Thiel Audio TT1 loudspeaker

Thiel Audio's CS3.7 loudspeaker was launched, to much fanfare, in 2006. Like most of Jim Thiel's designs, the CS3.7 received universal praise, but it was Jim's swan song. No one could predict that he would pass away in 2009, undoubtedly leaving on his desk many future designs.

But more was in the cards for—and from—Thiel Audio. The company was sold in 2012 to a private equity company based in Nashville; soon thereafter Thiel Audio moved to that city from Lexington, Kentucky, where Jim had co-founded it in 1977. Thiel's longtime president, Kathy Gornik, left, and for a while the company's directors came and went as if through a revolving door (footnote 1).

It appears that things have at last begun to settle down in Nashville. True, all of Jim Thiel's designs have now been discontinued, surely to the consternation of his dedicated fan base of dealers and customers. But a new Thiel Audio has emerged, with a new range of speakers.

Three to get ready
Thiel's new model line has been dubbed the 3rd Avenue Collection, a reference to the address of the company's new music-performance and -streaming venue, Aurora. The range consists of three models: the TM3 minimonitor ($4000/pair without stands); the TC1 center-channel speaker ($3000 each without stand); and the subject of this review, the floorstanding TT1 ($7000/pair).

The speakers that comprise Thiel's 3rd Avenue Collection are assembled in Nashville, though the cabinets are made in Asia and the drivers in Scandinavia, the latter very likely by SEAS, in Norway, or Scan-Speak, in Denmark. (I suspect SEAS.) The TT1 has a 1" titanium-dome tweeter, a 4.25" midrange driver with glass-fiber cone, and two 6.5" woofers with aluminum cones. The woofers are crossed over to the midrange at 400Hz, the midrange to the tweeter at 1.9kHz.

The tweeter is positioned in a shallow waveguide. A waveguide—actually a very shallow horn, with the diaphragm (dome) at its throat—can offer three benefits. First and probably most important, a waveguide can reduce the tweeter's dispersion at the bottom end of its operating bandwidth, to better match the inherently narrower dispersion at the upper end of the midrange driver's bandwidth (or the mid/woofer's, in a two-way design). Second, it increases the tweeter's efficiency in its bottommost octaves. When this increase in sensitivity is compensated for in the crossover, as it must be, less power is passed on to the tweeter, making it less likely to overload at the bottom of its response range. Finally, a waveguide can increase the tweeter's top-end dispersion, though it may also have no effect in this regard, depending on the waveguide's design: I've seen measurements from various drivers that show both possibilities.

On the back of the TT1 are two ports and two pairs of binding posts, the latter for biwiring or biamping. Jumper straps are included to connect these posts for single-wire runs, which was how I used them. The TT1's rounded back—it has no rear panel per se—more or less demands that the speaker terminals be placed in a vertical column. Such an arrangement requires that the speaker-cable connections be carefully tightened, particularly if the cables are terminated with spades, with enough slack left that the cables exert minimal pull on the posts. Should one of the top spades come loose, it could fall, strike a post below it, cause a short circuit, and damage an amplifier. (My cables have locking banana plugs at the speaker end.)

The TT1's cabinet is 40.1" tall and 10.2" wide at the front; from there, in the currently popular style, it curves inward toward the rear, like a ship's stern. Such a rounded shape adds considerably to a cabinet's rigidity, all else being equal. As I've noted before, while curved cabinets are said to also offer a reduction in internal standing waves, I don't accept that claim. The frequency of a standing wave is related to the distance between two parallel surfaces. In anything short of the very largest speakers, that frequency is high enough to be absorbed by properly arranged internal damping, even in the cabinet's largest dimension (top to bottom).

The depth of the TT1's cabinet also tapers a bit, from the deeper bottom to the slightly shallower top, with the slope at the back; the front baffle is plumb. The downside of a tapered cabinet—and Thiel's designs are hardly alone in this—is that it has considerably less internal volume than a nontapered enclosure of the same footprint. The TT1's two woofers cover the same range, but each has its own isolated chamber and rear-firing port; the midrange drive-unit is enclosed in its own isolated chamber. While weighing a relatively modest 58.1 lbs, the TT1 sailed through the basic knuckle-rap test from top to bottom.

The TT1's cabinet does present an elegant appearance, and its modest size won't dominate a room. It's available in four finishes: Gloss Black, Gloss White, matte Espresso Walnut, and the gorgeous matte Rosewood of the review samples. In other words, its Spousal Acceptance Factor is outstanding.

Grilles are included, held in place by concealed magnets, but I performed all of my listening without them. Although spikes and hard rubber feet are provided, I used neither.

The New Thiel Order
A significant departure from Jim Thiel's philosophy is the use in the new Thiels of higher-order crossover networks. Jim was a passionate advocate of first-order networks and their gradual rolloff past the drive-units' specified crossover frequencies. He felt that the more benign time-domain characteristics such networks offer were important to good fidelity.

Other speaker designers continue to adhere to Jim Thiel's philosophy, though they're in the minority: engineering such slow-slope designs is hard to do. The flatness of a driver's frequency response above its crossover point is critical in a first-order network, which doesn't roll off the driver's output fast enough to kill the response peaks and dips that might lay beyond it. Such peaks are common, particularly with cone materials (such as metal) that offer benefits some designers value. Most designers of first-order crossovers therefore do as Jim Thiel did and use custom drivers, which can be expensive and frustrating to perfect. This effort becomes more onerous if the drivers aren't made in-house—and in a small company, they rarely are. Also, designing a driver is a skill very different from designing a finished speaker system around specific drivers. It can be time-consuming for a system designer in the US to communicate with a driver designer in, say, Norway to get the desired performance, as many prototypes will likely have to be tried and rejected before the right one is found.

Advocates of low-order crossovers also point to their simplicity, but such crossovers are often incredibly complex, largely because they must correct for those response irregularities while still retaining the valued phase relationships. At a Consumer Electronics Show some years back, Jim Thiel showed me the crossover for one of his then-flagship speakers. It consisted of dozens of parts secured to a board at least 24" long.

Then was then, and now is now. The new Thiels, including the TT1, employ higher-order networks. One assumes that fans of classic Thiel designs are ready to break out the torches and pitchforks over the changes from Jim's design concepts, but you can't run a going concern on nostalgia, and the few designers who remain passionate advocates of first-order networks are employed elsewhere. And it's certainly possible to produce a fine speaker using higher-order topologies—just ask Paul Barton (PSB), Andrew Jones (Elac, Pioneer, TAD), Jeff Joseph (Joseph Audio), Kevin Voecks (JBL, Revel), Dave Wilson (Wilson Audio Specialties), and dozens of others, famous and otherwise.

All of the new Thiels were designed by Mark Mason, who formerly worked under Paul Barton at PSB. Mason has since left Thiel, but his designs remain in production.

Setup
While my listening room proper is of relatively modest size—roughly 21' long by 16' wide, with a non-flat ceiling averaging a height of 9'—the adjoining spaces to which this area is essentially open total at least 8000 cubic feet. I set up the Thiel TT1s 4–5' from one short wall, about 10' apart and slightly more than 10' from my listening seat, which was 5' from the room's back wall. The left TT1 was about 5' from its sidewall, and the right TT1's outer edge was adjacent to the open space's kitchen and breakfast area. Both were angled in to point directly at the primary listening position. The TT1's tweeter ended up close to my ear height when seated, so no back or forward tilt was used.



Footnote 1: From the time of Thiel Audio's sale until early 2014, Bill Thomas was its CEO. He was replaced by John Wittman, who held the position until early 2015. Thiel Audio's current CEO, J. Thomas Malatesta, joined the company in March of this year, after a long stint at Procter & Gamble.—Art Dudley
COMPANY INFO
Thiel Audio Products Co.
566 Mainstream Drive, Suite 500
Nashville, TN 37228
(615) 913-8532
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
DaveinSM's picture

hmmm, it sure seems to me that Thiel is banking on its high end reputation to charge a premium for speakers that look like PSBs with fancy wood veneers. Jim Thiel's designs may have been "idiosyncratic", but they sure sounded good to me. Besides, I just couldn't bring myself to spend seven grand on a small floorstander that seems to need a good sub or two to be gratifyingly full range.

findcount's picture

LOL.......you're right about the PSBs.......the drivers look cheap to me.......

Anton's picture

So, they ditched Thiel's designs, brought in Mark Mason and then parted ways with him...and have a 'name' with no continuity of design philosophy or driver manufacturing infrastructure.

Basically, the have paid for brand name nostalgia at this point.

Venere's picture

Clearly banking on brand recognition. Happens all the time in other industries. In the high-end automotive world look no further than Bugatti, Bentley, and Lamborghini, now all owned by VW Group and designed and built by various international teams. Thiel probably aren't setting any sales records (in fact I would be very surprised if they survive in this ultra-competitive market), but I bet they're doing better than if they were marketing the new "Mason TT1".

mallred's picture

Great headline Anton! In the 90's, I owned 4 different models from CS-6's to 1's. I enjoyed them all at the time and think they tried hard to advance the hobby. The new version of the company needs to hurry up and go out of business...

mikerr's picture

I don't know how I ever came upon Thiel speakers but I just love them.
I started out with the 04a's back in the olden days ( I still have them)...I also have and have had several sets of other model Thiels.
Not too long ago I scored a pair of 1.7's (which to me are more related to the 3.7's than even the 2.7 due to it's folded piston driver). The 1.7 I believe was an affordable ($4000) mishmash of the 3.7 and 2.7 that was put together right after Jim Thiel passed-away.
I feel that my 1.7's are 'the' Last TRUE Thiel speaker and Wow do they sound AMAZING !!!
The new Thiels seem so disappointing, of course the Legacy was broken when the blueprints were thrown out. If I were in the market for a High end speaker I would seek out one of the 3 Thiels I've mentioned here. buy according to how much you can spend. I bought my 1.7's on ebay for 1/3rd of the original cost and I guarantee you these guys are "Special".
I've been watching several sets of the NEW Thiel company's speakers on ebay and none of them are even getting a minimum bid at auction end, while Jim Thiel designs are selling well ...for good reason.
My 1.7's have 'life' and 'focus'. It is a thrill to come home to these every night.

Coalpedlar's picture

I still have an old pair od CS-2's.
They still sound great with the proper equipment driving them...

DanGB's picture

Imagine if someone bought out Martin-Logan, and immediately phased out the electrostatic speakers from the range, or if Tannoy had new owners who ditched the dual-concentric drivers.

These speakers may be good, they may be not, but one thing they aren't is Thiels.

DaveinSM's picture

The Thiel website has been static for quite some time now, and even their facebook presence has been pretty much silent lately. It's like nothing is happening over there in those fancy new Tennessee offices. It's sad, really. I think that the same thing has happened to a lesser degree over at Krell. Cheaper designs at higher prices to cash in on the name recognition. Except for the super high end, it seems like high end audio is declining.

Allen Fant's picture

Another happy Thiel owner here (CS2.4 SE).
Excellent overview- TJN.

Allen Fant's picture

Wise man- DaveinSM.
Krell is in the same boat, so to speak.

John Atkinson's picture
Allen Fant wrote:
Krell is in the same boat, so to speak.

I understand that Rondi D'Agostino, one of Krell's founders and Dan's ex-wife, has bought out the owners and is now running the company again. www.stereophile.com/content/sisters-sound-rondi-dagostino.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

findcount's picture

in terms of sound quality, Krell has been surpassed by many other brands even from the 90's.......their new amps look cheap on the outside and inside.......

Sfdoddsy's picture

Whilst the review is competent, and the measurement are as always enlightening, surely this is a missed opportunity.

As the comments above indicate, there is a lot of love for Thiel speakers. To not compare the new Gainst the old, given the vast differences in design philosphy, seems like a real letdown.

The design and measurements do seem closer to a traditional Toole PSB/Revel/Paradigm speaker than previous Thiel first order concentric iterations.

So give us that comparison rather than an anodyne set of MAs

yuckysamson's picture

I apologize in advance if this comes off as some kind of hi-fi snobbery or the like, but that being said, I'm confused about a few details of the system and set-up used to evaluate the speakers.

Obviously Mr. Norton is a professional and a great reviewer, but it strikes me as a bit odd to use the Integra surround piece as the 2-channel pre-amp, as well as the DAC (a giveaway that it's not up to the task is that when using the Marantz' built in dac the Rowland pre-amp was better suited). Also just the digital front end in general, you'd kind of expect some higher-end digital source (even streaming roon to a Hugo or something of that nature, take your pick, benchmark, Auralic, Ayre, etc.) to a proper two channel pre-amp, and I'll leave the proceed out of this because it's capable, (although to some a solid two 5-10k, 2-channel power amp would be more appropriate) but suffice it to say it's also not a piece that a lot of people considering these speakers would be using similar electronics. Basically is this the "right road for the rubber"?

It also smacks a bit that Mr. Norton chose to use neither the spikes nor the feet. Excuse my raised-in-a-british-hi-fi-store-mentality, but this can make a significant difference to the entirely of the loudspeaker's output.

On the other hand it is comforting to see someone reviewing these Thiels with 'down to earth' mentality and products, but if we're talking dollars-for-dollars, there are better front and middle ends up to the task.

It's tough to discern from this review how the speaker really stands up to anything, I'm not surprised that it faired 6one/half-dozen-other against the Montior Audios. If, however, the same A/B demo was done in a more modest room, with a (and I'm just riffing here) Rega RP6 TT, a viable tube integrated (take your pick) and some select cabling, AND the spikes and set-up done perhaps more carefully, AND the other HT elements removed from the room, I'd suspect that the differences, regardless of which was better or worse, to the monitor audios, would have been significantly more pronounced, more defineable.

I'm just surprised as this isn't the typical associated equipment from a STEREOPHILE review list.

findcount's picture

they used an AV amp so the speakers won't look too bad to readers........whenever a review only has 2-3 pages and only 1/4 of it is on the sound quality......you know the product is a bomb

virgum's picture

The mediocre wallmart world emblem product-TT1, the run for almighty profit for the share holder even if you throw away genius.
Happy owner of CS 2.3 driven by a Halo a 21.Nothing ever auditioned,including speakers with the price of a car a piece compares in naturalness,accuracy and imaging.Advice for owners to get all these wonders can do;change the electrolytic caps,(there are 3 in crossover,each-100uf,I changed them with mundorf electrolytics +-5% for 3$ each),the surround rubber and the composite used in between the mids and highs as crossover,visible as aluminium dome surround tend to get dry and lose the properties over time(all of them by now) so to fix this use a fine brush and something to revive the rubber and plastics like product for auto dashboard once a month.You wont believe your ears!

eriks's picture

JTN,

There's absolutely nothing wrong with your measurements, or your microphone. :) JA I'm sure will jump in, but he's going for quasi-anechoic, while OmniMic is gated, far field.

The OmniMic plots are great, and show overall very neutral speakers devoid of gimmicks. My experience with Monitor Audio is similar lately. Never done this with Thiel. Look up the Bruel & Kjaer recommended curves, and you'll notice the measurements you took are fairly well aligned.

Best,

Erik

Sea Otter's picture

...And look at the measured performance of the loudspeaker. The data here shows performance in fundamental design parameters far beyond that shown by any Wilson, Magico, Marten, or YG, at any price point, that has been tested by Stereophile (or any other independent third party that I am aware of.)

It appears that Mr. Mason is no longer with Thiel, which seems a shame, as they have definitely lost one of the most talented loudspeaker designers out there.

While I sympathize with the posters who seem dissapointed about the departure from thiels legacy by the new management team (Teams?) And share their reservations about the future of the brand, I would like to raise a glass in respect to the excellence of Mason's design.

Well done, sir.

eriks's picture

If you are experimenting with OmniMic, take some compression measurements as well. Those will really start to open up your eyes and ears.

Seriously, I think you'll find compression, or lack of it, to correlate very well with relaxed and open sounding. Compression often explains why you may hear a speaker not match the measured FR.

Best,

Erik

findcount's picture

a 2-page review for such a famous brand's USD7K speakers.....and only 1/4 of the review on the sound quality itself speak volumes for the new Thiel.......just looking at the speakers' drivers, you can tell it's the beginning of the end........