Since their introduction to the community back in January, the Thinksound earphones have commanded a small following here at Head-Fi for their sonic prowess, beautiful wooden construction, and eco-friendly approach to product design and packaging. The two original models - the TS01 and Rain – are competitive mid-range earphones and received generally positive reviews – including mine. My usual mini-reviews of both the TS01 and rain can be found in the Multi-IEM thread and a comparison between the TS01 and the Woodees IESW101B can be found here (spoiler: the TS01 was more to my liking). It is no surprise, then, that I was pleased to learn of the company’s plans to release a new model less than a year after the original Thinksound IEMs hit the market.
The company’s newest release – the TS02+mic – follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by offering a wood-and-aluminum housing, PVC-free cables, and packaging made of recycled materials. Unlike the previous models, however, the TS02 uses a smaller 8mm dynamic driver and comes with an inline microphone and iPhone-compatible one-button remote.
Packaging & Accessories
Thinksound TS02+mic box
Finger-friendly cardboard insert
Founded on the principles of environmental responsibility, Thinksound has always followed the minimalistic approach to product packaging and with the TS02 they have taken that philosophy one step further – all unnecessary inserts have been eliminated from the box and replaced with a thick piece of recycled cardboard. The cable tie, too, has been replaced by a small snippet of cotton rope and long gone are the manuals and warranty cards usually found in earphone boxes (for those interested, Thinksound’s three simple suggestions for earphone use can be found here). The packaging is really very simple but the environmental angle, as well as the lack of finger-cutting plastics, warms my heart more than a bucketload of cheap plastic and shiny cardboard inserts would.
The accessory pack remains unchanged from the TS01 and Rain models - besides the earphones themselves, the box holds four sets of silicone eartips (in XS, S, M, and L sizes), a cable clip, and an unbleached cotton carrying pouch.
Appearance & Build Quality
Earphones without tips
Y-split and 3.5mm plug
The TS02 is a rather small straight-barrel earphone similar in appearance to the other Thinksound models. The housings are not entirely circular in cross-section as the 8mm drivers do not take up the entire housings – allowing for flat stylistic indentations on either side of the shells. Like the TS01 and Rain, the TS02 comes in two color schemes and the housings are made out of wood (from renewable sources) and aluminum. The rubbery cable, long strain reliefs, and beefy 3.5mm plug are all sourced from the other Thinksound models and shouldn’t surprise anyone who has owned a Thinksound earphone before. Neither should the lack of a sliding cable cinch and mild driver flex exhibited by the TS02 upon insertion.
Fit & Comfort
Close-up of the earphones
The fit of the TS02 is very similar to that of the Thinksound Rain as the earphones are very similar in size. They are unobtrusive and remain comfortable for hours but I wouldn’t recommend sleeping in them – the shorter shells of the TS01 are better-suited for that. Wearing the earphones either cord-down or over-the-ear is quite easy but the iPhone mic limits those who intend to use it to the conventional cable-down configuration.
Isolation & Microphonics
Again, the TS02 is very similar to the TS01 and Rain on both counts. The isolation is quite average – limited by the rear vent of the earphones and moderately shallow fit. Microphonics are mild as the PVC-free cable doesn’t bounce around a whole lot. The included shirt clip is welcome too, though a cable cinch would also have been a nice addition. One issue I’ve noticed is the presence of mild wind noise in windy conditions, probably due to the large rear-facing vent.
Thinksound promises a warm and balanced sound with these and I can easily agree on the ‘warm’ part and concede that the TS02 is not nearly as V-shaped in response as the TS01. I will say that they are very enjoyable and musical earphones. Not a paragon of clarity by any means (at least compared to the similarly-priced RE-ZERO and Ety MC5) but an excellent set for relaxed listening. The bass is deep, full-bodied, and very smooth. They aren’t bass monsters but they provide a weighty punch that reminds me of my much-pricier Monster Turbine Pro Gold. Texture and detail are quite good – not obscured by excessive impact or lack of body. They don’t extend unflinchingly into the sub-bass the way Hippo VBs and FS Atrios do but there’s no lack in rumble or tactility, at least not for my tastes. In addition, the reverb of the TS02 is surprisingly realistic, which may or may not have something to do with the wooden housings.
The midrange is warm and liquid and lags slightly in emphasis behind the bass. The mids aren’t recessed like those of the FA Eterna, nor are they as forward as those of the ViSang R03. Clarity and detail are good but not class-leading. Like the other Thinksound earphones the TS02 has a certain inimitable lushness to its mids that always keeps me entertained. Other earphones carry more air in the mids but the TS02 doesn’t lag too far behind most at its price point. Moving towards the upper mids, the TS02 remains smooth and controlled – a big improvement over the TS01. Even straight out of the box there’s almost none of the TS01’s harshness and unevenness, just smooth and competent treble with plenty of sparkle and definition. Those who like a more laid-back presentation may want to look at the ViSang R03 or even the Eterna since the TS02 is quite crisp but anyone coming from a Panasonic HJE900 or even Klipsch S4 should feel right at home with the treble quantity.
The presentation is broad and quite engrossing overall. The soundstage has good depth and width. There’s a thickness of note that prevents them from being as precise as the Ety MC5 or RE-ZERO but positioning and imaging are still pretty good. The TS02 is not the widest or most three-dimensional earphone in its price range but it is one of the most coherent – it never sounds disjointed, which again makes it a good all-rounder with a popular but nevertheless enjoyable sound signature. As a sidenote, I really liked the Rain for movies because of its frequency balance and ‘big’ sound and the TS02 is even better-suited with its rumbly sub-bass and spacious presentation. Many of the highly-detailed in-ears simply draw too much attention to background noise when it comes to movies and gaming but the TS02 balances things out just right and manages to remain absorbing but not distracting, which says something about the earphone’s overall SQ as well.
For the remainder of the review I thought I’d stray from my usual dry review format and offer up some thoughts on how the TS02 compares to a couple of other popular in-ears.
Thinksound TS02 vs. ViSang R03:
The ViSang R03 is one of my favourite earphones in the <$100 category due to its uncompromisingly smooth sound that nevertheless offers up plenty of detail and a great sense of space. The R03 shares quite a few characteristics with the TS02 – both earphones are warm and slightly laid-back. Both emphasize the bass and mids over the treble. Both sound three-dimensional and realistic. Contrasting the two, however, it is immediately noticeable that the R03 pushes background noise farther forward than the TS02 does and as a result appears to be more detailed – I usually call this phenomenon ‘aggressive detailing’. It is also a bit more forward in the midrange – one of the things that draw me to it again and again. Vocals have just the right of air and piano sounds crisp and well-defined. There is definitely a lushness to the TS02 that the ViSangs lack but for vocals I prefer the more airy and neutral ViSangs to the sweeter-sounding TS02. With the TS02 there is a bit more texture to male vocals but definition and emphasis lag behind the ViSangs - the TS02 still puts bass slightly ahead of the midrange. On the upside, the low end is more extended with the TS02 and sub-bass quantity is noticeably greater, resulting in significantly more bass rumble. The TS02 also tends to sound punchy and crisp, both at the low end and across the rest of the range, while the R03 sounds softer and rounder. Tonally, the R03 is more neutral while the Thinksounds lean slightly towards darkness. It also has a bigger headstage than the TS02 and is capable of greater intimacy when necessary, resulting in a more immersive experience. However, the TS02 does handle the depth of sonic cues better and generally positions things more precisely, making the ViSangs sound a little vague. I can’t really pick a clear winner here for all occasions but I did find myself liking the TS02 better for trance and electronica-type genres as well as acoustic music while the R03 worked better for vocals and some of my more spacey psychedelic rock.
Thinksound TS02 vs. Etymotic Research MC3:
Priced identically to the Thinksound TS02 and readily available, the MC3 has been steadily gaining popularity in the head-fi community as a well-built and accurate mid-range earphone. Unlike the TS02, the MC3 comes with a 3-button remote and has a highly isolating deep-insertion form factor. The differences, however, are so much more than skin deep. The two earphones really couldn’t be more different in sound signature or presentation. The MC3 is by far the more accurate of the two. It has better clarity and lacks the bass and treble emphasis of the TS02. The MC3 will be almost no fun at all for those who need thumping bass to enjoy their music. Treble sparkle is also greatly diminished compared to the Thinksounds but the MC3 is more revealing of harshness and sibilance present on recordings. Expectedly, the MC3 sounds very analytical, almost sterile, next to the full and rich TS02, and is also far more neutral in tone. Presentation-wise, the MC3 is more evenly spaced and never puts the bass in front of the mids like the TS02 tends to do. However, the sense of space I get from the Thinksounds again makes the Etys sound like an instrument designed for pinpoint accuracy rather than an encompassing musical experience.
Technically speaking, I think that the MC3 is the better earphone. From a purely subjective point of view, however, there is nothing visceral about the Etymotics while the Thinksounds are lively and powerful and get my feet tapping every time. It is always unfair to compare a consumer-grade earphone to an analytical one and the MC3 is no exception – those looking for uncompromising clarity and detail shouldn’t really be looking outside of the Etymotic Research and Head-Direct earphones at this price level anyway.
Thinksound TS02 vs. Fischer Audio Eterna v.2:
Another Head-Fi favorite, the Eterna is one of the better bass-heavy earphones in the sub-$100 range. Compared to the TS02, the Eterna takes its bass even more seriously, with greater weight, texture, and articulation at the low end. Like the ViSang R03, the impact of the Eterna is a bit softer than the punchy bass of the TS02 – crisp and well-defined bass is a hallmark of all three Thinksound earphones in my experience. Though its peculiar balance and presentation takes longer to get used to, the Eterna can match the TS02 on clarity despite the greater bass presence. It does, however, fail to portray intimacy as well as adeptly as the TS02 - the wide soundstage can cause it to sound a bit too distant at times in the midrange and treble and the mid-bass hump adds a slight veil. The Eterna also works best at higher volume levels, even when compared to similarly-priced dynamics – lower volumes make it a little difficult to get past the bass, something that isn’t an issue with the TS02. Of the two I think that the Thinksounds offer a more conventional and likable sound signature and are more enjoyable with busier tracks as well as vocal-focused genres. The Eterna is more of an acquired taste although extreme bass lovers and those who put special value on soundstage width will likely enjoy it more than the Thinksounds.
Thinksound TS02 vs. Sony MDR-XB40EX:
For a comparison to something more consumer-oriented, I picked the Sony XB40EX, which admittedly are in a different price category but still give a good idea of the type of sound that gets good consumer reviews on websites such as amazon and walmart.com. Surprisingly, the ‘Extra Bass’ XB40EX earphones aren’t as warm as the TS02. They are, however, much more bassy. The gigantic 13.5mm drivers are capable of moving lots and lots of air, resulting in a very visceral and impactful bass experience. Unfortunately, the impact overshadows any texture and detail that the bass would otherwise have so those expecting actual information from the low end will be sorely disappointed. For clarity and detail, then, the TS02 is the clear winner, but the XB40EX performs quite well for the price. Where it fails, however, is in putting so much more emphasis on the bass than the midrange and treble. While not quite as recessed as that of the XB-series headphones, the midrange of the XB40EX is noticeably underemphasized next to the low end. The treble, too, lacks sparkle and detail. In soundstaging the TS02 is again the clear winner, but I’ll have to wait for the bass headache that the XB40EX has given me to subside before I go into more detail on that…
Thinksound TS02 vs. Monster Miles Davis Tribute:
Since I was so unfair in comparing the TS02 to the budget-oriented Sony earphones last round, I decided to balance things out by pitting the Thinksounds against the $400 Monster MDs. I expected the MD to massacre the TS02 but the sonic differences between the MD and TS02 were smaller than those between the TS02 and XB40EX. The TS02 doesn’t extend into sub-bass quite as well as the MD, lacks the fullness of note and articulation of the top-tier Monsters, and doesn’t sound as thick and creamy in the midrange. The impossibly smooth and refined Miles Davis Tribute also makes the TS02 sound a bit spitty and just a tad sibilant, though the Thinksounds have more treble sparkle and generally sound crisper. The presentation is definitely more engrossing with the Monsters - music almost seems to have an extra dimension with the MDs, making the TS02 sound slightly flat. Still, all of these differences are small in magnitude and on the whole illustrate very well the concept of diminishing returns – between three earphones with a generally similar sound signature (XB40EX, TS02, Monster MD), the jump from the $40 one to the $100 one is noticeably bigger than the jump from the Thinksounds to the $400 MDs.
Thinksound TS02 vs. Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5vi:
Based around a single top-firing balanced armature, the SF5vi is a good example of the capabilities and limitations of a single-armature design. Though originally priced much higher than the Thinksound TS02, the SF5vi has recently seen some major price drops that have put it back in the running for the title of ‘best-value iPhone headset’. Though the sound of the SF5 has the typical markings of an armature based earphone – speed, clarity, and detail – it is also atypical in that it is a warm-sounding earphone with a very forward midrange and fairly wide soundstage. Like so many single-armature designs, the SF5 sounds a bit constrained at the limits of its frequency response range. The TS02 has noticeably better extension on either end and actually sounds like quite the opposite of the mid-forward SF5 in terms of overall balance.
The bass has more depth and rumble and the reverb is much more natural, much more dynamic in nature. The Thinksounds have somewhat boosted mid and upper-bass compared to the SF5 but the SF’s claim to accuracy disappears with the extreme forwardness of the midrange, which the TS02 can’t (and doesn’t need to) match. The two have similar treble crispness and detail is comparable across the range. The soundstage of the SF5 is quite wide but the forward midrange makes it somewhat concentrated towards the center while the TS02 sounds more evenly spread-out. As far as iPhone headsets under the $100 mark go, both are extremely impressive and make my top 5 quite easily. As with the ViSang R03, I find the SF5 more suited for vocal-centric music while the TS02 definitely does better with pop, electronica, and acoustic-type genres.
As an additional side note, Thinksound sent me a short list of phones with which the headset functionality of the TS02+mic has been explicitly tested so here it is:
Apple iPod, iPhone, Macbook
Motorola Droid II, Droid X, Droid ERIS
HTC Droid Incredible, HTC EVO
Samsung Galaxy S
Blackberry (with 3.5mm standard headphone jacks)
Overall I think the TS02 is a very pleasant earphone that borrows quite heavily from both of Thinksound’s older models - the TS01 and Rain. The bass impact, weight, and rumble, as well as the warmth and musicality, come straight from the TS01. The smoothness and soundstage come from the Rain. All of these qualities are exactly what I originally liked about the Thinksound earphones so the warm and lush-sounding TS02+mic appeals to me no less than my other favorites in the price range and could be just the ticket for many listeners. Though it may seem like the TS02 doesn’t clearly come out on top in my comparative listening, it should be noted that the earphones I picked for comparison purposes are all among the best of the best, both in overall performance and value for money, and the TS02+mic is the only bass-heavy set of the bunch with an inline microphone. Aside from the Klipsch S4i, which I don’t really like, competition is really quite low for the Thinksounds at their current price point but even if it wasn’t, the earphones can clearly hold their own. Bonus points, as usual, are due to Thinksound for the environmentally-friendly product concept and excellent aesthetics. It is the sound, however, that really steals the show this time around.
Edited by ljokerl - 10/8/10 at 7:01pm