Neil Sinclair gave me a tour of Theta’s new multi-channel amp, which keeps the signal exclusively in the digital domain from the S/PDIF inputs to the PWM output stage, the latter said to operate at the super-high frequency of 1MHz. Designed by veteran amp engineer Dave Reich, what is in effect a powerDAC—that’s what it says on the output-stage printed circuit boards—will find its way, I hope, into some two-channel products in due course.
Thiel co-founders the late Jim Thiel (left) and Kathy Gornik (right) at the 2009 CES
We received the following press release last night. No more information was available and there was no word when this story was first posted on whether or not Thiel cofounder Kathy Gornik will remain with the company. Since then, however, CEPro.com has reported that Kathy and her daughter Dawn Cloyd, who was director of international sales, will both leave Thiel. Why the sale? Our suspicion is that while Thiel remains a great brand, it is too small a company, with no access to a significant source of capital, to be able to compete effectively in today's market.
In the past year, Stereophile has reviewed a number of cost-no-object flagship loudspeakers. B&W's Signature 800, MartinLogan's Prodigy, Burmester's B-99, Snell's XA Reference Tower, Krell's LAT-1, Linn's Komri, Dynaudio's Evidence Temptation, Sony's ES SS-M9ED, and Rockport's Antares have all passed through the review mill. Manufacturers like to submit their flagships for review for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the pride they take in showing what their engineers can do when given a blank check. However, while all these models do indeed provide great (if different) sound for the tens of thousands of dollars they demand from their owners, they are out of reach of the majority of audiophiles. It is important, therefore, for reviewers to spend time with real-world designs; when I heard the $1990/pair CS1.6 from Kentucky's Thiel at the 2002 CES last January, I requested a pair for review.
As a reader pointed out, missing from Wes Phillips' coverage of Wednesday's Thiel CS3.7 press conference was a picture of the new speaker. Here it is, pictured with Jim Thiel waxing lyrical about his new midrange diaphragm.
John Atkinson Opens
I've said it before and I'll say it again: a would-be loudspeaker designer shouldn't even start to think about the possibility of maybe designing a full-range, multi-way loudspeaker until he (and they do all appear to be men) has cut his teeth on a small two-way design. There is still as much art as science in designing a successful loudspeaker, even with all the computer-aided this and Thiele-and-Small that, that even a two-way design requires a designer either to be possessed of a monster talent or of the willingness to undergo months, even years, of tedious and repetitive work—or of both. For a would-be speaker engineer to start his career with a wide dynamic-range, multi-way design, intended to cover the entire musical spectrum from infra-bass to ultra-treble, seems to me to be a perfect case of an admittedly well-intentioned fool rushing in where any sufficiently self-critical angel would fear to tread.
A reviewer's life is not all fame and fortune. There are downsides, too, one of which is that, while many great-sounding components pass through your listening room, only a few get to stay there on anything like a permanent basis. (And that involves money changing hands, as in [gasp!] "purchase.") Before I bought my long-term reference loudspeakers—a pair of B&W John Bowers Silver Signatures—back in 1994, the speakers that had spent the most time in my 2900-cubic foot listening room were a pair of Thiel CS2 2s. I reviewed the '2 2 in the January 1993 issue of Stereophile (Vol.16 No.1), and although it was relatively affordable ($2250/pair at the time of the review), it did most of what I wanted a speaker to do. Other than a limited dynamic range in the bottom audio octave and a slightly exaggerated top octave, the CS2 2 sounded effortlessly smooth and free from coloration throughout the midrange and treble. It was also a real imaging champ.
Although Kentucky loudspeaker manufacturer Thiel has produced some standmounted models for home-theater use, all of their serious music speakers have been floorstanders. Enter the PCS: even though styled to match every Thiel speaker since the groundbreaking CS5 of 1989, the 19"-high PCS sits on a stand, not the floor.
Retailer Denver Audio Designs was featuring Thiel's elegant-looking SCS4T tower speakers ($3690/pair) in its RMAF room. But the Dire Straits album playing when I entered the room had more low bass than I remembered the Thiels giving when we reviewed them. The system was familiarSimaudio Moon 360D player, 350P preamplifier, and 330A amplifier, all wired with StraightWirebut then I saw in the corners a pair of Thiel's new USS subwoofers. The towers were bring run full-range, with the subs reinforcing the sound below 40Hz.
Thiel's PR wonk Micah Sheveloff grabbed me as I walked past the room in the Sands Convention Center Thiel was sharing with Bryston to meet with Frank Göbl of Canton. "You've got to hear the new CS2.4 Special Edition." As Wes Phillips had been mightily impressed by the original CS2.4 ($4900/pair) when he reviewed it in November 2005, I looked at my watch. Enough time. I went into the dem room.
Thiel’s long-awaited trickle-down speaker from 2008’s ground-breaking CS3.7, the CS2.7 ($9900/pair), made its North American debut in one of the Denver Audio Designs rooms. It combines the coaxial HF/MF unit that the late Jim Thiel developed for the ‘3.7 with a proprietary 8” woofer, reinforced with a passive radiator to give claimed bass extension to below 35Hz. Frequency response is specified as 35Hz20kHz ±2.5dB, and crossover filters, of course, are all first-order. (No impedance spec was given; Thiel speakers have always been current-hungry.) The CS2.7s were demmed with Aragon Iridium 400W monoblocks ($7998/pair), an Aragon Sound Stage digital preamp ($4499), an Arcam CD37 SACD/CD player ($2299), an Arcam FMJ D33 D/A processor, and Straight Wire Expressivo interconnects and speaker cables, and Straight Wire Blue Thunder AC cords. The sound of Ryan Adams’ “Dirty Rain” had extended lows, grain-free highs, and superbly stable, well-defined stereo imaging.