Solid Gone

I haven't written lately because my right hand has been in a cast from my fingertips to my elbow—rendering me, as a writer, essentially mute. Writing, thinking, and feeling are, for a writer, inextricably linked. How do I know what I think if I haven't written about it?

Not being able to write about it, when I heard that Jim Thiel died on September 13, I could only weep.

It's not that Jim and I were friends. As John Atkinson has written elsewhere, reviewers and manufacturers can't be friends—that poisons the well of dispassionate criticism. Nonetheless, Jim Thiel was one of nature's gentlemen: brilliant, engaging, and good company. He was one of us, an audiophile and music lover, always ready to talk about both for hours.

Long before I began writing for Stereophile, I sold Thiel loudspeakers at a hi-fi shop. I never talked to Jim in those days (he was far too valuable designing loudspeakers to have to deal with retail concerns), but the company impressed me with its concern for its customers. Many high-end manufacturers treat their custmers well, but few do it with the attention to detail that Thiel exhibited (and still exhibits). That ethos wasn't just good business, it was a facet of Jim's personality.

Another facet was his consistency as a loudspeaker designer. I don't just mean that he designed many superb speakers—which he did—but every speaker he designed stemmed from his belief in phase and time coherence, properties that he believed were only achievable with a first-order crossover,

(I'm not going to debate loudspeaker design here, it's Jim Thiel I'm talking about.)

Some speaker designers are all over the map—I can think of a few who change design philosophies with every model. Not Jim Thiel. I remember one CES when Thiel unveiled a new loudspeaker; I asked Jim how the design came to be. He steepled his hands, sat back in his chair and said, "Once I decided it would be a two-way, I had to design the drivers and the volume of the enclosure—after that, everything was sort of written in stone."

Jim wasn't saying he had a cookie-cutter crossover he inserted into every design, he was simply stating that everything that had his name on it had to conform to his overarching design criteria: time and phase coherence and that first-order crossover.

That also meant that his speakers sometimes (frequently!) presented challenges to the amps that drove to them. JA and I queried Jim about that once and he responded with one of my favorite audio quotes ever: "Watts is cheap."

I could go on—as I've said, Thiel was good company and frequently quotable. He was also gracious and interested in the people around him—he was far from the anti-social genius who was only comfortable in his design studio.

Audio is poorer for the passing of Jim Thiel. My heart goes out to all the folks at Thiel for their loss.

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COMMENTS
Larry Staples's picture

It is often said, don't get too close to your heroes as they'll dissappoint. This could not be more untrue of Jim Thiel. His grace, charm and gentle nature lured me into the industry, back in 1982. In 1998, after I had been golden parachutted from a Director of Marketing Job in Healthcare, missing audio daily, I received a phone message, typical Jim, in is inimitable sing song voice,- "Hi Larry, this is Jim (long, long pause, also typical) I'm just wondering if you'd like to become THIEL's Director of Marketing?"Working with him was like working for some other world person--none of the cynicism or business toughness that so many fall into--he was gentle, professorial, kind, always aware of others feelings, and even though a giant intellect, NEVER condescending. Words can never completely describe Jim Thiel as a person, inventor, scientist, or friend. I'm sure that Jim is somewhere in the vast cosmos creating the perfect speaker, giving a seminar that everyone WANTS to und

Larry Staples's picture

It is often said, don't get too close to your heroes as they'll dissappoint. This could not be more untrue of Jim Thiel. His grace, charm and gentle nature lured me into the industry, back in 1982. In 1998, after I had been golden parachutted from a Director of Marketing Job in Healthcare, missing audio daily, I received a phone message, typical Jim, in is inimitable sing song voice,- "Hi Larry, this is Jim (long, long pause, also typical) I'm just wondering if you'd like to become THIEL's Director of Marketing?"Working with him was like working for some other world person--none of the cynicism or business toughness that so many fall into--he was gentle, professorial, kind, always aware of others feelings, and even though a giant intellect, NEVER condescending. Words can never completely describe Jim Thiel as a person, inventor, scientist, or friend. I'm sure that Jim is somewhere in the vast cosmos creating the perfect speaker, giving a seminar that everyone WANTS to und

Peter in Tucson's picture

I recently purchased a Wadia 170i to get digital output direct off my iTouch and avoiding Apples budget DAC. However, I find that the sound coming out of the iTouch Wadia combo through my DAC to be slightly bright and fatiging with a midrange somewhat lacking warmth and texture. When I listen through the same DAC from the digital output of my Cayin CDT-23 CD player, I have a very smooth, full, and well textured non-fatiging sound. I am wondering where the problem may be and how to correct it. Is it the Cayin or the Wadia that is changing the sound? Or some sort of poor synergy with my solid state DAC or does the problem lie elsewhere? So far, I am unhappy with the Wadia and wonder if only those liking a lean overly bright sound by my ears will be pleased with the Wadia.

nunh's picture

Hope your feeling better.RIP Mr. Thiel

Alessandro Luce's picture

Wes, I buy a Klipsch P-39F, I need your help for speaker placement.My room is 20,6 x 13,4 (DxW) "feet"Your room (on Klipsch review) is: ?

John Hall's picture

I still consider myself to be a newcomer to high end gear (as i've yet to own what i consider to be high end gear, but nevermind that...) and i've come across Theil more times than i can count reading articles. Everyone has only warm words for Mr. Theil. He must have been one hell of a guy. Would have been great to meet him. My warmest wishes go out to everyone that knew and loved him.

George Salas's picture

I recently purchased new speakers. Please recommend a cd that will break in the speakers. Thanks, George

J. Gordons ghost's picture

Great moderation here; very respectful to Jim Thiel.Good luck with the one-handed thing Wes.

Kenn's picture

Wes, it has nearly been a year since we've had a blog entry from you, can we look forward to you renewing your blog soon.Yours in denial,Kenn

Tim  Soroski's picture

Wes , if you can' t answer the above Question , can you at least tell us why you stopped bloging ? Tim

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