They say you're nobody unless somebody's talking about you. If that's true, there's nobody more somebody than Thiel. They also say that we love to build up success stories only to turn around and knock them down again. If that's the case, there is no bigger success story than Thiel. Think about it. Is there another more talked-about make of loudspeaker than Thiel? Love 'em or leave 'em, Thiel has become one of less than a hand-full of companies against which upstarts are compared - fairly or not.

I've always had the highest regard for Thiel as a company. Well-known product quality and customer service aside, one big reason for that is that even as one of the oldest and most prestigious marques in the HighEnd, Thiel has resisted the urge to go stratospheric with their pricing. Can you think of another company with Thiel's stature whose flagship maxes out at $13,500/pr? I can't. Despite distinction and repute, these folks have kept their feet on the ground and continued to produce extremely well executed and highly finished products at real-world prices. Kudos to Thiel for declining on the $30K or $65k flagship monstrosity with the ubiquitous, less hideously over-priced trickled down siblings. I don't know how or why the HighEnd started down this road.

I don't know if some of Thiel's competition are working on the perfect music transducer. Or are they perfecting the art of making speakers needlessly complex and over-engineered in order to sell at prices that would make Rube Goldberg blush? Is the point making musical products - or unnecessarily complicating the state of speaker design? Thiel's levelheaded actions speak louder than words. They've always pointed at making real world products of the highest order. This brings us to the $4,400 CS 2.4 [$4200 in Black Matte] and the subject of this review - yet another real world success story priced more than fairly by Thiel.

The CS 2.4 stands a graceful 41.5 inches tall, 14 inches deep by 11 inches wide, and weighs an unexpectedly modest 70 pounds. Unexpected because the 2.4 seems remarkably robust and inert. Credit, I suppose, is due the reinforcing effect of the 3-inch thick front baffle, one-inch walls and geometry that results in a top panel only 6 inches deep. Thiel specifies a bandwidth of 33 to 37 kHz (-3dB) and an amplitude response of 36 to 25 kHz (+/-2 dB). The CS 2.4 is nominally rated as a 4-ohm speaker, its minimum at 3 ohms. Sensitivity is rated at 87 dB and amplifiers of 100 to 400 watts are recommended. Additionally, Thiel specifies a phase response of +/- 10° minimum. Thiel also warrants the speakers against defects in materials and workmanship to the original owner for a period of ten years from date of purchase - at least double the industry standard.

Thiel was kind enough to send along a pair of their optional $250 outrigger stands but the speakers are already shipped with substantial spikes. Unless the speakers were placed on overly padded carpet or yours was a particularly raucous bunch, I suspect that the included spikes would do the job just fine - the CS 2.4 is wide enough and of low-enough center of gravity to be quite stable. The outrigger stands look great and offer a considerably wider base but won't give you any greater carpet-piercing prowess as they incorporate the same spikes that are provided standard. Call the outriggers a great- looking and fairly inexpensive insurance policy against tipping.

Beauty And The Eye Of The Beholder
I find cars such as Mercedes-Benz things of beauty. But contemplation reveals aesthetics not quite consistent with just natural or intrinsic beauty. You see a Mercedes on the street and you see not merely another uniquely styled car but a Mercedes. Thiels are like Mercedes. Handsome and extremely well-finished to be sure, they probably do possess more natural beauty than Mercedes. The 2.4 is replete with signs of attention to detail that comes with the constant and continued evolution and refinement of not just a product but an idea. Though based in science and solid engineering, Thiel follows an almost religious approach that results in consistency of design and a continuous fine-tuning rather than the constant reinvention of the wheel. It's not a speaker whose looks will draw strong controversial reactions. But at the same time and like the Mercedes, the cognoscenti will instantly recognize it for what it is - a Thiel.

A thoroughly Thiel affair, just about everything of significance about the CS 2.4 is built in-house. Thiel has been fabricating their own drivers for years now and the uninitiated will be excused if, at first glance, they think the 2.4 to be a two-way speaker with passive radiator. Closer inspection, however, reveals the uppermost driver to be what Thiel calls its coincident array. This array places a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter at the center of a 3.5- inch aluminum midrange driver. In order to ensure both time and phase coherence (two iron-clad tenants of all Thiel designs), Thiel designed the two drivers to share the same voice coil. The first-order crossover at 4 kHz is accomplished mechanically, thus requiring no electronic crossover whatsoever. The driver utilizes a premium neodymium magnet structure said to improve sensitivity. It also takes over the signal from the 8-inch inverted aluminum dome woofer via a first-order crossover at 1 kHz. Supplementing the bass driver is an all-new 7.5" x 11" passive radiator equal in radiating surface to a conventional round 8-inch driver.

I don't often mention speaker grills because I never use 'em. But I did with the Thiels because they are the first acoustically completely transparent grill I've ever encountered. Another reason I didn't set them aside? I was afraid they were going to get damaged. The 2.4's grill consists of a flexible metal frame completely wrapped in fabric that is held in place by invisible magnets and a bit of countersinking into the face of the speaker. Not only does the frame remain flush with the face of the speaker to make it practically invisible to the drivers, the scheme employed leaves the speaker equally beautiful with or without grills and, for once, equally finished in appearance.

Two things that I've always found appealing about Thiels are their imaging and soundstaging capabilities. In my experience, Thiel is second to none -- including any mini-monitor -- in their ability to create a wide and deep soundstage and they lead the pack when it comes to providing said soundstage with real height. I've heard images move in an arc over Thiels, a very impressive feat. Here, the CS 2.4s were no disappointment. More importantly, they didn't impose a one-size-fits-all proportion on the music either. I regularly heard track-to-track variations and I remember thinking how flat and lacking in soundstage depth "The Verdict" from Joe Jackson's Body And Soul [A&M CD 5000] sounded - only to be bowled over by dimensionality aplenty on "Cha Cha Loco" just one song later.

I've read on the Net where people complain that Thiels are bright. I've never understood that. I've never heard Thiels bright - until I set up the 2.4s in my room, that is. Initially, I set them up with a great deal of toe-in. For the most part, they sounded wonderful. Except for a touch too much sizzle in the treble, I may not have bothered moving them again. I suppose this may be a danger with the Thiels: They are so remarkably unfussy about setup that they are unlikely to sound bad anywhere you place them. Hence there may be some who never attempt fine-tuning to see what else might be gleaned. Don't make that mistake. If they sound bright to you, something is probably wrong. And even if they sound good enough, keep in mind that they respond nicely to incremental changes in location and toe-in and thus are quite tunable. With the speakers toed in, I found image specificity with razor-sharp outlines second to none. This too proved amendable via a change of toe-in. Final positioning resulted in almost no toe-in at all. This effected a welcome slight softening of instrumental outlines as well as a more relaxed, though thoroughly extended and detailed treble.

The opening chimes from Jennifer Warnes' "Joan Of Arc" from her Famous Blue Raincoat CD [Private Music 01005-82092-2] had exceptional clarity and presence in my room. Ditto for the opening sequence of cymbals on "Coming Back To You". On any of the music I listened to, sibilants were never an issue with the CS 2.4 . They also offered truly exemplary midrange performance. One word distinctly not audiophile-approved that just kept coming to me during my time with them was tidy. In addition to all their other attributes -- which I'll get to momentarily -- the CS 2.4s have a neat and orderly manner about them. It kept reminding me of a good single-ended triode amplifier. They really do have that illuminated-from-within quality that is associated with SETs.

The 2.4s are expert at sorting through the music and laying it out in an efficient and musical way. They are superb at untangling the most intricate and complex of musical passages without giving you the feeling that you are too close to the performers. The Thiels did an outstanding job of sorting through the choral passages on Carl Orff's Carmina Burana [RCA Red Seal 09026-61673-2], for instance. While I can't say that I heard each voice in the chorus as separate and distinct (I wouldn't want to), the CS 2.4s did a splendid job of producing a unified whole composed of a kaleidoscope of colors and timbres rather than one blurred vocal mass.