Thinksound USP1 (Pewter Earpiece) IEM/Earphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 5, 2018.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone7+ with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the AudioQuest DragonFly Red/Lehmann Traveller DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Thinksound USP1 earphone/IEM (USP1 hereafter) are based on comparisons to other IEM's (Sennheiser IE800, RHA T20, FI-BA-SS etc.), to a few reference headphones, and to notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to this IEM (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use these earphones) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    NOTE: For me, the sound of most IEM's varies widely depending on the eartips used and how well they seal for bass balance etc. in the ear canals. But, I have a good sense of when I'm getting the proper ear-canal seal, by pushing the earpieces in until the treble drops noticeably, then backing off until it pops back in - crude but effective. I won't try to describe an absolute frequency response for this earphone, because of the variability for different users. For users who are curious about that, I recommend checking the headphone test measurement websites for their response measurement charts. What I want to describe are the tonality and musicality issues, assuming of course that the sound is good hi-fi, and the Thinksound USP1 is indeed very good hi-fi. The music tracks listed below were selected to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of this earphone, so hopefully the comments in that list will point up its most important sonic qualities.

    My IEM experiences include the Final Audio FI-BA-SS (hard and bright), the Sennheiser IE800 (wonderful), the B&O H3 (slightly bright and a bit lean, but good), the RHA T20 (like the H3), several Soundmagic models (decent sound that varies between a lean bass and an emphasized but woofy bass), the Xiaomi MI-IF Piston (as good as or better than the Soundmagic earphones), the Thinksound TS03-Plus 'woodie', and now the USP1. Comparing the USP1 to the TS03-Plus, the USP1 impresses me as very energetic - somewhat of a "v-shaped" signature, with deeper and stronger bass, and an upper end that perfectly complements the bass. From my first listen, this was ideal for portable use, with just enough on the high and low ends to work outdoors or on public transport. But this is a hi-fi earphone, so using it at home means installing the right eartips to get a more neutral response there. In either case, depending on your eartip fit, the sound quality is very impressive (see the music track examples below).

    The USP1's earpieces are made of pewter, and for good reason. As I read the description and watched one product video, I was reminded of how Grado makes some of the metal housings for their full-size headphones - porous, so that resonances are well-suppressed within the randomly constituted metallic material. I see that the design intent is similar for the USP1, and the smoothness of the sound is evidence of that. Isolation is moderate, or as good as an average** IEM, and the leakage is effectively nonexistent. The rubberized cable is 48 inches long, with slight microphonics*** near the earpieces. The Y-split occurs about 12 inches down from the earpieces. The plug is a 3.5 mm 45-degree angled miniplug. The cable seems pretty typical for IEM's, not fragile nor extra thick, and there are strain reliefs going into each earpiece, which increase reliability. The USP1 comes with a small silky carry bag, 4 sets of eartips, a clothing clip to keep the cable secure when in use, and warranty cards.

    **In my case, I can't be sure that my ear-canal seal is average, so your mileage (as they say) may vary.

    ***Use the supplied clothing clip to eliminate any rubbing noise/microphonics.

    In previous IEM reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the earphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the USP1 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has amazing detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The USP1 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the USP1.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry with the USP1.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The USP1 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled perfectly by the USP1.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The USP1 plays the voices with enough low end warmth to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The USP1 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the USP1 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The USP1 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The USP1 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The USP1 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates an excellent deep-bass response. Overall, the USP1 plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The USP1 plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track have great impact with the USP1. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The USP1 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the USP1 does those very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The USP1 plays this with good weight and detail, such that you can hear/feel some of the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the USP1 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is impressive with the USP1.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the USP1 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The USP1's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is better than the average headphone.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The USP1 conveys that drama as well as any headphone that I've heard. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the USP1 renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The USP1's reproduction is excellent, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The USP1 delivers the impacts with strong weight and good detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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