Thiel CS1.2 loudspeaker Sam Tellig
At $1090/pair these speakers have a lot going for them. They look great—elegant styling, impeccable cabinet finish. (The speaker terminals under the cabinet are a pain in the ass if you like to experiment with changing cables, though. You have to pick up the speaker, turn it on its side to switch cables. With this arrangement, though, you can hide some cables under the carpet, and bring them up under the speakers through a little hole in the rug. "Look, dear, no cables!")
When I first got the Thiels, I was favorably impressed. They are neutral—no boomy bass. They are not overly aggressive in the treble—no tizz. Lateral imaging—the ability to locate instruments across the soundstage—is excellent.
The more I listened to the Thiels, though, the less I liked them. First, the bass extension is limited. The Thiels do not put a firm foundation under the music—even with a high-current amp like the Electrocompaniet AW100. Consequently, I began to feel that I was hearing only part of the music. The sound was thin, bass-starved.
Of course, the same criticism could be made of many small mini-monitors. But the best of the mini-monitors—the Acoustic Energy AE1s or even very inexpensive ones like the Celestion 3s and the Boston Acoustics A40s—give you excellent, pinpoint imaging. The speakers practically disappear.
For me, in my listening room, the Thiels did not disappear. I was very conscious that the sound was coming from two speakers. I was getting neither satisfactory bass nor pinpoint imaging. As a result, I began to listen to my system less and less until I called Quad for relief and had them send me a new pair of ESL-63 US Monitors.
"Whoa—the Quads cost nearly four times the price. They should please you more."
Of course, but even if I couldn't afford a pair of ESL-63 US Monitors, which fortunately I can, I am not sure that I would stay with the Thiels. You do have alternatives. The Epos ES14, for instance. Or the new Vandersteen 2Ci's, which I find a great improvement over the previous 2Cs. The Vandersteens are reasonably transparent, perhaps not quite so transparent as the Thiels, but close. But what the 'steens do superbly is give you rich, full, deep, tight bass. The bass performance of the Vandersteen 2Ci's, for the price, is astonishingly good. Of course, you might prefer the leaner, possibly cleaner sound of the Thiels—subjective preference. But before you run out and purchase a pair of CS1.2s on the basis of all the favorable reviews, do yourself a favor and audition the Vandersteens. And the Epos ES-14s, if you can find a local dealer.
If lack of bass doesn't bother you, listen to the $250/pair Celestion 3s on a good pair of stands—don't be put off by the ridiculously low price. These speakers are good. I intend to find out just how good by getting a pair. You may have another option—a used pair of old Quads (you can expect to pay about $600) or a second-hand pair of pre–US-Monitor Quad ESL-63s (expect to pay around $1500).
Back to the Thiels. I also have some doubts about the metal-dome tweeter. With a pair of new VTL 80W monoblocks, I got noticeable hiss from the tweeters, which was particularly bothersome while playing CDs. I hooked the VTLs up to the ESL-63s and the hiss almost completely went away. Curious. (The Thiel tweeters were dead quiet with the Electrocompaniet AW100.)
Maybe I'm being too tough on the Thiels. When you compare them, side by side, with the Monitor Audio RS952s, at $1549/pair, the Thiels appear to offer better value. After all, the Monitors had their shortcomings, too, including a more forward midrange than the Thiels. The Thiels are neutral. The Thiels seem to offer better value, too, than the Spendor SP-1s, which now seem somewhat outdated: the Thiels are more transparent. I just couldn't get excited about them.
The Thiels, by the way, seem to be very cable sensitive. Beware, in particular, of cable masquerading as garden hose. The AudioQuest LiveWire Green that I used briefly—very briefly—is even the same color as a garden hose. I wonder who would want to have a garden hose on his/her living-room carpet? The cable was so thick I could hardly tuck it under the Thiel speakers. "Boy, this had better be good," I recall thinking to myself.
It wasn't. I found that this cable—in 1' lengths—made the Thiels sound confused, hashy: highs were harsh. I got instant relief by disconnecting the hoses, turning off the water (only kidding), and substituting two 1' lengths of 18-gauge Radio Shack solid-core. Short lengths of Naim Cable worked well, too. I am sure AudioQuest can come up with some excuse: the lengths were too short (but all I needed was 12"), the speakers aren't a good match for the cable, the directionality was wrong. Whatever.
Meanwhile, do visit your local Radio Shack soon. And if you have a Naim dealer nearby, try some of that stuff, too—at $5.75/yard, you can afford it. Feel free to use my naim.—Sam Tellig