Thiel CS1.5 loudspeaker Page 5

Actually, the whole matter of amplification is difficult with the CS1.5s—not because the speakers are devils to drive (they're not), but because they're so damned transparent. If you try a modest solid-state amp, such as the B&K ST-1400, I'm afraid you won't get the most out of the speakers; the amp simply doesn't have the resolution. The B&K ST-1400 isn't a bad amp, it just doesn't offer the clearest window. (The same can be said of some amps that sell for four times the price.)

The Krell KSA-50S amplifier is proving to be an excellent match for the Thiel, although I haven't had much experience with it yet (I just got the amp). It lists for $3300. Between the Krell and B&K, two solid-state amps stand out: the McCormack DNA-0.5, which, despite its name, is not half an amplifier; and the 50Wpc B.E.L. 1001 Mk.II, which lists for $2995. The standard version of the McCormack is $1295; the "Deluxe," which I had, with parts upgrades, lists for $1565. The DNA-0.5 is one of the most transparent amplifiers I've ever heard, tube or solid-state, and manages to avoid most, if not all, of the typical solid-state nasties: no grunge, no graininess. The amp sounds sweet and lean at the same time—harmonically accurate, but not overly ripe or excessively rich. What it may be doing, of course, is telling the musical truth.

The B.E.L. 1001 Mk.II (B.E.L. stands for Brown Electronic Labs) has a cult following, is manufactured in very small quantities, and is virtually unobtainable. (One dealer friend has a customer waiting-list six months long.)

As for really low power, don't get Caryed away. I tried a 9Wpc Cary 300 SEI integrated; it actually worked better than you might think, but it simply didn't have enough yuice, as Lars likes to say.

I love 300B-based amps, but you should really look for one that has at least two 300Bs per side. (The Cary CAD 300B, rated at 30Wpc and retailing for $3295, is such an amp.) The problem with these very low powered, single-ended, 300B-based amplifiers, as Jack English commented to me, is that they'll drive only a few speakers. Great speaker designers—like Jim Thiel—are not designing speakers to run on 9W.

By the way, I did most of my listening with a Marantz CD-63 player plugged directly into the Audion Silver Nights, which have their own volume-control pots. With the McCormack DNA-0.5 and other solid-state amps, I used a Purest Sound Systems Model 500 Dual Mono passive line-stage, which I'll get to in uno momento. (Marina and I are studying Italian.)

As I said, to my ears the CS1.5 is an astonishing speaker. I can hardly believe you can get this level of resolution, this kind of harmonic accuracy, for $1990. What's more, you don't need a killer amp to drive them. The CS1.5s are about quality, not quantity; that's what you want from your amp, too.

If this were a pair of imported British speakers, you might easily pay twice as much for this level of sound and quality of construction and cabinetry. Compare, for instance, the comparably sized, but not comparably priced ($4499), Monitor Audio Studio 20SE. The Studio stands 30" high and weighs 41 lbs.

The CS1.5 is a landmark speaker of the 1990s—you can get the resolution, detail, and harmonic accuracy of $5000-$10,000 speakers for only $1990. Remember, though, that you'll have to live with speakers that don't play very loud, don't sound big, and won't give you thunderous, rock-bottom bass. You'll also have a very demanding pair of speakers in terms of amplifier sound quality. The McCormack DNA-0.5 is probably the least expensive amplifier with sound quality that's up to showing off the Thiels.

How do you think JA will rate the CS1.5 in "Recommended Components"? Class B, no doubt, because of its limited ability to play loud. But to my mind, the CS1.5s are Class A. I'm turned off by most big, loud, tweaky, twitchy audiophile speakers. I find that, after a certain point, high-end loudspeakers tend to become grotesque. The Thiel CS1.5s are wonderfully sane.

I know—I said a couple of months ago that I'd use the RA Labs Mini References in my living room, and fiddle around with new speakers only in the listening room. But the Thiels simply look and sound terrific in the living room, and they offer a level of resolution and refinement that no $173/pair of speakers could match.

Now, what about that physician I met at Hi-Fi '94?

Do you think I should have schlepped to Queens to hear those home-brew speakers that run on 0Wpc? Too late now—I forgot to take the good doctor's phone number.

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