Thiel - Inventors and Tinkerers All

I just got back from Spring Break amid the horse farms of Northern Kentucky of all places. While there I took a tour of the Thiel speaker plant. I was struck by several things.

First was the warmth and friendliness of all the people there. Thank you, Sherry, for taking time out of your busy schedule to escort me and my family around. We were treated as honored guests, rather than just some guy who owns a few of their speakers. I especially enjoyed the listening seesion at the end. And seeing, if not hearing, the prototypes of some cool new speakers. (Room acoustics hadn't been dialed in just yet.)

Next was the extreme attention to detail and craftsmanship. It was easy to see why they cost what they do.

Finally, there was the pragamtic approach to increasing productivity and quality. If they can't find a way to buy a solution they need, they invent it. Like the machine that measured, cut, and stripped the braided wire for the crossovers. The "Eva Saver" they called it. After the employee whose hands they rescued from carpal tunnel syndrome.

I'd love to hear from others' experiences with plant tours. A sort of busman's holiday for audiophiles. :o)
Thats a beautiful thing,now all they have to do is get
their speakers not to sound so tizzie!
What can you tell us about the prototypes you saw?

Taters, the 1.6 is definitely not tizzy sounding.
Drubin I second your comments in regard to the 2.4's I listened to as well. Definitely not tizzy sounding.

The prototypes, if they make it to market, should have a very high wife acceptance factor. They look way cool, yet they can disappear into the decor.

If the Thiel guys are as smart as I think they are, they will team up with some of the plasma tv manufacturers. (Assuming they haven't done so already.)
I just visited Wilson Audio Specialties in Provo a couple of weeks ago. Jerron took me on a tour of the facility and walked me through their speaker manufacturing process. He and the entire staff were very polite and took time to show me many of the details of the building process. Needless to say, I have a new appreciation for their product. Attention to detail is an understatement. These folks are true craftsmen that hand manufacture, build, and finish each speaker cabinet to perfection. Their painting process is comparable to that found on custom or exotic cars. Even the wood crates that they use for shipping are built to tight tolerances. Highly recommended!
The 3.6's are tizzy but will reveal tizzy if you put it in!
OOPS, I mean not tizzy - Thiels have a bad rap for being bright, tizzy, etc... It simply requires careful system matching to optimize a great design.
Kinsekd, you must have visited Thiel shortly before me. We were not lucky enough to get a listening session, but I wholeheartedly agree with you about the hospitable atmosphere and all the friendly folks who took time out of their day to explain things to us (well, I can't really say this one way or the other about the man in charge - JT did pop through a couple of times during the tour to speak with Shari, but I was a little disappointed we didn't get to chat briefly or even greet him, but then he's probably quite busy).

Anyway, about the commonplace 'brightness' charge historically leveled at Thiel speakers, I have always maintained that - at least for their products of the 90's and beyond that I own or have heard - most of that can safely be chalked up to set-up issues, such as listening at a closer distance than they were designed for, or using partnering gear not up to the task. Part of this is just the inevitable result of their flat, extended response and great resolution revealing what is really going on with disks and gear, and possibly also their inherently wide dispersion highlighting sidewall reflections to a greater degree than some speakers having less extended power response curves. But part of it has also been the demanding nature of certain of their models' impedance curves, which can place even quite decent amps and cables at somewhat of a disadvantage. Regarding that last point, Shari conceded that Jim Thiel has generally been coming around lately to placing more emphasis on kinder, gentler speaker loads, which should be good news for all prospective Thiel owners.

In fact, she suggested that in computer modeling for the upcoming 3.7, JT had been strongly considering giving up a couple of Hz worth of low-end extension in favor of making a higher-sensitivity, easier-to-drive design overall, a smart design trade-off in the real world if you ask me, especially in this age of subwoofers and integrated or tubed amplifiers. When I asked her if this new attention to reasonable speaker loads may have been primarily inspired by the HT world, where one multi-channel amp may be called upon to satisfactorily drive multiple speakers for both movies and music, she said that potential benefit had actually never occurred to her, though she wouldn't rule it out as a theoretical consideration - certainly Thiel has been successfully addressing that market. Whatever the reason, that Thiel has been using tubed amps (including the model I use) in their auditioning set-ups is also an encouraging thing to know. Shari agreed that a little ameliorating of the toughness of some of their speakers' electrical curves could help go a long way toward doing the same thing for their mostly undeserved reputation for inherent brightness as a brand.
IMHO, Thiel would be better off trying to keep the impdeance load at or above 4 Ohms, maintain the current sensitivity,and maintaining or better yet lowering the bass response. I would also suggest placing the drivers closer together. This might allow for easier driver intergration and ergo, closer speaker to listener placement. While the smaller speakers allow for appropriate bass reductions in smaller rooms, they don't take into consideration the logistics of placement. As it stands now, Thiels smaller speakers require nearly the same distance from surrounding walls and listener as their larger ones. While allowing for closer surrounding wall proximity, might compromise imaging, it might also economicaly improve bass response. Improved bass response might shed the reputation Thiel has for "brightness" (an opinion, I don't subscribe to). I know its hard to bend the rules of physics, but, if anybody can, Jim Thiel can. I would love to see the return of sealed boxes. Perhaps a fresh (digital?) approach to the brain child that was the 3.5. All the recent research that went into the new subwoofer should help to keep development costs down. Heck, they could just slap a powerpoint on top of the subwoofer. Maybe, just for giggles, they could slap two of them on top, back to back, and play with a dipole?
Unsound: Thiels, at least as I have gotten the impression, have long been thought to have excellent bass no matter any other perceived shortcomings, and I concur with this view. I don't personally believe that the line's bass response is at all connected with the charge of 'brightness' that has been leveled at them over the years, and don't think generally that a speaker's true low-end performance has much bearing on the perception of mid- and upper-range listenability.

As far as driver spacing goes, it seems to me that Thiel speakers' time-aligned construction dictates the driver spacing based on the angle of the baffle slope-back. If the baffles were angled back more steeply, the drivers could be more closely grouped, but would also aim upward more severely, requiring even lower placement overall with respect to the listener's seated ear height (Thiels already feature slightly lower-placed upper-frequency drivers than many other brands, presumably due to this angled-baffle factor). A more steeply-raked baffle would also require a deeper-dimensioned cabinet to enclose the same volume, though Thiels as designed are not especially deep-cabineted speakers by today's standards.

Regarding in-room placement, great soundstaging and imaging are always harmed by close wall proximity, including the front wall. I have found my Thiels to be balanced, bass-wise, for optimal placement of at least a couple of feet out into the room - much closer and they're too bassy, which is as it should be. For really big rooms, you'd have to go with one of the bigger models. I don't think any speaker can sound its best in a really small room, and don't think a near-full-range floorstander ought to be designed to try.

I'm not as down as you about the bass-reflex vs. sealed-box evolution of the line, considering the trade-offs of greater driver mass (less speed and controlability), and of system cost, complexity, and possibly lowered ultimate transparency involved in employing the latter in combination with outboard active EQ. But you would get no argument from me if JT started turning out designs that didn't fall below 4 ohms at any frequency - or even if he introduced an 8 ohm design, heaven forfend.

To me, the next step in the advancement of the line should logically come in the cabinet arena: away from single-baffle, square-backed, parallel-sided, MDF-built cabinets, and toward something more radical and high-tech (and unfortunately more expensive, along with less furniture-looking) in the way of materials and shapes. (However, their spotty history of flirtations with exotic molded-baffle variants, and their clear orientation as a wooden-cabinet manufacturer offering a moderately-priced product for the quality, both argue against any sudden leaps foward on this front.) Thiel's drivers, crossovers, and basic design concept are all near as good as they could be while eschewing large multiple-driver arrays; it's only their cabinets that hold them back a bit in the no-holds barred sweepstakes, even for all their strengths (such as the rounded baffle edges, acoustically-designed grilles, and relative ease of room integration) at the present price points. This is the area in which I would like to see what JT can do taking a page from the Wilsons, B&Ws, and Kharmas of this world as his inspiration, but of course those companies are either much larger or much costlier than Thiel.
Zaikesman, thanks for your typical well thought out reply. I personally find the bass of most Thiels very good, but, think they could be better. The bass doesn't seem to have the same quality transient response of the (albeit superb) middle and upper frequencies. The Thiels seem to be better on bowed bass than plucked bass. Of course this is less of an issue as you move up the line. Unlike some other manufacturers less expensive speakers, Thiel rolls off the bottom, but not the top. Upon casual listening they may come across as "top heavy" or "bright". I believe that the smaller two ways would benefit most from close driver proximity. I don't believe getting the extra cabinet volume due to the more severe baffle slant would be too difficult to accomodate. Earlier Thiels and more recent (port outputs aside) Meadowlarks seem to have managed this. It seems that bass response usually comes at a cost. Using close wall proximity to compensate for the cost of bass along with closer driver proximity in their less expensive/less bass producing speakers would alieviete some of that expense and permit better/more flexible use in the smaller rooms that they would most often and more appropriately be used in. A room that can accomodate more bass can probably accomodate more distance from surrounding walls and listener(s), and visa versa. I don't think that the 1 series would be considered "near-full range", and weren't intended to be. Unless JT or someone else has any other ideas, I think you are right on in saying that the speakers would have to be lower to accomodate more rake. This might(?) cause problems with ceiling/wall reflections. I think most (certainly not all) listeners would prefer more complete musical content over imaging. Thiels more expensive speakers are already on the large side. I don't believe that at the upper end of the range, the extra size and perhaps price would not be so much of an issue, for the advantges of a sealed box. Perhaps, passive radiators in the lower end and sealed boxes in the upper end would be the best compromise. Its note worthy that Thiels most recent work in developing a subwoofer produced an active equalized sealed box. As far as more advanced cabinets go, it appears that many of your suggestions may already be, somewhat in place internaly. On the other hand seeing how Thiel has been in the fore front of in house computer designed and laser manufactured cabinets, perhaps your ideas will come to fruition, sooner than later.
Hmm...we must just differ in our perceptions of Thiel bass. I've found their stuff in general to excell in LF transient definition, but perhaps at the expense of some utlimate bass weight and slam compared to competing designs in similar price ranges. I attribute both factors at least partly to the dictates of first-order crossover design, something which pushes the bass-to-midrange handoff higher in frequency than is the case with higher-order designs (at least as it applies to a 3-way speaker with a moderately-sized cabinet).

About driver spacing, I would really love to see an attempt to create a triaxial simulated point-source time- and phase-coherent near-full-range driver system, so as to eliminate frequency lobing in the crossover regions throughout the range and place all the drivers (except maybe a low-bass augmentation driver) at ear height (I personally am bothered by feeling as if I am 'looking down' into the soundstage when listening to speakers placing the upper-frequency drive-units noticably lower than seated ear-height). This pursuit would seem to be a logical extension of the coaxial mid/treble drivers JT has been designing up 'til now, but it would also be a tough design job that would possibly have to compromise somewhat in the area of treble dispersion. (Cabasse has already made a driver system incorporating this type of physical layout, but I don't think theirs is a time- and phase-coherent first-order design.) The other main option to avoid lobing irregularities is of course some type of vertically-symetrical array, which Thiel currently offers in their large stand-mounted MCS1, but hasn't used in a floorstanding design. Maybe with Dunlavy gone (for the moment, anyway), it's time to try something along these lines in a near-full-range design.
Zaikesman, I'm not surprised to see that after further discussion we seem to be agreeing more and more and disagreeing less and less. I agree with you that Thiels lower priced speakers seem to lack a bit in bass weight and are quite good in transient bass for their "price range". How ever I think the opposite is true for their upper end speakers. Perhaps you can understand why (though for secondary reasons) I think their lower priced speakers could be designed for closer wall proximity. As for the "looking down perspective", I too have expereienced this. Having moved my speakers into 4 different rooms and using a variety of gear, I can confidently say that this a room and associated gear phenomon. In your case I'm quite sure that your VTL's are NOT the problem. May I humbly suggest some ceiling room treatment? I too think a tri-way is intriguing, but, was embarassed to mention what I thought would be such an engineering challange. Maybe MCS1's and Thiels subwoofers might be the ticket? As always thanks for sharing your appreciated and respected thoughts.
Thanks for the tip - now that I have been in a more properly-sized listening room since last summer, I can sit farther away and bring the speakers out a bit more, both of which have ameliorated the 'listening-down' sensation I used to get in the relatively cramped apartment. I have considered ceiling treatment anyway, but am not much motivated, since the sound is good and the system's in the living room. Plus, I'm now using a reclining listening chair, which I've become convinced - after always shunning the things before - is a universal necessity for audio applications (I've got the leather and wood mission-style type, not overly heinous-looking, and the arms securely accomodate remotes). Life could be worse...
Zaikesman and Unsound:

I thought it was just me....I've had that "looking down" feeling in 3 different rooms (in 2 houses) on 2 2's.

Now that you mention it though I don't have it as much in my current room (vaulted ceiling to 16'), as I did before in 8' and 7.5' typical sheetrock rooms. I've often stood up behind my listening chair feeling that I was in the balcony of the concert hall looking down at the orchestra pit. Quite interesting on the right recording, as it seems to add depth to the orchestra.

Wasn't a problem on Sting (Summner's, New Day) or Steely Dan (Two Against Nature), but on the more natural recordings like Chesky and Reference Recordings it was.

Anyway it has frequently seemed the big, deep 3-D image was unnaturally close to the floor. And as I mentioned, I don't get it like I used to in this high-ceiling room.
Unfortunately but unavoidably, the first-order crossover and physical driver layout on the 2.2's dictate that listening from a standing position (or even from a chair which places your ears higher than the tweeter axis) will cause a rather pronounced midrange suckout to appear around the uppper crossover region, which is what "seems to add depth to the orchestra", even apart from the soundstage's seeming height in relation to your apparent vantage point. This non-uniform vertical dispersion of Thiels (especially the non-coaxial models - but also many other brands and designs, to be fair) is what motivated my above thoughts on vertically-symmetrical driver layouts, which avoid this effect, evening-out the in-room power response while maintaining neutral on-axis frequency response. This theoretical benefit is one of the main reasons for me to wanting to audition JT's latest coaxial design, and for me to muse about the possibility of him extending this design philosophy throughout the full frequency range in some future models.
Listening to Peter Gabriel's latest album UP on Thiel 6s right now powered by a Krell 400cx. The extremely deep bass is very quick, deep and punchy and very defined. It is simple: you have to power these speakers correctly. They need current, it's as simple as that. Jim is VERY clear about this in his literature and dealers are careful to point this out to prospective customers.

It's not Thiel's fault, but instead a design choice that works.