As a general rule, inexpensive earphones aren’t anything to write home about — we’ve tested plenty of $50 models that are equal to or worse than Apple’s packed-in iPod and iPhone freebies, and with the release of remote control and microphone-equipped headsets that sell for $20-$30 premiums, it’s possible to spend $70 or $80 these days on earphones that are really nothing special sonically. Feature variations have also made it possible to spend $80 or $100 on a headset without really knowing what it can do: does it include a microphone? A one-button remote? A three-button remote? Do the earphones sound special, or are they just generic?
The new TS02+Mic ($100) from Thinksound is a somewhat interesting story—a brand-new option from a relatively small earphone maker with an interesting backstory. Thinksound was founded by former employees of Tivoli Audio and V-Moda, companies famous for distinctive designs and bassy audio products. Yet TS02+Mic isn’t in any way what might naturally be expected from either of those companies: available in two color combinations (“silver cherry” or “black chocolate”), it is a pair of wooden canalphones with metal and rubber components outside and 8mm audio drivers inside. Unlike most of its rivals, this company wears eco-consciousness on its sleeve, claiming that it designed TS02+Mic to have “the smallest eco-footprint possible,” a point that’s evident in the packaging and pack-ins.
The headset is packaged in a fully recyclable box that uses rope rather than plastic twist-ties and hooks, and comes with a cloth rather than plastic carrying case, four sizes of rubber ear inserts, and an optional shirt clip. The wood’s there to create natural-sounding resonance, the metal’s there for stability, and the rubber’s there for proper fit with your ears. Everything else is as minimalist as possible.
One area in which TS02+Mic falls a little behind some of its iPod/iPhone/iPad peers in its approach to remote control functionality. At a time when an increasing number of manufacturers are supporting Apple’s three-button remote and mic standard, Thinksound uses only a one-button remote with a mic built in, capable of working to control play/pause/calls on Apple’s devices, but not volume. Microphone performance was basically identical between TS02+Mic and a pair of Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic we tested alongside it, which is to say clear and easy to understand from its position in a capsule dangling from the right earbud cable.
The remote button worked properly and was easy enough to press thanks to its bulging position within the microphone capsule; that said, we’re bigger fans of remote buttons that are further from face level.
Earphone performance was a different story. Thinksound’s audio engineer was one of the key sound people at V-Moda, as well as an audio equipment tester for Consumer Reports, a background that might lead some to assume that TS02+Mic was going to be either an ultra-bassy earphone like peer-priced V-Moda designs, or perhaps something neutral and uncolored to satisfy audiophiles with reference monitor ambitions. As it turns out, TS02+Mic isn’t really either of those things—it leans more towards V-Moda’s direction, but isn’t as extreme, and doesn’t have the eye-catching looks of V-Moda’s numerous fashionable designs. We’d wish Thinksound had pushed a little further in the aesthetic department, given its pedigrees.
Sonically, TS02+Mic offers significant, somewhat accentuated bass without the dark Darth Vader tendencies that so many of V-Moda’s earphones have had, making bass-deficient earphones like Apple’s In-Ears sound outright flat, yet not going completely overboard. Songs that are supposed to fill your ears with bass do so, while others that use low-end sounds more intermittently still have the silent gaps the musicians and their producers intended.