Thiel CS1.2 loudspeaker

Thiel Audio, headed up by Jim Thiel (President and chief designer) and Kathy Gornik (Marketing Director), sets itself apart from other speaker manufacturers not only by making what I feel to be almost uniformly excellent products, but also by serving as a kind of hallmark for the good dealer: Although not all good dealers sell Thiel, just about every Thiel dealer is a good one. This comes about because, in spite of just about uniformly positive reviews and excellent customer relations, Thiel (primarily in the person of Ms. Gornik) has insisted on limited distribution through retailers they know will give their product a good demonstration. There are a few other such companies performing this hallmark function, though only Mark Levinson Audio Systems readily comes to mind. Most other successful companies prefer as wide a geographical distribution as possible, in spite of the occasional necessary compromises in dealer quality.

Thiel CS1.2
It is hard for a high-end speaker designer to move down in price, especially for someone with the high ideals of Jim Thiel. It is true that the basic model Thiel started out with in this size speaker cost $640/pair back in 1983. That was the 04, the first Thiel speaker reviewed by Stereophile. (JGH really liked the sound of the speaker, but gave Thiel a hard time about the unpacking instructions.) So from their standpoint, "this speaker" has been steadily rising in price. First the 04A went up to $750/pair, then the CS1 (reviewed by JA in Vol.10 No.5) came in at $950/pair, now there's the CS1.2 at $1090/pair.

This might imply that these speakers are basically updates of each other, in order, but that's far from the truth. Even the '1.2, which shares the cabinet dimensions of the '1, is substantially different from its predecessor. Had Thiel given it a new name, rather than a "point two" designation, they would not have been going overboard. Though possessing the same dimensions, the '1.2 weighs 18% more than the '1, due to additional internal bracing and a grille that's twice as thick (to improve the anti-diffractive grille design it shares with the CS2). Like the Spica Angelus, the '1.2 sports really a lot of weight for a speaker in this price range, particularly if you factor in the expensive crossover components used in each case, and the expensive drivers in the '1.2. High end is a good deal!

In addition, a new woofer from Vifa is used in the '1.2, as well as Thiel's first metal-dome tweeter (an aluminum-dome unit from SEAS with a 28kHz "oil-can" resonance). The crossover has been modified to suit the new drivers, but is not in itself an advance over the '1.0. It does not, as do some crossovers used with metal-dome tweeters, use any form of electrical damping or notch-filtering to deal with the tweeter's peak at resonance. Metal-dome tweeters all come with high-Q resonances; depending on the location of the resonance—the original Celestion SL6 and SL600 rang at 22kHz, which had to be suppressed—and the designer's preference, the resonance will be dealt with mechanically, electrically, or simply allowed to ring away. I was not surprised to find that Jim Thiel had chosen to use the tweeter in its "natural" form. In the past he has refused to include even gentle high-frequency rolloffs in his products, in spite of the criticisms directed his way, simply because he didn't like the sound of the filters. I can't imagine him liking the sound of the more drastic filters needed to suppress the fairly high resonant peaks found in metal domes.

In exterior appearance the '1.2 is identical to the CS1, and in that is simply a smaller version of the basic Thiel shape. Finish quality is the same—excellent. I was supplied with the black-plastic–laminate version, which I have found most handsome. (Until January 1 1989, black plastic cost nothing extra, but from that date a surcharge applies—ca $100, I'm told—due to high rejection rates.) In fact, my samples of black plastic and rosewood (which costs $250 extra on the '1.2) Thiels have made me less tolerant of their standard teak. Part of this is due to my general lack of affection for teak—cherry, rosewood, old walnut are my favorites—but it's also that I've now been spoiled by Thiel themselves. If you're seriously in the market for any of the Thiel models, I recommend exploring their more exotic finishes. Believe me, they'll welcome it—Tom Thiel, in charge of production, is a wood fanatic, as are they all.

I haven't commented on it, but the packing of all Thiel speakers is extremely good. This may be more important to a reviewer than a consumer—after all, your dealer will have had to deal with whatever shipping problems have been experienced—but it is typical of Thiel's attention to detail. And, it could be important to you if the product has to be shipped back to Thiel or to a new address. All the Thiel speakers come double-boxed, with appropriate padding to support the non-rectangular cabinet. In the instance of my recently-arrived CS2s, it was a good thing: the trucking company had thoughtfully crunched the top and ripped the side. The speakers came through unblemished.

I listen in an unusual room, 20' by 35' with an 11' ceiling—almost 8000 cubic feet. Although heavily carpeted and furnitured, the room is not at all dead—not nearly dead enough for J. Gordon Holt, who is, for my tastes, too accustomed to his Tube Traps. Amplification for this review was provided by Mark Levinson, in the form of the Nos.26 and 20. Source material was analog LP (no digital-to-analogs, thank you) played on a Well-Tempered Turntable (the best value ever in a $1000–$2000 'table-plus-tonearm, in my opinion) with a variety of cartridges, none of them spectacular. Interconnects varied, but tended toward the "lean and clean" school, as exemplified by Straight Wire, Discrete Technology, and Audioquest. Speaker cabling was the super-exotic Kimber 4AG recommended by Dick Olsher in Vol.11 No.7. (That's about right, wouldn't you say? $3000 worth of cable to drive a $1090 pair of speakers? Such are the luxuries of review samples.) Also included was CD listening, on both the Denon DCD-3300/DAP-5500 combo and the CAL Tempest II.

Tonal Balance: The CS1.2, as have been all the two-ways (the 04 and CS1 are the others), possesses a tonal balance more forgiving than Thiel's more expensive products. It is inevitably a bit compromised at the low end, quite noticeably in comparison with the three-way CS2. The rest of the range is quite neutral, though, with no obvious colorations or annoyances. I feel that the metal-dome tweeter is superbly handled, particularly for a product in this price range. Products such as the Monitor Audio R952/MD, which have an admirable metal-dome tweeter, have excellent high highs, but I'm uncomfortable with their lower treble balance, which to my ear portrays an artificially detailed sound that can turn hard with not too much provocation. (I admit that my auditioning of the Monitor Audio has been informal, in JA's listening room. It is also true that only a portion of the '952's detail is due to tonal balance; the rest is real.)

Thiel Audio Products Co.
1026 Nandino Boulevard
Lexington, KY 40511
(606) 254-9427