Thanks to the folks at Thinksound for the review sample!
The $100 and under price bracket is the most hotly contested arena for in ear monitors and there are a large number of strong contenders in the market for the honor of being called the best value for the money. The MS01 is the latest foray into this price bracket from the New Hampshire based Thinksound. The MS01 steps away from the tried and true bass driven sound signatures that have defined many of their efforts thus far, so does the MS01 compete with the best of the best or does it fall a bit short? Read on to find out.
Packaging and Accessories: The brown, recycled cardboard box, cardboard liner and unbleached fabric carrying pouch demonstrate Thinksound’s commitment to being environmentally-friendly and are quite practical as well. The usual array of single flange eartips and shirt clip are nothing special but the addition of special earhooks for active users is a plus.
Design and Build Quality: Very similar to that of the TS02+mic that I’ve reviewed before. The housings are slender and slightly longer than those of the TS02 but feature similar wood styling combined with metal nozzles and mesh grilles. The cable is also quite similar, and it’s flexible and decently relieved at both ends. There was a bit of driver flex present but nothing too distracting.
Comfort and Isolation: The slim housings make these easy to insert and remove and are well suited for deeper insertion depths but it’s worth noting that these were somewhat sensitive to insertion depth for me and sounded best with shallow insertion. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Employing a vented dynamic driver design, the MS01 is expectedly decent in terms of isolation but won’t compete with the likes of the Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 or Creative Aurvana 3 (two of the best IEMs in my collection in terms of isolation) in that regard.
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Burn in: The MS01 was given upwards of 50 hours of burn in prior to review.
The MS01 is a departure from the kind of warm, bass driven sound that has defined the Thinksound lineup thus far. In the effort to create a competent set of IEMs that can be used for the purposes of studio monitoring, the MS01 has a sound signature that has more in common with IEMs from HiFiMan (RE0, RE-ZERO) than its brethren such as the TS02 and the TS01 “Thunder”.
That being said, there’s no doubt that the MS01 still delivers very solid bass performance. This isn’t the kind of thing that will satisfy bassheads obsessed with quantity but the level of detail put out by the MS01’s low end is quite impressive and there’s enough texture and sub bass rumble to satisfy discerning listeners. There’s no bass bleed to speak of either, a testament to the MS01’s control over the low end.
Moving upward, the midrange is also quite satisfying. As I expected prior to testing these, there is a slight bit of warmth present across the midrange which makes these quite easy to relax and listen to for long stretches of time. Finer details are presented well, even next to the thinner and more analytical sounding RE0. Though the RE0 can sometimes seem “anemic”, especially about the low end and midrange, the MS01 doesn’t have this problem. Detail and note presence is slightly softer but not to the extent that I think it hurts the MS01’s ability to be used as a monitor, but more on that a bit further down.
At the higher end, the treble is even handed and manages to carry a nice amount of shimmer without becoming strident. Now, comparing the MS01 directly to the RE0 really emphasizes the high end strengths of the latter. But perhaps this is an unfair comparison, as in my collection, no IEM delivers treble energy and extension quite like the RE0, not even the higher end RE-262 or Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10.
Every genre of music I’ve tried with the MS01 has sounded great to my ears, from Hip-Hop and R&B to Rock and Electronic. But the genre I’ve most enjoyed in my testing has been Jazz and the MS01 are an excellent fit for that genre due to the added warmth in the sound signature.
Now, the added warmth of the MS01 might give some listeners pause but make no mistake, the MS01 is still a proper monitor. Listening to my music collection, I was easily able to hear deficiencies in certain tracks, indicative of the poor mastering of the “Loudness Wars”. These are rather neutral in response and I don’t get the feeling that any one frequency is emphasized over any others. As a result, they function well at high volumes as well as low, and I didn’t detect any hints of distortion at all during my testing, even when these were pushed to dangerously high levels.
The Thinksound MS01 is available from Amazon for $99 ($20 off the MSRP) and at that price, the MS01 runs up against some pretty steep competition from the likes of the lesser known HiFiMan and IEMs like the CC51 and A151 from MEElectronics, both IEMs I enjoyed quite a bit. That being said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think these were worth it. The neutral sound signature with a touch of warmth makes these compatible with a number of different genres and perform well within their chosen job of studio monitoring.