Thiel CS3.6 loudspeaker Page 3
My first reaction upon hearing the CS3.6es was an enthusiastic "Yeah!" I began enjoying music immensely from the first moment with the CS3.6es—always a good sign. They had a fundamental musical rightness that was immediately apparent. The CS3.6es' overall tonal balance, dynamics, and soundstaging were all first-rate. Moreover, there was a distinct impression that the CS3.6es were providing a transparent window into the playback chain and the recordings. This is clearly a remarkable loudspeaker.
The CS3.6 had an amazing degree of control, punch, and depth in the bass. Kick drum had a satisfyingly powerful impact, with a sudden attack and equally fast decay. It was the antithesis of soggy, slow, or blurred. Reproduction of electric and acoustic bass was full-bodied, rich, and had a terrific sense of power and drive. There was a beautiful "purr" from bass guitar lines that formed a solid foundation for the rest of the music. The CS3.6's fully fleshed-out bass and excellent dynamic capabilities combined to produce a driving "can't sit still" rhythmic involvement in the music. Electric blues—Buddy Guy's Damn Right I've Got the Blues (Silvertone 1462-2-J), Robben Ford's Talk to Your Daughter (Warner Bros. 25647-2), or any Stevie Ray Vaughan—really cooked through the CS3.6. In this regard, I rate the CS3.6 better than the Hales System Two Signatures, even when the Signatures are augmented with the Muse Model 18 subwoofer. No, the Thiel won't go as low as the Muse or play as loudly, but the CS3.6 had a weightier midbass and greater rhythmic involvement.
That midbass, however, came very close to being a bit overblown. If the Hales erred on the side of precise articulation at the expense of weight and fullness, the CS3.6 was right on the edge of being too fat. I wouldn't begin to characterize the CS3.6 as bloated or distended, but the midbass could begin to intrude on the music—ie, making the listener aware of its presence apart from the music—on some recordings. Careful placement, a good room, and considered choice of associated components can ameliorate this tendency. In addition, the CS3.6 didn't quite have the Hales's pitch precision and tautness in the bass when used without the Muse. The bass was remarkably uncolored, however, without a trace of boxy coloration. Left-hand piano lines were even and well articulated, and male voice was free from congestion and chestiness. Overall, however, I greatly enjoyed the CS3.6's full bass, its ability to present the steep attack of kick drum, and its terrific rhythmic qualities.
The CS3.6 had another quality that struck me: the impression that the loudspeaker was so uncolored that I could "see" back into the recording chain. The CS3.6es were a transparent, crystal-clear window on the signal fed to it. Naturally miked recordings—Red Rodney's Then and Now (Chesky JD79) is a good example—had an immediacy and "you are there" impression that was uncanny. It was like taking one step closer to the musical event. The CS3.6es made it easy to visualize the recording studio or acoustic environment and the position of instruments within it. Mike Garson's The Oxnard Sessions, Volume One (Reference RR-37), with its wealth of spatial information, constituted another example of how the CS3.6es could transport me into the recorded acoustic—particularly with the LP version.
This remarkable transparency had its drawbacks, however. The CS3.6's extraordinarily low coloration and high resolution made any imperfections in upstream components all the more obvious. This is not a loudspeaker meant to be driven by mediocre sources, preamps, or power amplifiers. For a reviewer, this was a great advantage when evaluating, for example, D/A converters. But for long-term musical enjoyment, the CS3.6's resolution could make you less satisfied with your electronics and sources.
The CS3.6's need for a clean signal was exacerbated by its flat tonal balance. There was no common sonic signature imposed by the CS3.6 that could be combined synergistically with certain electronics to produce a euphonic result. The CS3.6 gives poor electronics nowhere to hide. Consequently, I found the CS3.6 better with analog source than digital. The forwardness of (most) digital could push the CS3.6 over the brink into the realm of "ruthlessly revealing." Many loudspeakers—including the Hales System Two Signature—have a slightly recessed midrange that mitigates the forwardness and upper-midrange glare of digital sources. Not the CS3.6; what you put in is what you get. In one respect, this is what one should demand from a loudspeaker—the truth. On the other hand, some listeners may prefer a more euphonic (read "colored") presentation.
Similarly, the CS3.6's treble was clean but revealing of source imperfections. When used with analog or topnotch digital, the CS3.6 had a quick, detailed, and pure treble. Cymbals had just the right amount of brassy sheen without degenerating into white noise. The two components of a cymbal—the low-frequency, gong-like portion and the airy, delicate sheen—were well-balanced, contributing to the CS3.6's natural treble presentation. The typical tendency of metal domes to sound hard was not apparent in the CS3.6. Instead, they had a nice sense of air and detail without sounding analytical. Moreover, the treble was very well balanced in relation to the rest of the spectrum. The CS3.6 had less top-octave energy than the Hales , but slightly more in the upper mids and lower treble. Overall, I would rate the CS3.6's treble as the cleanest and best balanced of any dynamic loudspeaker I've auditioned at length.