Reviewer: John Potis
Digital source: Pioneer DV-535 DVD player and Bel Canto DAC2, McCormack UDP-1 Universal player [on review]
Analog Source: Sota Jewel, Sumiko Premier FT3, Micro Benz MC Silver
Preamp: Shindo Partager
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa & Symphony II, Bryston 7B ST
Speakers: Hørning Perikles, Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5 Mk 2 upgrade, Thiel PCS/Smart Sub SS2 [for review]
Speakers Stands: 24" Platinum Audio filled with lead shot and sand
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor interconnects and speaker wire, DH Labs D-75 digital interconnect, JPS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptovator power cords
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature with Wattgate upgrades
Sundry accessories: Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, ZCable Ultra-1 ZSleeves
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling
Review component retail: $3,000/pr PCS; $4,900 SS2; $350 PX02 passive crossover

The Box
Even the way Thiel packs their PCS monitors and SS2 SmartSub for shipping shows attention to detail and real pride. I mean, if a manufacturer doesn't take care of their products, why should a trucking company? Both the loudspeakers and the subwoofer were packed in quality cardboard reinforced not with further cardboard or brittle Styrofoam but with protective wood. Open the box and the only thing you uncover is a sheet of plywood. Lift the plywood and you find the speaker cradled in foam - not the kind of foam that lasts a one-way trip before disintegrating but quality stuff. Clearly, Thiel doesn't want to see their products returned to the factory as damaged in transit. They've worked too hard to get it right the first time to risk having to do it all over again. As a matter of fact, someone at Thiel figured out that if you wanted to control the orientation of the boxed subwoofer in transit, put shock-absorbing feet on the box! This may seem an inconsequential note on which to start a review but I think that when you sweat even the tiniest of details, it portends great things about a product. Let's see if I'm right.

PCS Loudspeakers
Let's get one thing out of the way: The Thiel PCS monitor loudspeakers are beautiful. Fit and finish are absolutely first-rate. True, the binding posts around back are not nearly as sexy as those found on the rear of the CS 2.4 I reviewed earlier this year but Thiel has a way of combining expert craftsmanship with high technology to produce speakers that are decidedly high-tech without looking techie. The PCS speakers are finished to high furniture-grade standards and, at least to my eyes, will look at home in even the most finely appointed of rooms. The PCS measures just 7.25 inches wide by 11.5 inches deep by 19 inches high and looks deceptively svelte despite its substantial 30 pounds each. Much of that mass is the result of substantial internal bracing - a 2-inch thick front baffle with 1-inch thick side and rear walls. Think about that for a moment. That's a lot of bulk for a speaker of such meager dimensions.

One thing that separates the PCS from most stand-mounted speakers of its size is its true 3-way design. The PCS uses a coaxially mounted tweeter/midrange unit that allows both drivers to use the same voice coil without an electrical crossover between them. Thiel claims that this results in perfect time coherence, improved imaging and transient fidelity - all basic tenets of Thiel loudspeaker design. Click here for a video interview with Jim Thiel himself as he describes the coaxial driver in some detail. Of course Thiel makes all the PCS drivers in house. The PCS uses a 6.5-inch metal diaphragm woofer said to eliminate resonances within its operating range as well as their short coil/long
gap copper-stabilized motor system. The woofer utilizes a 2.5-pound magnet said to increase its output capability. All drivers are shielded to allow placement near video monitors.

Thiel specifies 87-dB efficiency and 4-ohm nominal impedance (3.3 ohms minimum) and recommends amplifier power ratings of between 50 and 300 watts (something I'll take issue with a little later). Thiel claims a 55Hz to 23kHz (-3 dB) and 57Hz to 18kHz (+/- 2dB) frequency response.

SS2 Smart Sub
Formerly known as the SW1 Subwoofer, this SS2 Smart Sub was recently joined by three other similar subwoofers in its family. This is no flyweight subwoofer, believe me. So it came as somewhat of a surprise to learn that the SS2 with its dual 10-inch metal diaphragm drivers and 1000-watt RMS amplifier is actually only the second from the bottom of the 4-deep line!

Each of its 10-inch drivers utilizes a 20lbs magnet structure and a 2.5" voice coil (also of the short coil/long gap design) and is said to have a +/-16mm linear excursion for 130 cubic inches of displacement. Depending upon room placement, Thiel specifies an output of up to 105dB at 20Hz and 112dB at 30Hz. Thiel also specifies a frequency response of 12 - 300Hz +/-.5dB via the normal input and 17 - 800Hz +/- 3dB via the LFE input. Like the PCS, the SS2 boasts brick-like construction. While it measures 11 inches wide by 20 inches deep by 23.5 inches tall, it tips the scales at a full +108 pounds. The included 1000-watt amplifier is of the Class D switching variety. The SS2 has both a single RCA and XLR LFE input as well as an RCA and XLR output, presumably for daisy chaining more than one subwoofer.

Finished in the same Amberwood as my PCS review loaners, the SS2 also evinced the same attention to detail and fine workmanship. I had an idea what to expect when I unboxed the speakers but was quite taken aback when the SS2 first arrived. It's one distinct and beautiful piece.
But that's not what really sets the SS2 apart from other subwoofers. For that, Thiel set itself an ambitious goal: to design a subwoofer that would not exhibit the sonic problems typical of other subwoofers. In order to achieve a higher standard, Thiel first identified three problem areas that needed to be addressed and overcome. The first was of optimized low-frequency performance. It was Thiel's observation that many subwoofers were actually very poor at articulating the very frequencies they were supposedly designed to address. They found that these subwoofers were best at accepting large levels of bass energy without obvious distress. The answer to building a better subwoofer? Good engineering, high output drivers and lots of power. Thiel concedes that none of this is cheap.

The second problem was that of proper integration with the main speakers. While acknowledging that proper integration could be achieved via the usual means of adjusting the subwoofer's output, phase and low-pass crossover frequency, they sought to eliminate the guesswork with speaker-specific crossover settings by taking into consideration the known quantities of Thiel's own speakers to ensure proper integration. The third problem they identified and took aim at was more interesting: room effects. Allow me to quote from Thiel's White Paper on the subject: