Anyone who's experimented with subwoofer positioning knows that a sub's output level and frequency extension will vary depending on the distance between the sub and the room's walls. As the sub is moved closer to each room boundary, its output increases, with a corner position delivering the maximum level. Rather than asking you to twiddle a volume control until things "sound right," the SS1 has a pair of controls that let you dial in the distances of the two nearest walls. This alters both the sub's level and response so that it will create a seamless blend with the main speakers.
I first used two SCS4s alone and then added the SS1 to make a 2.1-channel system. With the SCS4s sitting on 24-inch-tall stands, I found that they could conjure up a massive soundstage with remarkable focus and precision almost regardless of where I placed them. After some experimentation, I ended up putting them about 2 1⁄2 feet from the side walls, but only about a foot from the front wall, as I found this helped to flesh out the midbass and the lower midrange.
The SS1 subwoofer's boundary-distance controls worked pretty much as advertised. But I still achieved the best results with the sub in my usual position, close to the front wall and just to the inside of the left speaker.
Small speakers are often particularly good at imaging, but the SCS4s proved to be truly exceptional in this respect. Before I got around to any serious listening, I used the speakers for TV-watching to help break them in. At one point, I was watching practice for the Spanish Grand Prix early on a Friday morning when I heard some jerk outside my window racing up the street. I soon realized that the sound wasn't coming from the next block, but all the way from Spain.
With bass that reaches down to a little below 50 Hz before dropping off, the SCS4s performed just fine without the SS1 sub. Rather than pumping up the midbass to give an illusion of deeper bass, the SCS4s are quite neutral through the midrange and down to their low-frequency rolloff. They also showed exceptional detail and transparency. For example, on "Song for Bassanio" from Jocelyn Pook's soundtrack for The Merchant of Venice, the harp's leading-edge attack, followed by the body of each note, combined with singer Ben Crawley's clear, bell-like voice to deliver an astonishing sense of realism.
Firing up the SS1 filled in the system's bottom octave seamlessly. Listening to Keith Richards's bass line on "Words of Wonder" from his Main Offender solo album, the low end sounded tight, tuneful, and seemingly bottomless.
It was on subtle material that the SCS4's movie sound came across. For instance, when watching Pan's Labyrinth, I was impressed by how enveloping the sound was during the quiet forest scenes, considering I was using only a 2-channel setup. Then, when I decided to give the SS1 sub a home theater workout, the plane-crash scene in Flight of the Phoenix (2004) demonstrated that it could deliver the goods, although its emphasis was clearly more on tightness and dynamic punch than on bass quantity.
By using unconventional thinking and not shying away from complex manufacturing challenges for its SCS4, Thiel Audio has created a speaker that delivers exceptionally fine performance for the asking price, with an emphasis on sound quality over sound quantity. While adding the SS1 subwoofer is an expensive proposition, it rounds out the system and makes it a true full-range package that's awfully hard for even this Yankee to criticize.
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