Thiel PCS loudspeaker Page 2
This surprised me, given the efforts Jim Thiel makes to minimize distortion in his woofers. Part of the problem seems to be "chuffing" coming from the shallow port. While the outside of the vent is flared, the inside is not; I suspect that this sharp lip gives rise to air noise with high-level low-frequency tones. (Unfortunately, in my zeal to investigate this aspect of the speakers' performance, I hit them with some high-level LF sinewaves, after which one of the pair developed a buzz in the 80-100Hz region.)
But it was higher in frequency that the PCS lived up to its pedigree. The PCS is balanced to be more forward in the mid-treble than the Mirage or the B&W Silver Signature, which, in combination with its low impedance, is probably why the Thiel is so sensitive to cables. Reticent it may not be, but there was still an easy, open, natural, unforced nature to the Thiel's highs that I found very appealing over the long run.
And oh, the soundstaging! The PCSes threw a large, stable, well-defined image. Recordings had their "walls of the hall" exposed to a greater extent than I have been used to, which meant that image depth was enormous. Perhaps---and just perhaps---the extreme highs were less well-defined than the lower frequencies, with central, dual-mono images widening in the top octave. But this is not too important when you consider the PCSes' astonishing ability to open a wide, clean, transparent window into the recorded acoustic.
I have mentioned before in these pages the recordings I made last January of Canadian pianist Robert Silverman performing the complete Beethoven sonatas, and which will initially be released on CD on the Canadian OrpheumMasters label (I'll keep you informed as to when). But to keep options open regarding future release on whatever hi-rez audio media will be available, I recorded the sessions with four microphone channels at 24-bit resolution and 88.2kHz sample rate. I had some test two-channel mixes stored on my PC's hard drive, as well as 16-bit/44.1kHz, CD-standard versions, and a 128kbps MP3 version that I had e-mailed to Bob Silverman to get his feedback on the balance.
When Jim Thiel visited, I took the opportunity to show off the 24/88.2 files, played back from the PC and reclocked by the dCS 972. (I think Bob's reading of the sonatas, the culmination of his life's work, is some of the finest musicmaking I have been involved with.) The sound of Bob's Bösendorfer as reproduced by the Thiel PCSes was effortless. The piano breathed as it had in real life, and while the left-hand register was lightweight, the overall dynamics appeared unrestricted. It was hard to believe that so much unrestrained sound was coming from two small speakers!
I then played the CD-standard version of the same file. Peak levels were identical, and I must admit that the sound quality was pretty close to the original. There was some loss of low-frequency definition---one of the paradoxical but consistent effects of downsampling hi-rez audio data, I have found---and the piano's relationship with the small Santa Monica performing space became slightly less clear. But all in all, if I hadn't heard the original, I would have thought the CD's rendition was excellent. Then we played the MP3, which I had made using the kosher Fraunhöfer codec.
To say that MP3 sucked the life out of the music would be an understatement. No matter how high-resolution, a recording is still a shadow of the original musical event. But the MP3 is a mere shadow of that shadow. The 24/88.2 presentation dragged listeners into the performance despite themselves. "Look, I can't stay. I'll just listen to a few measures . . . phew, that was awesome. Could I hear some more?" By contrast, the MP3 of the same performance may have sounded like a piano, but there was no piano substance there. It was a cartoon compared with a photorealist painting, the music happening not just at arm's length but in another county. And on the PCSes, these differences were effortlessly laid bare, to an extent I had not experienced even over my reference B&W Silver Signatures. This is truly impressive transparency.
Beautifully made and handsome-looking, the Thiel PCS is undoubtedly expensive for a minimonitor. And as much as I respect what it achieves in terms of clarity, stereo imaging, soundstaging, grain-free reproduction, and sheer insight into recordings, its rather gruff lows, somewhat forward tonal balance, and sensitivity to cables make it a tricky recommendation. The Thiel's tonal balance qualifies the speaker's recommendation for use in a conventional, fullrange, two-channel system. With the Goertz cable and high-quality sources and amplification, it is indeed a contender, though it would probably need to be matched with a subwoofer to get a universal recommendation. But under the more specialized needs of a desktop environment, that same tonal balance, coupled with the speaker's superb dispersion, makes the PCS ideal for use with a high-end computer sound system. As a nearfield monitor, or as the ultimate desktop speaker to use with a computer fitted with a high-end soundcard, the PCS is without peer.