Back in 1988, I bought some Sony fontopia earbud headphones. They were one of the earliest varieties to have a silicone moulded cover that tried to direct the sound into the ear, rather than leaking it everywhere.
I still have them, they still work, and I still use them.
Ten years later I decided I needed a second pair for use in the office, so I went and found the nearest modern equivalent. As you can probably guess if you’re familiar with how Sony’s quality control declined during the 90s, the new pair fell to bits within a year.
Last week Amazon had an offer on Sennheiser CX300 earbuds. Sennheiser have been good for me over the years, so I decided to give the CX300s a try.
They’re one of the newer varieties of earbud that works more like an earplug; they’re not as loose as (say) standard iPod headphones, but they’re not as extreme as (say) a pair of Etymotic canalphones. I find actual earplugs fatiguing in my freakishly small ears, and this design is a compromise that gives pretty good sound isolation.
They’re low impedance, which means they produce plenty of sound when driven by wimpy amplifiers like the output stage of an iPod. The sound is better than my old Sony earbuds; if I had to pick a weakness, it’s that the bass is rather ill-defined–Steve Lipson’s guitar on the last track of "Slave to the Rhythm" is audible, but lacks clarity. Overall, the sound is good enough that if you’re using them with an iPod or laptop, the headphones aren’t going to be the limiting factor on the sound quality. (They do a marvelous job of reproducing laptop sound circuitry hiss.)
At $25, I think I may have found my earbuds for the next 20 years.