Thiel CS2.3 Loudspeaker Page 4
Similarly, the CS2.3s clearly revealed any change in system or setup. It was difficult to choose between the VAC and Sonic Frontiers preamps, but not at all difficult to tell the difference. Very fine changes in system setup were clearly audible as well. Adjustments to VTA or the air pressure in the TNT's towers, for example, were easy to fine-tune, and the CS2.3 made it easy to optimize things like cartridge loadings or gain settings on the VAC. Every audio editor ought to buy a pair for each of their reviewers (or at least for this reviewer).
The Thiels' soundstage did seem—across a wide spectrum of recordings—to be a little narrower than is the case with other speakers I've used. With the '2.3s, the outer edges of the soundstage consistently seemed to be just outside of the speakers' outer edges, even with cuts like "Yulunga," from Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (4AD 3013), where images typically seem to emanate from locations waaaaay outside the speakers. Conversely, the Thiels' soundstage was consistently very deep, and had excellent spatial and detail resolution, even at the rear corners.
Two other areas where the CS2.3 differed from the '3.6, and from my expectations, were its handling of dynamic transients and its performance at the frequency extremes. The CS2.3 reproduced dynamic transients cleanly and precisely, all the way from the smallest subtle shading to the explosive chops at the end of Rickie Lee Jones' "Under the Boardwalk," from Girl At Her Volcano (Warner Bros. 23805-1B). However, there wasn't the sense of lightning-fast leading edges that the CS3.6 produced—which probably contributed to the '2.3's softer edge definition as well. Either Way, by Zoot Sims and Al Cohn (Evidence/Classic JP 1006), was spinning as I wrote this, and it was absolutely glorious, but the leading edges—drum snaps, piano tinkles, sax—seemed just the tiniest bit softer and smoother than reality.
Nor did the smaller model quite match the absolute size of the '3.6's dynamic transients. The CS2.3's swings were more centered between, say, ppp and fff, instead of the '3.6's range of pppp to ffff. As a result, I often found myself listening to the CS2.3s at a slightly higher level than other speakers—which I could, because of the Thiels' clean, uncolored sound.
Lastly, while the CS2.3 sounded extended at both frequency extremes, it didn't have quite as much energy and impact in the far reaches as do megasystems like the larger Genesis and Audio Artistry designs. At the opening of "Yulunga" are a series of low-bass notes that seem to drop into the center of the soundstage, coalesce, then spread outward like an inverted mushroom cloud, with a nearly seismic effect. With the '2.3, the notes were there, but the expansion and earthquake weren't.
The CS2.3's bottom end was, however, very satisfying in itself. There was adequate if not "heart-stopping" power, and exceptional control and pitch definition. On Ray Brown's Soular Energy (Concord Jazz/Bellaphon LELP 111), the little Thiel definitely did Ray justice. Similarly, the timpani, double basses, and bass drum on Scheherazade were realistically sized and beautifully detailed, and formed a solid anchor for the orchestra. According to my ballpark observations, made using Stereophile's Test CD 3 and a sound-level meter, the CS2.3 was pretty flat to 40Hz in my room, with reasonable output to just over 30Hz.
Soular Energy was a nice commentary on the CS2.3's top end as well. Like its bass, the CS2.3's treble might not be quite as extended as that of some of the super systems, but it maintained its wonderful inner detail and accuracy all the way out. The cymbals, and especially the piano, sounded open, sweet, and airy, without a hint of hardness, overetching, or excessive brightness. I could put away the sunglasses—a Thiel CS2.3 kind of day isn't quite the golden glow of a late afternoon in fall, but it isn't an intense winter morning at 10,000' either.