Thiel CS2.3, MCS1, and SCS3 Speakers Page 2
Thiel finishes their speakers like a master furniture maker would. The company employs a full-time veneer artist to match the veneer for each speaker, and they offer a broad selection of great-looking veneers, along with black lacquer and other nonveneer finishes.
In addition to the gorgeous veneer work, the speakers have amazing build quality. Rap on these things, and you won't hear a single resonance. Thiel builds them from extremely thick, layered MDF. I can only find one problem with the build quality, and that's Thiel's use of mediocre binding posts on the MCS1 and SCS3. (You can buy these same posts for about $5 at RadioShack.) C'mon, Thiel— your speakers deserve better. Also, no Thiel speaker offers biwiring capability. I don't really care, but someone might.
For stereo listening, I used a McIntosh MA6500 integrated amp, a Rotel RCD-971 CD player, and Synergistic Research cables. For home theater, I used the same cables but brought in a Pioneer DV-09 DVD player, a Lexicon DC-2 preamp/processor, and a B&K Reference 7250 five-channel amp. Thiel speakers typically have low impedance, so you can't drive them with a low-quality amp. Both of the above amps did fine. Jim Thiel didn't toe-in the CS2.3s when he came by to set them up, but I liked the sound best with about 5 to 7 degrees of toe-in.
Get this: When I first played the new Chesky CD The Coryells through the Thiel CS2.3 tower speakers, I got so wrapped up in the sound that I was almost persuaded to blow off my afternoon Diet Coke and cookie break. (It'd probably take a recording of Elvis Presley, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and John Bonham performing together to get my mind off that cookie.) I actually sat there agonizing, not wanting to go because I was enjoying the sound so much.
Once I got the CS2.3s positioned just right and adjusted the acoustic treatment in my room to suit them, the listening experience became almost religious— entrancing, enveloping, and involving. The kind of performance that glues you to the couch and makes you focus on the music instead of just using your system for background music.
The CS2.3s sound fabulous on classical and jazz CDs. The detail is incredible, and the colorations are practically nonexistent. Classical and jazz CDs are often produced with lots of natural stereo miking. When the CS2.3s sink their tweeters into recordings like these, they yield a huge soundstage. They even create the impression of height. On one of my favorite recordings, trumpeter Lester Bowie's "I Only Have Eyes for You," it actually seemed as if I could hear the sound echoing 40 feet above my head off the upper walls of the hall in which the recording was made.
The bass sounds full and beautifully integrated with the rest of the audio spectrum. The pitch definition is outstanding. Individual notes in bass lines are easy to distinguish, even when the instrument in question is a fat-sounding Fender Precision bass. However, the woofer doesn't give you the punch and dynamics you'd get from some of those speakers that pack a high-powered, internal woofer amp. Real bass freaks and rock fans will want to add a sub or two.
That is, if a real rock fan would like this speaker, and I don't think many of them would. The CS2.3 is extremely revealing; it lays the skill of the recording engineer, the quality of the mics, and everything else out there naked for you to ogle. Naked can be good (if it's, say, Sarah Michelle Gellar or a Chesky recording) or bad (say, Bill Clinton or one of the original '80s Led Zeppelin CD reissues). So many pop recordings have poorly recorded vocals, due to sloppy use of compressors, poor mastering, EQing the voice so that it cuts through, etc. With these speakers, all that stuff comes through clear as a bell. There's nowhere to hide.
The MCS1 sounds a lot like the CS2.3. The most obvious difference is that it doesn't produce as broad a soundstage (which must be an acoustic effect of having the tweeter in the center of the speaker). However, positioned in the same place as the CS2.3, it produced an even more-solid, almost tangible center image. Also, this speaker's treble seems a little subdued in comparison, which makes pop recordings and movie dialogue a little more pleasant-sounding. Then again, it's not as full as the CS2.3— there's noticeably less bass extension. Also, the MCS1's bass sounds a little compressed when you crank up rock CDs and action-movie soundtracks. I'd say the CS2.3 would be fine without a sub, but I'd insist on something to augment the bottom with the MCS1.
To my surprise, I enjoyed the SCS3 more than I enjoyed the MCS1, at least for stereo listening. Its treble doesn't sound as pronounced as that of the CS2.3, but it still yields much of the CS2.3's delicious, broad soundstage. The soundstage extended far beyond the speakers, which didn't happen with the MCS1. The SCS3 seems to have nearly as much bass extension as the MCS1, although the bass sounds more compressed. I occasionally noticed the compression even at fairly modest listening levels. It's pretty full-sounding for a small speaker, though, and it'd be terrific for a high-end stereo system in a small apartment.
As with the MCS1, the SCS3 made voices on movie soundtracks and pop recordings sound smoother than the CS2.3 did. Basically, it's a more-forgiving speaker, and I actually liked it the best on harsher-sounding male vocals like the dialogue from the GoldenEye DVD and the vocals from singer/ songwriter Ron Sexsmith's first CD.