Thiel CS6 Loudspeaker Page 2

Encouraged, I took the CS6es home to replace the B&Ws in my listening room. After some setup experimentation, I put on "Born Under a Bad Sign" from Jimi Hendrix's Blues (MCA MCAD-11060). "Great bass!" I scribbled down on my pad. The combination of Billy Cox's Fender bass and Buddy Miles' kickdrum, while not reaching that low in frequency, had excellent definition, coupled with a tremendous punch and body that I was not used to from the comparatively polite B&Ws. I put on the channel-phasing tracks from Stereophile's Test CD 2, on which I play the "Bad Sign" riff on my own Fender P-Bass. "Clean, very clean," I scrawled, winding the Mark Levinson preamp's volume control up more than a few notches. "Who'da thought Jim Thiel was a headbanger!"

Was it the speaker's inherent lack of distortion that was allowing me to play my music louder than I was used to? Whatever. The CS6's lows were clean and deep. The Ely Cathedral organ's bass pipes on the Elgar Gerontius cut on Test CD 2 purred in a most satisfying way, powerfully underpinning the choir and orchestra. The 1/3-octave low-frequency warble tones on our Test CD 3 were reproduced in full measure, even the 20Hz band, without any audible doubling. And as I had noted in the Stereophile room, the CS6es presented a wealth of recorded detail without sounding too vivid or spotlit. The spatial disposition of the twin choirs on the Gerontius recording, both positioned behind the orchestra and soloist, was made abundantly clear. Voices were free from excessive hoot or chest tone at one end of the spectrum, and from excessive sibilance at the other.

Though a slight emphasis in the mid-treble could be heard on pure tones, the highs didn't sound tipped-up or bright on music—the speakers neatly stepped out of the way of the music. All I was aware of was a transparent window into the recorded soundstage. At Sam Tellig's urging, I recently bought the new recording (EMI CDC 56413) of the Elgar Violin Concerto performed by "Kennedy," even though his 1984 reading (EMI CDC 7 47210 2) has long been a favorite. (The erstwhile Nigel explains in the liner notes that he's dropped his first name because he never liked it; I think it's plain daft!) The differences between the two recorded balances were, I want to say, "vividly" clear, but the presentation was never upfront or in my face or "ruthlessly revealing" or any of the other descriptors that reviewers use to disguise the fact that the speakers have them leaping to turn down the volume.

The earlier performance—which, on early listens at least, I prefer—sounded obviously darker, but with a more stable violin image. By contrast, the 1997 recording had better orchestral image depth and crisper highs, but "Kennedy" 's violin sounded more rosiny, and had an image that wandered between the speakers—were the main mikes spaced omnis, I wonder? Both recordings, of course, presented the orchestra as peeping over and around the soloist's shoulders. (When has it ever been otherwise with recordings of violin concertos?) Differences between CD players and preamplifiers were similarly audible via the Thiels, particularly when the speakers were driven by the Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks.

The Thiel's dynamics were startlingly natural. On "Eden," Corey Greenberg's Hendrix tribute on Test CD 2, the various guitar entrances had an excellent "jump factor"—and again, the CS6's forceful and clean deep-bass presentation gave the music a powerful foundation. And I could play well-recorded drums as loud as I could stand without feeling that the speaker was running out of headroom.

So far I've been digging deep into my box of superlatives. Did the CS6 have an Achilles' heel? It did, in that the midrange didn't offer quite the same degree of ultimate clarity or cleanness that so distinguished the bass or treble octaves. There was a feeling of reticence in this region, described by one visitor as a "hooded" quality, that I couldn't eliminate no matter how much I fooled around with placement. Tilting back the speaker by placing Black Diamond Racing cones under just the front did help, however, as a distinct change in timbre could be heard on the sit-down/stand-up test. But for me, at least, this was a minor problem, offset by the many things the Thiel did right.

As I key in these words, I'm listening to Time Out of Mind, the new Dylan album (Columbia CK 68556). Sorry, Zimmerman fans, I can't accept the sound of Bob's voice, which sounds as though it was fed through a Pignose amplifier with a cheap dynamic mike in front of its speaker. But Daniel Lanois' typically spacious sounding, complex mix is reproduced by the Thiels without a hint of the extra mud you so often hear from lesser speakers.

It may cost $7900/pair, but the Thiel CS6 offers high perceived value. It is beautifully constructed, well balanced, and, once set up optimally, with a gutsy amplifier and high-quality sources, sounds simply superb. The CS6 gets an enthusiastic recommendation—it's going to stay in my system a while!