If you're an iPod listener for any length of time, it slowly dawns on you that those crafty people down at Apple have supplied you with headphones that are not of the highest caliber. (Sort of like how when you buy a digital camera, the memory card that it comes with can only hold like 10 pictures.) Thus, you're forced to venture once more into the electronics aisle. I've tried several under-$20 varieties so far, and was less than enthused. I kept eyeing a certain $50 pair for a while, and finally broke down the other night and bought them.
They are Sony's "High Peformance" earbuds, gratuitous code number MDR-EX71SL (white). Setting aside for the moment the realization that I could've gotten these for at least $10 cheaper if I'd actually waited a few days instead of hurrying off to the sleek Apple Store on Prince Street, these headphones rock. They are a marked improvement over the cheaper brands. And while they're not as cool as the much-pricier Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones, they approximate some of that block-out-the-ambient-patter feature. The subway sounds especially are cut down heavily once you've snugged the little buds inside your ears. They're comfortable, and have different sizes of ear cushions, too. The music and words themselves come through much clearer, so much so that I can hear more imperfections on some of the tracks that downloaded from the internet back in the day. But the burned-from-CD tracks and downloaded-off-iTunes ones come through really well.
My only complaint so far is the cord length. The headphones are attached to a short cord, which can then be connected to an extension to make it longer. The short cord is almost too short and the extended version leaves too much slack. I've found at least that I can slip my iPod into my chest pocket with the shorter cord length if I'm wearing a button-down shirt and still have enough room to take it out and switch songs.
Overall, though, I'd say these earbuds are worth it, although you can probably find them online for cheaper than going to most stores.
(Title quote from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury)