I reviewed the stand mounted MCS-1 a months or so back (link) and it was my first experience with a Thiel loudspeaker. I found out why Thiel had built a reputation of building superb sounding, neutral, and coherent speakers for 30 years. Their products are designed and built in Lexington Kentucky and all are all based on the cutting edge designs of the late, great Jim Thiel, who sadly passed away last year at the age of 62.
I was so impressed with the MCS-1, which was a large monitor, that I was very interested in hearing one of their floor standers. I was offered the CS2.4, second from the top of the line CS3.7, which sells for roughly $12,000. The CS2.4 retails for $4900, but varies depending on finish. My review sample arrived in a beautiful Black Ash. The CS2.4 was first introduced roughly seven years ago and has been reviewed favorably ever since. In this age of two year product cycles, the CS2.4’s longevity definitely caught my attention.
The CS2.4 is technically a three way speaker with 1″ tweeter mounted coaxially inside a 3.5″ midrange cone, both driven by a single voice coil. Both the drivers feature anodized aluminum diaphragms. The 8″ inverted dome aluminum woofer is driven by a heavy magnet and works in conjunction with a 7.5″ by 11″ oval passive radiator. Pretty unique design. I don’t want to get too technical in this review, for as you read on, you will find out this is one very special loudspeaker. All the techinical specs can be found on the Thiel website. I will say that the CS2.4 shares the design characteristics of the other high end products in the Thiel line up. This means time alignment and phase coherence, of course, as well as rigid, non resonating cabinets.
Set Up and Listening:
The 2.4’s are heavy, weighing in at around 75 lbs each. Moving them around is generally a two person job. The front baffles are sloped, as with the other floor standers in the line. The level of workmanship is just incredible, and is really right up there with speakers costing many, many times more. The finish is sublime and the quality of the binding posts and cabinetry is top notch, if not as good as it gets. The set up instructions are excellent. Thiel recommends plenty of space around the speakers, I was able to give them about about two feet from the front and side walls. That is not optimal, but I had to work within the confines of my listening room. They also advise using the supplied high quality bolted spikes to decouple from the floor, which they say will improve imaging. Thiel generally recommends no toe in, but I found that a slight amount of toe in, say, 15 degrees, improved the center imaging and really did not reduce the soundstage. Other than that, it was pretty straight forward.
I also should mention that Thiel recommends about a 100 hour break in period before any critical listening, which I adhered to. I then used them with the Rogue Atlas Magnum I had here for review. I felt the bass was a little under damped, and suspected that something I had heard about the bigger Thiels may be true, that they really prefer higher current solid state amps. I swapped out the Rogue and installed the Marantz SM-11S1 and the results were utterly glorious. Maybe glorious is an understatement. It is almost as if the CS2.4’s and the SM-11S1 were made for each other. I honestly have not heard too many combinations this synergistic. My Audio Research amps and my Harbeth’s come to mind, and I remember hearing some Krell Evolution amps and Magnepans that were a match made in heaven. The Thiel and Marantz combo is the best sound I have heard in my room, hands down.
Specifically, the soundstage was enormous, deep, and wide. But, and this is the clincher, it was so natural and relaxed. I have heard some audiophiles gripe about tweeters made of stiffer, metallic materials, but I think that is misplaced. I have heard many speakers that employ various materials including, diamond, carbon fiber, ceramic, and aluminum. I believe it is a matter of design and implementation, not materials. The CS2.4’s high frequencies were so sweet, so extended, and so smooth, I was really just awe struck. There was not a hint of glare, or peaky treble.
As matter of fact, what had me involved in long, late night listening sessions was the overall excellent, balanced presentation of the Thiel’s. They were, to my ears, superb across the whole spectrum. No matter what kind of music I played through them, no matter the volume level, they never broke a sweat. They seemed to be on easy street the entire time. By this I do not mean they were laid back or polite, or not musically involving. Quite the contrary, they were extremely engaging and wonderfully rich, yet a crystal clear window into the program material. The bass performance deserves special note, being tuneful, articulate, weighty and just plain perfect within the overall balance of the speaker.
In regards to resolution, I don’t think I would be out of line by saying this was as close to the state of the art as you will get unless you have got some very deep pockets. And let us assume a lot more money can buy you more resolution, it would probably be at the expense of something else; like musical enjoyment or tonal balance.
I found myself loading up discs that covered a wide variety of genres, not in an effort to “test” the CS2.4’s, but because the performance was so consistent and engaging, I did not have to “stack the deck” with certain types of music. The CS2.4’s are not specifically rock, jazz, classical, or pop speakers; they are just great speakers. I am always amused when I read reviews that conclude that some very expensive pair of speakers favor certain types of music. That would be a deal killer for me.
Among the discs I spun were Herbie Hancock’s star studded tribute to Joni Mitchell, River: the joni letters. It features contemporary interpretations of some of her classic songs with help from icons like Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Tina Turner and Mitchell her self. Some newer, hugely talented names like Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae, Lionel Loueke and Sonya Kitchell also help out. A stand out track for me is “Court and Spark” featuring Jones on vocals and brilliant horn work by Shorter. There is a lot of stuff going on in this track, with percussion, superb drum work by Vinnie Calaiuta, and of course, exemplary piano playing by Hancock. The whole album is beautifully recorded and was a real showcase for the Thiels. It was easy to pin point each instrument and every impressionistic brush stroke painted by the whole band. I can honestly say this was one of the very few times I have been transported out of my listening chair and inside a performance. It does not happen often, and when it does, I take note.
To keep things consistent, I used several of the discs I have had in my rotation for the past few months, including albums by Broken Bells, Lisa Hannigan, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Yo Yo Ma, and a few others. Whether it was female singer songwriter, scorching guitar heroics, electronic pop, or classical, the CS2.4 did not blink. Again, to drive my point home, this is not a “specialist” speaker that caters to certain genres of music. Come one come all. I also decided, despite their weight, to move them into my bedroom system, to hear them in a different set up with more modest, yet still excellent sounding electronics. The results were just as I had expected, stellar. The Thiels showed me they could work with any program material, in different rooms, and they can be mated with a variety of source components.
When I see press releases from high performance loudspeaker designers about new models costing as much or more than a year of mortgage payments for an average family, I roll my eyes. Why? Because after having been exposed to such great speakers as the Harbeth Monitor 40.1, the Sanders Electrostatic designs, and the big Magnepans, all costing under $15,000, I really believe spending significantly more is foolish unless you are one of the very fortunate ones. I have not heard the Thiel CS3.7, but everything I have heard about it would put it in the aforementioned group. The point being that there are a few companies out there that may not have the glamorous reputations as some speaker manufacturers, but they make outstanding products that are relatively overlooked.
Thiel, to my mind, is somewhat taken for granted. Their speakers sound fantastic, are expertly engineered, and are beautifully made for prices that are absolutely fair. And that may be understatement. The Thiel CS2.4, at $4900, has won me over with its gorgeous overall balance, versatility and musicality. It has been three years since I have heard a speaker that had a presentation that I like as much as my Harbeth Compact 7ES3. At $1500 more than the Harbeth, the CS2.4 does everything as well, but some things much better.
Audiophiles are always looking for a speaker that offers the dynamics, scale, and power of a floor stander, but with the precise imaging of a monitor. The CS 2.4’s are that speaker. And I must not be the only one that feels that away, as the CS2.4 has been in continuous production since about 2003. I think that perfectly reflects Thiel’s reputation as an engineering driven, rather than a marketing driven company. New products come to market when they are legitimately improved, not to move boxes. As a big plus, the Cs2.4’s are very easy to integrate into any decor, and are available in a number of finishes. Some high performance speakers dominate the room, but the Thiel’s elegantly blend in. I consider this a good thing.
Are there a few things to consider before purchasing a pair of CS2.4’s? Of course. First, after having used them with 2 tube amps and a high current solid state design, I felt the latter had better control of the speaker with better bass definition. Secondly, they will work better in a larger room, although in my smallish listening room they were superb. With more room and air around the speakers and a listening position of a minimum of eight to ten feet from the front baffles they would be at their very best. Lastly, be prepared as you may be locked away in long, non fatiguing, musically satisfying listening sessions. Highly recommended, without reservation.