Today we are going to be taking a look at a beautiful supra-aural pair of headphones from thinksound; the On2.
thinksound was co-founded in 2009 by Mike Tunney and Aaron Fournier, the one who engineered the On2. Their goal was to make 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 Technologies and start their own headphone recycling program to achieve this last goal.
I highly respect thinksound for their prominent use of recycled and natural materials in the construction and packaging of their products. You might expect this to hinder the overall build and construction quality, and but that’s not at all the case. In-hand the On2 feels like a quality item, and on-ear this feeling is further reinforced. Out of everything I’ve listened to this year, the On2 stands above all else as my favorite audio product. Let’s look at why.
I would like to thank Aaron for sending over a review sample of the On2 in exchange for a fair and impartial review. While I get to keep the On2 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.
At the time of this review the On2 retailed for 199 USD. You can check it out here on thinksound’s site; https://store.thinksound.com/products/on2-monitor-series
Little About Me:
Over the last couple years I decided to dive head first into the world of portable audio. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread and being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own reviews. Fast forward a couple years and I’ve had the opportunity to write about some great products for wonderful companies like RHA, Havi, FiiO, NarMoo, Brainwavz, and Meze. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done.
The gear I use for testing is pretty basic composing of an HTC One M8 cellphone, Motorola Moto G (1st Gen), Topping NX1 portable amplifier, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with a Plantronics Rig USB amp. An XDuoo X3 (shout out to my cousin and best man Rob!) was added to the crew and used for the majority of wired testing. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures, I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even mid-range response, and reduced mid-bass. My favorite in-ear, the Echobox Finder X1 with grey filters is a good example of this. That said, my experiences with the On2 have led me to question what I’m really looking for in a headphone.
Packaging and Accessories:
The On2’s packaging is beautiful in it’s simplicity. The white cardboard sheath contains a detailed, glossy image of the On2 with the product name and a brief description; “Supra-aural studio monitor with passive noise isolation”. Both sides are adorned with the thinksound logo. Flipping to the back you are presented with another glossy, high detail image of the On2 vertically displayed. In addition, you are provided the specifications, features, and accessories.
Sliding off the sheath reveals a plain, but very solid, cardboard box with the thinksound logo centered on the front of the lid. Removing the lid you’re presented with a durable canvas bag containing two detachable cables and the manual.
The included cables are 4.5′ long which I found to be a good length for mobile use. Both are fabric-coated and Kevlar reinforced, terminated in steel-reinforced, gold-plated, 3.5mm jacks. There is no proprietary lock or connection making for easy replacement if necessary. One cable contains a single button remote housed in steel that is compatible with iDevices and Android, the other is nothing but cable. Normally I’m not a fan of fabric cables since they tend to transmit unacceptable levels of noise (microphonics), but thinksound’s cables are pretty darn good. A bit of noise comes through, but it’s far from overbearing or intrusive, something that can quickly ruin a headphone for me.
Underneath the canvas carrying pouch is the On2 itself nestled within a formed inlay made of what feels like very dense egg-carton cardboard. It’s kind of odd, but I like it. The first thing I noticed about the headphones themselves was the alluring glow of the matte finish on their wood ear cups. Next I noticed the folding mechanism and how compact and flat they were when tucked in and ready for transport. While not ideal, the On2 when folded up is compact enough to fit in the rear and side pockets of my jeans.
While the unboxing experience is simple, it’s effective in it’s presentation, and the included accessories are quality items. The fabric cables in particular were much nicer than I was expecting.
Build, Comfort, Isolation:
Excellent build quality and great comfort are two aspects of a portable headphone I find extremely important to get right. If they’re fragile and flimsy, they won’t survive the rigors of daily use and abuse. If they’re not comfortable, I’m not going to want to use them no matter how good they sound. I’ll instead go find something that’s “good enough” but comfortable. Isolation, well, sometimes I like lots and sometimes I like very little. With something that isolates well like the On2 does, being able to free up one ear by sliding back an ear cup without sacrificing overall stability and comfort is always welcome. The On2 does pretty much everything right, and as a result they make for a near perfect traveling companion.
The recycled plastics selected for use with the On2 feel dense and durable. The swivel and pivot mechanisms move without any restrictive friction and from what little I can see upon close examination, contain some small metal rods that should help with longevity. It’s not all plastic doing the work. The headband extension expands in well-defined increments and is supported by steel or aluminum bands that further aid in structural integrity and durability.
Padding on the headband isn’t extremely thick but the On2’s lightness and excellent ergonomics spread the weight evenly across your head to make the most of the padding in place. I never once found myself wanting more cushion, let alone thinking about it outside of writing this portion of the review. The ear pads are frankly outstanding for an on-ear headphone. Out of the box they may seem a touch stiff when combined with the On2’s above average clamping force, but after using them for nearly two months they’ve softened up considerably making this, by far, the most comfortable supra-aural headphone I’ve used to date.
Construction of the ear cups is beautiful. The clear finish over the real wood allows each cup’s unique grain to shine. On the top of the left ear cup, under the arm, there is a spot that could have used some additional sanding and finish, but it’s hardly noticeable and adds to their naturalness and character of the wood. Removing the ear pads is easy, requiring a simple twist to unclip and remove them. Underneath you’re greeted to a stiff, steel mesh protecting the driver, twelve small holes surrounding it that act as vents, in addition to three clips that hold on the ear cup and double as vents.
The On2 could make a nice project headphone for modders. Since there are only four screws holding each plastic face plate on, they’re very easy to disassemble. Once you have the plate off, there’s a fair bit of space to work with despite the compact size of each cup. Disregarding modding potential, this easy disassembly process means they should be easy to repair if you somehow manage to break them.
If you don’t like supra-aural designs the On2 probably isn’t going to win you over, but it makes a damned good attempt. If you prefer a supra-aural design for your portable headphone but often struggle with comfort, I think we’ve found your winner. As touched on briefly above, I find the On2 extremely comfortable for an on-ear style product. Once they’ve broken in, the clamping force is just right, the ear pads extremely cushy, and weight distribution near perfect. Surprisingly I never ran into an issue with my ears getting hot, even during extended listening sessions. I have a fairly small head and expand the headband by only one click on either side, however, you’re given just over an inch of extension on either side to work with. There shouldn’t be too many out there that will have issues with fit.
For me, the On2 offers up good enough isolation to feel the need to have one ear free when walking about outside, even at the low volumes I typically listen. They’re don’t isolate to the extreme, but I like to be able to hear what’s going on around me and that’s not really something they allow.
Since I haven’t really listed any negatives so far, I had to dig to find something. Consider this nitpicking. When I take my headphones off I like to set them down pad-first so the cups don’t get scratched. With the On2, you can’t just take them off and set them down pad first; left driver on the left, right channel on the right. You have to reverse channels *gasp* and turn them over. On the flipside (pun intended), this protects the drivers from the elements if the headphones are hanging from your neck. A worthy sacrifice, I suppose.
Overall the On2 is phenomenally well-built, well-isolating, and extremely comfortable on-ear headphone.
Eyes closed. Head bobbing. Subtle smile present during every song. It doesn’t matter what I’m listening to or the quality of the source, they make it sound so good. When it comes to sound signature and sound quality, I have zero complaints about the On2.
Out of the box I found them lacking a little in sub-bass extension, but after what has easily exceeded 100 hours of listening this is no longer an issue. The signature I hear has been expertly balanced with a mild boost to the low end to give them some added warmth and weight. They’re billed as being part of thinksound’s monitor series, so a flat-ish sound would make sense. Don’t mistake this for being dull, however, as the On2 is very musical and carries that much-desired ability to let you lose yourself in the music. Too much times during my critical listening sessions I found myself getting lost in the music, forgetting to take notes and having to listen to the same parts over a couple times. Darn eh?
The On2’s treble response is very natural and well placed. I find if an earphone has overly boosted treble, the fireworks going off at the end of Aesop Rock’s ‘Saturn Missles’ sound too in-your-face and edgy, while lacking sparkle if too recessed. Through the On2 they sound realistic and just right in their placement in the mix. Gramatik’s ‘Bluestep’ has sharp, digital high hats prickling about through the entire track. With poorly done treble, they lack definition and accuracy. The On2 keeps them sharp and precise with the right amount of decay. This quality continues through to the awesome instrumental epic that is Incubus’ ‘Movement of the Odyssey’, parts two through four in particular.
The mid-range on this headphone is a treat. The transition from lower treble to upper mids is smooth and free of the occasionally unsettling aggression you hear the JVC products I’m so fond of. I find that the On2 teeters on a very, very fine edge of coming across a touch thin sounding in the upper mids, a thought offset as you continue through into the lower mid-range where there is some added girth and weight. Keisza’s vocals on ‘Hideaway’ seem to fit right into this transition period sounding full and lush until she starting edging into higher notes. This even more apparent on Jessie J.’s ‘Bang Bang’ anytime she or Ariana transition into upper ranges. I found that rock and metal was portrayed through the On2 quite well, handling it with great competence. The level of detail on offer combined with the layering and separation is beyond most anything my other headphones can give off, rivaling the AKG K553 Pro, my headphone mid-range benchmark
Given I listen mostly to electronic music, much of which relies on a prominent bass line to carry the track, I appreciate when my headphones have some elevation down low. It doesn’t have to be a lot, though that can be fun if it doesn’t interfere with the rest of the audio spectrum. The On2 brings with it some enhanced bass presence, but it’s tastefully applied and doesn’t forget that depth is necessary.
The first thing that caught my ear was that the On2’s bass is full of information. The decay is quick so quick transitions, pitch changes, etc. aren’t lost or muddied. They have just enough slam and punch too. The texture and detail is outstanding. Listening to quality bass riffs, such as on Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’, is an absolute joy. Nothing is lost. Many of my other headphones seemingly toss the bass at you. They lack the fluidity and movement you get with the On2. Use this headphone with some action films and you’ll see what I mean. This presentation really adds to the sense of space.
Speaking of space, I really don’t think the On2 has a large soundstage but what is there is consistent in size front to back, top to bottom, side to side. It makes for a fairly intimate but accurate listen as the imaging is spot on and shifts in position are well-defined. Instrument separation seems to be quite good, easily portraying the chaos apparent in the final moments of King Crimson’s ‘Starless and Bible Black’.
All together I find the On2 to be exciting, engaging, and non-fatiguing, without sacrificing much of anything to achieve this. Sure, they could have a larger soundstage, but they’re a compact on-ear and the presentation on-hand matches perfectly with their signature. I wouldn’t have them any other way.
Unfortunately I don’t really own anything that is in direct competition with the On2, or would really be worthy of a head-to-head. I have a number of circumaural portables, but most are under 100 USD and don’t hold a candle to this particular headphone, with the exception of the Logitech/Ultimate Ears UE6000. With their amplifier, I mean “noise canceling”, feature off they present a similar tone, but the UE6000 is darker, lacks the sub-bass extension, and doesn’t provide the same level of mid-range detail.
The Sony MDR-ZX600 supra-aural again has a similar style of tuning, but with significantly more mid-bass presence and nowhere near the clarity or detail. Build quality is night and day in favor of the On2, as is comfort.
The AKG K553 Pro would make for one of the better comparisons as it offers up a similar level of quality to it’s sound, but on the other hand it’s a full-sized desktop headphone masquerading as a portable. Sure, it’s about as easy to drive as the On2 but the 12 million foot long cable makes portable use less than convenient. The ear cups are also nearly three times the size of the On2’s. It’s tuning is more treble/mid heavy with a distinct absence of sub-bass extension, thereby lacking the balance of the On2. When wearing them out what little bass the K553 has to offer is almost completely nullified by the lack of isolation so they’re best heard indoors and in a quiet area. The On2 has a significantly more intimate presentation, but then again the K553 is unusually open sounding for a closed-back over ear so this is no surprise.
The Sennheiser PX100ii best the On2 when looking purely at the perspective of portability and convenience. When folded, it is easily the most compact headphone I’ve come across. They weigh next to nothing and pretty much disappear when worn. While their build is almost entirely plastic, the quality is there, it’s flexible, and quite durable. The cable isn’t detachable, however, and feels a little fragile unlike the two removable options included with the On2. The Sennheiser’s also lack a mic, which I personally think is near mandatory for portable use. Another area they are lacking is in isolation. The PX100ii is open backed, so really, there is none. Finally, while I enjoy the PX100ii’s sound, the mid-bass boost is undesirable for critical listening as it bleeds into the lower mids, they’re very dark, and they lack the raw technical prowess of the On2.
I said it at the start and I’ll say it again here; the On2 stands above all else as my favorite audio product of 2016.
The attractive plastic and wood construction is pure quality with excellent fit and finish. The ergonomics are excellent making them very comfortable for an on-ear. The folding mechanism and carrying case mean they’re easy to travel with, and the two cable options give you some added flexibility for mobile use. Finally, they have a well-balanced signature with a small lift in the bass that works well both on the move and in the quiet confines of your home. There really isn’t anything I can think of that they do wrong.
The On2 is simply a good headphone. Actually, scratch that. They’re a great headphone. They are undoubtedly worth a listen and will result in years upon years of enjoyment should you choose to purchase a pair.
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
Pink Floyd – Money
Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)
Skindred – Death to all Spies
Supertramp – Rudy
The Prodigy – Get Your Fight On