Not being able to write about it, when I heard that Jim Thiel died on September 13, I could only weep.
It's not that Jim and I were friends. As John Atkinson has written elsewhere, reviewers and manufacturers can't be friendsthat poisons the well of dispassionate criticism. Nonetheless, Jim Thiel was one of nature's gentlemen: brilliant, engaging, and good company. He was one of us, an audiophile and music lover, always ready to talk about both for hours.
Long before I began writing for Stereophile, I sold Thiel loudspeakers at a hi-fi shop. I never talked to Jim in those days (he was far too valuable designing loudspeakers to have to deal with retail concerns), but the company impressed me with its concern for its customers. Many high-end manufacturers treat their custmers well, but few do it with the attention to detail that Thiel exhibited (and still exhibits). That ethos wasn't just good business, it was a facet of Jim's personality.
Another facet was his consistency as a loudspeaker designer. I don't just mean that he designed many superb speakerswhich he didbut every speaker he designed stemmed from his belief in phase and time coherence, properties that he believed were only achievable with a first-order crossover,
(I'm not going to debate loudspeaker design here, it's Jim Thiel I'm talking about.)
Some speaker designers are all over the mapI can think of a few who change design philosophies with every model. Not Jim Thiel. I remember one CES when Thiel unveiled a new loudspeaker; I asked Jim how the design came to be. He steepled his hands, sat back in his chair and said, "Once I decided it would be a two-way, I had to design the drivers and the volume of the enclosureafter that, everything was sort of written in stone."
Jim wasn't saying he had a cookie-cutter crossover he inserted into every design, he was simply stating that everything that had his name on it had to conform to his overarching design criteria: time and phase coherence and that first-order crossover.
That also meant that his speakers sometimes (frequently!) presented challenges to the amps that drove to them. JA and I queried Jim about that once and he responded with one of my favorite audio quotes ever: "Watts is cheap."
I could go onas I've said, Thiel was good company and frequently quotable. He was also gracious and interested in the people around himhe was far from the anti-social genius who was only comfortable in his design studio.
Audio is poorer for the passing of Jim Thiel. My heart goes out to all the folks at Thiel for their loss.