It’s a familiar sight these days – on the tube, walking in the street or jogging in the park – those people with the tell-tale white cables snaking up from their shirt collar into their ears. And, of course, it’s one of the trademark images on Apple’s own advertising. Those little earphones that are sold with every iPod have become part of our cultural wallpaper.
However, when you buy an iPod, you’re primarily paying for the iPod itself. The earphones – while not exactly an afterthought – aren’t exactly top of the range audio accessories. The sound quality isn’t bad at all, but the iPod earphones are primarily designed for convenience. They’re small, light and easy to slip into your pocket when they’re no longer needed.
Sometimes, though, you want more than just convenience. If you really want to hear your music at its best then you should probably think about buying a good old-fashioned set of full-size headphones. You can get a very good pair for less than £50. The models we saw from Sennheiser and Koss fit the bill perfectly well. They’re basic – there are no inline controls, and the plastic materials are a bit cheap and cheerful – but the sound quality is very good and they’re light enough to carry around in a backpack if you need to.
The sound quality provided by these relatively inexpensive products will satisfy most people. However, other types of headphones are available that provide additional features as well as more impressive audio quality.
Noise-cancelling headphones seem to be flavour of the month at the moment. These are designed to block out background noise in places such as the underground or a noisy street, allowing you to focus all your attention on the music itself. This type of headphone used to be prohibitively expensive, but you can now get a decent set from high-quality brands such as Altec Lansing for well under £100.
We were also interested in the more expensive Aurvana headphones from Creative Labs. As well as their noise-cancelling features, these include a special ‘crystaliser’ option designed to improve the quality of compressed digital audio files. This addition really does work – although you have to pay more than £150 for the extra sound quality. Then there are more pragmatic models, such as Philips’ Bluetooth headset, which is aimed at the executive mobile phone addict.
So take a look at what’s on offer and decide which headphones will provide the quality and features you need.