Today we’re going to be checking out the newest in-ear monitor from thinksound, the ts03+mic.
thinksound, a small American company founded in 2009 by Aaron Fournier and Mike Tunney, is no stranger to good sound. With every new release they have been delivering on their promise of products that perform well, are visually appealing, fit comfortably, and are environmentally friendly. They use natural and sustainable materials and keep packaging to a minimum to help ensure their products leave a small ecological footprint.
They even go so far as to offer a headphone recycling program, not limited to thinksound’s own products, that gives you a percentage discount on your next purchase while reducing waste and reclaiming materials that would be better used outside of a landfill. It’s a respectable practice and one that provides strong incentive to recycle broken or unused products. I would love to see this program enhanced to include Bluetooth and battery powered earphones given how prominent they are becoming, and to see it become an industry wide practice.
Past products from this company that I have tried showed that these goals and intentions weren’t just marketing fluff or an attempt to appeal to a waste conscious crowd that happen to want a darn good set of headphones. The ts03+mic doesn’t break the mold when compared to other thinksound products, but that’s not a bad thing. Let me show you why.
The ts03+mic was provided free of charge in exchange for a fair and impartial review. The thoughts within are my own and are not representative of thinksound or any other entity. There is no financial incentive for writing this.
At the time of writing the ts03+mic was retailing for 119.99 USD: https://store.thinksound.com/products/ts03-mic
For at home use the ts03+mic was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp or straight out of my Asus FX53V laptop. For portable use it was paired with an LG G5, HiFi E.T. MA8 or Shanling M1, all of which brought it up to listening volume without any effort. I also occasionally ran it through the Walnut F1 which brightened up the signature somewhat.
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 in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, MacaW GT600s, and thinksound On2 offer examples of signatures I enjoy.
Packaging and Accessories:
While still pretty basic, thinksound has taken a positive step forward with their packaging. They’ve kept it simple and in line with their environmentally friendly business model while adding additional functionality beyond it’s initial purpose of holding the earphone until purchased.
Instead of a small cardboard box, the ts03 arrives in a pocketable steel tin not unlike those used to hold mints, Altoids in particular. On the front is a sticker with thinksound and model branding along with an image of the housings and inline mic. On the rear is another sticker that outlines some features and simple specifications along with contact information for thinksound.
Cutting the sticker holding the case shut, which also announces it’s steel construction, reveals the same cotton carrying bag provided with the MS02. Inside are the ts03 earphones neatly tied with a cotton string, a shirt clip, and some spare silicone eartips. On thinksound’s site the sizes are listed as s/m/l/xl, but it’s more like xs/s/m/l when looking at the way the competition does things. Last are two small cards that provide information on the 1 year limited warranty, earphones and listening care instructions, and a thank you for choosing thinksound.
The new steel case is a great addition to thinksound’s packaging. Compact enough to fit neatly into a pocket, yet large enough to hold and protect both the ts03 and my Shanling M1 fairly comfortably. The inclusion of extra smalls tips is also a welcome inclusion, reducing the need for third party tips to get a good seal allowing most to enjoy the ts03 out of the box.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The ts03’s earpieces are made from aircraft grade aluminum and walnut wood, mated together with excellent fit and finish. The design is virtually identical to the ms02, but with a stronger taper at the end and a vent at the back, dead centre of the thinksound logo. I was very happy to see that vent when I first pulled the ts03 out of it’s packaging. It alleviates one of my main complaints with the ms02, that being invasive driver flex. The ts03 has none.
thinksound’s cable might feel a bit flimsy and weak when first handled. It’s the same one found on the ms02 though and has held up just fine over the 11 or so months I’ve been using those. Strain relief at the earpieces and 45 degree angled jack is long, flexible, and very effective. At the y-split it’s a tad short, but it still does the job. The only thing missing is a chin cinch to help manage the minimal, but undeniably present, microphonics (cable noise). Wearing the cable over-ear helps in lieu of the missing chin cinch. The inline mic is well constructed with an easy to locate and press multifunction button that worked great with my LG G5 and an older HTC One M8 that has since been retired.
thinksound didn’t go crazy with the design of the ts03 and settled on a simple, barrel shaped housing. The housings are light and free of sharp edges or odd shapes. Fitment is straightforward and reliable and as a result the ts03 is very comfortable regardless of whether you choose to wear them cable up or down. At 6mm the nozzle is slightly wider than what I consider average (5mm) so those with small ear canals should take note and be prepared to use the extra-small tips.
Isolation is pretty average, slightly below the ms02 which doesn’t have the extra ventilation in the back. They do an adequate job of blocking out incoming noise and would be fine for a commute, just expect to turn up the volume a touch more than normal to compensate.
Overall the ts03+mic is a good looking earphone made with quality materials and put together with a solid attention to detail. The cable doesn’t feel confidence inspiring but my experiences with the ms02 have shown it to be reliable and durable. Isolation is simply average, blocking out enough incoming noise to make the ts03 acceptable for travel through places where noise is plentiful.
One of the main draws of the ts03+mic is right there in the name, so what would this review be without covering it’s performance? While I didn’t have the chance to use it too often, I did play around with using it for recordings. It’s a good microphone with your voice coming through clearly to your callers. Background noise is effectively cut out, and during testing I could type away on my keyboard without it being picked up. That’s handy for someone using these on conference calls for work.
The only drawback I came across was background static. It wasn’t loud or abrasive and didn’t hinder the effectiveness of the mic, but it was there, ever-present and hissing away in the background.
Tips: Just as with the ms02, I found the stock tips a good match for the ts03+mic. Similar wide bore tips like those from JVC or Ultimate Ears will maintain the ts03’s bass-driven signature while possibly improving comfort ever so slightly due to the use of a higher quality, softer silicone. Small bore tips like those from Sony aren’t ideal imo as they increase bass even further. Spinfits are quite nice with the ts03. While they make the ts03 stick out quite far, they seem to improve sound stage and lessen mid-bass. I have quite enjoyed pairing them with the ts03.
It sounds like thinksound went to a great deal of effort balancing a hefty low end with technical competence. The ts03 is natural, detailed and clear through through the entire frequency range with a good soundstage and imaging qualities with a realistic timbre. It’s low end has a tendency to steal the show though, with a relentlessly warm, thumpy presence that carries a beat quite well.
While the ts03’s low end is big and bellowing, it’s not overdone quite to the point of basshead status. It focuses more on texture and extension than slam and speed. It can hit with some authority but it doesn’t move air to quite the same extent as some other bassier earphones. It’s decay is also a touch generous leading to deep notes lingering realistically. The ts03’s bass presentation in general is quite impressive for the quantity, only occasionally showing glimpses of bloat on tracks that are particularly mid-bassy.
The ts03’s midrange sits in line with the treble and continues the trend of a natural and realistic presentation. There is a warmth and sweetness to the upper mids that really clicks with female and higher pitched male vocals. Vocal EDM fans will be in for a treat with the ts03 given the lush mids are backed by a smooth, well-defined low end. The lower mids are slightly less prominent than I would like at times, but they’re still very intelligible.
Treble on the ts03 is well controlled and direct without any sibilance or splashiness. Extension is good with a mild roll off at the top end keeping the ts03 energetic but not fatiguing. The treble is presented in a more lean manner than bass and mid-range giving the ts03 a pleasant, airy feel that I find somewhat uncommon among bassy earphones. This really let’s you focus on each aspect of the signature while maintaining a coherent tune.
Speaking of airiness, the ts03 has a deceptively great soundstage aided by very crisp imaging. For the most part sounds just barely extends past your head giving you a spacious by not expansive stage. However, at time effects are thrown way out in the distance, something which was more noticable with other forms of media like video games and movies versus music. The ts03 also layers and separates instruments and effects quite effectively, avoiding congestion or a claustrophobic feeling on cluttered tracks.
Overall I find the ts03 a fantastic listen, even with a low end that is a little bigger and more prominent than I would usually prefer. I find it’s at it’s most appealing with deep basslines, soft vocals and uncomplicated tracks all of which really completely gel with it’s soothing and refined presentation.
Rose Aurora: The ts03 and Aurora are shockingly similar despite their vastly different designs and materials. They offer virtually the same warm, bass-led signature with clean mids and unoffensive treble. The ts03 has slightly more mid and treble prominence while the Aurora has more low end rumble. The ts03 is also more detailed and textured in the low end, though I find the Aurora’s mid-range more descriptive. Overall the ts03’s technically prowess is a mild step up.
The Aurora is definitely more accessory and feature rich offering up a plethora of spare tips, a mock Pelican case, and MMCX equipped housings. That said, the design is generic and I can name a couple earphones right off that use the same housings; QKZ W6 Pro and the Rhapsodio Clipper. It’s a decent housing but I personally have fitment issues and the plastics used don’t feel or look anywhere as premium as the ts03’s wood/aluminum construction. The ts03 would be a nice upgrade if you wanted to stick with the same signature and were willing to give up removable cables.
thinksound ms02: The ms02 is thinksound’s Monitor Series flagship in-ear, and was one of my favorite earphones of 2016. I was a huge fan of their warm, balanced signature and elegant design. The ts03 is much of the same in terms of design, build, and surprisingly sound too, though I prefer the darker wood of the ms02 over the ts03’s grainier, lighter color. The ts03 shares much of the ms02’s sonic qualities though they add a touch extra treble, a dap extra low end, and a slightly larger sound stage. The ts03’s bass digs deeper too. They’re unquestionably cut from the same sonic cloth, though the ts03’s brighter, bassier sound is more fun. Unlike the ms02, the ts03 is vented at the back which alleviates one of my main issues with the ms02; driver flex. It’s completely absent on the ts03.
If you want a capable wooden earphone with a warm, crisp, balanced signature, get the ms02. If you want all that and need a mic, get the ts03 then EQ out a couple dB of bass if you find it’s overemphasized.
Macaw GT600s: The GT600s and ts03 are a world apart in many ways. The GT600s comes in an elaborate package loaded with accessories vs. the ts03 with it’s modest presentation. The GT600s has MMCX equipped, silver-plated, braided cables and steel housings with glass face plates. Don’t forget about tuning filter system as well. The ts03 is much more simple with it’s fixed cables and basic barrel-shaped housings, though the mixed wood/aluminum build has an elegance to it the GT600 can’t match. The GT600s lacks the inline mic of the ts03 but you can pick up cables with that feature for next to nothing if needed. In terms of build, packaging and accessories, the GT600s really is in another league. Two of the most important fields are in the ts03’s court, however; comfort and sound.
The GT600s is a perfectly comfortable earphone, but it takes the Shure route with an over-ear, low profile design using preformed ear guides to keep the cable in place. This style of earphone isn’t to the taste of many since it’s not quite as easy to just pop them in and go. The ts03 on the other hand is much lighter and the straightforward design means you don’t have to mess about with cables or placement in your ear. In terms of sound the ts03 has better separation and a wider soundstage with more accurate imaging. Their low end presentation is similar with the GT600s offering slightly more impact but less detail. The ts03 and GT600s have very similar mids, though they’re more forward on the thinksound. I found the GT600s treble to be slightly tighter and more precise, though lacking some air and sparkle to the ts03.
The ts03+mic comes across as a more refined and coherent sounding earphone. In most cases I’d pick it up over the GT600s for a listening session as I think it is the better sounding and more comfortable product. However, looking at the complete package the GT600s is a better value.
Once again thinksound delivers on providing us with a great sounding and attractive product that is plenty competitive at it’s price. The ts03+mic’s design is simple but attractive, the metal carrying case is a welcome addition, and the smooth, warm, sound signature is a pleasure to experience. Comfort is top tier and the inline mic works well.
In terms of value, the ts03 isn’t quite as strong as some of the competition. Compared to well equipped, similarly priced products such as Macaw’s GT600s or the RHA CL750 which are more feature rich and laden with quality accessories, you can’t help but feel like you should be getting more for your money. That said, thinksounds’ offering is focused. It doesn’t try to wow and draw you in with piles of stuff that looks impressive on a spec sheet but will likely never be used beyond the first week of ownership while you adjust to your new toy.
The last two months spent with the ts03 has been a great experience. Should you opt to pick up a set, you surely won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Aaron Fournier for providing a sample of the ts03 for this review. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)