THIEL MCS1 Loudspeaker Review
THIEL Loudspeakers have been in the marketplace for over 30 years. Longevity is fantastic, but having the universal respect of serious audiophiles all over the world is even better. Jim Thiel, the company’s co founder, chief engineer, and namesake sadly passed away in 2009. With a humble beginning, THIEL started in a garage in 1977. Fast forward to 2010 and THIEL now offers a full line of high performance loudspeakers for two channel home audio and home theater. They are all designed and manufactured in the USA at the company’s 35,000 square foot facility in Lexington, Kentucky.
I have heard so much buzz about THIEL speakers over the years, but I never actually heard a THIEL speaker until an opportunity came to demo the MCS1. Jim Thiel was a major proponent of time and phase coherent designs. He believed in the dynamic driver design and set about to improve it. By all accounts, he was constantly pursuing design ideas that would consume his thought process until something tangible appeared; quite the tireless perfectionist. I once attended a demonstration of Wilson loudspeakers conducted by Dave Wilson, the company’s founder. When asked what other speaker designers he admired, his answer was immediately “Jim Thiel”. He went on to say that Thiel started his designs with solid engineering principles behind them.
The THIEL loudspeaker under review is the MCS1 ($2300 each, MSRP). Interestingly, it was designed to be in either a very high-end home theater set up or in a state of the art two channel set up. The speaker can be mounted on custom stands either horizontally or vertically. Ideally, a set of five MCS1’s can be used as front, center, and rear channel monitors. I used the MCS1’s as fronts in my home theater set up briefly, then as my two channel system for about a month. The pair arrived in a beautiful medium wood finish at a weight of 61 lbs each; yet they felt vastly heavier. Not surprising, as another element of the design is an aluminum enclosure, to combat cabinet resonance. The MCS1 has one of the most inert cabinets I have seen, barring mega priced speakers for the Maseratti crowd.
One of the MCS1’s most innovative design features is a coaxial tweeter/midrange driver where the two drivers’ diaphragms share the same voice coil. According to THIEL, this technique allows the elimination of the midrange/tweeter section of the electrical crossover network as the drivers’ structure provides a mechanical crossover. THIEL says the coaxial mounting results in greater coherence regardless of listener position. The MCS1 uses a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter and a 3.5-inch aluminum diaphragm midrange. It has a rating of 90db efficiency and a 4ohm nominal load. There are two small ports in the front, above and below the driver array.
The physical appearance is quite stunning. The MCS1 is shaped like a long rectangle. As noted, the wood finish was second to none. (When ordering, there is a choice of around a dozen finishes.) It is a third taller than my Harbeth Compact 73ES, and a bit less wide. It has two high quality binding posts in the rear. The speaker grille is securely fastened and sonically transparent, according to THIEL, so I left it in place for the entire review period. THIEL also strongly recommended 50 hours of break in before any critical listening. I adhered to this advice, leaving them for 4 days straight in my home theater set up with a mix of the HD cable channel Palladia, which features 24 hour music videos and concerts, and various discs playing.
Set Up: Home Theater.
After the 50 hours break in period, I spend a few days listening to music and watching movies and TV in my home theater set up which consists of Paradigm Monitor Series 9 Fronts and a Monitor series Center, and Paradigm Atoms in the rear, with a PSB sub. Immediately, within minutes, I noticed a clarity to the dialogue and a depth to ambient sounds and music that the Paradigm Monitor 9’s could not touch. Perhaps that’s not surprising if you consider the price difference. The Paradigm’s run $1000 per pair, and the center channel round $500, while the MCS1’s are $2300 each. My wife, who is a huge movie buff, also commented on the clarity of the dialogue and texture to the overall presentation. The 90db efficiency is a blessing since my Cambridge Audio receiver offers a modest 80 wpc, but works well with the 94db efficient Paradigms. Suffice to say, if money was no object, I would run, not walk to my nearest THIEL dealer to buy 5 of these for the living room in a Rosewood finish. My wife would be very happy.
Set Up: Two Channel:
This may sound strange, but I could not wait to get them into my main listening room, as I thought they were “too good” for home theater. I felt their real potential would be unleashed in conjunction with my Audio Research tube gear and Naim CD player. According to THIEL, they like the tweeter of the MCS1 to be roughly 28 inches from the floor. As I did not have the custom stands that are made by Sound Anchors for THIEL on hand, I stacked up several blocks of acoustically friendly myrtle wood so that the tweeter was at the recommended height, slightly toed in, applied some Blu Tak and hit play.
From the start, the MCS1’s were a pleasure to listen to; coherent, musical and transparent. They offered more resolution than my Harbeths and bit more ambient detail. The soundstage was slightly wider, but not by much. The phantom center image was immaculate, rock solid, and very holographic. This is exactly what you hope for. The Harbeth offers a bit more midrange warmth, as the MCS1 was a bit more extended on top. But to my surprise, the two speakers were not cut from entirely different cloths. More surprising is that despite being higher resolution and better with low level detail retrieval, they were not the least bit fatiguing to listen to. On the contrary, my listening sessions were no shorter than with my reference setup and lasted well into the evening.
I spun my usual eclectic assortment of discs to see if the THIEL favored any particular genre. It was not the case. Since it really straddles the neutral line, it was at home with classic rock, jazz, folk, and electronic music. It was open for business regardless of what my musical whims were. I was on a bit of a Tim Buckley kick during the review period. Buckley’s middle period was heavy on close miked vocals, acoustic guitar, and percussion, with a lot of room sound thrown in. The MCS1 drew me into these albums. Buckley’s music is very deep and soul searching, and I was glued to my chair listening to the MCS1 present his voice and guitar in a gorgeously dimensional, human performance. It was tough to tear my self away.
The MCS1 had excellent bass definition, weight, and articulation. Bass guitar was muscular, taught, and defined. Acoustic bass was also appropriately weighty, and limber. It was easy to tell the difference between electric bass and the woodier tones of stand up acoustic bass. I pulled out an oldie but goodie CD, Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery with its heavy percussion and huge bass notes, and fantastical interludes especially in “Still…You Turn Me On”. As a matter of fact, this tracked helped illustrate how coherent the MCS1’s were. There are alternating passages of shimmering acoustic guitar, mellow vocals, and a heavy section with bass, electric guitar, and keyboards. The transition between parts was completely believable, and also showed me the MCS1’s had sublime dynamics in its arsenal.
After about a month with these speakers I can honestly say I have a world class design in my system. The MCS1’s are fast, taught and precise as well as lush, warm, and soulful when they need to be. There is no overhang, smearing of transients, or exaggeration of any of the frequency spectrums. Often, “just to keep ‘em honest”, reviewers like to point out a few flaws, real or perceived in a component on loan for evaluation. I don’t think I can accommodate. These are just great sounding speakers. With my back to the wall, my only nit pick would be the odd shape obligates the purchase of the custom stands from Sound Anchors and they are certainly not cheap. I will say they are made immaculately, and Sound Anchors is definitely not a fly-by-night company. Also, the speakers are heavy. Moving them around was a tough job. If that is my biggest complaint, then things could be much worse.
Driving the MCS1’s on the 4ohm tap of my Audio Research VS55 tube amp proved to be an easy task allowing plenty of juice, dynamics, and bass control. Of course, the more room around the speakers, the better they may image. Even with only 2 or 3 feet around the sides and back, they sounded terrific. I’m not an absolutist, and I have heard speakers with thin walled cabinets as well as speakers with non resonating cabinets sound superb in the right set up. I do believe that non resonating cabinets can project a soundstage a bit further into the room, since most of the energy is not being dissipated. If not partnered with the accommodating electronics, this can be a bit fatiguing. Resonating cabinets can “breathe” a bit more, although this may be a problem at very high SPL’s. The MCS1’s were unique in that they were utterly glare free, on the contrary, they offered heady mix of transparency and beauty in their presentation.
I really believe that at $2300 per speaker, this is a tremendous value. When you take into consideration they are designed and made entirely in the USA, in the state of the art THIEL factory in Lexington, that there are a dozen or so superb finishes available, it really calls into question the need to spend as much or more on one of those other brands. I’m sure you can name a few THIEL competitors who have moved production overseas and claim to use exotic materials and such. Of course, geopolitics aside, all that would not mean much if the speaker did not sound damn good. There is 33 years of engineering in this product, and Jim Thiel’s legacy is without question, second to none. The THIEL customer service group is also superb. I had very fruitful correspondences with them and they could not be more helpful with set up questions. The fact that they offer a 10 year warranty carries much weight for me. If you don’t think warranties mean much, think again. My CD player has some transport issues after just two years. No sweat. The 5 year warranty means I will be able to sleep at night as the unit will go in for repair at no cost to me.
I am intrigued enough that I may hit the THIEL marketing rep up for a pair of floor standers further up the line to review. My expectations would be high for sure. But I know I’d better hit the gym, as they are sure to be even heavier. But I shudder to think how much better they could be than the MCS1’s, considering how well they performed in my listening room. If you are considering a world class, high performance pair of monitors in the $4000-$5000 range, the THEIL MCS1 should be on your audition list. If you are putting together a home theater system a cut above the rest, these are a must hear.