thinksound MS02: Emotional Technology
Today we are going to be looking at the MS02, thinksound’s top of the line, wooden-bodied in-ear earphone.
thinksound was founded in 2009 by Aaron Fournier and Mike Tunney with the goal of making headphones that satisfied a number of lofty goals; meeting their own personal sound expectations, being visually pleasing, comfortable, and environmentally conscious. They’re gone so far as to partner with Universal Recycling Techologies and start their own headphone recycling program to achieve this last goal.
Aaron Fournier is an experienced sound engineer having worked in the past with names like Tivoli and V-Moda before moving on to create thinksound and First Harmonic. As you can imagine, when it comes to sound quality thinksound knows what they’re doing and if you’ve heard the MS02 I think you would agree.
The MS02’s smartly-tuned 8mm dynamic driver is enclosed in a beautifully simple wood and aluminum housing. At the time of this review it retailed for 99 USD. You can check it out here on thinksound’s site; https://store.thinksound.com/products/ms02
I would like to thank Aaron for sending over a review sample of the MS02 in exchange for a fair and impartial review. While I get to keep the MS02 following the completion of this review, I still consider it the property of thinksound. There is no financial incentive for writing about this product. All comments and opinions within are my own and do not represent thinksound or any other entity.
Packaging and Accessories:
To aide in meeting their goal of being environmentally conscious, the MS02’s packaging is refreshingly straightforward. As I’ve said in other reviews, I love a complicated and unnecessarily premium unboxing experience such as what you get with the Havi B3 Pro 1, Dunu Titan 1, and a number of other products. I’ve also made it known that a similarly subdued unboxing experience can be attractive if pulled off correctly, such as what you’ll get from the California-based NarMoo.
thinksound finds a comfortable middle ground with the MS02. The packaging consists of a small cardboard box made from recycled materials that is approximately 3 3/4″ x 2 3/4″ x 1″ in size. The front shows an image of the earphones while the back covers key features, specifications, and tells you a little about the company. Inside you’re greeted by the canvas carrying case which contains the MS02 and accessories. thinksound doesn’t mess around with plastic inserts or unnecessary cardboard or foam trays.
The canvas bag feels durable and is closed by tugging two drawstrings. It won’t offer much protection again being crushed, but it works fine for slipping in your pants pocket or bag. Also included with the MS02 is a simple shirt clip that I’ve seen with countless other earphones. It’s not my favorite clip out there, but when combined with the MS02’s light and flexible cable, it does the job.
The fours sets of wide bore silicone eartips are made of a good material. They seal well and fit the earphone properly. Sizes are listed as s/m/l/xl on the back of the box though I would argue xs/s/m/l is a better description based on how most others in the industry classify their tip sizes. In the end, it really doesn’t matter as you can rest assured that you’ll probably find an included tip that works just fine with your ears. I know I liked the pre-installed medium tips and had no reason to swap them out.
Overall the MS02’s packaging experience is basic and meets thinksound’s goals of being environmentally considerate.
Build, Design, Comfort and Isolation:
There’s something about wooden earphones that immediately makes me feel good inside. Even something as cheap as the J+- Wooden Earbuds I found for 3 CAD on clearance at my local grocery store a couple years ago felt somewhat special, simply because they used real wood. Comparing them to the MS02 isn’t fair because the quality difference between the two is night and day. I’m just trying to get across that wood feels good.
The MS02’s wooden section looks and feels especially nice. The craftsmanship is flawless with a smooth, evenly applied chocolate finish. Where the aluminum and wood meets is a slight gap, just tight enough to prevent a fingernail from slipping in. Impressive was that the wood didn’t have any nicks or blemishes at the edges as I experienced recently with the Meze 12 Classics. The aluminum front half is very cleanly cut. The edges are well-defined but not sharp. The nozzle is fairly standard at 5mm so you’re good with most aftermarket tips if you lose or want to replace the stock ones.
The 4′, PVC-free, Kevlar reinforced cable used for the MS02 doesn’t look like much, but it does an excellent job of resisting tangles as longas it’s wrapped up neatly, it doesn’t hold memory beyond some very minor bends, and it’s quite flexible. It also does a good job of reducing microphonics, something that can immediately ruin even the best sounding earphone for me. Strain relief from top to bottom is also well implemented, another pet peeve of mine.
The MS02’s standard barrel shape and light 10g weight means they are very comfortable when worn cable up or cable down. The housings are fairly long so if you like to use your earphones in bed, lying on your side probably isn’t an option. They should be fine for exercise use, however, as to my pleasant surprise they are listed as being sweat resistant.
I found isolation to be above average for a dynamic-driver based earphone, in part due to the lack of ventilation on the housing. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of pretty severe driver flex in the right earpiece.
Overall the MS02 is beautiful in it’s simplicity, well-constructed, extremely comfortable, and minus the driver flex is a very pleasant earphone to live with on a daily basis. It’s also backed by a 1 year limited warranty for some additional security.
– 8mm dynamic driver
– 15Hz to 20kHz frequency response
– 96 ±3 dB @ 1KHz 1mW sensitivity
– 16 ohm impedance
Tips: I really enjoyed the MS02 with the stock and other similarly wide-bored tips installed. I found small bore tips like Sony Hybrids or those from RHA to boost mid-bass presence and exacerbate the driver flex, so I spent the vast majority of my time listening with the stock mediums.
Amping: The MS02 felt punchier and more accurate through my NX1 vs. straight out of my XDuoo X3 or HTC One M8, so I tended to prefer listening to them amped the majority of the time. That said, they were very easy to drive with unamped. At the volumes I listen amping isn’t used to boost volume but to get a cleaner sound out of the earphone.
Maybe it’s simply a placebo, but there is something about the sound you get from a wood-bodied earphone that metal-bodied earphones just can’t replicate. It could be a touch or warmth and softness, a more subtle and realistic decay, or something else entirely. Whatever it is, I get why wood-bodied earphones are desirable. The MS02 is too colored and warm to be called neutral, but it would be hard to argue their balanced is skewed too much in favor of one particular frequency range. Every aspect of their sound gets it’s fair shake.
Treble is smooth, and well-extended with just a bit of edge to it. It could be just a little tighter as cymbals have a touch more splash to them than I would want, but overall it’s well done. It sticks out when called for, and steps back when undesired. Even at the low volumes I listen to the MS02 manages to bring forth lots of detail. Up the volume and it’s treble retains composure without any uncomfortable peaks or unnatural dips. I find The Prodigy’s most recent albums, Invaders Must Die and The Day is My Enemy, with their gritty, low-fi presentation really exacerbate poorly done treble. The MS02 has no issues with Get Your Fight On’s constant treble assault.
It’s midrange tilts towards the thicker end of the presentation and if use to a thinner sound can come across slightly veiled. Spend some time with MS02 to become accustomed to this meaty mid-range and you’ll begin to appreciate the detail and texture that comes along with it. On Daft Punk’s Touch, which I consider one of, if not their best track to date, really shows off the MS02’s strengths. Paul William’s vocals combined with the excellent guitar work and layers upon layers of other effects and the emotion all of this carries is captured in it’s entirety by this earphone.
The MS02’s bass is one of my favorite aspects. The texture and punch it brings to the table, as exemplified when listening to Infected Mushroom’s Deeply Disturbed, is lots of fun and immerses you in your music. Focus is pretty squarely placed on mid-bass frequencies, but as heard on Gramatik’s Bluestep the MS02 has no issues carrying the song along a wave of low end rumble. Extension could be improved and they won’t satisfy a basshead, but the overall presentation is quite warm and enjoyable. Decay is realistic, and they present drums in what is probably the most enjoyable and accurate fashion of any of my other earphones in this price range. Just listen to the opening scenes of Incubus’ 4th Movement of the Odyssey.
The MS02’s presentation is quite intimate and personal. It’s soundstage wraps around your head without a huge sense of air or space, but it handles this well. They layer sounds quite well avoiding a congested presentation, and image between channels with confidence. Infected Mushroom’s Converting Vegetarians is not a song that sits still for any length of time with effects constantly swirling between channels, and MS02 performs admirably.
Meze 12 Classics (79.00 USD): Yet another attractive wooden earphone, the 12 Classics make for a great comparison with the MS02. While they offer similar signatures, the MS02 comes across as the more ‘hi-fi’ of the two. They’re brighter, less bassy, and have an even more prominent midrange. I found the MS02 offers a touch more clarity and detail at the cost of soundstage width/height. They come across as more direct and focused than the 12 Classics, but also more natural or realistic.
The wooden portion of the MS02 is cleaner cut and better finished than the 12 Classics, and the aluminum front portion fits with great precision. Meze’s cable is much thicker and more durable above the y-split. Gauge is very similar below the y-split. Thinksound’s cable is the more flexible of the two, but also happens to retain very mild hints of bends and kinks.
Overall they’re both great earphones and it would be hard to choose one over the other.
Audbos DB-02 (59.99 USD): The MS02 and DB-02 both utilize wood in their housings and have similar signatures, but they each get there in different ways. The MS02 uses only a dynamic driver while the DB-02 is a hybrid.
Both earphones are warm but theDB-02 is notably sharper and more edgy. While the BA presents more detail than the MS02’s single dynamic, it’s as a little rough around the edges and can be sibilant and tiresome. The DB-02 has a larger and more open presentation but falls short of giving listeners the same accurate layering and imaging. It’s not far off though.
The DB-02’s half-earbud type design means they lack the flexibility of the MS02. If you want to wear them cable over ear you’ll have to swap channels lest you’re fine with sacrificing some comfort. The overall build quality on both models is similar, but the MS02’s fit and finish is notably cleaner. It also has a more substantial cable with a higher quality jack and y-split.
Blue Ever Blue Model 1200EX (130.00 USD): The Model 1200EX impresses with a spacious soundstage and audiophile-focused tuning. It is colder, more neutral, and significantly less bassy than the MS02, offering up more detail and greater technical prowess across the entire frequency range. This is aided by a much thinner overall presentation.
The 1200EX’s solid metal housings are significantly heavier and are designed to be worn cable down. I found the MS02 much more comfortable as a result. While BeB’s cable could be better relieved, the quality makes up for this. It is the more expensive of the two, so no big surprise there.
The MS02 is the one to get if you prefer and more relaxed, balanced sound with some low end kick. The 1200EX would suit your tastes more if you want a more neutral, detailed and analytic presentation.
thinksound’s MS02 is a well-put together product with a number of strengths. I find their warm, balanced signature very natural and engaging. As a result they are something you can sit down and listen to without worry. They offer up just the right amount of treble and bass with a prominent midrange that evokes lots of emotion. I would like to see thinksound add some ventilation to the earpieces to help with the driver flex, as that was really the only thing that hindered my immersion when listening.
If you’re in the market for a new earphone, enjoy a warm, balanced signature, and are looking to spend around 100 USD, the MS02 would be an excellent purchase. It looks great and sounds even better. What more could you ask for?
Thanks for reading!
Aesop Rock – Saturn Missles
BT – The Antikythera Mechanism
Daft Punk – Touch
Gramatik – Bluestep (Album Version)
Incubus – 2nd/3rd/4th Movements of the Odyssey
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians
Infected Mushroom – Deeply Disturbed
Jessie J – Bang Bang
Kiesza – Hideaway
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)
Skindred – Death to all Spies
Supertramp – Rudy
The Prodigy – Get Your Fight On