Thiel CS3.7 Speaker System Page 3
I immediately noticed the vast differences between old-school lossy Dolby Digital and DTS and the new lossless audio codecs from the same companies. The lossless audio was smoother and silkier, yet it was also more effortlessly dynamic and free of compression. Lossless audio is so transformative, we can no longer debate whether home theater sound is worthy of this kind of ultra-high resolution. If you can afford speakers like this, your program material won’t let you down any longer.
With Pan’s Labyrinth on Bluray, I heard remarkable high-frequency extension and microdetails. The Thiels’ pinpoint imaging precisely placed sound effects in movies. In an early sequence, the chirping flight of the fairy/bug mapping the soundfield was golden demo material. The small sounds of Fauno’s clicking, raspy breathing and the flinty zing of the psychotic captain’s shaving razor were extremely compelling. This soundtrack is full of immersive low-level details. With these speakers, every little bit of the sound design’s artisanship was revealed and very present. As I watched this late one night, one of the horses in the movie exhaled in a raucous snort. It sounded so real, I thought it was one of my dogs having an episode.
On the other hand, Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert chronicle, Shine a Light, is a very dry presentation that turns slightly hard at high levels. Every individual detail is there, and subtle things like instrument changes are very apparent. But there’s nowhere to hide on this one, for Jack White or anyone else. The Thiels clearly revealed the shortcomings in this track. Too many people believe that expensive, high-fidelity speakers will make everything sound better. High-resolution loudspeakers won’t make excuses for bleached-out soundtracks like this, nor should they.
The Thiel SS2 is one of the very best subwoofers I’ve heard. It trounced the sub I’ve used for movie playback for years (the now discontinued Mirage BPS-400) by a margin that truly startled me. The tight, powerful gut-punches of bass were a marvel. The quality of bass in this subwoofer gave me a whole new appreciation for how much nuance and detail a movie soundtrack’s LFE channel often has. A lot of subs I’ve heard can pound out coarser sound effects but fall down when anything resembling subtlety is called for. This subwoofer’s bass provided unparalleled quality in my experience. But in home theater, quantity matters too. The SS2 pressurized my room in the most visceral way. The cannon fire on the DTS-HD Master Audio track of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was truly punishing. I’ve heard much bigger subs that can dredge up more sound pressure at the very lowest frequencies. But the SS2’s controlled but aggressive output in the ranges where movie bass is active (35 hertz to 50 Hz) was chest thumping and mind bending.
However, Thiel needs a flagship center to match the CS3.7. In terms of design, materials, and overall sonic character, the SCS4 performed admirably and has a lot in common with the CS3.7. I wouldn’t discourage anyone who’s considering the CS3.7 to use an SCS4 in the meantime. But you should also keep your fingers crossed that Thiel will one day release a flagship center speaker to match the CS3.7.
It’s an old reviewer’s saw to say, “I could live with this speaker.” In today’s economy, for speakers in this price range, that’s not enough—not by half. If I told you I love these speakers, I’d be closer. But when this kind of bread is involved, it’s not enough to love the speakers. You’ve got to love your movies and music more for having the speakers in your system. With Thiel’s CS3.7 system, this was true for me. Day in and day out, I felt compelled to re-experience new and old things from of my collection. I must add that while these are expensive speakers by any measure, some high-end flagships cost much, much more. The CS3.7 is among the least expensive speakers in its category. For me, that translates to very high value, especially when you consider how much proprietary technology this speaker has. Far too many speakers cost more and offer less. This isn’t just a speaker-of-the-year candidate in any year, or one for the shortest of short lists for those shopping for a speaker in this price range. This is a speaker that everyone in this hobby should hear, if for no other reason than to define the possibilities.
The sad postscript to my joyous experience of reviewing the CS3.7 is that while I was taking forever to get this review finished, Jim Thiel lost his battle with cancer. I’m proud to have reviewed Jim’s final flagship, and unfortunately his last masterpiece. The CS3.7 is a classic that will endure as it launches Thiel into a new era.