I just got some new earbuds (or in-ear monitors - IEMs - to be precise) from thinksound, Rain. Before I get into what I think about them thus far, let me fill you in on a brief background.
How I Listen to Music and Reference Points
I generally listen using earbuds on the train to and from work. I have avoided using earbuds at the office because I have a good pair of headphones: my Sennheiser HD 497s, which are now seven years old and sound very good to me. The HD 497s serve as a headphone reference point for me.
In the earbud department, where should I start? I stuck with Apple’s standard headphones (not the in-ear ones) for a long time before I got a pair of Sonys as a gift. They brought out more bass and treble, much to my liking. But given my success with Sennheiser I decided to give their buds a try. Despite their good customer service, I ultimately had two separate pairs fail on me; my most recent ones exhibited horrible treble clipping in the left ear (the first had bass clipping in the left ear… weird.) Just unlistenable. So I worked with a cheap pair of Philips headphones invented before we discovered bass.
Sources are an iPod, lala, Pandora, and my iTunes library. Most of my files are encoded at 192k (sorry,) but some are higher and a few are lower.
All Right, How’s it Work?
Having never used IEMs before and being slightly scared, but remembering that my sister-in-law is an audiologist, I did some basic research on what was out there. And the short answer is, holy crap, there are a lot of options. I became aware of thinksound through a Gizmodo review and they instantly appealed to me. Made of wood? Minimal packaging? Good sound? Sign me up.
I thus entered my crazy research and pricing phase, where I generally get restless about buying something and just can’t stop reading about it. That did lead me to perhaps the best headphone site on the web, Head-fi, where several members posted very positive reviews. Now I had initially settled on the TS01 (nee Thunder) because they were $10 cheaper when I was shopping. But I’m not really that big into bass, and ultimately the Rains were what I wanted… a little more balance.
I’ll spare you the unboxing photos (use Google) and tell you that I was impressed at how minimal the packaging really is! Nearly all of it is recyclable too. The Rains came equipped with the second-largest ear inserts attached so I decided to try them out first; there are four sizes total.
Inserting them into the ear is odd: it’s like putting in earplugs really. You’re looking for a tight seal and for me, the default size worked. I could still hear a tiny bit of the outside world but they were effective enough to make me not hear Jackson crying. (So… yeah, won’t be using these around the house much.)
And the Sound?
The big thing to keep in mind is that per the experts at head-fi, these have an approximately 40-hour burn-in period. So they’ll open up a bit then. But for now, the results are freaking great. And I mean that. The first thing I noticed was the bass: it’s there! And punchy, not murky at all. I was instantly pleased that I didn’t get the TS01, because I’m sure that would have been too much for my ears.
As noted in other reviews these do put the mids front and center for the most part. I’m impressed at how clear everything sounds. I am definitely hearing things in music I haven’t in a long time, simply because I don’t bring my big headphones with me everywhere.
Now, I trust everyone has a test song they use… an acid test. One for me is “Tongue” by R.E.M. It’s got a little piano intro that very few of my headphones (in the past) have duplicated well: it starts predominantly in the left ear but each note reverbs slightly in the right ear. For me, that’s the test. My HD 497s do well at this, but not great. The Rains? Nailed it. Perfect.
Neko Case’s “Middle Cyclone” was a good test too: her voice is the showcase here and these really let it shine. And the low-end of The Hazards of Love from The Decemberists is present and accounted for, sounding very good.
I’ve been listening to various music, mostly pop and rock, and the Rains keep up just fine. Whereas my last treble-heavy pair sounded really cold, the Rains sound warm and inviting.
While the left and right buds do have L and R labels on their undersides, it’s easy for me to identify them by the wood grain color: left is lighter on my pair. That’s handy.
I love the pouch.
So Far, So Good
All told my first foray into IEMs has been super positive. This pair is so good that I can’t listen to my music fast enough - I want to experience all of my music again, because I know these can pull out the finer details I’ve been missing. Can’t wait to see how they do when they’re broken in!