Thiel CS3.7 Floorstanding Loudspeaker Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Thiel CS3.7, when introduced in 2007, was the crowning achievement by the late, great, Jim Thiel. The flagship floor stander was the culmination of many years of research, and a series of upgrades and refinements of previous models. It has been universally praised by those who have heard it a hifi trade shows, and by professional reviewers alike. Some of the best ears in the business have claimed the CS3.7 offered remarkable performance that only fell short when compared to the very, very best, and stratospherically priced loudspeakers. The Thiel CS3.7 is currently priced at just about $13,000, depending on finish. which dear readers, is less than a pair of Nordost, MIT, Synergistic Research, or Transparent flagship interconnects.   

The CS3.7 were designed and built at their facility in Lexington, KY. As every review of a Thiel speaker is obligated to inform you, the CS3.7 is based on Jim Thiel’s principle of time aligned, phase coherent designs.  In a nut shell, Thiel claims this type of design insures that everything else being equal, all the frequencies reach the listener at the same time, and in phase, which preserves the natural timbers and textures of various instruments, and recordings are reproduced with accuracy and extremely low distortion.

theil speakerThe CS3.7  is equipped with an in house designed, and custom made coaxial tweeter and midrange driver. As I said in my review of the CS2.4, very few companies design and manufacture their own drivers.  The cost to Thiel, not just in labor, materials, but in prototyping and research is astronomical. If you really want the nuts and bolts, the Thiel web site has tons of technical information, white papers, and videos. The CS3.7 is also equipped with a 10” woofer and a passive radiator of the same size.  Jim Thiel felt this was a better design choice than a port.  Both are aluminum diaphragms like the midrange, and are wave shaped; another unique Thiel trademark.  The general specifications are a bandwidth of 32 Hz to 35 kHz , and sensitivity is 90 dB/W/m,  and  a nominal 4 ohm impedance.

The 3.7’s sophisticated cross over is technically known as a “first order” type.  First order cross overs offer a more gradual roll off, and are known for their phase coherence.  Jim Thiel was known to spend endless hours perfecting his cross overs, and was determined to eliminate distortion and other problems.  The Cabinet is also highly engineered, and beautifully made. It is highly inert, and designed from both a functional and a performance based directive. There are a pair of very high quality binding posts at the rear bottom, which can accommodate any type of speaker cable termination. The curved, smooth appearance of the cabinets take an extremely high degree of skill, and high quality materials to produce. The pride of ownership for prospective customers is of the highest order.

Set Up and Listening:

This is my third Thiel product review, having last evaluated the CS2.4 and coming to the conclusion that there was something to Jim Thiel’s vision and quite frankly, the 2.4 is the best loudspeaker I have ever heard in the $5000-$7000 range. Its resolution was superb, and it paired well with all the equipment I had on hand, tube or solid state, regardless of program material.

My review samples of the CS3.7 arrived in a very attractive Black Ash finish. Each speaker weighs 91 lbs, and it took a bit of effort, and great care, to set them up properly. They come with beautifully machined user adjustable spikes that must be attached prior to putting them in their standing position. The set up instructions in the manual are very straight forward and easy to follow. In general, Thiel does not recommend removing the grilles, which as with the 2.4, they say are sonically transparent. They also, in most cases, recommend very little, if any toe in, and a listening distance of at least eight to ten feet for proper coherence, driver integration, and optimal enjoyment.

Thiel says the CS3.7 needs 400 hours of break in time. I am always skeptical of product break in claims, but much less so with speakers, because this product category also involves mechanical break in. After my time with the CS2.4, I am no longer a skeptic. Thiel knows exactly what they are talking about. When I first set up the 2.4, I was surprised by how stiff and unexciting  they were at first, but after 200 hours they were transformed, to the point that is was practically a different speaker. As I said above, I now hold the CS2.4 in the highest regard. I had the same experience with the 3.7. Around the 200 hour mark they improved dramatically, but at 400 hours they were just there. The drivers in the 3.7, as noted, are stiff and light, and just need to be put to work like a thoroughbred horse before they can loosen up and show their stuff. This also illustrates that keeping open mind is important in a highly subjective hobby.

I also ended up toeing in the 3.7’s between 15 and 20 degrees, to avoid early room reflections, and to get the best center fill image. All of my observations from here on in are from critical listening post break in, and with the toe in.  To let the cat out of the bag, the big Thiel’s imaged amazingly, with tremendous soundstage depth, and serious extension and accuracy at both frequency extremes.  The highs were as uncolored, smooth, and crystalline pure as I have heard to date.  I really heard no mechanical artifacts to speak of which can rear their ugly head when listening to very high resolution speakers equipped with drivers made of advanced materials. . By mechanical artifacts I mean a sterility, or a clinical presentation that can leave you cold. On the contrary, the 3.7 were on the opposite side of the fence. I have never been more involved with the music as with the 3.7’s in my room.

The 3.7’s were musical to the nth degree. I found my self immersed listening sessions that never seemed to end, pulling out CDs I had not dusted off for a while, like The Best of U2:1990-2000. The mastering on this collection of hits, rarities, new songs, and remixes is really good, and I heard space between instruments I had no idea was there. The new release from guitar genius Eric Johnson Up Close, was the nearest I have ever come to the realizing the sound of a live band in my listening room. The mix on this album is coherent, with an “on stage in a club” feel. Some of Johnson’s previous work had more a cavernous, ambient presentation.  I was able to feel the power of Johnson’s Stratocaster and Marshal amp combo  rip into the room with very life like texture, with the bass and drums galloping along.


What I feel is the defining factor of the 3.7’s presentation is the music seems to be appear magically out of thin air with the natural attack and body you would hear from live instruments. This is obviously an illusion, but like the very best components and speakers, it is as close as we can get. The CS3.7 is as close as I have gotten, but to be fair, I have not heard some its competitors in my own room, but only in unfamiliar settings.

What really made it clear to me how the 3.7 was creating this illusion was when I put on Sunny Side Up, by Paolo Nutini. It is one of my favorite albums of the past two years, and I thought I had become intimately familiar with the nuances of the performances and recording. But hearing it through the 3.7 was a surprise. There was so much separation between instruments, texture, and depth that it stopped me in my tracks. The 3.7 was actually beginning to change how I listen, in that I can accept nothing less than a natural, relaxed, and transparent presentation when evaluating high end audio components. The 3.7 has provided me with a new benchmark.

theil light finishI found my self gravitating towards a broader spectrum of music. I think this was because the 3.7 was such an honest and real world performer that sounded great regardless of program material and did not sound its best  only with audiophile approved recordings. One interesting thing that kind of had me scratching my head is that recordings that I initially thought were sub par, and would sound even worse on the 3.7, actually sounded better. I think this was because, far from smoothing over flaws, it was revealing more of the positive aspects of the recording which led me to the conclusion I had prejudged some discs, and the 3.7 actually provided another dimension, which turned out to be complimentary. Kind of like an old photo that you initially thought was out of focus and worse for wear, but when dusted off and framed properly, actually looked quite good.     

Conclusion:

It is difficult to write about a proven, universally praised product that has been around for a number of years; especially when that product comes from a highly respected, engineering driven company. Several major audio publications have reviewed the CS3.7 positively, along with various e-zines. However, I feel  that the Thiel CS3.7  has still not gotten its just due. Thiel is not a flashy company. They do not take out pretentious space ads, they don’t do dog and pony shows, and they don’t introduce new products every two years. Their designs are also less art deco and more functionally elegant.  I would like to say that Thiel speakers are the best kept  secret in high end audio,  but the truth is they have a loyal following, have been in business for over 30 years, and are one of the champions of fairly priced, high performance products.     

The proof for me, is in the listening. And that is really what matters.  I enjoyed every single minute of my time with the Thiel CS3.7, minus the initial break in period. And this break in period, as noted above, is not audiophile hocus pocus. The fact is that the 3.7 uses advanced materials in the drivers that are stiff, yet, light and delicate, and require some use to arrive at their optimal state..  Once they do, the CS3.7 is a tour de fource.   It excels when pushed near its limits, and with much quieter, more intimate music, and at lower volume settings.     

Take note that all my above observations, and the superb performance I enjoyed from the 3.7’s    were in the context of my small listening room, which I am absolutely sure did not even show the  big Thiel’s at their very, very best.   The CS3.7 gets my highest recommendation. Not just because of its performance, which  was excellent when measured by any parameter, but because I just don’t think there are more than a handful of  speakers that  can compete with at its $13,000 price point. Sure, there are way more expensive speakers that go lower in the bass, but I will take quality over quantity.

I would bet quite a bit that those can afford the CS3.7 will make it their last loudspeaker.  Now I will say that it is certainly possible not everyone will love the CS3.7, after all as noted, this is a subjective hobby. So those seeking artificial warmth, or a smoothed over presentation, look elsewhere. However if coherence, delicacy, natural treble, stunning midrange clarity, and super articulate bass is your bag,  it is all here!  

                                                                                           

Specifications


Bandwidth (-3 dB): 32 Hz - 35 kHz
Frequency response: 33 Hz - 26 kHz  ±2 dB
Phase response: minimum ± 10°
Sensitivity (2.8v - 1m,  true anechoic): 90 dB
Impedance: 4 ohm (2.8 ohm min)
Recommended power: 100 - 600 watts
Size (w x d x h): 12.5 x 21 x 45 in /32 x 53 x 114 cm
Weight: 91 lb  41.5 kg
www.thielaudio.com

Playlist


Loreena Mckennitt:An Ancient Muse,2006, Quinlan Road
Bert Jansch: Birthday Blues, 2001, Sanctuary
Black Dub:Black Dub,2010, Jive Records
Elvis Costello:National Ransom, 2010, Concord,2010
John Lennon:Walls & Bridges,2010, Capital Records
Eric Johnson: Up Close, 2010, EMI Records
Paulo Nutini: Sunny Side Up, Atlantic Records, 2009
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: III/IV, Lost Highway, 2010
Anour Brahem: The Astounding Eyes of Rita, ECM, 2010

Reviewer's System


CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
Preamp: Audio Research SP16, McIntosh MA6600
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3,
Cables: DH Labs, RS Cables, Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)/Element Cable, Shunyata, Pangea, Audience
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands, Timbernation platform, CablePro Noisetrapper, Audience Addept Response Power Conditioner






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