Gadget Guru Review: Audio Awesomeness

Conservation

Make sure you read to the end, there’s a special treat!

Headphones aren’t the type of thing you’d expect from EMS, I get that. If you’re the type of person who likes to source run-of-the-mill personal noise conductors, aka headphones, then you should stop here.

If you prefer to learn with your eyes about awesome things to shove in or around your ears from a company that is big on using your feet (hiking, biking, climbing, etc), please read on.

We recently added a couple of headphone brands to our assortment – Yurbuds and thinksound – that I just spent a fair amount of time testing.  Adding these brands was a lengthy process, and one that the product manager, Chris and I debated for a while.  We both had hesitations on how our customers would feel about headphones in an outdoor store when they can go to an Apple Store, Best Buy, B&H or J&R (in NYC) or any number of other specialty electronics places to get them  In the past, we carried SkullCandy, but found that this didn’t resonate with some of you.

Ultimately, these brands were impressive to Chris and me, and we want to give  this another go-around because these two brands are producing unique products that differentiate them from the stuff you can get anywhere (it’s important to note, these brands are available in some other locations, but not many).

thinksound ts-02 mic

To go on a self-indulgent tangent for a moment, I obsess about audio quality in my life.  I have a heavy musical background that won me awards when I was younger (no, not the ones everybody wins), contributed to a lot of my travel around the world and also opened me up to the band camp jokes.  I once got to stand on stage with the timpani players from the New York Philharmonic as they rehearsed.  As a result of being a musician, I test audio products with a level of cynicism and skepticism that forces me to develop an extreme opinion: good or bad.

Before we get into the products themselves, it’s important to know a bit about headphones though: they conduct sound to the hearing pods in your brain, also known as ears. This accomplished in a variety of ways:

  • surrounding your ears completely so you can look like Princess Leia
  • covering your ears to replace your earmuffs
  • sealing your ear canals to prevent those creepy things from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan from controlling your brain
  • jamming them into your ear canals to help clean the earwax that’s been accumulating

It probably sounds like the ocean under there

This thing crawled into Chekhov's ear so Khan could control his brain

Once the mode of transportation has been selected, we get to the communication, how does it sound.  More importantly, how is the sound quality measured?  The long and short answer is in a lot of different ways.

To keep this brief:

There’s the frequency, measured in Hertz (Hz), that gives the range of tones possible in the headphones.  Most human beings can only hear 20Hz – 20,000 Hz (20 kHz).  Some people can hear slightly outside this range, pushing the lows to 12 Hz.  The high end decreases over time due to aging & the effects of excessive volume over time, which is measured in decibels (dB).  The maximum tolerance for humans is approximately 100dB, but everybody is different, and exposure to 80dB can also be damaging.  Instant deafness is at approximately 130dB.  The electrical characteristics of headphones are measure in Impedance (ohms – Ω), which measure the resistance of the frequencies traveling the wire, and Watts (W), or power, used, which is applied to the sensitivity, frequently measured in dB/mW.

The point of all of this is while everything here is important, none of this will tell you how something sounds.

Yurbuds Ironman Series

Yurbuds’ products are based off of the concept that jamming an ear bud into the ear canal is not the best option because you end up having to turn up the volume (dB) of your music to block out the surrounding noise, which puts pressure on your ears and your cranial & jaw bones.  Their medical-grade silicone ear cushions go over a pair of ear buds (like the ones you get with an iPod) to fit snugly on your ear, filtering all the sound into your ear canal without actually being inside of it.  This allows you to keep the volume slightly lower, while collecting the full range of sounds that sometimes are lost with those style buds.  The silicone sits in the concha, the hollowed out area outside of the ear canal, on the pinna, the visible part of the ear.  This silicone cushion is sweat-proof and water resistant (not water-proof), and gently locks into place so it won’t slip out of place.  You can feel free to be as intensely active as your heart desires, these should stay put.  The sound quality is quite impressive in the buds that come in the Ironman series.  They are balanced across all frequencies, not being heavy bass or treble.  At $49.95, these are fantastic sport headphones with great sound and fit.  Check them out here.

thinksound came out of extensive industry expertise from its co-founders, who decided to create a product with the smallest impact on the environment without compromising sound or quality.  That’s exactly what they achieved.  There buds are of the jam-in-your-ear style, and use recycled wood to get the crispest acoustics possible, while using PVC-free cables, recycled cardboard in their minimalist packaging, and a cotton sack to store the buds.  The most impressive characteristic of these headphones, other than the environmentally minimal impact these make in comparison to other headphones, is the sound.  Every range comes in crystal clear., whether you listen to Jazz, Classical, The Beatles, Lady Gaga or Jay-Z.  Recycled materials are typically more expensive than processed materials, but the TS-01 Sport comes in at $69.95 and the TS-02 Mic is only $10 more, at $79.95.  For how they sound, they could easily cost 2-3 times what they are at.  If you’re someone who wants a versatile pair of headphones to wear in nearly any situation, and want to reduce your carbon footprint and negative impact on the environment, an important mission of Eastern Mountain Sports, then this is a pair you need to check out!

thinksound ts-01 sport

Both brands are in our stores, and especially SoHo, because they are highly functional and have great sound.  While all of their headphone styles are aesthetically pleasing, we are continuing to focus in on functionality over fashionability, based on the feedback of Guides and customers, that want the best products available at the best prices.  For headphones, Yurbuds and thinksound are it.  If the store closest to you doesn’t have them in stock, ask them to locate a pair for you in one of our other locations.  Just in case that wasn’t enticing enough, here’s an extra special bonus…

Add a comment in reply to this Gadget Guru Review discussing how you feel about these products, or about headphones in general.  Help us get an idea on what we should make available for you, and you can WIN a free pair of headphones courtesy of Yurbuds and thinksound.  Both brands have generously donated some headphones to give to some random commenters, replies to another person’s comment are acceptable.

Adam Sherlip


Combining a lot of random interests isn't easy, but Adam Sherlip seems to find a way to mix his passions for awesome gadgetry, hockey and tea into his life.  As the first "Gadget Guru" for Eastern Mountain Sports, Adam worked closely with product managers and vendors to ensure customers get the most appropriate tech tools for their global adventures.  As the Founder and Executive Director of The Hockey Foundation, Adam uses ice hockey to help empower youth, support community development and foster international understanding & cooperation in remote regions of the world, starting in the Himalayas.

68 Comments

  1. Edi
    June 14, 2011, 4:35 pm

    While mountain biking here in my local Queens park I had to readjust my Bose earbuds too many times for satisfy uninterrupted music cycling soundtrack. Perfect synchronicity to learn about them post ride. I am going to EMS to sample these promising headphones tomorrow.
    Yurbuds may be my buds for the next urban ride. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Ed Smith
    June 14, 2011, 9:27 am

    Kool…

  3. Candice
    June 13, 2011, 9:25 pm

    These sound amazing!

  4. Jennifer
    June 13, 2011, 7:23 pm

    Would like to check them out at the store – I’m in the need of something new.

  5. Plum
    June 13, 2011, 4:21 pm

    Agggh! Wrath of Kahn reference. Thanks for dredging those nightmares up again!

  6. Charisse H
    June 13, 2011, 3:41 pm

    Love the look of the Yurbuds! If they stay put while I’m working out even better!! Thanks for the review.

  7. Mark Parrish
    June 13, 2011, 3:17 pm

    These look great. Can’t wait to check them out.

  8. Kelsey Moore
    June 13, 2011, 2:54 pm

    Silicone, now there’s an interesting solution. Love the low impact concept of the others as well. Curious as to whether or not that sound quality lives up to the review.

  9. John Coffey
    June 13, 2011, 2:45 pm

    Set it and forget it, that would be awesome. Not constantly having to screw it back into my ears when I’m sweaty…priceless.

  10. lslapiko
    June 13, 2011, 1:50 pm

    Those yurbuds sound great. My earbuds are constantly falling out of my ears when I’m riding my bike. Do they have volume control on the cable by any chance? That’s the best feature of the Skullcandy ones I ride with now.

  11. Kelley T
    June 13, 2011, 1:32 pm

    I’m always on the hunt for earphones that won’t fall out while I’m working out, these look like they could do the trick

  12. June 13, 2011, 1:30 pm

    These look like they might stay in your ear PLUS deliver good sound. The only pair I can find that work while exercising are $9 specials from Rite Aid. They stay in but sound horrible.

  13. June 13, 2011, 1:22 pm

    I hate the idea of using any kind of headphone/ear-bud when exercising outdoors, it’s makes us dangerously oblivious to our surroundings. That said I am constantly looking for a good set of earphones to use on trains and planes. Ideally they would combine good sound with some noise canceling and a solid fit. I have a Jawbone blue-tooth headset for my phone and that features the type of “screw in” ear cushion that the Yurbud does. This works really well for both sound quality and positive engagement. I have no problem buying electronics at a store like EMS as I suspect the salespeople would be as knowledgeable about them as the rest of the equipment they sell.

  14. June 13, 2011, 1:15 pm

    it would be nice to have a pair that are comfy and want to stay in my ears.

  15. Emily Fantaskey
    June 13, 2011, 1:12 pm

    These headphones sound great! I just started running, and I’ve been having a lot of ‘headphone issues’. I’ve been thinking I need to upgrade to something better than my cheap $10 pair, and now you’ve given me two great ideas to check out. Thanks!

  16. Edward Chun
    June 13, 2011, 12:39 pm

    These look like a design that actually might work. Looking forward to trying on a pair. Handsomely designed!

  17. Brian Wiggins
    June 13, 2011, 12:12 pm

    Hopefully they stay in even when you’re ears get sweaty. Yes, my ears get sweaty. Stop pointing.

  18. Joshua Katzman
    June 13, 2011, 12:05 pm

    I keep hoping to find a pair of earphones for exercising that don’t hurt of fall out. Hopefully these might do the trick.

  19. Sandra D.
    June 13, 2011, 12:04 pm

    Finding headphones that fit well whilst running, hiking, rollerblading and just enjoying life has been a long process. A very long one – still haven’t found the ones i’m looking for. This just might be it!

  20. Michael W.
    June 13, 2011, 12:01 pm

    I’d love to find a pair of headphones that don’t slip out of my ears as soon as I have a little sweat!

  21. benny
    June 13, 2011, 12:01 pm

    Interesting.

  22. Michael D.
    June 13, 2011, 11:54 am

    I have a hard time finding a pair of headphones/earbuds that are good for running

  23. Carlos S
    June 13, 2011, 11:54 am

    I’ve found it hard to find a set of headphones that fits securely without feeling like an alien is attached to my ear. I think I’ll give the Ironman series or the ts-01 sports a try next time I stop by the store.

  24. Patrick Scherer
    June 13, 2011, 11:53 am

    I would love a new set of headphones, mine always seem to break unfortunately

  25. VT Mom
    June 13, 2011, 11:53 am

    I’m always looking for a better option – the earphones we bought our daughter a few months ago turned out to have a warning inside the packaging: the wire casings contained LEAD! The warning tells you to wash your hands after handling. Yikes!

    My son, on the other hand, seems to be adept at killing the left “bud” on his headphones. I like the idea of low-impact buds, and given how my teen years destroyed my hearing, the lower-volume ones also sound like a good idea for growing ears. It would be interesting to know if either can survive my son, though. :-)

  26. Angela A
    June 13, 2011, 11:52 am

    I thought I was the only one who had the issue of ear phones popping out during running.. wow we should form a support group! ha- or all pool our money to buy yurbuds!

  27. Dave
    June 13, 2011, 11:51 am

    Intersting.

  28. William Eburn
    June 13, 2011, 11:49 am

    Could really use a pair of headphones that don’t fly out of my ears when I hit the cord…

  29. Patrick Nolles
    June 13, 2011, 11:48 am

    As a musician myself, I appreciate a product review by someone critical of audio quality in an earbud, two things that typically don’t go well together, the environmental responsibility is an added bonus, I will have to give these a listen sometime soon

  30. Jennifer Cozzy
    June 13, 2011, 11:45 am

    As previously mentioned, I’ve always experienced catastrophic failure in at least one ear within a relatively short periood of use, maybe 6-8 months, these certainly look a bit more substantial and of better quality, definitely worth checking out!

  31. Tina
    June 13, 2011, 11:38 am

    I’m sorry I can’t hear you……that’s because no matter what headphones I’ve tried with my iPods 1 side always stops working after just a few months. Does Yurbud or thinksound still actually work after 6 months? It’s like the sweat pouring out of my hair causes headphones to malfunction. I’d love to win a pair to see if they can stand up to my workouts.

  32. Mary Evans
    June 13, 2011, 11:37 am

    These look awesome – I’ve never seen anything like them!

  33. Jack Daley
    June 13, 2011, 11:34 am

    Cool, I’d love to win one of them.

  34. Christopher
    June 13, 2011, 11:29 am

    These “sound” like a good idea, but how are they when exposed to profuse perspiration?

  35. Daniel
    June 13, 2011, 11:27 am

    i wannem

  36. June 12, 2011, 6:17 pm

    As a musician, I love the idea of you guys carrying audio products like headphones. I really like the thinksound support. Its great to see you supporting an environmentally aware audio company. Thats a very refreshing thing to see. I love getting out into nature and doing my part to help preserve it, but as I said, I’m also a musician and currently in school for audio production, so being exposed to “green” headphones that also sound good, with a truly intriguing design, is great in my opinion. Please bring us more products like these. However, having noise cancellation outside sometimes isn’t the worst thing in the world to have… sometimes.

  37. Petur Djantov
    June 12, 2011, 11:02 am

    Yurbuds Ironman Series look so sexy and they’re not expensive , but thinksound look like they’re in another level. I’d be glad to win either one of them.

  38. Rick
    June 12, 2011, 7:31 am

    This type of in-depth product review is what continues to give EMS credibility as experts focused on products that are functional and relevant to its customers and community of outdoor enthusiasts. The review is insightful, educational and so much better than stuff that I generally find online. I’ve heard of Yurbuds but not thinksound. However, now I’m inclinded to consider both! Awesome stuff Adam.

  39. Angela A
    June 12, 2011, 5:40 am

    Yesterday I ran a 10k- I would have done a lot better if I didn’t have to constantly pop my right ear head phone back into my ear!

  40. Caffenaiteddude
    June 10, 2011, 8:30 pm

    Thanks for a very useful product guide. I am in the market for a pair and i think i found just what i’ve been looking for! Moreover, its things like this that keep me coming back to EMS! Great job!

  41. Matthew
    June 10, 2011, 5:22 pm

    I like how green the thinksound buds are. And I’ve found the wrap-around design much more effective when I’m running… I’ve always been one of those people that just can’t get ear buds to stay in regardless of how little bounce I have when I run.

  42. eric marcoux
    June 10, 2011, 1:51 pm

    can you say awsome .

  43. Jennifer
    June 10, 2011, 1:25 pm

    I have to say if I saw earbuds at EMS I’d be so much more likely to buy them and the fact that they won’t fall out makes them even more worth it. I am definitely going to have to look for these next time I get the chance.

  44. Mark Parrish
    June 10, 2011, 12:59 pm

    I would buy earbuds at EMS if you carried them. Go for it!

  45. June 10, 2011, 10:49 am

    These are great comments & questions. I will reply to as many as possible in a second post, so please keep them coming!

  46. Mark Miller
    June 10, 2011, 10:45 am

    Correction: In my previous comment, I said the yurbuds brand would be my ideal choice for use at the gym. I really meant to say that the thinksound brand would be my ideal choice (I accidentally said the yurbuds brand). The thinksound brand are the canal earphoned, which would block out external sound & provide optimum music sound quality, whereas the yurbuds branded ones wouldn’t be pushed into the ear canal. Sorry for the typo (unfortunately, there does not appear to be a way to revise my original comment).

  47. Mark Miller
    June 10, 2011, 10:36 am

    Thanks for the excellent review of both products! I’ve never heard of either brand (yurbuds & thinksound) before, but your review make them both sound like excellent values for the money. I consider myself to be somewhat of an audiophile and I love listening to music, whether it be in the car (my 2002 Toyota Solara with the optional JBL sound system is quite impressive), on the treadmill at the gym (I currently use a pair of Sennheiser sweat-resistant earbuds which sound pretty good) or listening at home (for which I use a pair of Etymotic HF2′s canal earbuds that sound phenomenal). Now that I’m getting to the gym on an almost daily basis, I’m wishing for some earbuds with better sound that are sweat-resistant. And so I’d love to try the yurbuds brand for that reason. But I’m wondering if (and hoping that) the thinksound brand ones would work out (no pun intended) just as well, if not better, at the gym because they’re the canal ones that you push into your ears (like my Etymotic HF2′s) — I personally find the canal earbuds to offer the best sound. For my type of exercise at the gym (brisk walking on the treadmill), the yurbuds ear canal ones would be ideal. But for someone who walks/runs outdoors, canal buds would not be a good choice in my opinion because they effectively block out external sound, which is important because for safety reasons you need to hear what’s going on around you (e.g. a car coming up behind you). So again, for my type of exercising at the gym, where blocking out external sounds is not as dangerous, the thinksound’s seem to be the better choice for the music sound quality. The only question is how they would handle sweat in comparison to the sweat-resistant yurbuds brand. And so I would love to win a pair of either brand! :)

  48. June 10, 2011, 10:23 am

    Sweet! I love the level of detail you get into when talking about style, fit and sound. For an outdoor/active brand/retailer, you do bettter than most of the retailers who focus on audio and consumer elctronics in helping me select the right solution. Kudos!

    I would shop with EMS for things like this based on that sort of service. I think they are a great compliment to your core offering! More stuff like this, with that sort of detail would be great!

  49. Christine
    June 10, 2011, 9:26 am

    These look awesome! Would love to try them, CAN’T bike (or take the train. ever.) without a good pair of headphones to play live shows from one of my ipods!

  50. rich collins
    June 10, 2011, 9:04 am

    I collect earphones on the eternal quest to find the best pair. Then i use them all for different things. its an addition, i will need these too.

  51. Anne
    June 10, 2011, 8:52 am

    I prefer to listen to the birds while outdoors, but for those who need music, glad they’ve got another option :)

  52. Sean
    June 10, 2011, 8:22 am

    I’ve had an ipod for years and have always used the buds that come with it. I’ve tried cheaper, worse pairs of earbuds, but never been incredibly intrigued about more expensive pairs. (because I assumed anything better than the ipod pair would be a lot more expensive). I’ve never looked too much into other earphones or earbuds. But honestly, this review has made me think again. The price points on the ones reviewed are totally within reason. The simple fact that these can be more effective with less damage is a very appealing idea. If I don’t randomly win a pair here, I am going to definatley check these out for myself.

  53. Andrew
    June 10, 2011, 8:07 am

    I’d love to try the model made with recycled wood. I am very critical when it comes to cound quality and even my headphones that are supposed to meant for use during intense activity fall out of my ears constantly while running. I’m still getting back in shape after years of inactivity, so right now running sucks without the music, would love a pair of these!!

  54. June 10, 2011, 8:04 am

    I think the Thinksound headphones make complete sense to have at EMS. Not only are they great sounding earphones, they are helping to reduce the impact on the environment. I think if sports enthusiasts, especially hikers, bikers, and climbers, were going to go into their sports store to purchase headphones, they would definitely be interested in a pair like the Thinksound ts-01. As a musician, I am always skeptical about good sound and I am interested to hear these things in person. I like the fact that the drivers are housed in wood I also like that the are similarly styled like IEMs (in ear monitors) how they go around your ear, then in.

  55. Tara E
    June 10, 2011, 8:04 am

    The design is really intriguing… as another music lover I would be interested in testing out the sound quality myself!

  56. Perry
    June 10, 2011, 7:55 am

    I never run without music – would love to try ‘em!

  57. Angela A
    June 10, 2011, 7:53 am

    I have yet to find a headphone that does not slip out of my ear canal when I jog! Maybe I’ll get lucky and win a pair that I can wear to exercise with!

  58. Chris
    June 10, 2011, 7:51 am

    I would be interested in trying these. I have one pair of over the ears and one pair of buds, so the combination looks like something worth a go, may eliminate having the 2 pair that I’m currently using, especially if they sound as good as they sound.

  59. Mae
    June 10, 2011, 7:50 am

    I would love a pair of yurbuds! As a musician I am always worried about my hearing – I have enough decibels each day, I don’t need more. These look comfortable, simple, and kind of cute. However, I don’t think I can afford them, though they will certainly be on my wish list, birthday list, and christmas list!

  60. ed
    June 10, 2011, 7:39 am

    I’d like to give the thinksound a try. The over ear plastic loop looks like it will solve the problem most isolating earbuds have. I’ve had a few brand’s over the years where the wires crack and break over the ear, especially if you run a lot and things get sweaty.

  61. Eric
    June 10, 2011, 7:37 am

    These look interesting. I currently use skull candy, which I first noticed at EMS, so it makes more sense than you’d think.

  62. June 10, 2011, 7:33 am

    I think headphones are important and I travel a lot for business so I bought a pair of Nose Isolating Sleek-Audio SA6′s which I love. I think EMS should look into the SA1 they have to carry. As outdoors people we often are doing things and have cords fray and break on us. The nice thing about the Sleek Audio’s is that when that happens you can just buy a new cord for a fraction of the price instead of needing a whole new pair of headphones.

  63. Christina
    June 10, 2011, 7:32 am

    Sounds perfect for my active sporty lifestyle! Looking forward to checking them out. I find it’s hard to find the perfect headphone these days. I am hoping my search will finally be over.

  64. June 10, 2011, 7:31 am

    I don’t always listen to music when I run but sometimes it really changes the experience for me. On my long runs that I don’t really have a distance or time goal for, I like to listen to ‘The Fountain’ and ‘Inception’ soundtracks. Amazing music and makes me feel like I’m running in a commercial or something!

    I’ve been really interested in the Yurbuds because people seem to like them a lot. High quality sound and an earbud that’s built specifically for athletic people?! Dream come true!

  65. June 10, 2011, 7:28 am

    Really love how thinksound’s design is very sustainable. Great review!

  66. meagen
    June 10, 2011, 7:27 am

    i am an athletic girl who knows al.ost everything i need to know about sports. I have started to become an extreme outdoor fanatic to find new adventure and i am loving it.Athletics have come easy to me but never music. I just purchased my first baby taylor! im trying to train and teach my self music and a have recently realized the importance of head phones. Having small ears i find it hard to find a comfy fit but these seem to be ver comy both around and in the ear! great choices…im going to have to head to e.m.s and check them out.
    thank you!!!

  67. David G
    June 10, 2011, 7:24 am

    I’d actually been wondering about this kind of thing for a while – are there good noise-filtering headphones at a decent size and price? Apparently so. While I don’t take my ipod on campouts, except perhaps for use in my car sound system on the trips to and from the site, I have used it heavily at school, to the point of earbud failure. I always carry spares, but they are a bit silly begin with. I would consider these earbuds to be a great luxury.

  68. jsteele
    June 10, 2011, 6:43 am

    I was looking for a new pair of headphones the other day. I have the standard iPhone headphones and they’ve been giving me pains if I wear them too long. When I travel I have noise canceling huge cans but that is not always convenient so I want something of good quality that I can stow easily. I’ll have to check these out in person.

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