Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op 74 and Nut Cracker Suite Op 76 with Seiji Ozawa and the Orchestre de Paris [Telarc/Pentatone Classic SACD 5186 107] was an expected treat. The opening basses had the kind of real authority and excellent definition that resulted in a reflexive smile and a slight quickening of pulse. The violas had exceptional clarity and presence. Front-to-back layering was outstanding. Dynamically speaking, I never felt as though I was missing any of the music's ebb and flow. Also, these speakers are amazingly quiet. At low listening levels, they resolve very well. Micro dynamics too are very good as the speakers produce a surprising degree of "jump factor". Prepare to be jolted from your seat at 9:40 into "Adagio-Allegro non troppo".

At 17:00 into the piece, all the strings, basses to violins, engage in synchronized pizzicato plucking. This part of the program was wonderful because I was able to not only enjoy the precise timing of the orchestra but, in terms of echo and reverberating effects, also the contributions of the hall that provide such a high degree of realism to the program. While I wasn't there for the original recording session, I can say that the CS 2.4s conjured the illusion of the perfectly reproduced recording venue. Cavernously deep, wide and tall, with tons of spatial cues, the illusion was extremely convincing. Oboes and brass instruments both seemed a bit more real than usual and I can't really put my finger on why that was. I can't say that they were brighter but for some reason, they did sound more vibrant. Whatever it was, call it a subtle difference in favor of the Thiels.

I might credit the speakers' extremely taut upper bass and lower midrange for some of that clarity. The CS 2.4 is leaner than it is warm; but not too much so. The speakers seemed to have as much bass and bloom as was warranted and needed - no more, no less. Quantity of bass was never an issue as the 2.4 is superbly balanced. Bass quality was often surprising. Joe Jackson's Volume 4 [Rycodisc RCD 10638] is an upper-bass laden CD that can often sound fat, slow and plodding. The Thiels put it through just enough of a diet to become acceptable without losing any of its drive and power. And, I can't say that any other well-recorded music became unacceptably thin. Quite the contrary.

Both "Nobody's Buying" and "Chicago Skyline" from Nancy Bryan's Neon Angle SACD [Analogue Productions Originals APO 2013 SA] have some of the most naturally recorded-and-sounding guitars and acoustic bass I've come across. Both instruments were reproduced naturally and evenly, with no sign of unnatural suckouts or leanness anywhere. In fact, the acoustic bass on the first cut sounded as though absolutely in the room with me, the second only slightly less so.

John Bryan's acoustic guitars were warm and full of beautifully natural tone. And Nancy Bryan's vocals? Fuhgeddaboudit. I can't imagine them sounding significantly better. Jackson's Body And Soul contains tons of brass that evidenced superb transparency and razor-sharp leading edge transients. I also heard the longest sustained piano note at the conclusion of "Not Here Not Now", remaining audible longer before descending into obscurity than I ever recall hearing it before. These speakers are exceptionally detailed and quiet.

In fact, in terms of bass capability, midrange coherence and transparency, the CS 2.4 reminded me a lot of the much more expensive Duevel Bella Luna. That may not be too surprising once one considers that both speakers utilize an 8-inch woofer that hands over the signal at 1 kHz and is free of electronic crossover intervention thereafter. But recalling the fact that the Duevel was roughly twice the price of the Thiels and still an excellent speaker example in its class, this similarity speaks volumes about the Thiels' standing.

Roger Waters' Amused To Death [Columbia CK 47127] is encoded for QSound, a mastering system designed to produce surround effects from two channels via careful manipulation of time and phase. It occurred to me that since Thiel is very serious about both time and phase coherence, their 2.4s should produce superior results with the CD. What I expected was to be more fully immersed in the mayhem (didn't really happen) but what I got was a new level of realism from those effects. The barking dog outside and to my extreme right on "The Ballad Of Bill Hubbard" sounded a touch more there and the narrator's voice to my left had more density as well as dimensionality.

The keyboard off to the right on "Perfect Sense, Part I" had more palpable presence and depth. Where previously it was more like a transparency projected on the wall, it now had real density, color and dimensionality. In other words, much more like a keyboard placed off stage. Even Marv Albert's voice on "Perfect Sense, Part II" sounded more like a fully fleshed- out Marv Albert. His voice has always hovered in mid-air just over my left shoulder but now it had more physicality and 3-dimensionality. Quite cool!

Compare and Contrast
I've already talked about how the CS 2.4s were so uncannily similar to the excellent and almost twice-the-price Duevel Bella Luna, with equal tonal balance and the Duevels merely a touch more transparent to the upstream electronics. I regret that I had no suitable tube amplifiers in-house but I found both the solid- state Herron M150 and Bryston 7B ST monos to be excellent matches for the Thiels. While they gave me slightly different variations on a most enjoyable theme, I heard the different characteristics of each amplifier come through. The Duevel's omni-directionality widened its sweet spot for a broader array of listeners (though the Thiel has outstanding dispersion for a speaker of its kind) and is certainly easier to drive. But to the listener in the sweet spot, the biggest difference is that the CS 2.4 projected out into the room whereas the Duevels' soundstage began behind the speakers and moved back from there. Other than that, the two speakers were definitely cut from the same cloth - which is high praise for the Thiel.

The larger and at $6,500 significantly more expensive Silverline Sonata Mk III is a very different kind of speaker. Where the Thiel is the more transparent, incisive and more highly detailed of the two, the Silverline offers more robust bass response and a warmer, rounder, sweeter overall tonal balance. While very good, the Silverline couldn't quite match the Thiel's stellar pinpoint imaging and soundstaging capabilities. In the end, these are two very good speakers designed for two very different tastes - but I'd add that the more svelte overall bass balance of the Thiel means that it may work better in smaller rooms than the Silverlines which might overload a small room and sound a bit more congested. In fact, as long as one had the eight-or-so feet between listening chair and speaker required for its drivers to integrate as one, I can't imagine the 2.4s not working in almost any room.

In an industry where some companies seem to be pushing the envelope of gullibility --trying to find that price point where gullible audiophiles will finally yell uncle -- I applaud Thiel for their efforts to push the performance envelope for affordable loudspeakers.They clearly have succeeded with this speaker. At $4200 USD a pair, the CS 2.4 is the most accomplished speaker I've ever heard in its class.

Without a doubt, it may well also be the perfect speaker for the well-heeled non-audiophile music lover. This is because while we as audiophiles love to obsess over tiny differences between slightly different shades of gray, the non-audiophile will be thrilled with a speaker that rides the center line of neutrality. In this class, nobody will complain about the bass performance of the CS 2.4; but audiophiles may divide, with some looking for more artificial overall warmth. While the obsessive audiophile may break into a sweat trying to find that point of aural perfection where treble sweetness meets air, extension and detail, the music lover will marvel at the clean and open top octave produced by the CS 2.4. But even picky audiophiles will have to agree on many aspects of the 2.4's performance. All will likely agree on its musical detail that transcends its class, and the utter transparency that somehow remains congenial to upstream electronics.

Its ability to conjure a realistic and coherent soundstage while the speakers dissolve into the music is another undeniable characteristic of the Thiels. Their prowess or propensity for creating pinpoint imaging may rightly be criticized by those who know that real music doesn't produce such vivid delineation. But most of us audiophiles love it anyway. Last but not least, the CS 2.4 is a great-looking speaker that will engender real pride of ownership without dominating most rooms.

Music lovers looking for the best and most complete speaker which $5,000 will buy should get a listen to the Thiel CS 2.4. Audiophiles looking to equate quality and status with high price tags may overlook them, but smart shoppers in search of the least expensive speaker that will completely satisfy their needs will be amply rewarded for their savvy. The only things one perhaps could wish for in the CS 2.4? True 20Hz bass extension and, possibly, greater dynamics to make them compatible with the largest of rooms. But with a speaker of this size and class, you can't have everything. There are many aspects of the CS 2.4's performance that are superb, and in some ways, these speakers are very nearly as good as it gets.

So it is with a stroke of our Editor's blue seal that I confer onto the Thiel CS 2.4 6moon's Blue Moon Award for setting a new high-water mark in the sub-$5,000 speaker class. I congratulate Thiel for a job exceptionally well done.

Manufacturer's website