Editor’s Note: Review updated on Feb. 22, 2012 to reflect technical changes to testing conditions.
Earbud headphones are standard issue with most cellphones and MP3 players these days. Not so standard are earbud headphones that claim to be “studio monitor quality.” Even more unusual are earbuds made mostly from degradable/renewable stuff like wood and metal. Both of these distinctions mark the new MS01 “8mm in-ear monitor” by Thinksound. A couple of former Tivoli Audio engineers formed Thinksound to make great hi-fi equipment with a minimal environmental footprint, and the MS01 earbuds are one of their latest offerings.
Using responsibly sourced materials and nearly plastic-free packaging, the company avoids some of the environmental problems that come with making tiny electronics. But before current earbud owners shell out their C-notes for the upgrade, they’ll also want to know if the MS01 Monitor Series put out sound that’s on point. Well, we checked them out recently and here’s what we found…
Thinksound uses bleach-free brown cardboard to package these earbuds, though there’s a four-inch tall plastic window on the front of the box showing the product inside. The earbuds themselves nest in a 1″ thick chunk of cardboard which replaces the soon-to-be-thrown-out bulky plastic bubble that most headphones and other small gadgets come in.
Rubber foam tips are provided to accommodate different sizes of ear canals. Other provisions include a clip to fasten the earbuds’ cable to your clothes, rubber hooks to put behind your ears so the earbuds stay in when you’re doing sporty stuff, and an unbleached cotton pouch for carrying it all.
The MS01 earbuds look built to last, like car parts. Your first thought when you see them may be “Solid! That’s how a piece of machinery like an earbud should be made!” From-the-earth-back-to-the-earth materials like metal and wood dominate their design (though some plastic remains) and it’s striking just to see a piece of 21st century mass-produced electronic gear that appears so sturdy and classy to boot. Thinksound claims that the wood housing improves the sound of the MS01, which has been carefully equalized (they say “voiced”) by the CEO of the company in collaboration with a handful of successful recording artists.
If you use the right size rubber tip on the earbuds they serve basically as earplugs, blocking all outside sound so you can hear whatever you’re listening to in all its exquisitely equalized glory. Like many higher-end earbuds on the market, these have 8mm drivers with 18Hz to 20Khz frequency response. The MS01’s PVC-free cables (yay, non-toxic!) connect to your music-making device with a standard size mini plug that’s gold plated for “increased sound clarity.”