Friday, February 06, 2015

Thinksound Rain 2: Rainy Days

Intro



TL;DR: Thinksound's Rain 2 provides a pretty solid package with a smooth sound signature that should appeal to most listeners, but I find them too warm to be pleasing to my ears.


Before I begin, I would like to sincerely thank Aaron Fournier at Thinksound for giving me the opportunity to write this review and for providing the Rain 2 in exchange for my honest opinion. Please note that I am neither affiliated with Thinksound or any of its staff, nor am I being compensated in any form (other than the provided review sample) by writing this review. All opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own unless otherwise specified, and all pictures are taken and owned by me. Before I go any further, please take all the opinions in this review with a grain of salt. Thanks!


Thinksound is a relatively new company which specializes in giving you great sound without making a huge impact on the environment. Their eco-friendly vision seems to be following in with the likes of House of Marley, but it seems clear to the members of Head-Fi that Thinksound is aiming to become much, much bigger than that.


Anyways, Thinksound has recently released another IEM into their growing catalogue, named the Rain 2. As you can tell from the name, it is an update to an older model which, upon the release of this one, will be discontinued. Judging from impressions form other Head-Fi’ers, the Rain 2 seems to be another hit with the audiophiles, with one making some pretty bold statements. This week, we’re taking a closer look at this wooden IEM and see if they live up to the hype.




~~ Aesthetics ~~


Packaging, Accessories



If I were to use one word to describe Thinksound's products, it would be "conservative." And that doesn't only apply to their products' designs, but pretty much everything concerned with their products -- the fit, the sound, everything. Why do I say this? Well, let's take a look at the Rain 2.

The packaging for the Rain 2 is conservative. Very conservative. When Thinksound says “eco-friendly,” they mean eco-friendly. Everything in the packaging is made out of recycled materials. The outer box is made of recycled cardboard; the inner box which houses the IEMs and its accessories is also made of recycled cardboard; the concise manual and warranty is made out of recycled paper, and even the cotton carrying pouch is recycled. Taking everything out, you get the earphones, 2 extra pairs of eartips, a shirt clip, a cotton carry pouch, an instruction manual, a letter from Thinksound, and a business card (which probably won’t be included if you buy it retail). The included accessory package is pretty good, to be honest, although it's still rather conservative when you compare them to, say, Brainwavz' offerings.


Design, Build, Microphonics


Its design is pretty conservative -- no funky form factors or eye-catching elements from what I'm seeing here. Okay, maybe the half-wood, half-metal look is an exception -- it's really quite the looker. The Rain 2's shape is simple and conventional, and is little more than a cylindrical, barrel-shaped housing. But despite its simple shape, the wooden housings are so masterfully crafted that each earpiece is identical almost to a fault. Like I said, it looks stunning, and feels great in the hand.

Even the build of the Rain 2 is conservative. Sure, the housings are really solid and the angled 3.5mm connector is built for heavy-duty use, but beyond that...not so much. The cable is nice and supple, but is a little thin for my liking. The housings and the connector are relieved well, but the Y-split is worrying and could use a lot more strain relief. Overall the Rain 2's build quality is far from heavy-duty, but is more than enough to hold up with regular daily use. If the Rain 2 is any indication of Thinksound’s other IEMs, then you can rest assured that they will look and feel amazing.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation

The Rain 2’s simple shape allows for a simple fit, and should fit most ears without any problems. With the stock tips, I found them to not seal very well when worn around-the-ear and prefer simply wearing straight-down. Of course, tip rolling (audiophile fancy-speak for changing out the eartips) will fix that right up. With the tips I used on the Rain 2, they were consistently comfortable and stayed securely in my ears. Comply tips (specifically T-series tips) were especially comfortable, and boosted the already great isolation.


~~ Sound ~~

Specs

Headphone Type Closed-back in-ear monitor (straight-down, around-the-ear)
Driver Type 1x 8mm dynamic driver
Frequency Response 18 – 20,000 Hz
Max. Input Power N/A
Sensitivity 96 ± 3 dB @ 1,000 Hz / 1 mW
Impedance 16 Ω
Weight N/A
Cable Round PVC-free cable
Connector 45-degree angled 3.5mm (1/8”) gold-plated connector
Accessories 4x sets black silicone ear tips (S/M/L/XL)
Shirt clip
Cotton carrying pouch
Instruction manual and warranty card (12 months)


Equipment, Burn-in

The sources I used for this review is a 5th generation iPod Touch, an iPad 3, and my PC with no amps or DACs in between. The EQ software used in the review is EQu for the iDevices and Electri-Q for the PC. (Note: I excluded the amp test in this review and will do so for all future reviews until I get myself a proper headphone amp.) As always, the test tracks I use can be viewed here, although I will note and link particular songs for a more specific reference point.

The Rain 2 was burned-in for at least 50 hours prior to the writing of this review. There were some noticeable changes over time, but I think they could be just me adjusting to their sound and will leave them out. The eartips used in the review are the stock medium-size tips and a pair of Comply T-400 foam eartips. Before I go any further, please take the opinions in the following sections with a grain of salt.

Now that we’ve got everything else covered, let’s get to it!


Sound Quality

My first impression of the Rain 2 wasn’t very promising. Its overall signature was a warm, V-shaped signature with an excessively thick midrange that I really couldn’t bring myself to like. And as at that time I was also reviewing the Master & Dynamic ME03, I pretty much just left it burning-in until the ME03 was finished. But these past few days, my opinion on the Rain 2 radically changed once I started analysing the Rain 2’s sound more closely.

The first thing I noticed was how the Rain 2 is notably source-dependent. During my initial tests, the Rain 2 was being driven out of my computer with nothing but onboard audio -- and that translates to a high-impedance output. But when I tested it on the iPod and iPad (both with low-impedance outputs), all of my first impressions were thrown out the window. Let's take a look.

The low-end of the Rain 2 is big, warm, but relatively balanced. They have particularly great extension and a satisfying amount of punch to please the more bass-oriented listeners. However, they do tend to get a tad too warm for my tastes, with bass lines at times sounding messy and bunched-up (Test Track). They also have a rather soft impact, which is a little underwhelming for an IEM with this much bass. On the iPod the Rain 2 takes a different turn – everything sounds smoother and more balanced. The warmth is still there, but bass lines now sound faster and flow nicely from one note to the next. Probably its best improvement is how they sound much, much cleaner, which really crushes my initial impressions. Very, very promising so far.

The midrange isn’t very far off from the bass, and shares some of their notable characteristics, like their warmth, thickness, and overall just how mediocre they sound out of an onboard soundcard. Guitars sound okay, vocals sound excessively thick, and pianos sound downright horrible. At least, until I used it with the iPod. The night I did, I was just randomly listening to the Rain 2 at night, with some of my favourite piano tracks (Test Track). And I was pretty surprised. Yes, they are still way too warm and too thick to be considered ‘natural,’ but for some reason, it just sounded listenable. Guitars and vocals sounded even better. They became this very different IEM that caught me off-guard.

The treble is very lively, and tilts the whole signature into a slight V-shape. It’s a very welcome quality, however, since it does nicely to balance out the very warm low-end. It’s crisp, smooth, and adds a nice amount of air into the soundstage. Speaking of which, the Rain 2'a soundstage is honestly pretty good for a bassy IEM, with a decent amount of size and air. It's akin to that of a studio, except with some resonances still left over. In short, it's great for an IEM in its category.

Regarding its genre proficiency, I feel the Rain 2's fun, bassy signature fits pop, rock, and electronic music very well. Otherwise I would advise staying away from them if you primarily listen to pianos and classical music – they really just aren't up to the task for that.


Other Media


As a bass-heavy IEM, the Rain 2 does pretty poorly in this regard. Its bass quantity overemphasizes explosions and gunfire, dulling down the softer details that competitive gamers need to hear to stay in the game. Imaging is honestly pretty good, but with its bass the Rain 2 is something to avoid if you want to game competitively. (Note the word ‘competitively.’ If you play stuff like Diner Dash or Bejeweled, then the Rain 2 will be more than enough. Seriously. I used to play those games with Apple earbuds.)

I judge my movie experience with IEMs pretty similarly to that with music – with my biggest selling points being midrange clarity and overall balance. And in this regard, the Rain 2 performs just as well in this aspect as it does with music. Vocals are very warm and thick, and its bass emphasis lends unnecessary emphasis to sound effects like explosions and other things that are already loud. Overall I probably wouldn’t watch movies with the Rain 2 – not that I watch movies much anyway.


EQ Response

Now this is where things get interesting. The Rain 2 happens to be pretty adaptive to EQ, and with a reduction in the bass (-5 dB centered at 100 Hz), the whole signature sounds much more pleasing to the ears. The midrange is still warm, but not excessively so, and it also loosens up and takes more control over the whole signature. Overall a very big improvement in my book, with a sound that I would like to hear from the Rain 2. (I’m pretty sure Thinksound has something like this in store.)


Value

The Thinksound Rain 2 retails for $100, which is a very good deal on a very good IEM. For a bass-emphasized, consumer-oriented IEM the Rain 2 has very little faults in what it does. If anything, I’m really just criticizing the Rain 2 for not doing everything I want it to do. I mean, with a package like this for an eco-friendly IEM, what more could you ask for?


Comparison

Versus Brainwavz S5 ($100):


It's pretty clear that this matchup will eventually come around, especially after fellow Head-Fi'er @Dsnuts stated how they sound better than the S5. That statement really got me interested in getting the Rain 2, as I loved the Brainwavz S5 a lot. So I took the time to get the two together for a head-to-head comparison, and here's what I got.

The Brainwavz S5 has bass. Lots and lots of it. It's heavy, it’s sluggish, and it’s warm, but it’s big, loud, and a lot of fun to listen to. The Rain 2…not so much. Sure, it’s more balanced and accurate, but to me, when you have bass emphasis like this, you either go hard or go home. The bass impact sounds noticeably dumbed down compared to the sheer force of the S5. As for the midrange, the Rain 2 easily gets the upper hand, but is still too warm to play every basic genre in the book anyway, so I’m going to leave it at that. The treble and soundstage also goes to the Rain 2, since it has a decent amount of space compared to the intimate, almost congested S5.

But overall, which would I pick over the other? Well, if I were me with all of my other IEMs, I would easily pick neither and go back to my Heaven 2 or ME03, that’s for sure. But supposing that I had only these two IEMs and had to pick only one to keep, I would probably keep the Rain 2 because of its better all-around ability. As much as I hate both IEMs with instrumental and classical music, the Rain 2 is just slightly more tolerable with those genres and for that reason I pick these woodies over the Brainwavz S5 – although only by a hair.


Versus Brainwavz S0 ($50)


The first thing I noticed when I compared the two is how they sound almost exactly the same. Everything from the low-end, to the midrange, to the soundstage...they’re 95% identical. &Okay, so I may be over exaggerating that last part, but it was a pretty big surprise to see just how similar they sounded. Let’s break it down a bit.

The bass is very similar in terms of quantity and tonality. Both are warm, a little flabby, and have a similarly soft impact. The S0, however, seems to have more quantity because of its darker signature, but otherwise, it and the Rain 2 sound like brothers. The two also share lots of similarities in the midrange – they’re warm, they’re thick, and they don’t sound very good with pianos and classical music. However, the Rain 2 edges the other out with its slightly cleaner and clearer tone. Otherwise not much difference here, either. The Rain 2 also has slightly more treble than the S0, improving its balance, but again they sound similar nonetheless. As for the soundstage, I really can’t pick apart any difference between the two – they sound too similar to make out any distinctions.


~~ Conclusion ~~


The Rain 2 for me is a hit-and-miss, to put it in short. At one time I would really like it, and the other I would really hate it. But all personal opinion aside, the Rain 2 is a very good IEM if you’re in the market for a smooth, fun sound in a package that will last. 

Category Score Comment
Packaging, Accessories
7/10
100% of the Rain 2’s packaging is 100% recyclable; although either way it doesn’t really feel like you’re contributing to the planet or anything like that. The included accessories are notably generous for a Western IEM at $100, leaving a lesson other Western manufacturers could – rather, need to – learn from.
Design, Build, Microphonics
8/10
The solid wood/metal composite housings feel absolutely amazing. Overall the build isn’t heavy-duty, but the non-microphonic cable and the conservative design makes for a very good daily IEM.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
7/10
Their conventional shape allows for an easy and comfortable fit with most ears. Even with stock tips, the Rain 2 isolates pretty well.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
7/10
The Rain 2’s low-end extends well and has a nice amount of punch; however, it has a rather soft impact and bleeds into the midrange a good amount.
Midrange
5/10
The smooth, warm midrange is good for rock, pop, and EDM, but I would stay very far away from these if I were to listen to anything beyond that.
Treble
7.5/10
Crisp, lively, and nicely balances out the whole signature. Probably my favourite point of the Rain 2.
Presentation
7/10
The Rain 2’s soundstage is decently-sized and has a good amount of air. However, its presentation feels a little congested.
Other Media
6.5/10
Despite their pretty good sound signature, I wouldn’t think of using the Rain 2 as an IEM for either gaming or movies.
EQ Response
8/10
With a cut in the midbass the Rain 2 sounds more in-line with an IEM that I would like to hear from a company called Thinksound.
Value
7/10
For $100 retail they’re very much worth their price if you’re looking for a smooth, bassy IEM for pop and electronic music.
Total
7/10
I can’t say I like the Rain 2’s sound signature, but they are more than capable of pleasing the consumer crowd without any trouble.


Shout-Outs, Gallery

Again, I just want to thank Aaron Fournier for giving me the opportunity to write this review. I really hope you enjoyed reading this little article of sorts; I had lots of fun writing it and am really looking forward to seeing Thinksound’s future products. As always, the rest of the pictures taken in this review can be viewed here.

As always, this is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading!


Changelog

04/20/2015: Changed scores on some of my reviews.

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