Thiel CS7.2 loudspeaker Page 3

Use and listening
In my review of the Wadia 830 CD player (Stereophile, October 1999), I mentioned that the system—Wadia 830, Mark Levinson 20.6es, Thiel CS7.2s—was the best I'd ever had, and that I was staying up nights listening to music for the first time in quite a while.

Back then, I concentrated on the Wadia's resolution and accuracy, which both improved the system directly and allowed everything else in the chain to be optimized. The Thiel's contribution, on the opposite end of the chain, was similar and equally profound. By reproducing everything—every tone, every harmonic, every nuance, every detail—with precision and purity, the CS7.2 similarly allowed every aspect of the system to be improved and optimized, as well as making its own, direct contribution to the performance.

Thiel speakers are known for excellent bass, but the CS7.2 was even better than I'd expected. From the mid-20Hz range on up, it was fast, clean, powerful, and very natural—in other words, dead on. Detail was excellent, as was the recovery of ambience and spatial cues. On "Saturn," from the Zubin Mehta/ LSO reading of Holst's The Planets (London/Classic CSCD 6734), I could clearly hear the individual double basses lined up at an angle. The walls beside and behind them were solidly located, and there was a great sense of the space between the instruments and the walls.

Fast, melodic bass lines—Ray Brown's Soular Energy (Concord Jazz CCD-4268), for example—were sweet, clean, and bouncy. But what really struck me was the 7.2's reproduction of bass drums, and the breathtaking drive and impact that it added to orchestral pieces. My notes on the second movement of the Reiner/Chicago performance of Prokofiev's Lt. Kijé (Chesky RC10) say it all: "Wow—incredibly realistic, with a fast initial transient followed by a seismic, blooming weight . . . all the while maintaining a clear pitch, harmonic structure, and distinct skin tone. Fantastic! I've never heard bass drums like this outside of a concert hall."

The only nit I'll pick is that the 7.2 slightly emphasized the very lowest bass relative to the upper bass and lower midrange. This didn't come across as an imbalance or discontinuity, however, but as if Ray Brown just wasn't playing quite as loudly at the top of his range as at the bottom.

The CS7.2's top end was clear, sweet, and detailed, without any of the brightness and overetching that some Thiels have been accused of in the past. Inner details, like the pattern of brushes moving against a cymbal, were beautifully reproduced. On the minus side, dynamic contrasts weren't quite as large in the treble as in the midrange or bass, so high-pitched, massed violin crescendos never quite balanced the power of the rest of the orchestra. There was also a bit less detail up top; individual violins weren't as distinct as cellos or woodwinds.

There also seemed to be a slight lack of air and extension. For example, the 7.2 seemed to properly balance the celesta's dense, bell-like ring and the surrounding halo of overtones. Triangles, on the other hand, were sweet but a tiny bit muted. Lastly, a trace of hardness crept in on a few occasions when the tweeter was driven hard, as at the end of an explosive, flying piccolo run. But these were minor deficiencies. The CS7.2's top end was easily the best of any Thiel speaker I've heard, and very good on any scale.

But when I got to the midrange, I threw away my caveats. The 7.2's mids were outstanding, their performance easily traceable to Jim Thiel's premises about musical communication. Start with tonal fidelity: Thiel speakers are known for their pure, uncolored sound, and the 7.2 was outstanding in this regard. Although it didn't sound perfectly flat in my room, it did sound uncolored. Instruments and voices were clear and pure, with the proper balance of fundamentals and harmonics.

Other speakers might emphasize a certain portion of the frequency range, or have a pervasive character that superimposes a certain sameness on different instruments. Through the Thiel CS7.2, oboes were distinctly oboes, clarinets obviously clarinets, and violas unquestionably violas. In fact, I noticed how obvious overdubs and edits became with the Thiels: the speakers revealed subtle differences in an instrument's tuning, or its position with respect to the microphones and surroundings.

The CS7.2s' imaging—or "spatial fidelity," in Thielspeak—was similarly outstanding. I find myself judging most speakers' imaging in terms of tradeoffs: coherence vs detail, for example, or continuity with the surrounding space vs image dimensionality and boundary definition. With the CS7.2s, there were no tradeoffs. Images were richly and naturally detailed, and almost holographic in their dimensionality, but were never overetched or discontinuous with their surroundings.

In addition, the instruments' positioning, hall boundaries, and surrounding ambience were always consistent, both internally and with respect to the listening perspective. The boundaries between images and the surrounding space were continuous, and ebbed and flowed naturally, without a hint of vagueness or blurring around the edges of instruments or sections. My Audio Artistry Dvoraks, for example, are wonderfully continuous but have nowhere near the Thiels' specificity and precision.

1026 Nandino Boulevard
Lexington, KY 40511
(606) 254-9427
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