The earphones in question are the TS02's from New Hampshire based Thinksound. Built around former V-MODA chief sound engineer Aaron Fournier and creative director Mike Tunney they spurned the opportunity to churn out the biggest, the loudest or the most expensive and opted instead to create the most "incredible sounding headphones with the smallest eco-footprint possible". Sound like a recipe for disappointment? Let's see.
If Thinksound wanted to be deep green then the box for the TS2's could be at least half the size it is. I'm not suggesting that the whole green thing is a stunt, I believe it's more of a case of striking a balance between being eco-friendly and appealing to potential buyers. I mean they could have just shipped them in the supplied cotton bag with a swing ticket hanging off it but they're clearly very proud the these earphones and want folk to see what they're buying.
The box is made entirely from recycled materials and that bag I mentioned features a drawstring and is actually woven from unbleached cotton. More importantly to most of us is the fact that it has an opening in the top and is sealed at the bottom which makes it great for carrying the earphones in.
The earphones themselves are of the popular intra-aural variety which means they sit inside the ear canal. Because ear canals vary in diameter you also get a selection of four sizes of interchangeable silicone tips and it's crucial you choose the ones that fit properly. Getting that tight seal in the ear canal is the key to really getting the best results from all intra-aural headphones.
Sticking firmly to the green theme you'll find the body of the earphones are made from wood, and of course the wood is harvested from renewable sources meaning no rain forests were hurt in the making of this product. I can't say I'm a fan of the overall look which is a little sombre and build quality didn't strike me as anything special but I'm meant to listen to them not go out on a date with them. Perhaps the slightly lighter "Silver Cherry" would appeal more than the "Black Chocolate" versions supplied for review?
Inside the hand crafted wooden enclosures are 8mm high definition drivers keeping overall size down. This combined with the commendably light weight made them surprisingly comfortable even after prolonged use.
Thinksound also make a version of the ts02 with an integrated microphone which they call the ts02+mic.
The jack is of the gold plated and straight variety and the junction where the cable becomes two is reinforced with a small cylindrical "jacket". The cables are relatively tangle resistent without being too stiff and again conform to the green ethos in that they are PVC free. I actually applaude this as PVC is expensive and extremely difficult to recycle, isn't biodegradeable, may contain Phthalates which can cause cancer and release Dioxins during production and throughout their life. My God Thinksound.....look what you've done to me! I'll be swimming with dolphins next.
How do they sound?
I love that moment when you slip on a new set of earphones and hit the play button for the first time. Will it be audio Nirvana or an assault on your eardrums? Well, the ts02's were quite a revelation.
As soon as I was a few seconds into the first tune it became clear that the ts02's weren't even trying to produce a technically accurate sound, but it didn't matter. I can't quite explain why it didn't matter though. The bass was very much up front but it was warm and tight and very pleasing to the ear. At first I grew concerned at the lack of high end definition but it was because I'd become focused on the mids and lows. The more I listened the more I began to realise that those crisp highs were in fact all present and correct, they just weren't assaulting my senses in the way I'd become used to. The overall experience was...well...enjoyable. OK so I couldn't hear a gnat fart in the studio but the music sounded great and I was actually really enjoying it, against all my green expectations.
I started with an hour of classical and fell in love again with Mozart's Horn Concerto No 3. From there it was on to Kings of Leon, Kate Miller-Heidke, Supertramp, Sabbath, Kanye and more. I wasn't always a fan of the genre but time and time again the ts02's thumbed their nose at me by making the music sound terrific. The only time I felt they suffered was when music was already heavy and unnaturally bass driven to begin with. Under those circumstances, particulary during complex passages, it could all get a little chaotic.
What I found most frustrating was that I couldn't quite put my finger on what specifically it was about the ts02's that made them so easy to listen to. I think perhaps Thinksound are using the same strategy that mainstream digital camera makers employ. Most consumer digital camera makers understand that people don't necessarily want accurate colours, they want punchy colours with good contrast and it doesn't really matter that the real world isn't like that. So it is with the ts02's. Thinksound haven't made the music sound like it is, they've made it sound like we want it to sound. The ts02's take all the elements of each song and shuffle them so the cool stuff sits up front and the less critical stuff props it up in the background. It shouldn't work, but it does.
If the ts02's had twisted cables, shiny aluminium enclosures and cost £200 they'd probably be getting a lot more attention than they are right now but isn't that precisely what sites like this are all about? I genuinely felt more inclined to leave these in my ears for longer periods of time than possibly any of my other earphones and that's partly the fit and partly the strangely soothing "easy listening" effect the ts02's generate.
Of course let's not pretend they're for everyone. Those who want to hear the drummer's buttocks clench as he goes for the big solo may find the lack of fidelity troubling, slight though it is, but I'd imagine the clever way that th02's straddle the line between sounding great and sounding accurate will give them a broader appeal than almost any of their competitors and at £49.99 (at the time of this review) you can do your bit for the planet even if you couldn't care less about global warming or the hole in the ozone layer. For once going green is a bonus not a sacrifice. Now, about those dolphins.......
• Works with iPhone,® iPod,® MP3, CD, DVD, PSP® and computers
• Wooden housing for crisp, accurate music reproduction
• Available in two beautiful finishes, Black Chocolate (as reviewd)
and Silver Cherry
• Passive noise isolation minimizes ambient sounds
• Ultra lightweight design with PVC-free, tangle-resistant cable
• Dynamic driver features 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response
• 3.5mm gold plated plug for increased sound clarity
• Four sized flexible silicon ear inserts for secure fit (s/m/l/xl)
• Cord clip and cotton carrying pouch included
• One (1) year limited warranty
We're always looking for ways to make our reviews fairer. A Right To Reply (as started by us back in 2004) gives the manufacturer or supplier of the product being reviewed a chance to make public comments on what we've said. They can explain perhaps why they've done the things we were unhappy with or blow their own trumpet over the things we loved. It's easy for us to pick a product apart but sometimes things are done a certain way for very specific reasons.
Should Thinksound or Advanced MP3 decide to exercise their "Right To Reply", we'll publish their comments verbatim below.