Thiel audio loudspeakers for home theater

THIEL's Brief Guide to Home Theater Sound

WHAT IS HOME THEATER? There is no agreement, even among "experts," as to what constitutes a home theater system. Some are of the opinion that a home theater requires a large video projector; some are of the opinion that home theater means a DVD source with its higher video quality; some feel that surround sound defines home theater. But we feel, as do many others, that home theater is the mating of a high quality sound system with a video system. Although they all will improve the home theater experience, a large projection screen, a DVD, subwoofers or surround sound are not necessary. What is necessary is a high quality sound system.

You may be surprised to know that the goal of a home theater system is not to reproduce an experience as good as that in a movie theater. In fact, the experience can be much better than that in a movie theater. Theaters have a number of sonic problems that simply do not exist in the home. The biggest problem theaters face is that they are so large that much of the audience must sit far from the center or to the rear of the theater. This fact poses almost insurmountable difficulties for natural sound reproduction. Fortunately, it is much easier to achieve superior sound reproduction in the home environment, and solutions to many problems that theaters face are simply not applicable in the home.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GREAT SOUND: It has been demonstrated that better sound quality is more important than better picture quality for improving the experience. When asked to compare video quality, subjects rated normal video with higher quality sound as better than high definition video with normal sound. Sound is what generates the involvement in and the emotion of the experience. What is more involving? A radio production of a thriller or a TV production without the sound?

WHAT IS GREAT SOUND? Great sound is sound that is startlingly lifelike. Great sound makes you feel that "you are there", and communicates the emotions, the space, and the character of the people, places, and things that you are hearing. Great sound is not something that requires special training, experience, or a "special ear" to savor and appreciate. Everyone recognizes and enjoys great sound; they may just not know why they like it.



A pair of THIEL CS6 speakers serve as the front main pair with the model
SCS3 as the center and rear channel speakers.

Great sound can be described as achieving high performance in four respects. First, the whole sonic spectrum, from the lowest tones of a large drum to the highest harmonics of a triangle, must be accurately balanced so that the character of all sounds are natural and so no sounds are exaggerated or diminished. Second, great sound is clear, clear, clear, so that all of the subtlety and complexity of the sounds are communicated. Third, great sound is spacious. The sound should not seem to come from the speakers but should envelop you with a realistic feel of three-dimensional space that surrounds and transports you "there." And, fourth, great sound is dynamic, flowing effortlessly from whisper to roaring without strain or distortion.

THIEL pioneered modern imaging (spatial reproduction), being the first speakers to preserve and reproduce all the spatial information in recordings by eliminating phase and time distortions that other speakers generate. Although there are many other "phase correct" speakers available now, we feel that our use of Coherent Source® technology, along with diffraction reducing techniques, provide unsurpassed imaging performance.

THIEL has also pioneered many distortion reducing and clarity enhancing techniques over the years, including short coil/long gap and copper stabilized magnet systems, improved types of electrical components, very strong, well-braced cabinets, and metal driver cones, among many others.

THIEL'S APPROACH TO HOME THEATER: An audio playback system is indifferent to the source of its signal; it doesn't care whether the signal originates from a music CD, a movie soundtrack, or a computer game. So, a system that reproduces music naturally, clearly, and dynamically will also reproduce movie soundtracks naturally, clearly, and dynamically. A good speaker will also provide a realistic sense of space, whether it be that of a warehouse in which a movie character is being chased or the symphony hall in which a soprano is singing an aria. For 20 years, THIEL has applied innovative engineering to the task of improving the quality of sound reproduction. The advances we have made in the aspects of clarity, spatiality, and dynamics are as important to the reproduction of a movie soundtrack as to the reproduction of music.

SOUND REQUIREMENTS FOR HOME THEATER: The balance of sonic values for an audio system used for a home theater may be somewhat different than those of a system used exclusively for music. In a music-only system, some people may not put as high a value on either high loudness capability or deep bass extension as they put on clarity, spatiality, or naturalness of sound character. But many people feel deep bass performance and the ability to play at very high volumes are more important for movie playback, and will evaluate their home theater sound systems with these capabilities in mind. Since you may not be able to get all the clarity, spaciousness, naturalness, bass extension and loudness that you would like in one speaker, a personal judgment must be made. Keep in mind that an investment in overall quality of sound (clarity, naturalness, spaciousness) rather than quantity of sound (loudness) will enable you to experience the richness and subtlety of both music and movies without the strain of loud boomy bass and low quality sound which, although it may be initially impressive, can, and does, become fatiguing in time.

ARE HOME THEATER SPEAKERS DIFFERENT? Some people feel that movie soundtracks require special home theater speakers to enhance the intelligibility of dialogue. It is our opinion that people feel this need because the speakers they have heard either have poor clarity or because the speakers obscure the dialogue due to an incorrectly balanced sonic spectrum. It is true that some soundtracks are poorly mixed, with dialogue too quiet and/or muddled for good lucidity. However, altering the speakers to compensate for deficiencies in some soundtracks would result in properly mixed, good soundtracks sounding wrong and unnatural.

Speakers designed especially for dialogue have two problems, in our opinion. First, they attempt to increase intelligibility by restricting ambient, reverberant energy in the vocal region. This reduction causes all sounds in this region (not just the voices) to be unnaturally dry. Secondly, the methods used to achieve the restricted energy dispersion invariably cause other sonic problems such as unnatural sound character or reduced spatiality. We feel there is no substitute for true clarity to ensure high dialogue intelligibility while preserving the natural characteristics of all other sounds. Of course, "regular" speakers are completely compatible with other Dolby® Pro-Logic and THX equipment. An additional benefit of speakers with clear, natural sound characteristics is that they will, unlike special home theater speakers, sound excitingly realistic when reproducing both movie soundtracks and music.

HOME THEATER SOUND SYSTEM TYPES: There are several ways to configure a home theater sound system. The simplest is to use a normal two-channel audio system, which, if of high quality, can provide very satisfying results. The performance of this main system is of the greatest importance and the other, more complex, configurations should not be considered as substitutes for a high quality main system, but only as optional additions. Other possible configurations are the addition of a center channel, the addition of one or more subwoofers, and the addition of surround speakers. For many people, the best approach to assembling a great home theater sound system is the step-by-step, building block approach, starting with a good main system and adding other components as their budgets allow.

A CENTER CHANNEL is used to improve the perceived center placement of sounds that should seem to come from the screen. However it will also tend to cause all sounds to seem to come from the screen, reducing stereo and other spatial effects. To mitigate this problem, the center speaker should be played at a reduced volume level and should either be positioned as far from the listeners as the main speakers, or used with a processor that provides time delay to the center channel signal. Another possible problem with a center channel is that, unless its sound character and radiation are well matched with the main speakers, the sonic presentation can be disconcerting and unnatural. Also, since many soundtracks put even more demands on the center than the left/right channels, the center speaker should be able to play as loudly as the main speakers.

It should be kept in mind that the problem a center channel attempts to solve only exists if the main speakers do not "image" well or if the listeners are positioned significantly away from the center of the listening area. If the listeners are not too far from center and the main speakers image well, a system without a center channel will often provide a better, more natural and spacious presentation.

SUBWOOFERS can be used to extend the low-frequency bass range or to enhance the loudness capability of the main speakers. If the main speakers can provide the range and loudness of bass required, subwoofers are not necessary, or even desirable, since they cause their own problems of integration and balance which are not shared by full-range speakers. It is difficult to completely solve the problems caused by a subwoofer occupying a different location than the main speakers and those caused by the necessity of matching phase and roll-off characteristics with those of the main speakers.

SURROUND SOUND speakers may be added to the sound system to retrieve spatial information, in addition to the stereo information, contained in the movie or music recording. This addition can provide a significant enhancement of the experience but in no way substitutes for the quality of the sound from the main speakers. Years ago, such information on soundtracks was limited to diffuse spatial effects which gave rise to the belief that the rear speakers did not need to provide the range, volume or quality of the main speakers. However, many modern soundtracks include rear channel information that is wide range, dynamic and meant to be localized to specific directions. Therefore, we think it is desirable that the rear speakers be similar in quality and character to the main speakers. Also, because modern soundtracks include sounds meant to be localized, we feel it is necessary that the rear speakers radiate their energy toward the listening location, as the front speakers do; that the rear speakers not radiate energy away from the listeners, toward the walls, or in multiple directions, all of which will obscure directional effects. As the new discrete multichannel formats become more commonly used for both movies and music, the importance of four similar, high quality, forward radiating speakers will increase.

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