More Thiel Turmoil – Is It Closed? Is It Open?

Significant Staff Terminations Drop Headcount

New Thiel Audio logoWe are hearing from multiple sources both public and private that Thiel Audio has ceased operations, effective November 30, 2017. If true, the news would be a sad punctuation to the end of the story of a once proud  high-end audio brand that since 2012 has endured multiple CEO’s and their changing business plans. Current CEO Elyse McKenna is, by our count, the fifth CEO at Thiel since the end of 2012 – a year which started with co-founder Kathy Gornik as the CEO who then sold the company to David B. Griffin, a wealthy farmer and landowner according to our sources.

But, apparently, the answer to the question posed in our headline is that it depends on who you ask. CEO Elyse McKenna, in a telephone interview this afternoon, denied that Thiel is closed and tells us the company remains open for business.

See more on this confusing news on Thiel…

We began hearing from different sources last week that something was going on at Thiel…although nothing specific was mentioned. We reached out to CEO Elyse McKenna to get an update, a sort of first 100-days follow-up, after speaking with her in August when she was first appointed CEO.

Then this week, we heard more about Thiel, including that the company had apparently closed down. At first, we got no response from anyone directly associated with Thiel. Then, on a tip, we visited the Facebook page of Dennis Crosson, Director of Engineering for Thiel. There we saw a post dated Tuesday of this week from Mr. Crosson announcing that Thiel had closed down at the end of November. The post, which was remarkably matter-of-fact, acted as though this news was no big surprise.

It said in part:

“A week ago Monday, it was announced that our company was closing and that Thursday was our last day. It was not a shock because we had watched our business remain stagnant for a very long time. There were many last-ditch efforts made by our new sales and marketing team, but as the passing of ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ showed no improvements, there was no other conclusion to be made.”

Still Open for Business

Elyse McKenna, Thiel Audio CEO

Thiel Audio CEO Elyse McKenna

We again reached out to McKenna again, this time to attempt to verify the company’s status. Before we connected with McKenna, we heard from yet another source that the company has cut back to a skeletal staff that is left to plan the company’s eventual shutdown.

Then, this afternoon, we connected with McKenna. As though flicking a fly from her shoulder, McKenna was almost nonchalant about our questions.

“So, we are very much still open for business – I don’t know exactly where that [news of their closing] has come from,” McKenna said with remarkable equanimity. “Yes, there have been some changes to position us for our next phase of development. But as of right now, we are absolutely open and moving forward.”

Significant Staff Terminations

Those changes, McKenna mentions are staff terminations. Layoffs?..we asked. “I wouldn’t say layoffs, but there were a few people that have been let go, for us to be able to move into our next direction.”

McKenna didn’t want to give us an exact number on how many were let go, but as we persisted, she said, “There were definitely less than ten who were let go. We still have staff here [HQ] and at the studio and in Lexington.”

No one on the management team was let go, McKenna said, making no mention of the apparent termination of their Director of Engineering. The terminations were across the board in all departments, she told us. Other sources told us the terminations were almost all in sales and engineering.

Remaining Headcount

We asked, what’s the total remaining headcount? “Eight,” McKenna responded.

McKenna kept referring to their goal of positioning the company for the “next phase” or “our next direction.” So we asked her to tell us just what that is. Unfortunately, she declined, saying this news is not yet ready to be publicly announced.

Thiel Aurora LifeStream

Aurora LifeStream Home model

“Well, there are still some things that we are not yet ready to publicly talk about,” McKenna said. “However, I will say that we aren’t going anywhere, and we are still moving forward on the path since our inception to the role in August – which is refocusing on being a speaker company and the new line. And developing new products within the line.”

Looking Forward

“We are excited and looking forward for what is next for us,” McKenna proclaimed.

Whatever that is… McKenna says that she thinks that she’ll be in a position to reveal this “next direction” sometime in Q1 of 2018. In the meantime, the company has no plans to exhibit at CES and they are still deciding if they want to attend CEDIA. They will, however be at Sundance and NAMM.

McKenna tells us there will be new models launched in 2018 in the same late Q1/early Q2 time frame. Again, she declined to tell us what those were at this time.

For more information, see:

About Ted

A sales and marketing specialist - primarily in the technology industry - I've experienced a sort of "circle of life" in business. I've been a mass merchant retailer, a specialty retailer, a specialty manufacturer, a large volume manufacturer, a distributor, and even represented sales representatives. Now the owner of a marketing company that works with a variety of businesses on improving their strategic marketing and business development - I analyze issues from all angles to develop holistic solutions.


More Thiel Turmoil – Is It Closed? Is It Open? — 16 Comments

    • The difference is that a lot of people cared about Classe, while it is hard to care about the company that has the Thiel name since that’s all it is-a name.

  1. “I wouldn’t say layoffs, but there were a few people that have been let go“

    That’s corporate PR for you, ten out of eighteen employees is “a few”.

      • New product launching in Q1/early Q2 means the engineering is surely done and the manufacturing is already contracted, right? So, no need for engineering staff if this the final “””Thiel Audio””” product.

        The quotes are meant to imply that recent companies by that name have had little to do with the real Thiel Audio for a long time. The exception is Rob Gillum’s service operation in Lexington. He continues the true Thiel legacy as best he can; I hope he weathers the turmoil OK.

        My system has been based on Thiel and Classé products since 1996. What can I say? It sounds great and is still improving (I just purchased a Thiel SI-1 Integrator active crossover this evening). I think I’ll just relax and enjoy this system until my ears age out.

        • If Jim were still around today he would’ve evolved the Integrator concept into a DSP implementation for his time aligned concept, imagine what he’d be doing today with DSP active operation and room correction!

  2. The current ownership has certainly demonstrated that they have no idea what they’re doing. It’s time to sell the name to someone who will put out products that are at least in the spirit of real Thiel speakers. If not that then just let it die.

    I wish some of these high end companies could figure out how to merge with others to stay viable.

  3. Noticed on their web site this morning an unannounced price drop on their wireless speakers. The Home originally $899 is now $675 and the Tour $599 now $450. How low will it go????

  4. The “titanic effect” was already in play when Griffin decided to delete Jim’s designs and adopted the Canadian NRC style (PSB staff in this case)of speaker design (see Revel, Energy, Mirage, Paradigm, etc.). The new line was well made, had good– But not “audiophile special” sound, nice woodworking…but the new ownership/mgmt just assumed a change from one high quality design over to an entirely different high quality design would keep the Thiel brand going…it just kept going the wrong way…sad…Griffin seems to have not truly recognized the market’s perception of the brand and company he bought…

  5. Seriously guys – don’t buy it. I had a friend working for Thiel and apparently they don’t make anything anymore… the wireless speakers they make are produced by another company and marked with Thiel – nothing more. Their “3rd Avenue Collection” is the same way – nothing Thiel about them except the logo being glued on. There have been multiple rounds of layoffs already in the last year which is how this clueless idiot became CEO in the first place… The owner has no idea what he is doing and has been taking bad advice from fools for years now. To many failures to keep pushing forward but they’re going to make desperate attempts to recover funds while they can. That’s what happens when you buy products to sell instead of making them yourselves.

    • I figured those wireless speakers were probably completely generic. The big one appears to have the same drivers as my $150 Harmon Kardon Onyx. Definitely has the same 60w power rating. I shudder to think what the markup on that silly thing is.

      If they had made lifestyle speakers that were actually good I’d be rooting for them. I always thought Thiel should take a stab at active speakers since it would’ve helped solve the problem of complex first-order crossovers. Heck, I might have been willing to shell out for a lifestyle speaker that sounded like a little Thiel.

      At this point the only thing Thiel fans can dream of is for another company to buy the name (for $1 at this point) and produce some speakers that are in the spirit of Jim’s designs. The current owner has clearly destroyed the existing company so it’s never going to be the way it was before.

      I’m sure it would’ve been difficult to keep Thiel alive and make it thrive after Jim’s passing. I guess any savvy buyer would’ve recognized that and passed on the opportunity. The sad thing is that the company ended up going to the dumbest rich guy on earth. What a mess.

  6. Read a review on the Aurora Home by Al Griffen at Said the Aurora was a bit harsh at the top end and compared to the Naim Mu-so Qb and the Riva Audio Festival it was not in the same league. Felt the Thiel was over priced. Thumbs down on the review.

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