Thiel CS2.3 Loudspeaker
It struck me that the subjects of this review, the Thiel CS2.3 and Magneplanar MG1.6/R, are both kind of like Bonnie's 911. Each has grown out of the vision of a single, brilliant designer. Each reflects the long, steady evolution of a basic design, and the consistent focus on a core set of engineering criteria. Parallels can even be drawn between the car's and the speakers' performance characteristics. Adjectives like "crisp," "precise," and "fast" come to mind, either behind the wheel of Bonnie's 911 or in front of a Thiel loudspeaker. On the other hand, Magnepan has used their unusual planar magnetic design to produce a coherent sound that's far greater than the sum of its parts—not unlike how Porsche's rear-engine design, air-cooled boxer engine, and odd ergonomics came together in one of the most coherent high-performance packages in auto history.
Thiel and Magnepan have been intertwined throughout my personal audio history as well. I alternated between Magnepan MG1s and Thiel 03As for years, torn between the Maggies' coherence and soundstage and the Thiels' detail and dynamics. I repeated the scenario a decade later with the Magnepan MG3.5/R and Thiel CS3.6. Both were dramatically better than their predecessors, but the essences of their personalities—and the tradeoffs—remained.
The Thiel CS2.3 and Magnepan MG1.6/QR are the natural candidates with which to continue these comparisons. Each incorporates its designer's latest thoughts and newest driver technology. Both are medium-sized floorstanding systems aimed at the serious-but-not-stratospheric heart of the market. Even their specs—frequency response, sensitivity, power requirements, impedance—are remarkably similar.
Thiel CS2.3: $3600/pair
Thiel loudspeakers are certainly well known to Stereophile readers. A quick search of the Stereophile website turned up 33 reviews of Thiel products, not including John Atkinson's March '98 audition of the CS6. The CS2.3's evolutionary ancestors alone, the CS2 and CS2 2, have been discussed no fewer than six times in these pages. Chances are, if you opened a word-association game with Stereophile readers by saying "loudspeaker," a significant percentage might respond with "Thiel." Based on firsthand experience of previous models, many might have a preconceived notion of what a new Thiel speaker might sound like.
I certainly did. My time with the CS3.6 left a lasting impression of heart-stopping bass, extraordinary resolution, spectacular dynamics, and stunningly vivid, dimensional images. Bonnie captured the '3.6's essence beautifully one morning when she looked out from our mountain cabin at a bright, scorchingly clear winter day and pronounced it "a Thiel kind of day."