Thiel CS1.6 loudspeaker Page 2

The 1/3-octave warble tones on Stereophile's Test CD 3 were reproduced in full measure down to the 80Hz band. The 63Hz band is always weak in my room; such was the case with the CS1.6 unless I moved my chair back against the wall behind it, but the 50Hz band was moderately high in level. It was only at 40Hz and below that the speaker was obviously rolling off rapidly. The story was the same with the series of half-step-spaced tonebursts that I included on Test CD 3 (footnote 1), the speaker's bass response falling off rapidly below G at 49Hz.

This series of tonebursts also revealed the Thiel to be a little lively in a narrow band in the upper midrange. I suspect that this liveliness correlated both with the superb sense of detail possessed by the '1.6 and with the latent feeling of hardness I occasionally experienced. On the positive side, the CS1.6 offered a superbly clear view into the recorded soundstage.

While preparing this review, I was also mastering a new CD of classical music I had recorded with Cantus, the Minnesota-based male choir. ("One By One," the article on the making of their 2001 CD, Let Your Voice Be Heard, was published in January 2001.) The program this time varied enormously, from quiet, reflective pieces for unaccompanied voices, through a Debussy work for choir and piano, to a piece by the modern Finnish composer Veljo Tormis, which climaxes with the voices being drowned by someone beating hell out of a large gong. (From the score: "The sound must be so loud that the chorus entrance is not heard.") I therefore had to adjust the microphone preamp gain for each work during the sessions, meaning that I had to compensate accordingly for each track during the editing and mastering.

However, the ambient background noise in the chapel where we had made the recording had not been consistent, due to wind, distant traffic, and even the occasional bat! I hadn't thought this would be a problem at the time, because the peak level of this noise was between -57dBFS and -63dBFS, and any changes in the spectra, almost always LF in nature (other than the bat), should not have been audible. But the differences were disturbingly obvious via the Thiels, and I had to put in unexpected hours with the Z-Systems digital equalizer to ensure that the transitions between the tracks were seamless.

I wondered if part of the reason I was hearing these differences was due to my listening at higher levels than usual, due to the CS1.6's high sensitivity. I did find that I was setting my preamp's volume control considerably lower than I had with the insensitive mbl 111Bs I reviewed in the August issue, but I was not, overall, listening at high volumes. If anything, I was playing my music more on the soft side. So it appears that the Thiels did have astonishing resolution, matched by equally superb stereo imaging. The image of Joshua Bell's violin on this issue's "Recording of the Month" (Sony Classical SK 89505) hung at the center front of the stage, without any sense that its sound was originating from loudspeakers. True virtual reality.

An aspect of the setup that caused me some bother was choosing the listening axis. The tweeters are a low 30" from the floor when the speakers are used with their stabilizing feet, but my ears are 6" higher than that when I'm slouched in my listening chair, and a couple of inches higher when I'm sitting at attention. There was a slight hollowness to the '1.6's balance in this situation that was particularly noticeable on recorded piano. I ended up using a single tall Tiptoe under the front of each speaker, therefore, to tilt it back slightly. This minimized this residual upper-midrange coloration, but, with the mass of the drive-units' magnets being quite high, this made the speakers marginally unstable. Thiel can provide optional outriggers that raise the CS1.6 an inch or so. Unless you have a very low listening chair, these outriggers should probably be regarded as mandatory.

Perhaps it was partly because the omnidirectional mbl 111Bs, with their ethereal, filigreed top octave, had preceded the Thiels in my room, but I was bothered by a slight lack of top-octave air, which is partly why I toed-in the speakers. In itself, this is not a limitation, but it does tend to make the octave between 5 and 10kHz sound a little more forward. Not only was this character demanding when it came to choosing matching components, but it imposed an ultimate loudness limit. The brightness was acceptable at low to moderately loud playback levels, but it imposed a dynamic limitation, particularly on voice, by turning into hardness at very high levels.

Peculiarly, this was less of an issue with LP playback, perhaps because my Linn Arkiv cartridge has a slight energy trough in the same region. Whatever the reason, LPs sounded great through the Thiels. The Classic Records reissue of the first Crosby, Stills & Nash LP, with its admittedly fat-assed lows, sounded superb, there not being a clue that the album celebrated its 33rd birthday this summer.

Once the Thiel CS1.6es had been broken in—assuming they were; after a month of heavy-duty playing, I can't swear that the midbass wasn't still creeping up in level—and I'd found the positions in my room where they worked best, I enjoyed my time with them, particularly for LP playback. The speaker's small footprint and well-engineered acoustic design at what, all things considered, is an affordable price, will give musically enjoyable results in rooms of small to moderate size. Thiel's CS1.6 is recommended, therefore, provided its prospective owner has front-end components that err on the mellow side.

Footnote 1: I created this track for Test CD 3 because I find it invaluable for setting up speakers. It has puzzled me that more reviewers have not made use of it.—John Atkinson
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