Thiel Audio SCS4T loudspeaker Page 2
The SCS4T is a 4 ohm load with a minimum impedance of 3 ohms. Initially, the only amps I had on hand to drive them were Rogue Audio's M180 tube monoblocks. Though the Rogues aren't shrinking-violet, milquetoast tube amps, I was concerned that they wouldn't be a good match for the Thiels' low impedance. Halfway through my listening, Plinius's powerhouse SA-103, which I raved about in the April 2011 Stereophile, returned after having been poked and prodded on JA's test bench. On its return, I immediately hooked it up to the SCS4Ts so I could hear what 50 amps of current might do for these speakers. I'm happy to report that that solid-state amp sounded much like the Rogues. In fact, the Plinius and Rogues sounded more similar through the SCS4Ts than through any other speakers I've had on hand. The Thiels did benefit from the added articulation and control that the Plinius SA-103 brought to the show, but the Thiels seemed equally happy driven by transistors or tubes.
The SCS4T exhibited a nicely extended treble that was relatively resolving and free of grain. The title track of Cornelius's Sensuous (CD, Everloving/Warner Bros. EVE016) begins with the sound of tinkly wind chimes and snappy guitar chords. The SCS4T's tweeter did a nice job of presenting the airy soundscape of the chimes while also preserving the transients of the upper partials in the guitar chords. Vocal sibilants were rendered nicely, with no undue emphasis or hash. With classical recordings, such as Cantus's There Lies the Home (CD, Cantus CTS-1206) that I produced, the choir's consonants sat in the same acoustic plane as the rest of the singing. However, the air around the singers' voices was not as apparent or as silky as I've heard through other similarly priced speakers, such as the Klipsch P-17B ($4000/pair).
The stereo image thrown by the SCS4Ts was large and rather diffuse, and seemed to come from a plane slightly above the level of the tweeters. With choral recordings, such as There Lies the Home, this had the effect of helping the individual voices blend, and of making this chamber choir sound like a larger chorus. On finely drawn music such as Hauschka's Ferndorf (CD, Fat Cat CD1308), the effect was of large but somewhat vaguely drawn instruments sitting in the stereo image. The large soundstage was certainly pleasant, but didn't tell me enough about what was on the record or how it was recorded, or help me connect with the individual instruments or musicians.
Though I felt the tweeter's handoff to the mid/woofer was quite seamless, I heard a slight emphasis or flare above the crossover frequency, in the upper presence region, perhaps around 3.55kHz. With some music this added a little excitement, as in the pizzicato sections of the Tokyo String Quartet's recording of Ravel's String Quartet (CD, RCA Victor Red Seal 62552-2). With more complicated music, such as Cornelius's "Fit Song," the slight emphasis in the upper presence region could sometimes overwhelm the rest of the music with a slightly shouty quality, especially at high volumes.
The SCS4T's midrange was on the laid-back, relaxed side of things. The upper and middle midrange were in good balance with each other, while the lower midrange, from about 500Hz on down, was slightly shelved down. Almost all of the fundamentals of male voices and cellos lie below 500Hz, and it is in this area that music takes on its body and, in my view, its soul. While the SCS4T's polite balance in this region gave the speaker a somewhat lithe character with rock music, it also rendered some instruments with less body. Male voices, such as those on Veljo Tormis's Muistse Mere Laulud, from There Lies the Home, lacked their normal fullness and richness, emphasizing instead the choir's overtones. Close-miked cellossuch as on "Freibad," from Hauschka's lovely Ferndorfcame across with a slightly nasal quality, making the cello sound as if it were getting in touch with its inner viola.
The speaker's lean middle and upper bass meant that the SCS4T exhibited nice rhythmic pacing with all the music I played. Bass came through very tautly and tunefully, but with less body than with some other speakers I've auditioned in my home. In the Beatles' stereo mix of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (CD, Apple 28419), Paul McCartney's melodic bass lines were easy to follow, but the lowest notes seemed a bit organically disconnected from the rest of the music. The texture of the bass guitar also seemed a bit more homogenous and indistinct than through other speakers I've heard.
I wondered if my reaction to the SCS4T's balance was because I was missing the last octave of bass. My ears are very used to my reference Revel Performa F30s ($3500/pair when last available), which go down to about 25Hz in my room. I wondered if I was perceiving the SCS4T's entire bass region as sounding lean because of its lack of output below 45Hz. Knowing that Thiel makes a number of subwoofers designed to work with the SCS4T, I asked Micah Sheveloff for one. He sent along their SS1 subwoofer ($2900, footnote 1) with PX05, the latter a passive crossover that takes speaker-level inputs from up to five channels and crosses the sub over at precisely the right rolloff point and slope to integrate with the main speakers. The SS1 did a nice job of adding that last octave of bass, and did so with fine integration of its output with that of the SCS4Ts, and very little interference with the main speakers' musical qualities. But even then, the upper and midbass remained lean-sounding, leading me to believe that this was due not to a lack of low bass, but was an inherent characteristic of the speaker's balance.
My main concern involved the SCS4T's ultimate resolution, however. With every album I tried, and all of the music I listened to through the SCS4Ts, there was a veiled, indistinct quality that I found it hard to put a finger on. At first I thought this quality might be a result of the speaker's tonal balance, but as I kept trying to coax the best from the SCS4T, I came to the hypothesis that it didn't convey articulation at the micro and macro levelsand that this, in turn, limited the speaker's ultimate powers of resolution. When I drove the speakers hard, something obscured the music's stopping and starting, and gave the upper midrange a hard quality that didn't allow loud music to breathe.
The SCS4T is a handsomely designed speaker capable of throwing a large soundstage, and can be placed near a wall with very little detriment to its sound. This may make it ideal for some audiophile's rooms. However, the SCS4T's lack of body in the upper and midbass, and its lack of clarity and articulation from the bass through the midrange, make me pause before giving it a full recommendation at its price of $3690/pair.
Footnote 1: The SmartSub SS1 subwoofer will be replaced later this year by a new model called the USS, which will be almost identical. Wes Phillips reviewed the SS1 in November 2005.Ed.