Kermit the frog used to sing that it’s not easy being green, which leads me to think that he probably wasn’t familiar with the Thinksound brand. Headphones don’t usually rank very high on the list of products that are damaging our environment, but Thinksound wants to make sure that its products do as little harm as is possible.
Pushing all the right buttons for people who are concerned about the planet, the TS02s come packed in a recycled corrugated cardboard box with a bare minimum of biodegradable plastic used for the window. The headphones themselves are made from an attractive combination of real wood and aluminum, while the supplied carrying pouch is made from some kind of unbleached cotton. Even the tie securing the cable in the box gets the green treatment, and is a piece of cotton string instead of the more familiar wire twist tie. Whether any of this well-intentioned greening is wiped out by the need to ship the final product half way around the world from China is hard to say, but simply getting people to think about this stuff is half the battle.
Thinksound TS02+mic: Technical Highlights
Thinksound makes two versions of the TS02: the regular version, which functions simply as a pair of earphones, and the TS02+mic version reviewed here, which adds a microphone and a one-button remote so it can double as a hands-free phone headset. Both versions come in a choice of either silver trim with cherry wood, or black trim with chocolate wood. I’m not too familiar with the chocolate tree, so I’m going to assume that the words cherry and chocolate describe only the basic color of the wood, and not its actual species. The review samples were in silver/cherry finish, and had an attractive natural appeal that looked classy, without making you feel too much like a hippie tree hugger.
The TS02 features 8mm moving-coil type drivers. The mic/remote module provided in the TS02+mic version is compatible with a wide range of Apple iDevices and with an extensive array of Droid, Google, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung phones. The TS02+mic version also works with those Blackberry phones that provide 3.5mm headphone jacks.
The 50-inch long signal cable is about the average length for a portable headphone, and it’s made from a nubby feeling rubbery material rather than more common slick plastic. I found that when carrying the TS02s in my pocket the cord would get quite knotted, but by using the supplied shirt clip to hold the coiled cable in place I could prevent more serious tangling.
Four sizes of silicone ear tips are provided, ranging from extra small and small to medium and large. I did most of my listening using the medium size, although near the end of my evaluation I inevitably lost one of the tips on the subway. Switching to the largest size I found I could still get a decent seal, even if the headphones were no longer sitting quite as deeply in my ear canal. Overall, these were some of the easiest to use tips I have encountered, and I never had difficulty getting them to seat correctly in my ears. The TS02s always felt comfortable and secure, thanks in part to their low weight and lack of sharp edges. I did find that the cable was a bit more sensitive to handling noise than most, so I needed to take care how the cord was routed through my clothing to keep things quiet. The plastic shirt clip helps with this, allowing you to maintain plenty of slack going up to your ears.
From the very first note it was clear that the TS02s could deliver a big rich sound that seemed at odds with their petite visual impression. Tonally you get somewhat of an M shaped frequency response, with a substantial lift in the mid bass balanced out by a somewhat less prominent emphasis in the upper mid and low treble range. Bass can be a guilty pleasure, and with the TS02s this lack of strict neutrality only made them more fun to listen to. Comparing the Thinksounds to the similarly priced NOX Scouts it seemed like the Scouts were a bit more neutral overall, but I would be more inclined to go for the rich sound of the Thinksounds for a ride into town on the subway.
This isn’t the first headphone to unashamedly pump up the bass and warmth. The more costly Monster Turbine Pro Golds have an even more prominent bottom end boost, and I found the Thinksound’s bass fell somewhere between the Pro Golds and their more accurate stablemates, the Monster Turbine Pro Copper.
Having a noticeable bass emphasis would be a real problem if the bottom end was loose and flabby, but the TS02 does a great job of keeping everything under control and musical. The Thinksounds don’t really reach down into the super deep sub bass the way something like my Ultimate Ears UE-10s can, and this no doubt helps the TS02 to maintain its taught and tuneful response.
Moving up through the midrange, the Thinksounds somehow pull off the impressive feat of sounding warm and rich yet clear and open at the same time. The Etymotic HF3s have a noticeable edge in midrange transparency and detail over the TS02s, yet the TS02s manage to avoid sounding closed in or opaque. Having a super revealing headphone isn’t necessarily the best idea for listening on the go, and the Thinksounds do a deft job of remaining warm and compelling without making you feel like your missing out on detail or clarity.
I listened to the TS02s using several sources including an iPod Classic, iPhone 4, and from high-resolution digital files into both a Furutech/Alpha Design Labs GT40 and a Topping TP30 DAC/Amp.
The legendary 1961 Village Vanguard recordings from the Bill Evans Trio showcased the TS02’s strengths perfectly. On “Alice in Wonderland” the deep resonance and subtle fingerings of bassist Scott LaFaro’s playing were easy to follow, while drummer Paul Motian’s incredible brushwork kept things swinging. The Thinksounds also put across the Vanguard’s intimate club setting perfectly, revealing everything from the murmuring audience to the clinking of glasses at the bar.
I figured “Ravi Shankar Dub” by The Dub Syndicate might push the TS02’s bass over the edge, but even when I cranked it up the bottom end remained clear and tuneful. Producer Adrian Sherwood is known for dropping in massive amounts of reverb or room sound on individual drum beats, and these sounds helped to demonstrate how the TS02s could really open up to create a massive soundstage.
While the TS02’s warm balance made them a great match for listening on the move, don’t get the impression that they can magically turn a nasty sounding recording into sonic gold. They did little to salvage the heavily compressed sound of Metallica’s Black Album, and in many ways the prominent mid bass and lower treble of the TS02s made this record sound crunchier than ever. Through the Thinksounds the compressed kick drum became more of a “crack” sound than a “thunk,” and the snare drum sat out in the mix with the cymbals sounding a bit recessed. The overall sonics were still quite listenable, but the subtle changes in emphasis might make you question just why they mixed it that way.
Consider this product if:
•You want an easy to live with portable in-ear monitor that gives plenty of kick in the bass, yet manages to stay controlled and musical.
•You value eco-friendly products and want to support a company that thinks green.
Look further if:
•You believe ultimate accuracy is paramount, and want to hear only the un-embellished truth.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced earphones)
•Tonal Balance: 6
•Frequency Extremes: 6 (Bass)/6 (Treble)
Thinksound lives up to its name by thinking about our planet while doing what it can to minimize its E waste footprint. The resulting headphones are stylish, comfortable, and make a fine companion for listening on the go. While their warmish sonic balance may not be strictly accurate, they manage to deliver a level of musical satisfaction that’s hard to beat at the price.
SPECS & PRICING
Thinksound TS02+mic Earphone/Headset
Accessories: Four pairs of silicone ear tips, shirt clip, cotton carrying pouch
Driver: 8mm moving coil-type
Frequency response: not specified
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Warranty: 1 year
Price: $109.99 (TS02+mic); $99.99 (TS02)