prof - I've settled on VTL tube amps versus any solid state amp I've had on the 3.5's, for the very reasons you cite. I had an ARC D90 when I first bought the 3.5's and liked it very much, except it's soundstaging was nowhere. I tried CJ solid state, and liked it .... had some "rounding" similar to tubes, but sounded "hollow" compared to the tubes. The only transistor amp I've had driving the Thiels that sounded good was the old Amber Series 70 amplifier. I agree with you, ultimate detail does not win over ultimate musicality in my book.
Showing 29 responses by harrylavo
I have owned 3.5's since 1979, and currently run four in a pseudo 5 channel system (bridged front L-R, for better stereo on non-surround-sound discs). I also have a third equalizer since one or another of the channels on the first two alway seem to be noisy or intermittent.
My main interest is music, not film/video, and interestingly the four 3.5's practically eliminate standing waves, and with their 3db reinforcement, they also essentially require no subwoofer. Plus the bass is smoother and quicker than on my pair of 2 2's, which are in my 2nd system.
I would DIE for a passive-part upgrade of these equalizers. And from comments here, the same can be said true of many other 3.5 lovers. Please keep it on your "to do" list.
ps. BTW, I lived in Prospect, KY from late 1979 through early 1984, and recall being at a friends house when Jim auditioned his 3.0's or what I might have been early versions of the 3.5. I lusted until I ran into the dealer demo pair I bought up in Burlington, VT in 1989. So just know: I now lust for three upgraded external equalizers! But I hope another six years don't go by until my lust is fulfilled.
This is really a question for tomthiel -
Tom, I have a four speaker 3.5 setup (used to be five). An Accupahse AC-2 moving coil through a Marcof PPA2 headamp and an Oppo 105 through an updated Audio Research SP-6A for the front channels and Audionics BT-2 for the rears. Four Outlaw M200 monoblocks feed the Thiels.
I love the accurate spectral balance of the 3.5's, which is why I am loath to give them up. But I also have a pair of 2.2's in another room driven by a Counterpoint SA-1000 through an Adcom 5300, and this combo is definitely more transparent.
My question - are we ever going to get a "hot-rodded" audiophile version of the 3.5 cross-overs? I've felt all along that the crossovers perform a subtle "masking" of transparency, and today I am even more convinced. I'd gladly pay for an upgrade as a preference over having to trade up my speakers.
I own a pair of 2 2's as well as four 3.5's. I am wondering, from those who have had 2.2's, 2.3's, and 2.4's what the sonic differences were as you go up the line. But even more importantly, what the problem is with the 2.3's that keeps their used value closer to the 2.2's than to 2.4's. Is it reliability, and if so, what? Thank you in advance for your help.
I'd like to add a few comments re: the discussions just a bit earlier in this thread.
Tom Thiel was asked what he found so fascinating as to make the 3.5's a special speaker to him. Beyond his personal involvement, he mentioned the seamless deep bass. I have never listened especially to the higher members of the Thiel line (due to economic reality) but of the three and two series, the 3.5's simply are the only ones to have a smooth, fully fleshed out frequency response throughout the upper bass and lower midrange. As this is where most voices exist, voices through these speakers simply sound fuller and "real-er" than any of the others. It doesn't matter whether you are listening to Louis Armstrong, Eric Clapton, Judy Collins, Ella Fitzgerald, the Eagles, the Carpenters, or Allison Krauss. As good as the 2.2's sound which I also own, the 3.5's sound "real", the 2.2's and others in the line I've heard sound "light". (I attend a lot of live concerts of both jazz and classical music which also provides an excellent frame of reference for instrumental sounds.). Also perhaps because of the care Tom describes, the 3.5's have a coherence top-to-bottom that excels even the other members of the line. This exhibits itself most forcefully with full orchestral music where the entire orchestra sounds "just right" and "of a piece" whether playing loudly or softly, whether strings, brass, or percussion, etc. It is also easy to forget how much an underlying bass line is part of the classical orchestral repetoire. Except, when you hear the 3.5's you realize what is missing from many, many speakers including the 2.2's.
The 2.2's have extraordinary transparency, and as part of my second system I listen to them a lot. If I didn't have the 3.5s I wouldn't know what I was missing. But I do, which is why they are in my second system.
I'd also like to comment on the home theatre discussion. For about a dozen years I had a 5.0 system in a near-exact ITU setup. It was all analog, consisting of three 3.5's (front, rears) and two 2.2s (L,R). It sounded excellent except for the midrange discrepancy front middle-left/right. More recently I've moved and have a smaller listening room. In this room I've set up a more traditional stereo front (with 3.5s) using bridged left-right channels, as well as rear 3.5s.
These surround setups have taught me two things.
For one, placed alongside and touching a side wall, angled about 30-40 deg forward, full range Thiels make excellent surround speakers.
And second, three or four (or five?) 3.5's in anything approximating an ITU placement will neutralize room standing waves, and if they are 3.5's, also eliminate any need for a subwoofer. Everything is there, even on the loudest explosions on film. (Of course, it helps that I am using five Outlaw M200 monoblocks.)
Just for what it is worth for fellow Thiel lovers.
Thanks, Tom, for the explanation. I think we hear the same things, but you know why whereas I just hear. In any case, the 3.5's give me music .... I've mellowed in my old age.
BTW, I was part of a small group of audiophiles who formed a listening group for Jim once. A mutual friend in Louisville where I was living at the time asked me to join in ..... he had a baronial place in the far suburbs beyond where I lived, and when I arrived the large living room was set up with an oracle turntable and Audio Research gear. I believe the speakers may have been early prototype 3's (this was probably 1982). In any case, the superior imaging and fulsom frequency respond were immediately apparent. Once I got back home, the flaws in my own Audio Research gear driving IMF TLS-80's made itself known, although I kept them for another ten years. Finally, after moving to Burlington, VT in 1989 I snagged a pair of 3.5's that served as dealer demo's. Been happy ever since and later added the additional 3.5's and 2 2's for surround.
tomthiel - Larry Staples rings a bell. If he is on this thread then let me say "Hello, Larry" as well. As to it being a forming experience it was. I bought the 3.5's as much on that Kentucky experience as the dealer's showroom, since he had pulled the speakers at the time I stumbled across them. I have also liked Spica's and Vandersteins and so I guess my ears were latently attuned to phase coherence. At least I believe the lack of same messes up some speakers that should sound better than they do.
Jafant - Glad you enjoyed the story. I've got a few more audio stories to tell as well, but this is not the thread for those.
A budget system featuring 2 2's that performs way over its head!
Since I downsized into my apartment last year, I have had a convenience system in my combined den-office-dining room for pretty casual listening. (My main system holds forth in the living room and is built around 3.5's.)
Over the last few months I have picked up some audio bargains to swap in to feed the 2 2's. One big improvement was an old Amber 70 amp I remember from my Absolute Sound days, which after break-in seems to
make the 2 2's into new speakers, with a harmonic richness in the upper bass-lower midrange that the Adcom 5300 used previously just didn't seem to be able to provide. Then the old temporary Onkyo preamp I was using got replaced with another, also intended to be temporary, preamp - a Carver C-2. Another Carver product that performs way beyond its price, and replaced mid-fi with a high-end sound. Along the way way I picked up a Carver TX-2 tuner that sounds almost as good as its bigger brother, the TX-11 and finally, bought a Denon 47F semi-automatic direct-drive turntable, ostensibly for a lady friend, but which now resides in the second system. I am currently trying to decide whether to upgrade the Audio-Technica M92E cartridge it came with with a Shibata stylus, substitute an XLM/ZLM cartridge, or just leave it alone. As it is, the capacitance of the Carver seems perfect for the AT, and the phono system sounds wonderful.
Why is this in a Thiel thread, you ask? Because I am a frustrated high end and Thiel missionary, that's why. Other than the 2 2's which I've had forever and which are worth, what, maybe $800 on todays market, the remainder of the system as outlined.cost just under another $1000. So for less than two grand somebody can have a good, really good, high end system. If you have a friend, a college kid, a relative, anybody who likes music but doesn't want a system (I don't need it, I can't afford it, my earphones are fine, etc) tell them how little it can cost, and how much pleasure it can bring. Then go get them the gear. Mine is headed for that lady friend in Florida (who never before wanted a stereo much less a high-end one.)
End of lesson, according to Harry.
jon_5912 , jafant --
To me it is fairly simple --- when you go to a jazz club or classical concert you hear the music. If well performed, there is absolutely nothing to create tension, stress, or even untoward focused attention. You tend to let the music and performance wash over you. You are immersed in it.
To me, the Thiel and Vandersteen speakers (as well as some planars) do that. Other speakers do not, except perhaps a few planars.
Interestingly I grew up in a household with a very large JBL C-30 front loaded corner horn (two 15" woofers and a D175 horn mid-tweeter that dispersed widely via baffles and covered everything from 175hz on up.. It was mono, but music was produced that was effortless and low distortion, with pretty coherent phase given it was handled mostly by a single driver. It had much of that same "effortless" , relaxing quality you feel.
Tom Thiel -
Perhaps an answer to your question re replacing with high current amps on 2.2's. I recently pulled an Adcom 5300 away from the 2.2's and replaced it with an older Amber power amp still in good shape (this amp was noted for its current ability back in the old Absolute Sound days). The change was pretty dramatic ..... bass firmly under control at all frequencies, making it sound much more "3.5-like". I then substituted in Outlaw M200's, which did the same thing but a somewhat more laid-back mid-range.
Just as I got my reconfigured system where I wanted it, I made a mistake and blew one of my two 3.5's with good tweeters (two others already have blown or scraping tweeters and have been out of the system.) So I am finally going to have to locate replacement tweeters. My search has narrowed to two:
* Scanspeak Classic D2905 9700 tweeter (1" cloth dome, 104mm 4-hole, 89.5 db, 400hz -3db low end, 6 ohm. This is the closest match so far as I can speculate based on the discussions here.
* David Louis Audio private-labeled Chinese imported tweeter (1" fabric dome, 104mm 4-hole, 92db, 800hz -3db low end, 6 ohm) which he compares to the ScanSpeak 9500 (better) and 9900.(almost as good). He claims these tweeters are made by the same factory that originally produced the ScanSpeak Thiel tweeter.
Has anybody here had experience with either of these two tweeters as replacements in Thiel 3.5's? Tom? Beatlemania? And if so, how do they sound/measure? Any special installation issues? Any help you can give would be appreciated.
wajarret - Rob Gilliam told me he could sell me rebuilt original tweeters for the 3.5 for around $270-280 (can't remember precisely). That helps set a ceiling I would think.
On the other hand, I'm going to buy one of the Chinese tweeters and if that IS a pretty good match, that would seem to set a lower match. Right now Davidlouis Audio is selling them for $48 plus shipping.
My 2.2's are with me until I die, or at least until Tom comes up with his upgrade.
I'd like my 3.5's to be with me as well, but that will depend on how good a replacement tweeter works (need three). I love those speakers ..... heard the 3a's in Louisville while under development and bought the dealer demo pair in Burlington VT about 8 years later.
I understand your amazement. I can't find speakers in dealer showrooms today that I like as well as these in total (well, Maggies excepted which I also once owned and wouldn't mind once again.)
Since the issue of tubes driving Thiels has come up, I want to add a bit of experience. When I first bought my 3.5's, I used an Audio Research D90, and volume was never a problem. Later, in a much larger listening space, I used VTL ST-85s, and again volume was not a problem. I must caution, however, that when I say "not a problem" I am talking about jazz, chamber music, 60's-70's singer-songwriter, etc. I do not generally listen to hard rock, and while I play fully symphony orchestras I tend to keep the playback at comfortable levels.
I also will relate that when I obtained my 2 2's, for about a year I drove them with a Fisher 202 integrated tube amp putting out 35wpc. Again in an average size condo living room and at reasonable levels. (This combo sounded fantastic, btw).
Take this for what it is worth. But I guess it puts me in the camp of Thiels are okay with tubes.
brayeagle - thanks for the links to the iconclast cables. I went and spent some time there. The thing I found most interesting was their claim that "time of arrival" was the missing critical factor, and the main driver behind their decision on how to construct. Way back in the 80's-90's Monster Cable introduced their M1000 series (and later similarly constructed M400's) using three layers of differing wire and construction, with the claim that this equalized "time of arrival".
I tested the early M1000's against a few other cables (can't remember which ones) in the same price range and the M1000's beat them hands down. I loaded up on used M1000's and M400's over the next decade and have used them ever since, with results that reveal every iota of change in gear behind them. Before you rush out to buy any, however, let me add that their cable construction was shoddy and by now probably 50% of the RCA plugs have had to be replaced. And since the cables are thick this is not always easy.
Fellow Thiel-ers. RE: 3.5's and amplifiers. Just a post for whatever it means to you. I've replaced a series of SS amps with a pristine used VTL ST-85 (paired with a Counterpoint SA-1000 preamp and a Counterpoint SA-2 headamp. Magic!
This amp is much better than the Audio Research D90b I used to use with these speakers (before the SS's.) The 85 is optimized for 5 ohms, exactly what the 3.5 needs (impedance 4 ohms to 6 ohms over most of its range.) The amp is rated and delivers 85wpc at that impedance, and has an absolutely flat power response down to 20hz according to the QC chart that came with mine. Bass of course is not equal to the SS's, being less controlling and tight. But oh my, the naturalness and 3D of these pieces even with less than optimum speaker environment is superb. And the power is sufficient to have normal listening levels in the next room when I am working at my computer.
BTW, the VTL also sounds superb with my 2 2's which are even more transparent, but I was expecting that. It is with the supposedly power hungry and "veiled" 3.5's that the surprise happened. As I sa id, make of it what you will.
Hi, y'all. Been away from the thread for awhile, but not from the subject. I'll explain in a minute.
About a year ago, warjarrett ("Sandy") wrote back to Tom and myself about both the Amber amp I had suggested for Thiels, and on the subject of tubes vs transistors in general. Sandy said as the conclusion of the note: " So my advice is that just about any stereo tube amp, with at least 60 wpc, into the CS3.5 is pure heaven. With solid state, you need to be more careful to audition in advance, and don’t go lower than 100 wpc in power." I now find myself concurring completely.
At the time of Sandy's note I had been thinking about returning to tubes. I had previously driven my first pair of 3.5's with an ARC D90 and later a VTL ST-85. But after many changes to the system I ended up with solid state, and still later substitued the Amber Series 70 amplifiers that both Sandy and I think are well suited for Thiels.
Just after the first of this year, a pristine ST-85 came on the market at a good price and I snapped it up. It sounded great (again) with the 3.5's, but even better with my 2.2's. So eventually the 85 ended up with the 2.2's in my second system, and I started looking for ST-150's, which are VTL's "Big Brother" to the ST-85s. The 150 is a brute-force amp powered by two quad's of 6550 or KT88 tubes and massive VTL transformers. The thing weighs over 65 pounds out of the box and puts out 150wpc into 5 ohms, which happens to be the Thiel 3.5's actual impedance for a perfect match. But the aspect that really enticed me is it's ability to be switched to Triode mode, where it puts out 65wpc of pure tube bliss. My system has now reached a state of musical finesse never before experienced. So Sandy was right in claiming that his Triode tube amp used with the 3.5's took him to a new place.
The moral: if you want to try tubes with Thiels, don't be shy .... but make sure you have 60 or 90wpc, and if it is triode, even better. And I can highly recommend these two VTL amps for the purpose.
I'm an old-timer in this business and so "cabled-up" way back in the mid-eighties, buying used Monster M1000 (their top-line) interconnects in many lengths. Liked them very much, although I only compared them to about four other brands. So over time I have grown two complete Thiel systems strictly with these cables, other than for speakers where I use WaterCables (the Monster speaker cables seriously degraded the sound of my Thiel 3.5's.)
These Monster's calling cards were audiophile cables long before the name showed up in Best Buy. The M100's new in the '80's were around $200 for a one-meter pair (most of mine were bought used at about $100 a pair.) Their calling card was three woven layers around increasingly larger dialectrics, and Monster says they were "phase coherent". Don't know about that, but they do have depth and width of soundstage, as well as naturalness and coherence on individual instruments, and every improvement I've made in components has been audible, so they don't seem to be masking anything.
Anybody else had experience pro or con with these? Tom, I take it from your comments that you haven't. Did Jim or Thiel corp ever try them?
Tom, I follow this thread religiously even if I don't contribute much, so I see YOU her several times a week, but thanks for the feedback in answer to my question. Back in the '70's cables were just beginning to distinguish themselves and at the time I felt the M1000's were at least in the upper ranks. But I do use Audioquests from the turntable to headamp.