Saturday, September 19, 2009

Memories of Jim Thiel

Most of my fondest memories of Jim Thiel come from a factory tour in 2001. During the first night at dinner Jim, Kathy, and the higher ranking people were in a discussion about finish options, price points, shipping time, and other business matters while Ken Dawkins and myself were making non-audio small talk. Finally Ken asked me, "So what kind of receiver are you using with your speakers?" My response was, "Well, I'm actually using a Parasound P/HP850 preamp and an Adcom GFA5802 amp with Audioquest cables." Jim, who happened to be sitting next to me was obviously bored by the business talk and turned to me and said, "That's a pretty nice system." Jim spent the next 45 minutes or so having an in depth conversation with the least important person at the table, a kid in his early 20's that few people in the industry took seriously. It wasn't a one sided conversation either, he was interested in my thoughts and opinions as well.

The next day in the Thiel listening room Ken asked us to listen to the PowerPoints which our company had repeatedly declined to put on display. In fact myself and my co-workers were under strict and explicit orders to not listen to the PowerPoint speakers under ANY circumstances. The higher ups in our company had never heard the speakers but had decided based on size that they couldn't possibly be worth the money. At the time the first Thiel sub was still in prototype form, but nearly finished. I shocked my co-workers by saying, "I'll be glad to hear the PowerPoints, but only if we can hear them with the Thiel Sub." Well, one of the Thiel sales guys quickly said that it was Thiel policy to not demo prototypes. No sooner had he said that then Jim said, "deal." Needless to say on my return to the store myself and my co-work told everyone that would listen that we NEEDED the PowerPoints on display. We kept on the decision makers until they listened to them and in a couple of months we had them.

On the same trip I was struck by a sign near the door to the workshop that said something to the effect of, "Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated." I told Walter that it was a great sign. His response was, "That sign isn't accurate, when it comes to Jim is should read "excellence will be grudgingly tolerated.""

A couple of years later while demoing a pair of Thiel CS2.4's for a customer I accidentally hooked them up to the 8 ohm taps of a McIntosh MC402 instead of the 4 ohm taps. The sound was remarkably better and I called down to Lexington to find out why, Sherry said she didn't know but would ask Jim about it and get back to me. A couple of hours later I received a 3 page email from Jim explaining that while he did not have direct experience with the amp in question that my findings did not shock him. He then went on to lay out an extremely involved scientific theory on why I heard what I heard.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Goodbye Jim

Today the sad news about the passing of Jim Thiel was announced. On the few occasions that I met Jim he was always very gracious. I can't think of anyone in the audio business that I respect more. He will certainly be missed. Like many others I'm sure, I only wish that I could have known him better.

The Thiel philosophy holds, among other things that a speaker should be time and phase coherent. Phase coherence is when two drivers in a speaker are working to create the same frequency and they are doing so by moving in unison. Time coherent means that the sound from each driver arrive at the listening position at the same time, which is made possible by the sloped baffle of his designs. The third major component to all of the recent Thiel designs was short voice coils held within a long magnetic gap. This arrangement has the advantage of keeping the voice coil of a driver within the magnetic field of the gap and dramatically reducing distortion.

To learn a lot more about the innovations and views of this founding father of high-end audio check out the following interviews. Also of interest is the March 1998 Stereophile interview conducted by .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Breaking down Thiel

As anyone who's been following the blog for a while knows I am a big proponent of Thiel Loudspeakers. They contain quite a few original design ideas and unique parts that set them apart from the competition. Gary from Thiel worked with on-line retailer Audio Advisor to create the videos below to discuss a couple of the things that set Thiel apart from it's competition.

The first video briefly describes some of the technical aspects of Thiel speakers that make them something special

The Thiel CS2.4 has been the apple of my eye since it was a 2.3.

Next up is the CS2.4SE, the new apple of my eye. What a beautiful finish!

The PowerPoint speaker is one of the most surprising and technically unique speakers ever developed. While being mounted on a ceiling it still manages to image where a normal floor standing or stand mounted speaker would.

The SCS4 might be Thiels most versatile speaker. It can be used as a standard left/right speaker, a center speaker, or for rears in a home theater application.

Last, but certainly not least is the Thiel CS3.7. The 3.7 is one of the most advanced speakers available today.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Wilco - Summerteeth on Nonesuch (vinyl)

Nonesuch records (Wilco's label after being dumped by Reprise for refusing to change aspects of their brilliant Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) has re-released the band's first three albums on vinyl with Summerteeth arriving in stores late last month.  Summerteeth is considered by many to be the album which finally shed them of their alt-country moniker which they inherited from Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt's former band, Uncle Tupelo with singer Jay Farrar. And happily, this double LP follows in the band's recent tradition of quality vinyl sound, which I was slightly surprised by since I never thought Summerteeth was particularly great, sonically, on CD (a copy of that CD [or maybe a remastered CD, come to think of it, I haven't checked] is included here, as well). I always thought the Reprise CD was overly compressed and crowded sounding. This LP, on the other hand, offers a much cleaner, unencumbered sound with Tweedy's voice high up in the center allowing much more room for the instruments to stretch out - especially the percussion and Jay Bennett's little sonic thises and thatses.  And while I've never heard the initial vinyl pressing from 1998 when the album was first released, opinions I've read are that this one is much better. 

And to think people have been buying the original LP on eBay as recently as last spring for highly inflated prices. It shows a little patience pays off - especially now that a new vinyl age is upon us.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Beatles Stereo Remasters

Both my blogmate and I agree; until the Beatles mono remastered box set arrives, it will require one thing and one thing only to tide us over - an ever larger box set.

I thought I'd post some quick pictures and impressions of the stereo Beatles remasters.

There are two songs ("Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You") which couldn't be included in stereo due to the lack of the proper mastering source, so the engineers wisely present the mono versions here rather than an inferior stereo mock-up.

The astute observer will note that, while the original UK Parlophone and Apple record labels are replicated for the 2009 disc art, Magical Mystery Tour uses the North American Capitol record label with colorband and silver Capitol stamp since it was first released in the US. I am of the opinion that all Capitol CDs should use this disc art, even today.

Attention was spent on detail with the aesthetic packaging of this boxed set. While the iconic yellow Parlophone logo was used throughout most of the Beatles releases on the label, from year to year and album to album, there were slight variations on the typeface and text placement. EMI/Apple made sure they were all replicated with the disc art (current logos and legal verbiage notwithstanding).

As for how the boxed set actually sounds, the first word that came to mind is "crisp." While listening to the first several albums, they finally sound the way they were meant to - full of energy, fast-paced, plenty of bottom end that sends McCartney's bass notes into your shoes and furniture, in-your-face guitars and vocals that scream out. On the later albums, once the engineers began paying a little more attention to how to properly mix for stereo (as opposed to the first couple of LPs with instruments on the left, vocals on the right, rinse, repeat), the sound begins to fill out with more elaborate arrangements and studio techniques, and these CDs demonstrate it far better than the 1987 masters.

Over the next several weeks, we're sure to hear all about how the engineers either created the finest digital remasters in the history of both digits and masters, or that it's "too loud" with "no sense of space" and how they've completely botched it for future generations, and that Sir Joseph Lockwood will be spinning in his grave - so I won't bore anyone with a long review of each album. As a huge Beatles fan who spent their own money, I'd be biased anyway. Besides, if you're reading this, you've probably read a dozen other reviews, already. Let me just say that they sound every bit as good as a modern CD made from the original master tapes can sound, which is long overdue. These remasters have successfully sent the 1987 CDs back to 1987. Without pristine early vinyl pressings and an expensive turntable and hi-fi system, you will not get a better impression of how the stereo records were intended to sound. Were the band's producer and engineers preoccupied with giving the recordings a huge sense of "air" and space? Not at all. By today's pop music standards, it certainly seems that way, but the Beatles were never exactly an audiophile's delight, either. The Beatles recordings are just some great sounding rock n' roll, pure and simple, and it's evident on the original master tapes. Now, for the first time, it's evident on CD as well. And for what it's worth, it's reinvigorated my hunger to hear Beatles music again.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Audiophiles often bemoan the lack of a younger generation of audio enthusiasts. To be honest it's all a bit like Chicken Little claiming that the sky is falling. High end audio has always been a niche product and there is a good chance it always will be a niche product. However, the next generation of audiophiles are being created at this very moment by two completely different driving forces, the resurgence of the vinyl record and the iPod.

With records the kids are finding that they need help with turntables which leads them to stumble into the various on line audiophile forums and learn about much more than just how to properly set up a turntable and to care for vinyl. They are being indoctrinated on what to listen for in speakers, how to choose the proper amplification, and many more esoteric topics.

The iPod has made listening to music cool again and many of those kids are discovering the included headphones leave much to be desired and they are upgrading. When doing research on which new cans or ear buds they should get they are also learning about how to properly rip and encode digital music.

Below is a video about a young man that's fallen in love with records and reproduced sound. Hopefully this hobby will bring him many years of joy.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Yet more Beatles mono news

Just to make The Beatles mono-mania that's going on around here a little more absurd earlier today I received the following email from amazon:

Hello from,

Our records indicate you purchased a Beatles Mono Box Set, and we wanted to update you on its availability.

This new information will not affect your pre-order--if you pre-ordered a mono box set, you will receive it.

The manufacturer has informed us that they will be producing additional mono box sets due to high demand. While the box set remains a limited-production item, it will not be capped at 10,000 copies for the U.S. market, as originally reported.

That's good news for those who haven't already ordered.