Muse Kastanovich Page 2
All was not bliss in ThieLand, though. A dark cloud hung over the bucolic scene, casting an ominous shadow that warned of things to come. Using a metal-coned woofer is great in terms of transient speed, but that resonance at 7kHz could be a bit nasty. Throughout my listening I was aware of a small amount of unmusical hash in the upper treble. It was worse if they were pointed toward me at all, so I mostly listened with no toe-in. This roughness was very minimal and did not bother me unless I was intent upon being critical. It was there, however; I wonder if these speakers might sound even better if the woofer's resonance region in the treble were attenuated more.
Back to the peaceful calm of Dorian's Sampler II. All the tracks on this disc sounded just about right on the Thiels. Instrumental timbres were very natural. The sense of space provided by the wonderful halls in which these tracks were recorded was very pleasing. The 1.5s seemed to reproduce most of the subtleties of the recordings effortlessly, except for the low bass. The spaces of the performances seemed to envelop me about as well as they could without using surround speakers. Their time-coherent nature paid off in other ways as well. Fast Classical guitar, harp, and harpsichord arpeggios had a luscious, rolling quality to them, thanks to each of the many notes being so well-defined in time.
I do wish that Thiel would make these speakers to be used without grilles. I tried listening with them off, and found that I liked the immediate feel that the top octave had in this configuration. However, without the grilles their balance was just a little bright. I have the same Catch-22 with my B&Ws: if I pop off their little tweeter screens they sound a little too bright, though the sound is more immediate.
I tried the 1.5s with the low-output-impedance NAD 2100X, and their balance did not change. Because Jim Thiel works hard to give his designs a flat impedance characteristic, their frequency responses will be reliably flat regardless of what kind of amplifier you throw at them. I concur with my esteemed colleague, Sam Tellig, in his conclusion that the 1.5s require a high-quality amplifier. They're an easy load to drive, but are so revealing that any grain or roughness in the amplifier will be easily heard. Not only power amps, but also source components will be under close scrutiny when these Thiels are in the system.
Armed with my trusty NAD, I embarked on (you guessed it) the great Greenberg Memorial Loudness Test adventure. How far could I twist that little volume knob until Thiels' tweeters were just another nostalgic audio tale: "Useta be this great model made by Thiel. Boy you shoulda heard those babies"?
I was a little worried, considering that designer Jim Thiel is a sick puppy, actually boosting the level of the 1.5's tweeter below the crossover point to maintain a 6dB/octave acoustical rolloff. A tweeter's moving displacement must increase four times for every halving in frequency, to maintain a constant volume. So, with such a minor rolloff provided by the first-order slope, the poor little tweeter will have to move around too much, unless it's played at sane volumes.
I proceeded carefully, and the 1.5s started to sound distorted somewhere past louder than I ever like to listen, but not quite to as loud as a drummer plays his stereo when he's drunk. They seemed to survive the ordeal, and I didn't dare proceed further. Suffice it to say that these are not the speakers for someone with hearing damage: they won't go as loud as the others in the group.
I do think the Thiel CS1.5 is worthy of recommendation for listening to any kind of recording. The 1.5 will go lower in the bass than the Uity Signature 3 that I also review this month. The CS1.5s' imaging is more pinpoint-accurate, but the Signature 3s give a more enveloping sense of space. The Signature 3 presents more midrange detail, but the '1.5 has a flatter frequency response.
Come to think of it, both the Unity Audio and the Thiel have a lot in common (in addition to the loudspeaker ladder thing). They both have a bit of an unforgiving treble. They both are very detailed and will reveal the quality of anything they're matched with. Also, they both have tight and tuneful bass.
Which did I prefer, after all of my auditioning? For me, the nod has to go to the Thiel CS1.5. I felt it was a little more accurate in some respects, and the bass extension was a necessity given the amount of rock music I listen to.