Hello Gordon,

Discovering your website dedicated to Simplifi’d hi-fi has been a pleasure. I find your reviews interesting and informative, and appreciate your demanding approach and the way you compare different models.

With limited space in my home, I recently came to the conclusion that active bookshelf monitor speakers and a hi-rez music collection on a laptop hard drive would rescue me from the headache associated with a multi-component system, a web of wires, and piles of CDs. My Zu Audio floorstanding speakers and tube amp went to a friend’s place, freeing up space for a more compact sound system.

After listening to several active monitors (KEF LS50 Wireless, Klipsch The Sixes, and Acoustic Energy AE1), I decided on the Acoustic Energys. Of the three brands, they were the ones I liked the most. Through the AE1s, my favorite Pink Floyd tracks most closely corresponded to my Zu Audio Omen Standards, which I had come to love.

Almost having decided on the AE1, I accidentally discovered Totem Acoustic’s Kin Play. I was impressed by its appearance, which I think is in the best traditions of such famous brands as Neat Acoustics, ProAc, and Spendor. A sales consultant added fuel to the fire, so to speak, saying that Totem Acoustic products are “budget” high end, and competing speakers with a similar performance are, as a rule, more expensive. I thought the sound of the Kin Plays was just as “cool” as the sound of the AE1s. Of course, the character was different. The Kin Plays were more “cheeky,” but not “presumptuous” like The Sixes. They were livelier than the LS50s, and had more of an “afterglow.”

In your review of the Kin Play, you compare it to KEF’s LSX and SVS’s Prime Wireless Active. The logic of your comparison is clear—all three models are similarly priced. I’d like to know if you think the Kin Plays deliver sound in the same class as more expensive models you have reviewed, such as Elac’s Navis ARB-51, Focal’s Shape 65, and System Audio’s Legend 5 Silverback.

Sincerely yours,

Hello Michael,

Thanks for your letter, and for your flattering words. I haven’t heard the Acoustic Energy AE1, but it looks like a speaker I’d really like to review. As you correctly observe, I haven’t compared the Kin Play against the Shape 65, ARB-51, or Legend 5 speakers. What I really liked about the Kin Plays was their big, spacious presentation and dynamic excitement—these are really fun speakers to hear. I think the Shape 65s, ARB-51s, and Legend 5s share these characteristics, but also deliver superior microdynamics and slightly smoother response. The ARB-51s have a warmer, more inviting character, the Shape 65s a more forward presentation, and the Legend 5s have greater transparency.

A fundamental difference between these speakers is that the Kin Play is a powered speaker, with a single amplifier for each channel, and a conventional passive crossover between the amplifier output and drivers, while the ARB-51, Shape 65, and Legend 5 are all active designs, with active crossovers before their amplifiers, and dedicated amps for each frequency range.

As I noted in my article “A Perfect Pair,” “active speakers have undeniable advantages. Because there are no passive crossover components between the amp’s output and the speaker’s drivers, dynamics are usually better. Designers can choose the amplifier best suited for each frequency band, and because each band has its own dedicated amp, the power demanded by one band won’t affect the other bands. If you’re playing loud, bass-heavy music through powered speakers, high power demands could cause congestion higher in the audioband. With active speakers, each higher-frequency band will have its own amp, so this won’t be a problem.”

The System Audio Legend 5 Silverback has a DSP-based crossover; the active crossovers in the ARB-51 and Shape 65 use analog components. As I noted in the article cited above, “DSP-based active speakers have some fundamental advantages over analog designs. With a DSP crossover, the designer can correct the timing of the drivers’ outputs far more easily than with an analog crossover. Designers can also use DSP to smoothen irregularities in the speaker’s response.”

The total power output of the amplifiers in all of these active speakers is greater than the Kin Play’s 120Wpc amplifier; that, and their active design, should translate to more effortless dynamics. But never having compared these speakers directly, I can’t swear to this.

As you observe, there are major differences in feature sets. The Totem Kin Play has a phono stage, Bluetooth, and optical input, as well as analog line-level inputs. The Shape 65 and ARB-51 only have line-level inputs. The Legend 5 has line-level inputs, but includes WiSA wireless capability; and the optional companion Stereo Hub provides HDMI-ARC, optical, USB, and analog inputs, plus Bluetooth and support for Apple AirPlay, Chromecast, and Spotify Connect. These features may be a major factor in your decision.

I think these are all excellent-sounding speakers. As noted, I haven’t had a chance to compare their sound directly, so it’s hard to give a more complete answer to your question. But I hope this helps. Thanks again for writing.

Kindest regards,
Gordon Brockhouse