Sits up all night comparing IEMs.
- Nov 14, 2009
I can’t remember the first day I found or stumbled across the head-fi.org website (maybe the website found me), but I am sure it was easily over a quick decade ago when this audiophile community helped to quench my thirst for audio products that would take my music listening experience to new heights, the next phase if you will.
Finding Head-fi.org – when I think about it – really was the only natural progression for me since I had spent nearly 20 years prior listening to albums and singles by any means necessary (i.e., whatever audio listening source was available to me) because part of my profession demanded it. I worked as a syndicated music journalist for various newspapers and magazines focusing mainly on jazz, but also R&B, blues, pop, and some hip-hop music.
I initially thought I had arrived in listening to music in its best and purest form once the consumer market introduced the world to compact discs. Head-fi.org, however, quickly taught me the folly of my misguided thoughts and helped me to learn that the hardware used to listen to any music medium is just as important as the software the songs were mastered on. And if I really wanted to find audio Nirvana, I needed to consider amplifiers, DACs, speakers, headphones, in-ear monitors, etc. So began my journey into the sonically sound, yet maddening world, of the audiophile.
So, why did I dedicate a few paragraphs about my journey into the audiophile world – and finding head-fi.org – instead of diving right into this review of a brand-new full-size headphone? Well, I simply thought I owed you, the readers, an explanation of where my mind was when I first came across a quirky little earphone company that piqued my interests some 10 years ago called Thinksound. During the period of discovering Thinksound Audio and soon meeting the company’s owner, a highly capable and knowledgeable sound engineer named Aaron Fournier, the rapid growth of the technology in developing and listening to earphones and IEMs was astonishing new to me, and the technology seemingly evolved like every month in pushing the boundaries of clarity, details, and audio bliss in a piece of hardware that could sit right inside one’s ear canal and sound like a full-size headphone (yet never quite getting all the way there).
Through his newly formed Thinksound company, Fournier introduced two well-received eco-friendly IEMs, Rain and TS01. Although he wasn’t the first to do it, Thinksound’s products stood out because the IEM shells were crafted out of beautifully shaped fine wood and metal. And the earphones were made from materials that are easily biodegradable.
Fournier explained how he believed his company stood out from the rest back then, “We use wood from only certified renewable sources,” he said. “We used all recycled materials for our packaging, and we also recycled our own old products as well as competitors. We are very environmentally conscious and believe that it’s just as important as producing a great-sounding product. Our commitment to the environment even extends down to our details of using minimal packaging.”
I fell into a deep like with Thinksound’s earphones over the years (eventually acquiring just about every product the company released). And then in 2013, Thinksound release one of my favorites on-ear headphones, the On1! Like its earphones, the On1 seemed to have a slightly warm magical timbre that was mid-focused but would give the highs a brilliant shimmer and just enough bass to be classified as an accurate studio-monitor headphone. I had never really been a fan of on-ear headphones, but the On1 became one of my favorite phones for listening to music for my reviews (and still is).
After 2013, time moved on and the audiophile industry offered those of us on the quest for that perfect sound many new toys and products to consider. Some of the technology with drivers, shells, and circuitry have just been astounding, to say the least, and I allowed my ears - and wallet - to partake in quite a few of those new discoveries, but I also longed for the special timbre I rarely heard in other earphones or headphones that resonated with me as the Thinksound sonics did. So, I would occasionally reach out via email or see Fournier on some social media outlet and check in with him. We would talk about a barrage of subjects, but it would always circle back to the music. And over the past eight to nine years, Fournier might even tell you I became a little bit of a nuisance. Why is that? Well, Fournier, being an audio engineer, had moved on to other projects, but I felt his mission with Thinksound wasn’t complete without an offering of some full-size over-the-ear studio monitors! Now, it wasn’t that Fournier disagreed with me, but he had so many other projects going on that he just didn’t have the time to really put the focus and work into a full-size headphone that would carry on the legacy of the Thinksound brand. This is what he would tell me from time to time, but I was relentless for many years in trying to convince Fournier it was his duty and an obligation to give fans of the Thinksound audio experience a full-size can! It appeared, however, to be falling on deaf ears, and I eventually let my fierce desire for an over-ear Thinksound headphone fizzle out. Fournier and I stayed in contact, but we rarely talked about the Thinksound sound – or pushing it forward – that much in our conversations.
But there’s an adage: first, you must dream it, then conceive it, and then you can achieve it. So, here it is, 2021, and I see that I’ve received an email from Fournier a couple of months ago stating he was sending me a sample of a new product as a loaner, and if I would be willing to give it a listen to give him feedback and my honest opinion. I scrolled down a little farther into the email and saw the Thinksound logo. Ut-oh! Could it be? Nope, Fournier would tell me outright that he finally had time to develop the headphone I bugged him about for years, right? I paid more attention to my email and see that a photo was attached of a full-size wood-shell headphone with the title, ov21. I began to feel my heart race as I shouted at the email, “Send it! For goodness’ sake, send it already!”
So, I needed to give you some of the background before getting into the particulars of Thinksound’s first full-size studio monitor headphone, the ov21! What this review isn’t: it’s not about some new groundbreaking driver technology. It’s not about some new radical design that makes you feel like you’re wearing a space helmet, fashionable eyewear, and new-age earmuffs at the same time. It’s none of that!
But what the ov21 is, it is a full-size headphone that Fournier tuned the hell out of! The devil is in the details as the saying goes. And yes, it sounds the way I dreamed that it would. I’m talking about a pair of 45mm dynamic drivers sitting in Walnut wood shells and producing a highly accurate mid-focused audio cascade of sound while giving a touch of boosted bass for warm, and clear – but not harsh – highs. The slightly U-shape sound hits on all cylinders, with having bass slam when the music calls for it, but not going anywhere near the realm of a basshead phone. The warmth of the headphone is just right for record producers who are leery of headphones that become exhausting and tiresome during long listening sessions.
The ov21’s tuning would be suitable for listeners of jazz, R&B, or blues, but it’s no slouch with most rock recordings either. It’s by no means an overly analytical headphone, but it does what it was designed to do, let the music engulf and manipulate your cerebral cortex. It’s about becoming one with the music, and the ov21 does it well! I have listened to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, the Foo Fighters’ Rope, various Steely Dan tracks, and Anita Baker (to name a few songs I put the ov21 through the paces with). The musicality and cohesion of the music were superb while listening to all these songs through the ov21. My main source for music is my database through Apple Music software being processed through my Schiit Modi desk-tube amplifier and the Schiit Vali DAC. The ov21 liked my desk amp/DAC setup immensely. But it also performed superbly connected to my Sony Walkman NW-ZX digital music player.
So, I’ve had a little more than two weeks with a sample of the ov21 (Fournier has ensured me that headphones available for purchase will not have a change in sound signature tuning), and I must send them back next week. I will, however, be ordering myself a pair in the very near future. I want to think Aaron Fournier for listening to me and fulfilling my dream of hearing a full-size Thinksound headphone! Really, I’m sure it had nothing to do with me, but I’m glad he thought about putting me on the list to be one of the first to hear them once he decided to release this fantastic fine audio product. I see they are already on sale for pre-order on the Thinksound website. I’m not sure if the ov21 will be a limited edition or not, but I am sure they belong in your household as your first pair – of part of a collection – of great-sounding cans! The timbre of these headphones won’t allow you to do anything else but think about the music when using these highly satisfying cans. Job well done, Fournier, and to your Thinksound staff! Happy listening!