We haven’t always appreciated hi-end audio at my house. Six years ago my wife and I attended a demonstration by Jim Thiel at Chicago’s Audio Consultants. I can’t remember how I convinced my wife to attend (lured with fancy dinner out or she owed me for a previous night out with her coworkers?). Audio Consultants was only a few blocks from our old apartment, just down the street from the old Rock n Roll McDonalds.
The Audio Consultants shop was on one of walking-around-town-shopping routes, so we had stopped in before. We never stayed long for two reasons: my wife had little interest in the sparse walls of CD and DVD players, processors and amps, and loudspeakers and subwoofers; one of the two salesmen would ask me what I was looking for, I answer, just looking, and felt the invisible pressure to take a nervous glance at the equipment on the sales floor and in the listening rooms and get the hell out.
I have an irrational inferiority complex of mid-fi to hi-fi salespeople (somehow Best Buy employees don’t phase me). I feel like any conversation is a test I’ll fail because I have a mess of random internet borne facts swimming around my mind that sound idiotic delivered in my usual out of context manner. To my horror, some salespeople humor me and advance the conversation to more obscure and technical territory. If I’m lucky, they’ll smile politely and find another customer to torment.
I remember showing up to the event on time and sitting in a room with other audiophile geeks. If audiophile geeks don’t look like your picture of Whovians or Trekkies, then they look like your tenth grade math teacher—divorced overweight, thick glasses, four weeks past a haircut appointment with a wind flopped, greasy comb over, yellowed white oxford shirt with beige stripes and a hole on the right shoulder, gray khakis, black Reebok aerobic sneakers. Well, one guy looked this way, the mix of people in the room was actually pretty diverse, but unremarkable.
We sat in the back, not wanting to disrupt any preexisting saved seats for other’s friends. By the time Jim Thiel started speaking, many listeners sat next to an empty seat.
I pointed out the ridiculously thick speaker cables on the floor next to our chairs. My wife laughed at them, commenting on their resemblance to a bloated albino garden hose.
Surprisingly, Jim Thiel impressed my wife (and less surprisingly, me) with his explanations and philosophies behind loudspeaker design, proper, ear pleasing acoustics, and custom loudspeaker manufacturing from the driver components to your veneer choice.
He showed off a new woofer Thiel manufactures themselves. The woofer astounded the audience with its gigantic magnet, which I think gave the cone more stable power with a shorter excursion during the piston action of music.
Thiel clearly explained the difficult and unpopular science behind his speaker design. Thiel’s speakers are time and phase coherent due to their combination of sloped baffles, acoustically aligned drivers and first order crossovers.
Mr. Thiel had very impressive crossovers. Thiel manufactures all the crossovers themselves. If you like clean and sparce bread boards sporting big as your fist (or your kid’s fist) capacitors, then go buy a no less than $2000 Thiel loudspeaker, open it up with a crowbar and feast your eyes on that crossover.
Thiel introduced the prototype for his first subwoofer that night. Everyone moved into another listening room where the 1812 Overture was playing. The song’s cannons really punched us in the gut with realistic, tight, low bass. Unfortunately, the demo was marred by a unidentifiable room rattle. When the rattle distracted listeners from the music: some laughed, others booed. Thiel stood in the back of the room, arms crossed, frowning.
We left the demo meeting Jim Thiel’s wife on the way out. She gave us a glossy catalog of Thiel Audio’s product line. My wife and I were genuinely interested in a pair of Thiel loudspeakers, but we knew we couldn’t afford them (we still can’t).
The demo cemented my growing interest in hi-fi electronics, pushing it up to the number one spot on my long hobby list. My wife gained an appreciation for hi-fi that night that helps her tolerate my hobby. At worst she frowns upon hi-fi component upgrades, at best she can share the sweet spot on the couch and relax to a familiar album, hearing it for the first time through a true hi-fi setup.