Thiel CS2.4 loudspeaker Page 2
I then proceeded to play the final movement of Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony's recording of Mahler's Symphony 2, "Resurrection" (SACD, Telarc SACD-60081) for two days running, which made a huge difference. Then my neighborhood audiopal Jeff Wong dropped by while I was playing the DSD remastering of Brian Eno's Before and After Science (CD, Virgin 77292). "Wow," he said, "that bass is all over the place and the sound is completely speakercentric. I remembered this as sounding more open than that."
Me too. And after another day of playing the Thiels hard, it was. They just kept improving, becoming more balanced, less harsh, less tight and, umm, rhythmically unsupple—just flat-out more enjoyably musical the more I played music through them.
"I have no idea why that's true," said Jim Thiel, "but that's been my experience as well. It has caused some problems here at the factory, because I will play a prototype a lot in the design stage and get to know its sound well. Then, when I get the first production sample, I say, 'Hey, this doesn't sound the same—what's up with that?' Usually, they do sound stiff at first and all the sound is inside the speakers. Then they open up."
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Boy, do they ever—open up, that is. After nearly 200 hours of vigorous break-in, I pulled out the Persuasions' Might As Well...The Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead (CD, Arista GDCD 14070) and played "Ripple." Ripple is right—as goosebumps rippled up my arms and climbed the nape of my neck, my mouth gaped open, and I lost myself in the wash of sound. First was Jerry Lawson's raspy tenor riding along on top of Jimmy "Way Down" Hayes' walking bass, later joined by Raymond X. Hayes' falsetto and Eric Thompson's mandolin. It was magic—pure and simple.
Speakercentric? Oh no, the voices—and string overtones—hovered in the room, free of the speakers and any sense of constraint. And Hayes' bass was deep, warm, and just as amazingly physical as it is when you stand next to the man on stage. Trust me, I've been there, and as memorable as that experience was, listening to it re-created by the CS2.4s was scarcely less so.
It was time to return to those discs that had failed to impress during the CS2.4s' prolonged burn-in. Before and After Science's "No One Receiving" skittered along, driven by the muscular drumming of Phil Collins and the twin basses of Paul Rudolph and Percy Jones. The Thiels threw a wide soundstage that now reached from sidewall to sidewall, and filled it with synthesized percussion, guitar fills, and a variety of real and synthesized string sounds. The bottom end was taut, reasonably deep, and propulsive, while the electric guitar sounds cut through the haze like knives (or should that be axes?)—a day-and-night difference from earlier in the audition, and about as coherent as I've ever heard the song sound.
The Mahler 2 was an even more impressive change, probably because there's so much more information contained in its wide-bandwidth (50kHz) Soundstream master tapes. The sound was immense. If the space between my room's walls was completely filled by the Eno's soundstage, those walls could not begin to contain the Mahler—so they simply disappeared.
The dynamic range of the Mahler's final movement (Im Tempo des Scherzos. Wild Herausfahrend) highlighted the exceptional ability of the CS2.4s to portray extremely quiet sounds in vast spaces, as well as their equally impressive capacity for filling those spaces. The movement begins with an explosion of instruments that recapitulates the outburst of the third-movement scherzo. That fades to silence and we hear the horns call from far offstage. This too is followed by silence, and then the unaccompanied chorus begins to sing Klopstock's verses so quietly that a whisper would sound like a shout in comparison. Even though I know this piece—and this recording of it—so well, when I heard it through the Thiels my first thought was that I was hearing the opening lines in my memory rather than through my ears: "Aufersteh'n, ja aufersteh'n wirst du, / mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh!" (Thou shalt rise again, yes again, / my dust, after a short rest!). The sound grows stronger, then the orchestra joins the chorus with a buoyant E-major theme from the first movement that links it to the Langsam "Resurrection" melody and lyric—sung first by the basses, then the rest of the chorus, the solo singers, and, at last, swelled by the vast tintinnabulation of the whole orchestra.
Where words fail, music begins, or so Heine claimed. That final movement of the "Resurrection" is beyond words. It's a tonal testament to the power of hope and it has never failed to move me, even through a 2" radio speaker—but hearing it through the Thiel CS2.4s was almost emotionally crippling. These speakers should come with a warning label: Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery while under the influence of this product.
If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
The CS2.4s were preceded in my listening room by the Peak Consult Empress loudspeakers (reviewed in the October 2005 Stereophile). There are many similarities between the two, both cosmetically and in terms of sonic virtue, though the Empress costs $25,000/pair and the CS2.4 only $4400/pair. But, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I don't think most listeners will hold the Thiel's value against it.
In fact, the two speakers shared a lot of felicities. "Ripple" sounded rich, free of box coloration, and full of tingly detail through both speakers. The Thiel lacked a shade of top-end air on Jerry Lawson's vocals, which might surprise the "metal tweeters always sound peaky" crowd, but there you have it.
Yet I'm not sure the Empress's greater HF extension was more accurate. Some listeners will prefer it, and the extra sparkle was seductive, but I've heard Lawson close up—heck, I've shared fried chicken with the man—and I'm not completely convinced that that extra energy is really in his voice. Each speaker sounded convincing on its own—I was aware of HF differences only when I compared them directly. If you do the same, you may well prefer a little more air, in which case you'll want the Empress—or you'll find the Thiels less "hi-fi," in which case you'll choose them.
However, the Empress did give Jimmy Hayes more robust body. Not a lot more, but maybe 20 lbs more authority. That was convincing.
Listening to Eno's "No One Receiving," I was less equivocal: more bottom end with the Empress but less rock'n'roll thrash. The Thiel's crisper articulation, especially of incisive guitar tones, was my clear preference. And don't assume I'm talking about a big difference in bass, either—the Thiel went plenty low. It's rated to 33Hz, and I believe it.
And Mahler's "Resurrection"? I was extremely impressed with the Slatkin/SLSO recording when I reviewed the Empress, but I have to give the thumbs up again to the CS2.4. Mostly, I suppose it was my sense that, as good as it was, the Empress was a bit reticent. It did everything extremely well, and quite bowled me over. But the Thiel committed itself to full-blown emotional music with such exuberance that my intellect was completely bypassed.
Intellect bypassed by emotion is a pretty good definition of music. If it's also the best description of a given loudspeaker, then that's a loudspeaker I can definitely live with.
However, lest you think I've lost my enthusiasm for the Peak Consult Empress, I have not. It has a polish and a richer tonality that many listeners will prefer to the Thiel's "just the facts" frankness. You might admire both speakers, as I did, but you'll love only one or the other.
If I knew the way I would take you home
The Thiel CS2.4 is not a perfect loudspeaker—that's a critter I've never encountered at any price—but it's hard to fault within its price range. It's a whole lot of speaker for the money. It's built to a flawless standard. It's drop-dead gorgeous. It commits itself to music as an acolyte commits himself to a religion, which is to say without restraint. I'm tempted to similarly throw off restraint in singing its praises.
There are some reasons you might choose to resist the CS2.4, however. It requires a big room; if you can't sit 8' away from this speaker—and give it lots of breathing room, too—it won't integrate properly and you won't hear a balanced, coherent sound. Despite my amazement that my Fisher 500B actually worked with the Thiel, I'm reluctant to recommend the CS2.4 with amplifiers that don't have at least 50Wpc or pretty solid damping. The Fisher worked, but you know what they say about dancing dogs.
In the end, it always comes down to taste. You may prefer a bit more sparkle on top, not that the Thiel lacks that—or you may prefer deeper bass, and I'm pretty happy with what the CS2.4 has in that department. In that case, you'll want a different loudspeaker. You should still listen to the CS2.4, though. Very few speakers get so much right between those extremes—and once you've heard what the Thiel does there, nothing less may satisfy.