Thiel Audio SCS4 Speakers and SS1 subwoofer

The Short Form
$5,380 (as tested) / THIELAUDIO.COM / 859-254-9427
Snapshot
A wonderfully transparent and refined system that puts the emphasis squarely on quality over quantity
Plus
• Neutral and transparent sound • Exceptional soundstaging and imaging • Simple subwoofer setup
Minus
• Crossover setup limits maximum volume • Subwoofer is expensive • No biwiring
Key Features
• SCS4 ($990 each) - 1-in aluminum-dome tweeter, 6 1?2-in aluminum-cone woofer; 8 1?2 x 17 1?2 x 11 3?4 in; 25 lb • SS1 ($2,900) - 10-in woofer; 500-watt amplifier; 11 x 20 x 15 1?2 in; 55 lb • PX05 subwoofer crossover ($500) - 7 x 2 x 6 1?2 in

Maybe it's my Yankee roots showing, but Lexington, Kentucky isn't the first place that pops into my head when I think about cutting-edge speakers. Yet it's down there in Bluegrass Country where, for more than 30 years, Jim Thiel has been quietly pushing the envelope with his designs. The versatile SCS4 speaker and SS1 subwoofer are just the latest creations that demonstrate his often unconventional approach to handling vexing speaker-design problems.

The importance of time-aligning the drivers in a speaker has been known for decades. Yet the traditional solutions of mounting them on a sloping baffle or introducing phase compensation in the crossover will only work if both the speaker and the listener are positioned optimally. Move off-axis, or place the speaker either higher or lower than expected, and all of that careful driver alignment goes out the window. But if you mount the tweeter in the center of the woofer, the drivers will remain in perfect alignment, no matter what angle you listen from. This arrangement also brings the speaker much closer to the fundamental ideal of a point source, which helps to create a focused, spacious soundstage.

The SCS4, as its name suggests, is the fourth generation of Thiel's Small Coherent Source (SCS) line. The twist with this latest version is that by having most of the components made in China (only the final product assembly and testing are done in Lexington), the SCS4's $1,980-per-pair price undercuts that of the older, now-discontinued SCS3 by more than $800.

With a 61?2-inch metal-cone woofer incorporating a coaxially mounted 1-inch metal-dome tweeter, the SCS4 is designed to work equally well whether it's positioned vertically on a stand, lying on its side as a center channel, or mounted up high as a surround speaker. Twin ports flanking the drivers continue the symmetrical layout, while a removable metal-mesh grille partially hides the drivers. A big, chunky pair of binding posts will accept just about any type of cable termination. (There's no second set of binding posts for biwiring or biamping.) The cabinet has a solid-aluminum baffle for rigidity, while the sides and back use 1-inch-thick medium-density fiberboard with an especially attractive real-wood veneer in natural or dark cherry, or black ash.

The SCS4 itself has pretty satisfying bass extension. But testing the speaker in a stereo pair, we decided to include Thiel's smallest subwoofer, the SS1, to check out how well the two models worked in tandem. The SS1, which omits most of the controls usually provided to blend a subwoofer with other speakers, is another example of the company's lateral thinking. Rather than employing the generic crossover built into your surround processor, the SS1 is designed to be partnered with an external Thiel-designed crossover tuned specifically to the main speakers you want to mate it with. This eliminates most of the hit-or-miss tweaking required to achieve a seamless blend, although you do lose some basic controls, like a main subwoofer level adjustment.

Thiel offers two external crossovers: the active SmartSub Integrator and a passive model, the PX05. The Integrator lets you tune the settings for a wide variety of speakers, while the passive model comes in a dedicated version for whichever Thiel model you plan to use. To connect the passive crossover, you configure the main left and right outputs of your preamp/processor to a full-range (large) setting and run a parallel set of speaker cables from your amplifier to the crossover's inputs. A line-level signal then runs from the unit to the subwoofer's input. The sub also has a second line input with a level control, but Thiel recommends that you use this for your processor's low-frequency effects (LFE) output. With 500 watts on tap to drive the long-excursion 10-inch metal cone, the SS1 packs quite a wallop.

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