Thiel's US distribution began in the mid-Atlantic whereas VS on the West Coast.
- 11665 posts total
- 11665 posts total
When is indeed a good question. As many of you know, we were making it up as it came and there was no clear launch date.
1976 is the short answer, and pops gets a star.
As our intentional community sought a common enterprise so that no one had to get a real job, we considered hi-fi and stage amps as possible additions to my Conceptions Studio which produced custom and sophisticated art-craft. My first love was guitar-family stringed instruments, plus furniture and other artifacts. Walter Kling was also involved in the studio. We all decided to fund Jim through 1975 to explore and develop an electronic product that was salable, scalable and unique. We thought it would be an amp or pre-amp. His first patent would later be a unique head amp, and it turns out that his equalizer circuit was ahead of its time. He was a natural circuit guy. But we settled on a speaker because we thought we could make more of an impact and better differentiate ourselves there. We set about creating an internally powered speaker along with an 8'x 8' powered folded horn subwoofer, both of which we abandoned because making a new market is such a tall order for a new, inexperienced and self-funded company. So Jim developed the model 01, an equalized 10" two way that was indeed unique and successful.
Early 1976 we sold our limited studio production through friends, word of mouth and home-based gurus, which led to our first ’real’ dealer in nearby Frankfort KY which had a hi-fi department in an appliance store. They sold a lot and suggested we add a model 02 for more audiophile appeal. Jim reluctantly complied, which opened a door to a marketplace where we found our home.
The summer of ’76 Kathy and I moved to Maryland for her further studies in psychology. While there she attracted dealer interest. I’ll go with Pop’s assertion that ’The Sound Room’ outside Baltimore was our first legitimate hi-fi dealer. Kathy took on a good half dozen dealers in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Many of those pioneers remained productive long-haul dealers for decades.
Selling speakers requires making speakers. I set up shop in Maryland to make equalizers and returned to Lexington one week per month to work with Walter in the shop. Fred Collopy was modeling our start-up for an independent graduate class. Every penny went into more parts and supplies. I bought a van to haul speakers back east every month. We had more demand than we could handle and developed a plan for sustainable growth.
We signed up for CES- January 1977 in Chicago and went big with an outboard hotel suite that showed considerable sophistication. I remember a (British) industry guy speculating to amused listeners that we were supposed be barefoot and pregnant back in Kentucky. That moment became a cogent reminder to keep our professionalism high and avoid reactionism. "Don’t tell ’em, show ’em".
Working 01s and 02s with static prototype of the 03, a floor-standing equalized 3-way expansion of the 01. Nothing about phase or time at that time.
Good show. Good response, including a German distributor which led to better European than US distribution, and got notice from Lyric Hi Fi who was a bellweather at that time.
Back home we decided that the 03 had to be more than just another market entry in a market that was way more crowded than we had imagined. Jim focused on how much effort went into managing time and phase in his amplifier circuits and asked why was it OK to dismiss that at the end of the chain. Many serious experiments turned into a year and a half of unrelenting work to develop the first coherent full-range transducer that we knew of. Turns out that Richard Vandersteen was on a similar journey in California, but neither knew of the other’s work.
The success of that 1977 CES led us to commit, incorporate and borrow start-up funds through our and Kathy’s parents’ second mortgages. Failure was not an option.
The standard answer to when Thiel Audio began is 1977. This early history including The Listening Room predates that date of incorporation, which wouldn’t have happened without the early enthusiastic market support we received.