Thiel CS1.5 loudspeaker Page 3

I bumped into a reviewer at Hi-Fi '94—can't remember who.

"Heard the Thiel CS1.5s?" I asked.

"Yeah—too tiny and pricey. They cost almost as much as a pair of CS2 2s, and they're much smaller."

True. The CS2 2s (now called the "two-twos" rather than "two-point-twos," thanks to the litigious Bose Corporation) retail for $2750. A pair of CS1.5s sell for 72.5% of the price of a pair of "two-twos."

Let's get the negatives over with first.

The CS1.5s are unable to fill a room with the sound that larger speakers can provide—if you want bigger sound, buy bigger speakers. Along with this smaller-scale sound (which isn't all that small-scale, compared with certain minimonitors) comes a diminution of dynamics compared to larger speakers. Say you're playing a Tchaikovsky symphony and you want the music to really let go and simulate the experience of a live symphony. You won't get it from the CS1.5s. (Of course, to my mind, you shouldn't even try.)

In Carnegie Hall or Symphony Hall, I listen much more to dynamics, scale, and the emotional ebb and flow of music than to orchestral subtlety and detail. At home, I listen—if the equipment lets me—to the sorts of details in the score that might be swamped in the wash of sound heard in the concert hall.

I also listen for the beauty of instrumental and vocal timbres. I know this is heresy, but in many ways I prefer listening to a good recording on a hi-fi system than going to a concert. I go to concerts primarily to get out of the house, have a nice dinner with my wife, kibitz with friends—who also hang out at Carnegie—then grab a pint of Guinness at the Irish pub down the street. Hell, most concerts today are eminently forgettable, with boring conductors and restricted repertory. If I really want to listen to music, I might stay home and listen to the Thiel CS1.5s. I may have had them for only a few weeks, but they're among the most exciting speakers I've encountered in years.

Their small size gives them one big advantage: wife-acceptance factor. Marina took one look at these speakers next to the Audion Silver Night amplifiers in our living room and said, "Da." She wants them in the living room (footnote 1). The speakers are beautifully finished—my review pair came in amberwood, but 16 different finishes are available, including knock-'em-dead birdseye maple for $500 extra per pair. Fit'n'finish are first-class—I expect that from Thiel.

And—surprise, surprise—for a pair of small speakers, they go much lower than most minimonitors, and much lower than Thiel's CS1.2 (now discontinued). The specs (backed up by my subjective listening impressions) tell the story: the CS1.2 went down to 50Hz, more or less, in the bass; the CS1.5 goes down to 42Hz.

And the bass is tight and tuneful—not the bloated farts I recently heard from a pair of similarly sized and priced speakers I sent back because I couldn't stand to listen to them. They weren't bad, but they passed so much air out of their rear ends that I thought I smelled something.

("Don't be gross, Sam," says Marina, looking over my shoulder.)

The other night I was listening to Eugen Jochum's recording of Bruckner's Symphony 4 (EMI CZS 7 62935 2 (footnote 2))—you know, the sort of recording that Ken Kessler, Corey Greenberg, and Jack English groove on—and I heard bass definition and detail that I hadn't heard before. Important? You bet. I was hearing more of the score.

Incidentally, to break the speakers in quicker, I used Yim Aud's Purist Audio Design CD System Enhancement disc, then track 8 of the Sheffield/XLO Test & Burn-In CD. Between these two discs, the speakers were up and running in less than a week. I also used LaserLight's Scottish Bagpipes disc (15 159).

It helped, of course, that the Thiels are in my 13' by 23' shoebox of a living room. I set the speakers along the short wall, about 18" from the back and 26" from the sides. I listen from 18' away—quite far. Obviously, at this distance, driver integration isn't a problem.

The Thiel CS1.5 reminds me of a pair of old Quads—the original ESL, not the ESL-63. The old Quad has midrange accuracy and clarity that few other speakers can match. The CS1.5 offers midrange magic and clarity, too.

Let's start with tonality. Subjectively, the CS1.5 is one of the most uncolored speakers I've heard. If it has any cabinet colorations, I didn't hear them. These speakers produce some of the most beautiful vocal and instrumental timbres I've ever heard. Never mind accuracy—the tonal beauty of these speakers is absolutely breathtaking. (This is why people still go crazy over the original Quads after all these years.)

Footnote 1: The CS1.5s might go into the main listening room, and a pair of B&W Silver Signatures into the living room. Meanwhile, I have the RA Labs Mini References in the den. Stay tuned.

Footnote 2: Nine CDs, not available separately. Highly recommended.

1026 Nandino Blvd.
Lexington, KY 40511-1207
(606) 254-9427