Let’s get this out of the way first: Many people think Oakley’s
Thump 2 MP3 player/sunglasses combo is ugly. In fact, a picture I posted of myself online wearing a pair of Thump 2’s garnered more than 40 negative responses, as compared to less than five that could be considered somewhat positive. Personally, I like the way they look—far from getting my geek on, I was kicking it like Kanye when I hit the street. But looks are subjective, and your opinion may differ. The more important issue here is how the Thump 2 works as an MP3 player. The answer is largely positive, but, again, somewhat depends on your personality.
The Thump 2 is by far the best sports-focused audio player I’ve used, for one simple reason: no cords. The player itself is built into the Thump 2’s body, and each earpiece features a fully adjustable earbud; controls are embedded in the temples. The more active you are, the more likely a cord will get in your way, and because of its innovative one-piece design, Oakley’s Thump line (which includes the original Thump) is perfect for mountain bikers, skiers, runners, and other highly mobile athletes. Toss on your shades, adjust the earbuds, and you’ll never need to mess with a cord again.
Each of the Thump 2’s earbuds is attached to the frame via an arm with three pivot points; two of those pivots also rotate towards or away from your head. These adjustable arms should fit nearly every ear and head combination. That said, it does take a little bit of work to get the earbuds into position every time, and I never did get quite as good of a seal as I would have liked. But once in, I found the Thump 2’s earbuds stayed put far better than traditional ’buds (in-ear-canal headphones excepted).
The Thump 2’s player supports more audio formats than many of the players we’ve seen, including AAC, M4A, MP3 (both variable bit rate and constant bit rate up to 320 kbps), WMA (standard and DRM), and WAV. Getting files onto the player is a snap: You use the included USB cable to connect the Thump 2 to your computer, where it shows up as an attached drive; you simply drag and drop your tunes onto it. (The Thump 2’s integrated rechargeable battery also charges when connected via USB.)
Playback is similarly easy. Like Apple’s
iPod shuffle, the Thump 2 doesn’t have a graphical interface. I like that decision, as it’s my opinion that
trying to cram a two or three line interface into a tiny flash player is often a bad move. So everything is accomplished via five buttons: On the right-hand side of the frame are the Play/Pause button (which doubles as an On/Off button) and the Forward and Back buttons. The left-hand side has buttons for Volume Up and Down. The buttons actually serve multiple purposes—by pressing them in various combinations, or pressing and holding rather than immediately releasing, you can accomplish other tasks such as skipping ten tracks at a time or toggling shuffle mode. On the other hand, unlike the iPod shuffle, which lets you use iTunes to organize tracks for playback, the Thump 2’s drag-and-drop file transfer interface makes it difficult to choose playback order.
The Thump 2 also includes various equalizer modes that you can access by hitting both volume buttons simultaneously; unfortunately, either I never pressed the buttons in the correct combination or the EQ modes simply didn’t make much audible difference. In fact, the functions that required me to push or hold button combinations ended up being tricky—I often found myself skipping tracks when I was trying to do something else. Nonetheless, the basic playback functions (play, pause, skip track, volume) are easily accessed with simple button pushes, and the buttons themselves are intuitively laid out. Tracks are easy to change on the fly, and I could perform all the basic functions without even a cursory look at the instructions.
Sound and vision
To test the Thump 2’s sound quality, I loaded the sonically-complex album Since I Left You by The Avalanches, the warm Memphis sounds of the new Cat Power album The Greatest , Miles Davis’ jazz standard Kind of Blue , and—because not every song in your music collection is a high-quality track—a live show from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. I think largely due to my inability to get the same kind of seal with the Thump’2 earbuds as you can with in-ear-canal models, the bass response wasn’t as resonant as I would have preferred, but overall the sound was satisfactory—I was as happy with the earbuds on the Thump 2 as I am with typical earbuds, such as the ones that come standard with the iPod.
However, it’s worth noting that the Thump 2’s earbuds cannot be upgraded. Since there’s no headphone jack, you won’t be able to plug in your nice set of Ultimate Ears or Sennheiser
headphones. However, in my opinion, the trade-off is well worth it for athletes, anyone who works with their hands, or just Kanye wannabes who seek to kick it in cord-free style.
Finally, since shades are de rigeur for most outdoor athletes, the Thump 2’s sunglasses are an integral part of the combination and every bit as important as the player. In this respect, Oakley comes through, as well: The sunglasses themselves are excellent. In my testing, they were effective in both bright light and on overcast days. And the sunglasses don’t suffer at all from the addition of the MP3 player—while you’re wearing the shades, you’d never know the electronics are there until you pressed Play.
If you’re looking for the latest gadget with lots of features and technical capabilities, you’d do better looking at a hard-drive based music player—with no interface, no playlist support, and no iTunes integration, the Thump 2 is bare-bones. But in terms of highly portable players for active people, the Thump 2 is hard to top.