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Sennheiser MX 560 Earphones
When I go out into the countryside for a walk or cycle ride, the stupidity of sheep always astounds. They've been domesticated for thousands of years, yet when we walk or ride towards them on a country lane, they always stop grazing, panic and run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. You'd think, by now, they'd have learned that simply by standing still, they'd be perfectly safe; instead they risk life and limb in a headlong dash down a steep, stony path, to escape the menaces of some slow-moving, lesser-spotted British walkers.
It's an analogy I like to apply to iPod-owning commuters. You'd think by now, after years of Apple bundling the same old horrible white headphones with the music players they're all so enamoured of, they'd have figured out that they sound terrible. But no - sheep-like, they continue to listen completely oblivious to the fact that they're wasting a perfectly good MP3 player on a poor pair of headphones. I've even heard of people who break or wear out their iPod earbuds actually paying good money to replace them with more of the same. I kid you not.
There's really no excuse for this sort of behaviour, when simply spending £40 more on a pair of Sennheiser CX 400's will net a pair of headphones about a million times better. But for those who just can't bring themselves to splash out even this much, there are still plenty of decent alternatives out there. Sennheiser, for example, doesn't only make expensive headphones; it also makes budget replacement pairs too. These MX 560 earbuds, for instance, only cost £19 - that's precisely the amount you'll pay to renew your 'official' white efforts - and they also happen to be far superior.
Of course for this money, you're not getting all the luxury features of more expensive headphones. The earpieces aren't made from aluminium; they're all plastic. The cable isn't modular; it's just one piece. And you don't get ear canal noise-isolation for this sort of money. But you do get a surprisingly complete package. Instead of simply throwing the earphones in a box with some foam earpads, as Apple does, Sennheiser includes a soft pouch and a neat rubber cable winder. The latter has a couple of sockets you can plug the earphones into to protect them and an inch-long tail to wind the cable around to keep it from knotting up in your pocket.
And despite the plastic construction, these headphones do feel well-constructed and well-made. There's nothing here that makes me think it's a candidate for breakage. The 3.5mm stereo jack is, thoughtfully, at right-angles, so when your MP3 player is sitting in your pocket there's likely to be less strain on the audio input socket and, unlike many cheap headphones, the cables between the earpieces and the plug feel pleasingly robust.