Equipment Review No. 3 September 2001
Thiel PCS Loudspeaker
Description: 3-way system with 1" metal dome tweeter coaxially mounted with 3.5" metal cone midrange; 6.5" metal cone woofer; single wire 5-way binding posts; 7.25 x 11.5 x 19 inches; 30 pounds; rated 55 Hz- 23 kHz; 10 year warranty. Supplied Sound Anchor stands are $600 and measure 11.5 x 11.5 x 23 inches.
- 1026 Nandino Blvd.
- Lexington, Kentucky, 40511
- (859) 254-9427 voice
- (859) 254-0075 fax
Krell KAV-280cd CD, KAV-300iL Integrated Amplifier (System #1), Sound Anchor stands (supplied), Audioquest wiring; also, Philips CD transport w/ VAC DACII D/A converter, Audio Research LS-3B Preamplifier, Krell KST-100 Amplifier (System #2), MIT, Discovery, Audioquest wiring; and B&W Nautilus 805 speakers for comparison. See future Thiel CS2.3 review for further comparisons.
When I received the speakers the first thing I did was carefully unpack them and connect them to System #2 listed above. The binding posts are easily tightened with a wrench. The stands that are supplied have two screw holes in each, and these fit perfectly into the bottom of the PCS speaker, making a very solid connection. The stands are extremely heavy, but I was still able to move the speaker around. I used the spikes as well as the supplied pads on the bottom of the stands at different times.
The manual recommends the speakers break-in for a period of 100 hours. I left them running with the radio for almost two weeks and spent some time in between casually listening to music (not critically) as well as watching a few movies with the speakers. I didn't begin serious reviewing until a week or two after that. The manual also recommends placing the speakers straight ahead, but I preferred to angle them in with them spaced a good deal apart. The grill on the speakers is magnetic and easily slips on and off the speaker. I left the grill on for my listening sessions.
Listening- Part I (vs. B&W N805 speaker)
If you've read any of my previous reviews you would know that I always try to compare similar products with one another in order to establish a reference in as close a price and category range as is possible. The only speaker that I had access to for a comparison with the Thiel PCS was the B&W N805. This was a little unfair to the B&W because with the matching stands they sell for $1000 less. However, they have gotten very good press and are generally well liked in the audio community. Also, they are readily available at many dealers. I didn't bi-wire the B&Ws because the Thiels do not have/ need that capability and I didn't want to use different sets of cabling. I did use the quality jumpers (wire) that are provided with the B&Ws to make the comparison as close as possible. I used an SPL meter to match levels, and found (by listening as well as measuring) that the speakers did not differ a great deal in terms of sensitivity. All comparison listening was done with System #1.
I began with track 8 from Santana's Supernatural record. Right away I was impressed with the bass response from the Thiel speakers. The bass was powerful and tight, and the music occupied a large space in the room. The vocals were extremely clear and clean and a little laid back. The guitar sound was gritty and distinct. The sound was somewhat polite and I thought that this might be a characteristic of the equipment or the speakers, but later on with other records this was not a problem. The sound with any recording I used never appeared forward although at times the center information was presented in front of the plane of the speakers. The B&Ws had a more forward midrange quality. The guitar sound was more upfront and the sound throughout the frequency range was richer. The Thiels had a much more refined sound which was surprising to me, because I always considered the B&Ws to be a highly resolved speaker with low levels of distortion. But with the Thiels there was a clarity and focus to the various instrumental and vocal sounds that allowed you to hear more into the recording. The high frequencies were excellent with both systems but had a smoother quality on the Thiels. The B&Ws imparted a tubbier sound to the bass drums.
Next up was track 8 from Mad About Movies-an excerpt from Verdi's La Traviata. The difference between the two speakers was even more evident with classical music. It turns out that the PCSes have a way of letting the natural timbre of instruments and voice really come through. With this cut, the Thiels had slightly less top end in comparison with the B&W. The dynamics on the voice were better with the Thiels. When the female singer went up and down the range you could clearly hear the change in tone and even sense her distance from the microphone. It definitely made the performer seem more "in the room." On the B&Ws, the vocals were thicker sounding, and that obscured some of the qualities that were heard with the Thiels. With the B&W speakers, the strings stood out more from the rest of the music and had more edge. With the Thiels, the strings were much sweeter and a friend who came into the room while I was listening said that there was no contest. The Thiels were clearly better at revealing more of the nuances in the recording than the B&Ws. This could be a problem with certain recordings of lower quality, but with the recordings I listened to, it was a great benefit. When the bass kicked in after 1:20, both speakers did really well with the low end.
With Radiohead's single of "X-Dream," I was impressed with the sound from both speakers. Still, the Thiels had more detail and definition. The sound seemed to be more realistic and there was less of a gap between the illusion of reproduced and live sound. With the B&W speakers the sound was hard to criticize and really only yielded to the Thiels in terms of transparency and resolution in direct comparison. Again it was one of the circumstances where it is hard to describe the difference unless you hear it, but all the analogies of cleaning a window apply
With track 7 from Vibes' With Drawn, the sound was more realistic with the Thiels. When I say realistic, I mean that the instruments were more three dimensional, they occupied a realistic space in the soundstage, the transients were natural and accurate, the tonality of the sound of the instruments and the space was as expected from the recording, there was depth, width, and a blurring of the borders of the speakers within the room. The B&Ws did an admiral job of presenting the musical information, but they were lacking something. That something is what the Thiels had: the quality that brings you closer to the performance. With the lights off there was no more room--only the space to listen to the various percussion sounds and drumbeats. It was as if you were in the studio listening to the recording and not from behind the console, but inside the room watching the performance.
Listening- Part II
The first few tracks in this section were on System #1. I felt I was being too kind with the Thiels and it was time to put on some loud music in the hopes I could make them give out. In went track 1 from Guns N Roses Appetite For Destruction. I grabbed the remote and started to turn up the volume louder and louder and louder. I wouldn't say the Thiels were happy playing GNR, but then again what speaker is? I cranked it up as loud as my ears could take and waited for sparks to fly. Well nothing really happened except Axl standing right in front of me wailing away. I didn't really feel the speaker was stressed beyond its ability, but I don't expect many PCS owners to use their speakers for throwing parties either. Under the circumstances I'd say they passed this test with flying colors. This isn't the greatest recording, but the Thiels did a nice job with it and didn't sound overly harsh or hard. The quality of amplifier used is important, and the manual has a little section on selecting the appropriate equipment.
With track 1 from David Benoit's Freedom At Midnight, everything was very clean and spatially satisfying. Instruments sounded natural and believable. The music was lively and involving and before I realized it my toe was tapping away. Normally I'm not a big fan of this type of music, but hearing it on a speaker of the caliber of the Thiel PCS made it much more enjoyable. This reminds me of a pitch made by a salesman of long ago about buying a good FM radio. Customer: "I don't really listen to the radio." Salesman: "That's because you don't have a good one."
"Silky smooth" and "liquid" were the words that came to mind when I put on track 9 from Peter Erskine's Motion Poet. Some speakers make this recording sound bright and fatiguing. The recording is a little on the hot side, but the Thiels made it sound natural and very listenable. The guitar sound was mellow and relaxing, and the cymbals came through crystal clear with just the right amount of sizzle. They never sounded harsh or unnaturally metallic as some speakers and cheap equipment can do. There was lots of air around the instruments and a decidedly black background. For acoustic music these speakers are really something special.
The upper ranges of the speaker are so good that I wanted to make sure there were no problems in the bass range. The first thing I did when changing to System #2 was to angle the speakers out more. This solved the slight change in high frequencies in comparison to System #1. I might even suggest auditioning a tube preamp for use with this speaker. It may be just the thing to help make those harsh recordings sound fine and not take away from the fantastic quality of sound with good recordings. I put on track 1 from Disc 1 of Kruder Dorfmeister's K&D Sessions. At about 2:30 on this cut the electronic bass goes up and down in frequency over and over. It is easy to hear if the speaker has a certain emphasis in a particular range or begins to overload and distort. The PCSes handled this track with aplomb. Ultimately, adding a subwoofer might be worthwhile for certain listeners. I didn't feel that there was a large range of bass that was missing, but when you have a subwoofer in the system then the difference is clear. This is not only applicable to the Thiel speakers, but with any speaker. If you have a medium to larger size room or if music with a lot of bass figures heavily into your repertoire, then definitely audition the PCSes with and without a subwoofer. A quick listen should decide this fairly easily.
When I first received the pair of Thiel PCS, I had a couple of reactions. The first was: "Wow, it's a baby Thiel!" Secondly, I noticed that it was heavy and the wood finish was beautiful. But I started to wonder, "Who is the buyer of a $3000 pair of mid-sized speakers?" After all, I think most people buy small speakers because they don't have the space or can't afford larger and more expensive floor standing models. With the speakers on the stands they take up the same physical space as some of the larger Thiel speakers (i.e. the CS2.3,) although they look slightly smaller. And the price isn't any less in comparison to the CS2.3. These questions disappeared in my mind when it came time to give these speakers a thorough listen. The fact is, the Thiel PCS is one of the most accurate, revealing, AND good-sounding speakers I've ever heard. Although the speaker is not perfect, the quality of sound reproduction is so impressive that with some listeners the other deficiencies will have no bearing. A subwoofer can easily be added in order to extract the last bit of bass information. Thiel has a subwoofer in the works, but it was not available yet at review time. A friend (who is an experienced listener) came by with a few CD's to check out the speakers. After a good listen I asked him what he thought. At first he couldn't put into words how he felt about the PCS speakers. A few minutes later he summed up what I believe is a very succinct comment on what these speakers can do: "It's why drug dealers give their customers a free first taste." Highly recommended.
- Brian Bloom
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