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When you review many headphones, as I do, it’s sometimes a challenge to find the characteristics that make a particular model (and thus my review of that model) interesting. Thankfully, Thinksound’s $90 ts02+mic (also available sans microphone and remote as the $80 ts02) makes my job easier. Most important, it sounds good, but it also has a compelling story: Thinksound works to minimize its products’ environmental impact, and the resumés of Thinksound’s co-founders include stints at a number of notable audio vendors—Tivoli Audio, Sapphire Audio, and V-moda among them—as well as Consumers Union.
But back to the headphones: The ts02+mic is a canalbud-style headset, which means it splits the difference in design and price between traditional earbuds and in-ear-canal (“canalphone”) models. (See our in-ear-canal headphone primer for more details.) Since they fit partially in the ear canal, canalbuds block some external noise and form an acoustic seal that improves bass performance. However, they don’t block as much noise as true in-ear-canal models, and, as with canalphones themselves, getting a proper fit can be tricky and the cord can produce unwanted microphonic noise in the listener’s ear.
Thinksound’s committment to recycled, recyclable, and renewable materials is apparent in unboxing the product. The ts02+mic’s box is made of bleach-free cardboard and recyclable plastic, and is itself packed (inside its shipping box) in shredded newspaper. Even the cable tie and the loop for hanging the box for retail display are cloth. Included in the box are four sizes of clear, silicone eartips; a shirt clip; and a bleach-free-cotton, drawstring carrying bag.
On the “Silver Cherry” ts02+mic I tested, the beautiful earpieces are made of cherry-finish, renewable wood capped with silver nozzles onto which the eartips fit—these are classy looking headphones. (The ts02+mic is also available in a “Black Chocolate” design that features black eartips and nozzles and a darker-wood finish.) The rubbery, black cord is PVC-free, although I think a cloth-wrapped cable would have better fit the ts02+mic’s aesthetic. The right-hand cable sports a silver remote/microphone capsule, although it’s a single-button (playback control) model, rather than the newer three-button (playback plus volume controls) style.
The ts02+mic’s earpieces are small and fit comfortably and relatively easily in my ears, providing average isolation. The remote’s button is fairly easy to find by feel, and easy to press, but I would have preferred a larger button. The ts02+mic’s microphone is very good—in my testing, voices were clear and easy to understand, if not quite as full as when using the iPhone 4’s internal microphone.
Thinksound’s Aaron Fournier told me that he voiced the ts02+mic to sound well-rounded and non-fatiguing, in order to sound good with a variety of music. He described the target sound as having a slight bass emphasis, warm midrange, and smooth treble, and I largely agree with this description. I find the bass emphasis to be more than “slight,” but not as excessive as with some headsets I’ve heard. Midrange and high frequencies are relatively balanced, although the highs do sound slightly recessed (which also keeps them from sounding harsh)—both are mostly clear and detailed but trade a bit of detail for smoothness. Bass quality is generally good, but could be tighter—bass sometimes sounds slightly boomy, although usually not enough to get in the way of the music.
By way of comparison, V-moda’s $100 Remix Remote ( ) is not only priced comparably to the ts02+mic, but also has a similarly warm sound. I found the ts02+mic to have less bass, but with more detail and definition at the low end. The Remix’s high frequencies are a little more distinct than those of the ts02+mic, but also sound unnaturally hollow by comparison. The ts02+mic provides more midrange detail, emphasized by its more balanced sound. Overall, I preferred the ts02+mic’s more natural balance and better midrange and bass detail. I also compared the ts02+mic to the $80 Maximo iP-595 ( ). The Maximo has a cooler sound due to less-exaggerated upper and mid-bass frequencies and more-forward treble. I preferred the Maximo’s bass blance, and found its high frequency balance preferable on most recordings I tried. The iP-595 also has the edge in midrange detail and balance, although some listeners will prefer the Thinksound’s voicing. Finally, the $80 Etymotic mc3 ( ) has superior detail, better balance in the mids and highs, and a three button remote, but its relatively quiet bass isn’t for everyone.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
The ts02+mic is a great headset with a beautiful design, a warm and relaxed sound, a great microphone, and a unique emphasis on envrionmentalism. There are a number of very good headsets in the $80 to $100 price range—including Etymotic’s mc3, Maximo’s iP-595, and V-moda’s Remix Remote—that compete well with the ts02+mic, but for some people, the ts02+mic’s environmentally friendly design and packaging, both standout features, will take precedence over relatively minor differences in sound and style.
[Updated on 5/24/2011 to note the existence of the standard ts02 (without microphone and remote).]