CS 2.4 / MCS1 / PowerPoint / SS2 / PX05
Home-Theater Speaker System
|What defines the
perfect loudspeaker? Thiel Audio founder Jim Thiel would say that a loudspeaker must
possess accuracy, in the broadest sense of the term. In other words, a loudspeaker
should have linear frequency response, low distortion, and perfect time and phase
alignment, or coherence. Although many loudspeaker designers will cite low
distortion and linear response as goals, very few consider time and phase alignment
critical to the overall sound. Some believe the cost of implementing such technology far
exceeds the payoff, while others think the human ear is insensitive to the difference
between coherent and noncoherent loudspeakers.
CS2.4 floorstanding speaker
Price: $4400 USD per pair
Dimensions: 41.5"H x 11"W x 14"D
Weight: 140 pounds per pair
Model: MCS1 center-channel speaker
Price: $2300 USD
Dimensions: 28.5"W x 10"H x 12.5"D
Weight: 61 pounds
Model: PowerPoint surround speaker
Price: $1300 USD
Dimensions: 19.75"W x 12.25"H x 5.5"D
Weight: 5 pounds
Model: SS2 powered subwoofer
Price: $4900 USD
Dimensions: 23.5"H x 11"W x 20"D
Weight: 108 pounds
Model: PX05 five-channel passive crossover
Price: $500 USD
Dimensions: 2"H x 7"W x 6.5"D
Weight: 3 pounds
System price: $14,700 USD
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor
- Coherent Source design (CS2.4, PowerPoint, MCS1)
- Coincident driver array (CS2.4, PowerPoint, MCS1)
- Metal-diaphragm woofers (all)
- Uniform Resistive Load improves performance with
lower-powered amplifiers (CS2.4, PowerPoint, MCS1)
- Available in a variety of stock and custom finishes (CS2.4,
- Patented SmartSub technology (SS2)
- 1000W class-D amplifier (SS2)
- Boundary-compensation circuit
- Circuitry that compensates for compression distortion due to
voice-coil heating (SS2)
- Choice of Thiel SI 1 Integrator electronic crossover or PX02
or PX05 passive crossover
Thiels website offers scientific data to the
contrary. Their Coherent Source (CS) technology is one of the hallmarks of the
Kentucky-based companys design philosophy. Thiel Audio doesnt appear to rely
on pseudoscience or unsupported claims. The company claims to be driven by research and
development steeped in physics and the scientific method.
Six Thiel speakers costing a total of $14,700 arrived on my
doorstep. The MCS1 ($2300) and pairs of CS2.4s ($4400/pair) and PowerPoints ($1300 each)
didnt bear much of a family resemblance (until I looked at their drivers). The SS2
subwoofer ($4900) handled the low bass, and Thiels PX05 passive five-channel
crossover ($500) tied everything together.
Tight tolerances, flawless finishes, and hand-matched
Amberwood veneers result in the elegant and sophisticated appearance of the CS2.4, MCS1,
and SS2. Hyper-accurate CNC machines cut the MDF parts of each hand-assembled enclosure.
The PowerPoints thick, alabaster-like ABS plastic shell is thermoformed, while its
trapezoidal shape keeps the drivers baffle as close to the wall as possible.
According to Thiel, their Coherent Source technology
ensures perfect time and phase alignment between a speakers drivers. The CS2.4 and
MCS1 use a 1" aluminum tweeter coincidently mounted to a 3.5" aluminum midrange
cone. Jim Thiel prefers the term coincident to coaxial because proper
time alignment requires that a drivers acoustic center outputs from the same
geometric plane. While coaxial drivers share the same axis, coincident drivers share the
same axis and plane. Thiel designs coincident drivers to be perfectly coherent
across their frequency range. The drivers are coupled with a tuned mechanical
suspension instead of a traditional crossover, which, Thiel maintains, avoids distortion.
The bass frequencies must also remain in time and in phase
with the midrange and tweeter outputs. Because different frequencies travel through air at
the same velocity, the arrival times of individual drivers waveforms will be offset
if their acoustic centers are not in the same vertical plane; the result, according to
Thiel, is a poorly defined image. The CS2.4s slanted baffle guarantees that the
audio waveforms from the 3.5" coincident driver and the robust 8" aluminum
woofer arrive at the listeners ears at the same time. And the CS2.4s
first-order, phase-corrected crossover ensures that the waveforms arrive simultaneously at
the listening position.
The MCS1 center speaker also uses a first-order,
phase-correct crossover. However, this speakers flat baffle relies on two
shallow, 6.5", polystyrene-reinforced aluminum woofers to keep low-frequency output
in the same plane, and therefore time-aligned, with the coincident driver. The shallow
woofers also allow the coincident driver to be flush-mounted to the baffle, thus reducing
the effects of cabinet-edge diffraction on sound dispersion.
The PowerPoint surround speakers coincident driver is
a 1" aluminum tweeter coupled to a 6.5" woofer cone. The drivers
dispersion emerges at 90 degrees to the center of the tweeter, which, together with the
45-degree baffle, directs output away from the adjoining wall. According to Thiel, this
prevents signal cancellation in the critical midrange frequencies.
Although the SS2 subwoofers two 10" aluminum
cones and compact, room-friendly enclosure look conventional for a subwoofer, the SS2
lacks the standard phase, gain, and crossover controls. Jim Thiels extensive
research has convinced him that room boundaries and dynamic compression due to voice-coil
heating are the two main things that affect subwoofer performance; he claims that the
crossover and phase controls available on most subs harm the subs frequency response
and integration with a set of main speakers. Thiels SmartSub technology purportedly
addresses all of these issues. A 1000W class-D amplifier supplies the grunt expected from
a high-quality sub. The SS2 is designed to work with Thiels two-channel PX02 and
five-channel PX05 passive crossovers, or the SI 1 Integrator electronic controller.
The CS2.4s four poorly glued floor-spike inserts and
the PowerPoints easy-to-strip Sheetrock mounting anchors were the only problems I
experienced during setup. Thiels Shari Graham had a bottle of adhesive on my
doorstep the next day, and assured me that she would discuss my Sheetrock-anchor issue
with their parts buyer. Such prompt attention reinforces the benefit of purchasing from a
company of Thiels dedication and experience: Unlike the functionaries who work for
many faceless conglomerates, Ms. Graham is empowered to solve customer issues on the spot.
I experienced the same high level of customer service from Thiel with a used pair of
CS1.2s I bought years ago, before I began writing reviews.
I hooked up my Analysis Plus T1 spade lugs to the
CS2.4s gorgeous, well-spaced binding posts. The deeply knurled nuts easily clamped
down on the meaty spades. I immediately noticed that the 3.5" drivers performed
equally well horizontally and vertically off-axis. Many speakers with a separate tweeter
and midrange lose high-frequency sparkle and clarity when listened to from an angle and
not at ear height. Thiels 3.5" coincident driver did not have this problem. The
CS2.4s were much easier to place than my CS1.2s had been. I was able to listen to music
without sonic degradation while playing on the floor with my son.
The MCS1 center speaker produced the same sort of fantastic
off-axis sound. I first mounted the 60-pound speaker to a Thiel-supplied Sound Anchor
stand, but my wife and I agreed that the heavy steel stand took up too much floor space
and clashed with the rooms décor. So we set the MCS1 on a piece of plywood atop our
TV. The sound quality and tonal balance remained transparent -- the MCS1 produced uniform
frequency response no matter where I or it sat.
My living area has its share of sonic challenges. My couch
sits up against a wall, which makes placement of surround speakers tricky. I sent digital
photos of my room to Thiel, who recommended mounting the PowerPoints on the sidewall
within a foot of the rear wall, pointed down toward my listening position. I placed the
PowerPoints about 8" from the ceiling, which resulted in an open, nonlocalized
surround fill. The SS2 subwoofer took its place at the far end of my couch, firing across
the CS2.4s soundstage.
The SS2 has a single-ended RCA connection for LFE input and
a balanced XLR connection for interfacing with the PX05 passive crossover. Both
connections also have a pass-through so multiple SS2s can be daisy-chained. The extremely
well-built PX05 crossover takes high-level signals from either the speakers
terminals or an amplifiers output and modulates them into a single, balanced,
line-level signal that feeds the SS2. Although the PX05s binding posts are of very
high quality, theyre too close together for spade lugs; banana plugs worked much
better. The LFE signal came directly from my McCormack MAP-1 preamplifiers subwoofer
The SS2 has a simple three-button LED interface. One button
selects each of the subs two settings, while the others adjust the settings up or
down. The first setting is for LFE level. The second goes to the heart of Thiels
SmartSub design philosophy: boundary compensation. According to Thiel, the SS2s
microprocessor-controlled analog signal processing programs the distance between the sub
and two surrounding walls, and cancels out the negative effects of a rooms
boundaries on the bass response. It took me two minutes to measure and input the
distances. What I heard after that was miraculous.
The Triplets of Belleville is a beautifully crafted
animated film with a bittersweet storyline. The film is almost devoid of dialogue, relying
instead on gestures and expression to define character and plot. The sound design exhibits
the same stellar craftsmanship -- detail, ambience, and unexpected dynamics abound.
Chapters 6-8 drenched me in the sounds of rain, subtle taps, whispers, and the bark of an
annoyed dog as a train rushes by. The Thiel systems universally brilliant high- and
mid-frequency reproduction rendered with energy and lush harmonic color this quirky world
of a French cyclist and his protective Grandma.
I have heard other systems demonstrate a seamlessly
consistent surround image, but I always get the sense that transducers are reproducing the
image. The Thiels took this behavior to the next level by creating a 5.1 image that was so
lucid, so composed, that I forgot that there were loudspeakers in the room. The six Thiel
speakers truly spoke with one voice.
I had no problem suspending my disbelief during the
helicopter crash and subsequent shoot-out in chapters 9 and 10 of Black Hawk Down.
The recently released Superbit version offers an excellent DTS mix that wraps around the
listener and drives home the concussive, unpredictable experience of battle. Speakers that
lack focus and control can lose their way with such heavily layered soundtracks. But the
Thiels never sounded veiled, or lacked definition or impact. Loud, soft, or tightly packed
-- all sounds remained absolutely clear during even the most chaotic scenes.
The SACD of Peter Gabriels Up [Geffen 493388]
is an excellent test of bass-management transparency. The voice, instruments, and bass are
sent to discrete channels rather than being mixed to all, making it easy to pick up on any
crossover inconsistencies. If the bass doesnt seamlessly transition from a
systems main speakers to the sub, "Growing Up" or "The Barry Williams
Show" will reveal that subs relative position. The SS2 and PX05 did a fantastic
job of convincing me that the deep bass was anchored to each speaker.
The PowerPoint surrounds sounded bigger and the CS2.4s
delivered more authoritative bass when the SS2 was added. The massive drum strokes on
Kodos "Daraijin," from Mondo Head [SACD, Red Ink/Sony 56111],
appeared from behind me with surprising weight and slam. Experiencing the Thiels
impressive integration was exhilarating with film soundtracks and music alike. I had never
heard a speaker system that disappeared quite as the Thiels did, or a subwoofer that
performed as transparently as did the SS2.
I was never left wanting for the bracing dynamics of
Coplands Appalachian Spring Suite, from Eiji Oue and the Minnesota
Orchestras Showcase [CD, Reference RR- 907CC], or Leonard Bernsteins
adoring interpretation of Mahlers Symphony 3 [CD, Deutsche Grammophon 427 328-2].
Brass and cymbals always sounded pure and extended, with a nice balance of shimmer and
The Thiels utter lack of coloration and outstanding
three-dimensional imaging made the hair on the back of my neck stand up on end countless
times. Every sound remained anchored in physical space. The well-recorded score of M.
Night Shyamalans The Village [CD, Hollywood 162464], and such pop recordings
as Seals newest DVD-Audio release, Seal IV [Warner Bros. 47947], sounded
wonderfully rich and intoxicatingly sweet through the Thiels, while the systems
considerable speed and resolution made me tap my foot to the desperate melodies and
pulsating bass lines of synthesizer wizard BTs "Lullaby for Gaia," from ESCM
[CD, Reprise 46799].
I have been very happy with my Canton Ergo home-theater
speaker system. At a little over $5500, the Canton system provides an exciting music and
home-theater experience at not much more than a third of the Thiels price. The
three-way Ergo RC-A is an incredible bargain; this big speakers built-in powered
subwoofer gives it a huge advantage when space is at a premium, with none of the
integration challenges of a standalone sub. And Cantons exclusive room-compensation
circuit makes speaker placement a snap. The subs, coupled with the passive drivers
speed, deliver breathtaking dynamic impact.
The Thiels sounded considerably more refined and coherent
than the Canton Ergos. Although transparent, the Cantons can get a bit edgy in the upper
midrange, a little lightweight in the upper bass. They also sound a bit unfocused in the
low mids and upper bass. The Thiels, however, always sounded smooth and natural across
their response curve. In terms of imaging, the difference between the two systems is the
difference between the accomplished and the merely competent. The Cantons produce a wide
but relatively shallow soundstage; the Thiels countered with unbelievably composed and
uniformly dense images that extended both in front and to the rear of the speakers
baffles -- no matter how far apart they were placed or how loudly they were played.
Bass was where the two systems almost met. Alone, the
CS2.4s produced pure, effortless bass that reached deeper than I would have expected from
speakers of their size. With the SS2 sub, that bass had more harmonic weight and was
perfectly controlled and extended. The RC-As built-in subs offer as much detail and
control as the CS2.4s, but cant produce quite the level of harmonic integrity or
extension of the CS2.4s plus SS2.
The MCS1 and PowerPoint simply outclassed Cantons
Ergo CM 500 DC center-channel and Ergo F surround speakers. Thiels coincident driver
enabled the MCS1 and PowerPoints to remain rock-solid off-axis when compared to the Ergo
CM 500 DCs smaller midrange-tweeter-midrange design and the Ergo Fs standard
two-way array. Size gave the MCS1 the edge over the CM 500 DC in terms of bass extension
and weight, while the Ergo Fs couldnt muster the PowerPoints bass detail and
The Cantons did exhibit a little more high-frequency bite,
though by bite I dont mean extension or detail, but snap and shimmer. The
crash of cymbals and the swell of orchestra were a touch more exciting through the
Cantons. Although this could be considered a slight distortion of the music, it did get my
blood moving without inducing listening fatigue.
While the Ergo RC-A costs about the same as the CS2.4, keep
in mind that the MCS1 is more than twice the price of the CM 500 DC, and a pair of
PowerPoints costs about four times as much as a pair of Ergo-Fs. So while its easy
to hear major improvements through the Thiels, the complete Canton system does a nice job
of making music with perfectly integrated bass for a much lower price.
I spoke to Jim Thiel several times while researching this
system, and there was no denying the passion with which he approaches his work. He
explained with boundless enthusiasm his unique design philosophy and methodology,
describing in great detail every nuance, every nut and bolt. Each question I asked was
answered with an overabundance of description. His grasp of science was as obvious as his
love of music.
The Thiel speakers reviewed here made beautiful music.
Their sound wasnt sweet or warm or exciting; rather, it expressed whatever
sweetness, warmth, or excitement was contained in the recording. Thiels Coherent
Source technology has forever changed my perception of what a great loudspeaker system
should accomplish, especially in terms of subwoofer integration and the stability of both
two-channel and surround-sound images. Is this Thiel system a Reviewers Choice?
|Speakers - Canton Ergo RC-A
(mains), Ergo CM 500 DC (center), Ergo F (surrounds)
- McCormack MAP-1
|Crossover - Outlaw ICBM
- Audio Research 150M.5
|Sources - Esoteric DV-50
universal audio/video player
- Analysis Plus, Stereovox
|Monitor - Mitsubishi
WT-46809 rear-projection widescreen monitor with Duvetyne modification and full ISF
Conditioning - Panamax, Shunyata Research