time again.
I’ve made a lot about the sheer size and volume of the TotalDAC d100 loudspeakers, but when it comes to the first impressions of the sound, Vincent was right—these do work well in a variety of rooms. My room isn’t tiny, of course, but we’re talking about BIG speakers with a sort of open-baffle/super-duper vented hybrid of a compression tweeter and two large 12” drivers per side, and I imagined having all sorts of issue with set-up and getting these to sound their best.
And yet I just slid them into the same place where most of my speakers wind up, fired them up, and ultimately found very little to correct or adjust. The TotalDAC d100s are surprisingly room-friendly, something I didn’t suspect when I was unpacking them. As I mentioned, I thought the depth of the cabinets would be an issue because the front baffle was far more into the listening area than usual, but the furniture in my listening room is very mobile thanks to a “great room” layout. But even when I scooted up to the d100s to the point where I felt like I was being “stared down upon,” the image and the soundstage remained steady and not at all intrusive.
Listening to the TotalDAC d100
As the TotalDAC d100 loudspeakers and I settled in for a few weeks together, my first impression of them was “warm and full.” With the Allnic Audio T-2000 integrated amplifier, I found myself in something of a tube lover’s paradise, a place where you could have it all—deep bass, precise imaging, a huge soundstage and that underlying warmth that you can only get with a tube amp running in triode and a pair of high-efficiency speakers.
With the TotalDAC d100 in the system, I was offered plenty of warmth and on a consistent basis with all sorts of recordings. That was particularly well-suited to some of these wonderful reissues I’ve been enjoying such as Nat King Cole’s The Very Thought of You from Analogue Productions. This is not one of those classic sonic spectaculars filled to the brim with thrills and chills, but rather a lush re-imagining of a man standing in front of an orchestra and doing what he does best—pitching woo.
The TotalDAC d100 didn’t skimp on detail, however, and I heard many subtle clues that placed Nat King Cole on the same stage as the orchestra, rather than set off to the side in some isolation booth. Not every speaker in the house right now could accomplish that—up until now I’ve had the vague sense of something phase-y in the mix, something that causes shifts in the perspective, but the d100s pulled out just another layer of information from the grooves that supplied a missing piece of that puzzle. The sound was immediately pulled into focus with the d100s.
Vincent Brient is also fond of the TotalDAC d100 and its awesome bottom end, and even boasts on his website about its ability to impress with electronica. So I pulled out both Rasmus Kjaer’s Turist and PostHuman from Trees Speak and had a bit of a mini-rave right in the middle of a hot summer day. The d100s were capable of delivering all the low frequencies I could ever want, but at the same time they did something in the current room that no other large speaker could—they didn’t over-excite the room with reflections, bass nodes and other problems that require time and effort to correct.
As I mentioned, the TotalDAC d100 loudspeakers sounded pretty darned good with casual placement. The d100s were a bit of a unicorn in this regard—here you have a big speaker that’s exceedingly agreeable to your lifestyle, hits the deep bass when you require it, and will sound this good with just a handful of watts. Other than the solid wood enclosure of the chestnut model, I’m not sure if I need anything else from a loudspeaker.
Those aforementioned shipping misadventures were indeed unfortunate, but TotalDAC was impressive in the way they took care of everything, and Vincent Brient was a calm and productive influence during the entire affair. As a former high-end audio importer and distributor, however, I do find the TotalDAC business model curious. There doesn’t seem to be a formal US distributor, which is unusual when the product is this good.
You want to try a TotalDAC product? You buy it from Vincent in France and he gets it to you. You can ask for a 20-day home trial, even. There’s obviously someone on this side of the Atlantic helping TotalDAC get product to customers, so there’s no need to worry about buying something from a fly-by-night company that might not be around in a couple of years to fix your dead French loudspeaker.
I know that still sounds risky to some of you, especially if you’re not familiar with the brand. Here in the US, audiophiles might think “What is this TotalDAC?” Elsewhere in the world, however, you’ll get “Oh, you have TotalDAC! How exciting!” It’s only a matter of time before someone with a decent distribution network in the US figures out that this gear is truly something special, and that people all over the world know and trust the designs of Vincent Brient, and US audiophiles will want to audition this stuff the old-fashioned way.
Then again, the world of high-end audio is changing. As a practitioner of old-style importing and distribution practices, I often wondered if I was doing things the right thing or if I was just adding more to the retail customer’s bottom line. I still recommend that you get out and try to hear the TotalDAC d100 loudspeakers so you can decide if they’re right for you.
As for me, I didn’t want a big pair of speakers in the house, especially after two stand-mounted gems such as the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a Mofi Edition and the Qln Prestige One. All it took was an hour or two of listening, and I stopped thinking about people in brown uniforms tripping down flights of stairs with a 100 lb. speaker on a flimsy hand truck, and I started thinking about how these dark and mysterious French strangers knew what to say and how to say it. They are superb full-range speakers that are well worth the cost.
The TotalDAC d100 was a natural and adept partner for high-quality tube electronics like the Allnic Audio T-2000 integrated amplifier, as well as that hybrid Balanced Audio Technology VK-3500 integrated. I suspect if you’ve laid out some serious dough on fancy tube exotica, the d100 is going to be a loudspeaker that makes 10 expensive watts sound like 50. If I’m circling back toward that kind of amplification, and it appears that I am, I can’t think of a saner choice to drive those glowing tubes than these no-nonsense beasts with the heart of a true artist buried deep in these cavernous yet durable enclosures.