Manufacurers I have known....

Some of you have privately asked me about some of the industry legends...and as I'm now old enough to be a legend too (but not one) I can talk about some of them candidly.
I'll mention one, and if you want more write me or ask me to post more anecdotes, I can do it privately or on forum.
Jim Thiel--I met Jim back in 1981--at the time, I was a somewhat fledgling audiophile, working as the Vice President of an Air Freight Company. Being a research kind of guy, but in the days before the intenet (which wouldn't come until 14 years later)I wanted to know about all things audio. So I turned to what was the only 'Holy Grail' I was aware of, The Absolute Sound.
There, I found reviews of lots of speakers, with Harry Pearson's prose describing in titalating detail, the plusses and minuses of products. I came across, in the advertising section, (yes I believe it was all collected in the rear of the mag) an Advertisement for THIEL Audio.
They were/are in Lexington, KY about a one hour easterly drive from Louisville. So, one day, while at work, I simply picked up the phone and called Jim--right to the horse's mouth, so to speak.
To my enduring surprise, he came to the phone in just a few clicks.
We spoke for about an hour. I'd ask questions, he'd answer, embellishing not a lot, as Jim, as I was to find out, was a very, very introverted personality. But, I could feel his innate candor and honesty. He later confided that he thought I was Harry Pearson...just calling, I suppose clandestinely. Apparently Harry and I sound a bit alike on the phone. That, and he said, my questions were very much to the point of his designs.
We rang off, making plans for me to visit the factory in a week or so with my better half.
Arriving at THIEL, I was greeted by the very attractive brunette, Kathy Gornik, (my future boss) Jim Thiel and Tom Thiel. It was, by arrangement, late afternoon, 5ish, and a Friday.
We listened, in their then modest listening room.
The THIEL's sounded very different than virtually any speaker I'd ever heard. First, they were almost ruler flat in their frequency response--the O3A, the top model in 1981 was fed by an outboard equalizer to make them so, from 25Hz or so, to beyond 20Khz. It took a bit of adjusting, especially on one cut, 'Betty Davis Eyes' by Kim Karnes (C or K) can't remember. The song, poorly engineered, sounded thin and reedy...not at all like I expected. Tom Thiel pointed out this flaw in the recording and then played several cuts from other albums which allowed the THIEL's to show their stuff.
I ordered a pair within the next week from Gene Rubin Audio (still around and out in California).
Jim was shy, very shy at first...but always bursting with information--ton's more information than most anyone I'd ever spoken with--he really knew his product and that was very clear. He was so understated, he never came across as being haughty, or a know it all. Not even close...self depricating and honest a truly incredible mind and an obvious genius...something I never say about anyone. He was though.
I've said this last part before...and it comes under the 'feet of clay' category.
It's often said, don't get too close to your heroes, they'll always dissappoint. This is absolutely untrue of Jim.
In 1997/1998 I worked for him as Director of Sales/Marketing. To see him every day, work with him, go into his lab and have him explain his theorys and designs was such a thrill, then and even now, that I remember those moments with great fondness. He was truly, even greater up close and personal than I could possibly imagine. Kind, thoughtfull, and brilliant--rare yet complementary traits, all in one person.
His products were and still are, a true reflection of his personality--they're honest, don't embellish, and give the listener Jim's version of what that particular song sound's like, with as little change as was possible for him to engineer in to it.

Jim Thiel was one of a kind.


GreT ztory.....thanks for the share!
Do you know Andrew Welker, speaker designer, formerly of the now defunct Mirage? I don't think he falls in the "legends" category, but his speaker is very good and an awesome value. imo (I have their last and arguably best speaker the OMD-28).
Very nice informative thread. We need more of this kinda stuff here!

Awesome! I for one vote for more of this in forum.



Larry, that was very nicely written, a real glimpse behind the scene of a real innovator in audio. First hand experience is second to none! I very much enjoyed this reading!
I agree Larry, nicely done.
Funny Jim Thiel anecdote.
It was the last day of the 1998 CES--things were winding down, we were all pretty tired, but nevertheless getting ready to tear down the room.
In order to 'kill the corners' of the room, we'd rented Ficus trees, silk leaves from a local company. They had just arrived to take them away, and we had a bunch.
Greg Evans who worked for me as Sales Director, had just gotten back from a 'beerthirty' run...Sherry and Dawn and I (I opted for red wine) were chillin', ready to 'spring' into action lol.
In walks David Chesky of Chesky Records. Looking, as he does at times, like Kenny G. he was there to give Jim some of his latest albums--a little late for the show, but what the heck, there's always next year.
David was known to recreate...and I won't say that there was a cloud around him when he walked in--I will say that his eyes were very 'unusual' looking and he had an air of controlled confusion.
As he walked in, Jim came from the back room--"Hi Jim", he says sounding like Carlton the door man from the sitcom Rhoda....
Then David looks in puzzlement at the men carrying the Ficus trees....and says, 'Wow Jimmmmm, did you brrring the treeeesss, all the wayyy from Keeennntukkkky?'
Jim for a split, thought he was kidding and laughed....and instantly realized what was actually happening.
So it went like this....
'Haaaaaaaaaaaa, NO!'
It's a timing thing, and I suppose written word doesn't do it justice but Lordy it was funny. Greg, Sherry Dawn and I laughed so hard it required bathroom breaks all around.

Thanks for reading guys (and girls maybe).


I may have met him, (probably did) but don't remember any specifics. Trying to keep this to folks I've known really well.
Of the people I was thinking about the night I wrote this, his name didn't come to mind.
I too admired his work and felt that the Mirage was always underrated. Very musical, and I think a bold design.


David Hafler was very much a gentleman the few times I talked to him at CES .
An audio romance story.
Great thread, thanks for sharing the stories with us!
Thanks Rcprince and others for the kind words.
For most of us interested in topics or industries, it's kinda fun to hear the 'inside'.
I'm a big time basketball fan, UK of course as I grew up here. I read all I can, go to blog sites to discuss. In the process like hearing the background stuff. So, naturally, it occurred to me that I have 30 years of stories about some of the industry legends that others might find mildly amusing or interesting; like that story about David Chesky...I know it doesn't transfer as hilariously to paper (e) as it does in person, but we laughed soooo hard that night. Wow, what a memory.

I'll post more at some future time, as the spirit moves me.

Best to all,

I have a post to add to this...a Jim Thiel story...I placed it on the 3.7 THIEL original post but it was out of place there. It's a story which shows what kind of people Jim Thiel and Kathy Gornick are. Hope you enjoy.

It's fitting to me, that Jim's last design was a 3 series product.
My first ownership from him was the 03a, an equalized, 25Hz to 20Khz, loudspeaker of relatively diminuitive stature...then within a couple of years, the CS3, (Coherent Source 3) the 3, was for 3 way speaker.
This speaker was the one that put THIEL on the radar of the mags as well as the higher end audiophiles.
There's a great story about that speaker that I'd like to share with everyone. The story is illustrative of Jim Thiel and Kathy Gornik--how they view business and customers.
A review came out(this would have been circa 1984 fall) in which the reviewer complained about an 'upper midrange GLARE', which was mostly apparent when one stood slightly from the seated position.
Jim was always appreciative of magazines that published specs, as he was the ultimate 'spec' guy--but oftentimes he took issue with methodology.
I remember speaking to him about the 'glare' issue, which he at first said, (to me at least) why does it matter what it sounds like when standing/stooping at a strange height? Who's going to be standing like that? But then, his clinical side took over and he started experimenting.
After several of what had to be painful hours, he found a production error that was to create a seminal moment for THIEL, yet illustrative of what kind of people they are.
Back in those days, THIEL drivers were manufactured to thier specs (Jim would talk to Seas for example for weeks designing, sending drawings etc, and they would send samples to him). As it turns out, the midrange driver at that time was paper, coated with a viscus compound, a plasticized compound which increased the Young's Modulus, defined for this example as 'strength to weight ratio', in simple terms it increased the tensile strength of the driver while not increasing the weight significantly, allowing the driver to act in a more purely pistonic motion, punching the air without twisting. Sorry, but that's what it was.
Anyway, the company manufacturing the driver had put slightly, and we're talking microns of depth, too much of the compound on the driver, changing the response of the driver slightly from the prototypes.
Because of the nature of manufacturing in those days, before 'sample testing' and such, AND the slight alteration, it slipped by Jim's Q.C. efforts.
Understand this, this was back in the day...THIEL was just a struggling young company.
The 'change' in the output really didn't show up on a sweep, but at certain volumes would be apparent, but only when one stood in a crouched manner above the normal listening it was WRONG, but an almost 'who cares' change that only an Absolute Sound listener might notice.(Kudos to the writer, who I can't remember, I'm wanting to say Anthony Cordesman, but not sure).
Anywho, THIEL needing the cash flow from the hundreds of pairs of already completed speakers, elected NOT TO SHIP the speakers out, creating a billing cycle--but chose to let them sit in the warehouse until replacement drivers could come in.
Think about this...a young struggling company, who was dependant on monthly billing cycles, had more than a couple hundred pairs of CS3's sitting idly in their warehouse waiting for almost 2 months for replacements--creating 60 days of delay. This WAS a 'make it, break it' moment for them and they didn't hesitate. The COULD have shipped, sent a 'oh gee' letter to all owners and replaced the drivers in the field, but didn't. They held the products.
How many people would do this in today's business world--in the 1984 business world? They did the right thing without anyone noticing or looking. What's the old saying, 'It's what you do when no one's looking that tells what kind of person you really are.'
Looking back those almost 30 years ago that that happened--knowing the pain that this action created for them financially, I can't tell you how proud I am to tell you that Jim and Kathy were two of my icons and heroes in not only just audio, but in the business world.

It's important that everyone know, when thinking of buying a product, what THIEL does when no one's looking.

Good listening,