One of the curses of intelligence is that it is often accompanied by ego of matching size. We have all known brilliant individuals who live to flaunt their intelligence, if only to emphasize the inadequacies of others.
Once in a great while, we encounter a soul possessed of talents and insights and instincts we can never hope to match, much less surpass; someone who seems to know something about any subject that comes up, has something enlightening to say about it, and gives freely of their knowledge and perspectives, just for the joy of sharing. We learn merely by being around such rare, unselfish folk, and feel privileged to have shared even a few moments with them.
Jim Thiel was one of that breed.
The Thiel Audio Products story sounds like a ’40’s movie: brainy mathematician/physicist music-lover starts rebuilding radios in his adolescence, then builds speakers in his garage with his wood-worker brother, and markets them with a plucky young woman who criss-crosses the heartland, hauling speakers in the back of her station wagon. The reality is that Thiel, the company, grew from those beginnings in 1976 (with the oh-so-’70’s name of “Conceptions Electronics”) to become one of the largest and most-respected manufacturers of loudspeakers in the world.
Jim Thiel’s first two products were relatively conventional bookshelf speakers, although unusual in their use of equalization. Then, as Jim told John Atkinson of Stereophile in 1998, “I started thinking a lot more seriously about not just making a good product, but making a product that I hoped would be better than any others available.”
From that thinking came a dedication to eliminating phase- and time-distortion through the use of first-order crossover networks and sloped mounting baffles, still elements of Thiel designs today. Model designations of Thiel speakers began to carry the prefix “CS”, for “Coherent Source”, and Jim’s thorough examinations of every element of a loudspeaker led to rigid baffles made of reinforced concrete, along with drivers designed and built in-house.
The Thiel dedication to continuous improvement of products is reminiscent of Porsche; models may run for a long while, and largely LOOK the same--but the structure and components are hugely different, and are always getting better. This, coupled with unmatched woodworking, quality-control and of course, remarkable and realistic sound, have given Thiel speakers resale values that are the highest in the industry, as documented by the Audiogon BlueBook
Jim’s long-running partnership with Kathy Gornik was also remarkable; a former Chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and still active in that organization’s leadership, Kathy is one of the few female CEOs in high end audio, and certainly the most-visible of that small group. The partnership of these two driven, dedicated individuals helped build a thriving, well-respected company, known worldwide today.
Few in the loudspeaker industry have created as many genuine innovations and breakthroughs as did Jim Thiel; even fewer are as highly-regarded by peers, press and employees, as can be seen by entries on the Thiel website
Jim will be missed.