Review: Thiel Audio CS-2 Speaker

Category: Speakers

Over several years I had upgraded most of my equipment to the described system except for the MF2300A which used to be an MV50. I needed to upgrade my speakers. I got a decent deal on the used Thiels. I had heard the good reputation, most of which was based on later models. When they were installed, I immediately heard incredible mid range but there was no bass and the treble was bright and painful. When I would push the Thiels at high volume, I would get more perception of bass but it was really just the amp operating outside it's intended range. I tried to listen to the CS2s off and on for about 4 months, until I gave up and replaced them with the old speakers. I did more research and found enough specific inforamtion about the thiels to understand that the MV50 just never would drive them properly. So I had to decide between selling the MV50 (which I loved) or the Thiels (which had consistently given me headaches). I researched Proac and Vandersteens and found several candidates, but I felt that if I didn't try a bigger amp I'd be giving up too early on the CS2s. I called CJ and they recommended a big SS amp like the MF2500.

So after about 2 years of swapping the CS2s in and out of my system and never being happy, I had to know if they would ever sing. I found an MF2300A (here on Audiogon). I gave up the MV50 as a partial trade, so I was in all the way. When I connected the big CJ arc welder, I did not get an amazing improvement in bass or treble charateristics but there were some subtle differences and the bass that was there was well controlled at higher volumes. So I called Thiel and asked a few questions. I was told that I shouldn't have these problems and if I wanted to ship the speakers, they would test them to see if they were in spec (These are 15 year old speakers and I am not the original owner, so I was very impressed with the attention and service!). I was told that they voice the speakers with MIT cables and was encougaged to double check my cabling. I was using Tara Labs T/S II and had always finger tightened the connectors. This time I used a tool. Well, that cured the major problem with the high frequencies and improved the bass. The spades were not mating well with the binding posts. But the treble was still somewhat forward and fatiguing. I found some used MIT MH750 cables (again, here on Audiogon). Now it sounds right! There is still not very deep bass, but there is much more and the shrillness is completely tamed. (Just to be clear, I am not looking for boombox/HT bass. I listen to alot of live recordings and I know what the show was like. I just want that out of my speakers.)

The MF2300A->MH750->CS2 combination is unreal. The imaging is spectacular and since the fatigue is gone, I want to music listen all of the time. The best music is voice and piano or voice and guitar. Tuck and Patti are as clear as if they were in the room. I've been in the room with them live and know what to expect. David Grisman is incredible on these speakers. I can hear fingers touching strings when before I could only hear the string. Now I can hear singers taking a breath before the note. My collection of studio CDs has been idle for over ten years due to boredom. But Now I'm going through every one again to hear what I can and I do hear new sounds that I never heard before! There is still not enough bass, so I have a Vandersteen 2Wq on the way (Audiogon yet again). I'm confident that that will complete the sound. The sub is coming from someone that used it with --- yes, Thiel CS2.3 speaakers.

So in summary:

The Thiel CS2s really do need an amp with alot of reserve power. My moderately powered CJ tube amp just wasn't up to the task.

The connectors did not easily mate to the spades of my original wires, and the CS2s give alot bad energy at high frequencies when the cables aren't connected properly. In the end, the best performance was using the MIT cables as recommended by Thiel.

The CS2s are excellent for material that is mostly in the midrange. Voice, guitar, and piano are spectacular. Studio rock and classical and live rock performances aren't fully revealed. Bass guitar and bass drums seem really rolled off. So a sub is a neccessity.

If you take the time to match components well, the CS2s are a great bargain at the currently available rates. You could get decent full range speakers for the same money as used CS2s and a decent pair of subs. But I'll keeping these for a while and I'd recommend them to anyone willing to get the required matching components.

Associated gear
Tascam DA20 DAT
Tascam CDRW700 CDRW
CJ MF2300A
For a few years now, I've been using a combo of Thiel's successor to your model, the CS2.2, being driven by the 3rd-generation derivative of your old C-J tube amp, the MV-55, with good results, albeit in a samllish room (technically, a little too small for the 2.2's). I just moved recently to a house with a bigger listening room, but bass was never a problem where I came from - in fact, I had to raise the speakers off the floor a bit to tame the balance the other way.

The 2.2 enjoyed a better reputation and higher sales than the 2 ever did, being lauded as a real step foward for Thiel in many reviews from around the world (John Atkinson at Stereophile bought a pair and used them as his full-sized reference for a time, so you know they measure well). While I am unfamiliar with the older 2 myself, when I bought my 2.2's, I auditioned them against the predecessor to the larger and even more popular 3.6's, the 3.5's, which were of the same generation as your 2's, and much preferred the smaller, more recent design. I don't know what kind of speaker load the old 2's present to an amplifier, but the 2.2 is quite a bit more benign than many Thiel designs (including their replacement the CS2.3), with a rather flat impedance curve that doesn't fall much below 4 ohms and mild phase characteristics, with average sensitivity in the 86-87dB range.

They do decently extended and quite clean and tuneful bass without the external electronic EQ box the 3.5 employed, but not up to earth-shaking levels. The MV-55, which is still a 45wpc design featuring two EL-34 output tubes per channel similar to the MV-50, is a very compatible match here if you can do without concert-level volumes (the speaker can't do that anyway) and have a moderate size room to fill. My previous SS amps that I used with the speakers, an NAD 2200 and a Classe Seventy, were thoroughly outclassed by the C-J, though the Classe did give more bass oomph (too much for me at the time, actually).

The 2.2 is a speaker with a very even response (read: not bright), and has been happy to be partnered to the C-J via un-networked Cardas Cross speaker cables (a big step up from the Cardas Crosslink I was using when I acquired the tube amp; I've always shied away from cables with boxes on them), the easy load meaning it won't be terribly picky about which good cables one chooses with most amps. Now that I've gone to a larger room, I have a pair of higher-powered, and presumably even better-sounding, VTL MB-185 mono's on the way, which should goose the bass 'n' space, but a subwoofer remains a possibility for this room. (In fact, I'll bet you just snagged the Vandy sub that I was lined up to buy last week; the seller emailed that he'd call me to finalize, but my phone didn't ring, and I found a message hours later - bad cell!! I called right back, but he said he'd sold it to the next guy - you?! Enjoy it for me!)

I've heard the 2.2 bettered in some areas by the newer, even smaller CS1.6, but am not thinking about new speakers just yet. I think they can be made to sing with the new amps, based on somewhat indirect experience with other VTL and Thiel models, so I've got my fingers crossed. Even with the MV-55, they still sound darn nice in the bigger space, but the amp does run up against its limits if you want to really jam. In fact, I had even been strongly considering trying to pick up an MF2300 before I auditioned the MV-55 three years ago, and I'm sure that would've been a great match too. For almost all this time, I too have also been using a C-J preamp, the all-tube PV-8, but have recently decided to try out relegating the tubes in my system to the power amps, getting an Innersound remote (ahh!) preamp and a Camelot Technologies phonostage to replace the C-J. The phonostage is definitely a step up and is staying; I'm still auditioning the newer preamp.

Enjoy your system, and do let me know how the sub works out (or send it to me!) Oh, and BTW, I finger-tighten at the amp and break out the socket wrench at the speaker, but that's just because the speaker has better binding posts - then again, my spades seem to fit rather well. And I also second you about the level of Thiel's service. Happy listening!
Thiel CS-2 impedance is 6 Ohms nominal, 5 Ohms minimum.
Very interesting review of the Thiel 2 2 by Zaikesman because his system mirrors the system I used for quite some time. I used a conrad-johnson CAV50 (EL-34 based 45 watt tube integrated amp) and Cardas Cross cabling with the Thiel 2 2's and they played music wonderfully. Various speaker reviews lead me to believe that the Thiels were a tough load, but I never thought the Thiels needed more power. But then, I live in a condo and never play them really loud. They're an incredibly well constructed and designed speaker. I could have easily lived with this combination, but I got a great deal on a cj Premier 11A amp and a cj Premier 17LS preamp, so I replaced the CAV50. This moved the system to the next level and the clarity of the sound through the Thiels was even more amazing. I've shopped around and listened to a lot of other speakers over the years (JmLab, B&W, Martin Logan, etc. . .). What can I say, I love to check out the competition. The test that the Thiel 2 2's pass is that I've always thought they sounded as good as or in most cases better than the higher priced speakers I've auditioned. That's why the Thiels, though now long in the tooth, are still in my system. -- John
John - Continue to enjoy your 2.2's as I am, and welcome to the forum!
Agree -- Thiel 2.2's have been very good to me over the years. Another plus is that Thiel provides outstanding customer service.
I have owned CS 2s for 17 years and they have mated well with c-j electronics (PV-5, PV-6 and PF-1 preamps, MV-75a1 and Premier 11 amps) and bryston amps. No problems of merit.
I have had rather large rooms with allow placement well away from walls however. My source electronics are never been overly bright either. I still own the CS 2s and CS 3.6s also. The 3.6s are harder to drive and place IMHO.
Buty ou get a bigger soundstage and better frequency extremes.
I've had my Thiel's since 1992 and still love them. I still am hardpressed to think of a better or longer lasting value purchase. They sound like they are not there even though they surely do take up their space in the room (my wife hates them). They are being promoted to my home theater system and will be driven by Outlaw 950 and 770 equipment from the old Adcom GFA and GFP 555 setup. I am searching for a complementary center channel somewhat lesser in price that Thiel's current center channel model. A Hsu Research VTF-3 sub will relieve some of the bass of the Thiel's and extend it. Rear and side surrounds? No idea right now.
Stempomj- If you're looking for surrounds to match your front Thiels, I'd suggest looking for a pair of CS1.2's. When I moved up to the 2 2's, a year or two ago, I relegated the 1.2's to the back. If your wife can stand another pair of speakers, they are smaller in size and lighter on the pocketbook-they can be picked up here generally for a few hundred dollars.
I never looked at reponses to my review until today. After rereading my review, I need to post a correction: Thiel does not voice their speakers with MIT cable. I read that somewhere around the time that I was speaking with thiel and I confused the source of that statement. It's just a rumor and I shouldn't have passed it on.

As for the ability to drive the speakers and get bass, I think that the MV50 was just pushing like crazy and was getting sloppy in the low end. If I had a Premier 11, that extra 30W would probably have been enough. But I went for the big SS amp to be safe. I'd still like to try the Premier 11.

I had a chance to speak with someone familiar with the pre-amp that I use (SC25) and he felt that it was bright. At some point, I'm going to swap in a CJ tube preamp.

I have have read several times that the later CS2.2 models had a more full lower range than the CS2. The vandy sub has really added alot to the sound and filled out the lower range where the CS2s won't go. After about 6 months with this setup, I am still blown away.
Mcmiller (if you're still here), thanks for coming back with an update. Here's mine, FWIW: The VTL's I spoke of above have really taken the 2.2's to another level - no comparision. I could probably still make some kind of use of a subwoofer, but am not really thinking about getting one anymore, at least for now. I've also switched the Cross out for AZ Satori with better results. And the InnerSound has given way in favor of a Levinson 380S, which the amps are deserving of (though my wallet is not!). I am looking forward to hearing the new 2.4's before too long, although I don't have any plans to upgrade for the time being. Happy listening, all...
I've had a pair Thiel CS-2's for a few years now. My opinion is they are one of the best sounding speakers I've auditioned. I have owned a variety of speakers over the years and the Thiels are hands down the crowd pleaser. They have a presence and create a sound stage that's truly remarkable. You feel you are listening to a performance, not a loudspeaker.

When listening to a vocalist you not only hear them performing on stage in front of you, but feel you could walk onto the stage and put your arms around them.

They are timeless and will be staying.