Thinksound is no bandwagon-hopping, opportunistic headphone company. Co-founders Aaron Fournier and Mike Tunney both have established histories in audio, with tenure at companies ranging from Tivoli Audio to V-Moda. And while producing environmentally-responsible products may be all the rage today, Thinksound was doing it before it was en vogue.
Our exposure to the company’s products began four years ago, when we turned our ears toward the TS01 (AKA Thunder) a tiny, wood-laden pair of in-ears with bass that backed up their nickname. Since then, Thinksound has followed up one set of in-ear headphones after another. Until now. Recently the company introduced the On1, the company’s first go at an on-ear headphone, and we got our hands on a review sample.
Out of the box
Sometimes recycled materials feel …. well, recycled. The On1’s customer-facing sleeve does not, though tiny print on its rear is quick to remind us that it is recycled, and should continue to be. At the top of the inner carton is a cotton string fashioned as a handle for pulling the box free of its sleeve. It’s the little things, folks.
Inside the box is more recycled cardboard, which we wouldn’t bother to mention were it not such a significant sign of the company’s mission. Here, we found the headphones, a cotton carry sack, and two Kevlar-reinforced, cloth-covered headphones cables, one with an inline, single-button control microphone, the other without. No ¼-inch adapter was included.
Features and design
The On1 are one of the most eye-catching headphones we’ve tested yet – and in a good way. What cameras fail to capture is the way the wood-backed ear cups exhibit this constantly changing glow, something that can easily be seen from across the room. The look garnered universally positive response from onlookers, many of whom found themselves drawn in for a closer look.
The On1 are one of the most eye-catching headphones we’ve tested yet …
The On1’s organic feel reaches beyond the ear cup’s wood backing and onto the cotton fabric-covered headband, embroidered with Thinksound’s moniker up top. There’s not a lot of padding here, but not much is needed between the headphones’ light weight and ample clamping force from the ear cups.
Surrounding the business end of the ear cups are supple black leatherette-covered memory foam ear pads. Beyond those, and behind black cloth screens, rest a pair of 40mm drivers which Thinksound says are customized and voiced to exhibit the company’s sound signature.
The two headphone cables that come with the On1 are one of the best examples of “tangle-free” we’ve seen yet. They coil up like an ultra-high quality microphone cable, and then unfurl with ease. The cables also feel strong, and since they are detachable, they aren’t likely break early in their life cycle (which has become an increasing problem for us).
The headphones do fold down for easier storage and portability. Our only complaint here is that the joints are a little too loose for our taste. They have a way of flopping around a bit when you fold/unfold them, which makes them feel a little unwieldy. But once we got past that, we couldn’t find any weaknesses that made us concerned about long-term durability.
The trouble with in-ear headphones is that getting at the sound signature they were designed to deliver can be difficult. Getting the right sound depends greatly on some anatomically related factors. In other words: If the ear tip doesn’t fit just right or if the earphone doesn’t sit at just the right depth, then you might not get the same sound experience as the next guy, whose ears might be better suited for that specific earphone. This is why we say auditioning in-ear headphones is critical to finding the best pair for your particular ears.
We mention this because this particular reviewer never felt like he got the exact sound signature the folks at Thinksound had described developing to us. Sure, many of the major elements were there, and they were great, but we tended to feel like sometimes treble was just a little out of balance with the rest of the spectrum, or, in some cases, that the bass was anemic when we knew it shouldn’t have been.
With the On1, we don’t have to worry about most of those factors. And if this is what Thinksound’s sound signature is really all about, then we are all in.
To evaluate the On1, we used both an iPhone 4S loaded with a variety of lossy and lossless music files and an Asus Zenbook Prime laptop with a Cambridge Audio DacMagic USB DAC/headphone amp and the same aforementioned music files.
If we were forced to pick a single word to describe the On1, we would probably just quit and walk away. One-word responses are too limiting, and we don’t play that game. But two words? That we can do: revealing and faithful.
We can’t think of a single person who has ever complained to us about a headphone being too revealing – usually, the opposite is the problem – but how about too faithful? Interestingly, we think some folks may prefer living in ignorance, because we have heard some mention that headphones didn’t do enough to “fix” the tracks they were listening to. If you believe a headphone should make everything you listen to sound awesome, despite the lousiness of the track’s quality, then the On1 probably aren’t for you.
Brass overtones, something we’re particularly fond of and picky about, are another of the On1’s fortes.
Feed the On1 garbage, and they will let you know it. But feed them with something good, and they will pay you back tenfold. When we played high-quality tracks from our iPhone, we noticed they sounded far better than usual. But when we connected them to our laptop through Cambridge Audio’s DacMagic XS USB, it was vividly apparent that the On1 are a studio-class on-ear headphone.
The On1 exhibit just a slight bump in the bass, but it’s at just the right spot to lend authority to the low end without getting in the way of anything. And while the On1’s high-frequency prowess means that some hot and flashy tracks may be a bit much to take, the headphones don’t seem to add anything that isn’t there, meaning that well-produced tracks sound detailed and full of zeal, with dry cymbals sounding bone dry and wet guitar chorus effects sounding absolutely drenched.
The On1 are particularly good at separating and exposing contrary sounds. For instance, with Fitz and The Tantrums’ “We Don’t Need Love Songs” the grit of the fake LP noise blended with the warble of several layers of vintage organ without any loss of distinction from either effect.
The intro to Sting’s “Seven Days” came with unbelievably deep exposure of fret noise from the nylon strings of one of the guitars, and that came in stark contrast to the pizzicato plucks coming from the violins, violas and cellos. Of course, this also happened to be one of those tracks where hot sibilance on the recording will be faithfully reproduced and can result in a slightly piercing sound that can take away from the track’s otherwise gorgeous production quality.
Brass overtones, something we’re particularly fond of and picky about, are another of the On1’s fortes. Listening to Trombone Shorty play opposite Jeff Beck in “Do to me” from the album For True, we couldn’t help but marvel at how the shimmer of the horns was never overshadowed by Beck’s crunchy, effect-laden guitar.
With tons of construction taking place at DT’s Portland headquarters, the On1 had their work cut out for them in the noise-isolation department. But, thanks to an excellent seal and a closed-back design, their passive noise isolation capabilities were impressive. Add music, and you can pretty much isolation yourself from nearly any noise, even that of a sledgehammer taking down drywall.
The only on-ear headphone we’ve tested in recent memory that was especially comfortable was Sennheiser’s Momentum on-ear model. The On1 couldn’t quite match the Momentum for sheer comfort, but they are on par with almost every other premium on-ear we’ve tested, including Phiaton’s Fusion MS430. And, hey, so long as we’re drawing comparisons …
In terms of sound quality, we preferred the On1’s more spirited presentation to the Fusion MS430, which adds sparkle to high-frequency details that the Fusion just didn’t catch. Also, we felt like the On1 offers a more immersive experience, which gives the impression of a wider soundstage. It’s a tight race, with the Fusion costing $50 less, but looking a lot less sexy.
If we were to place the On1 head to head against Sennheiser Momentum, we’d have to call it a draw. In terms of looks, they both get high marks – they just take different directions in terms of style. We already gave the Momentum a nod for superior comfort, but in terms of sound quality, we’re going to say it will come down to a matter of taste. We’re not comfortable calling one better than the other. We will say that the On1 are a bit more engaging, and the slight bump in the bass, while perhaps not clinically accurate, is undeniably fun. And since it doesn’t get in the way of anything, we’ll take it. Especially on a long work day.
The On1 on-ear headphones are a huge win for Thinksound. We found them engaging, immersive, full of detail and brutally true to their source. Throw them something ugly, and they’ll show you just how ugly it really is, but throw them something beautiful, and they’ll bathe you in the glory of gorgeous sound. We could listen to these headphones all day. And we have. The On1 have a permanent position as our every-day work headphone, and it’s going to take something pretty spectacular to unseat them. And while we understand that $250 might exceed some expectations, the On1 do too, make a compelling case for the asking price with rich wood accents that will get them noticed everywhere they are worn, and superior sound quality that entertains for hours at a time.