The Sony PFR-V1 Personal Field Speaker Headphones look very strange, there's no escaping that. But the reason for the strange appearance is that these headphones are designed not to sound like headphones, but to sound like a high quality pair of speakers. And you know what? That's exactly how they do sound.
The PFR-V1s are, to all intents and purposes, two small speakers that sit a few centimetres away from your ears, while dedicated bass pipes sit just inside your ears. The result is s truly spectacular sound unlike any other headphones we've listened to. Couple these babies with some high quality source material and a good quality player and you're in for a real treat.
There's even a tiny, in-line, powered headphone amp thrown in for good measure. So if your player has line-out capability, you'll get an even cleaner, higher quality signal. The PFR-V1s are also extremely comfortable, even after extended usage - so if you have a few hours to kick back and listen to some quality tunes, aching ears won't distract you from the music.
If you can see past the unusual design, and the fact that Sony won't be the first name that springs to mind when you think of high end headphones, pick up a pair of these. You won't be sorry.
2nd Place: Klipsch Custom-3 Noise Isolating Earphones
The high end earphone market has been growing steadily over the past few years, with the likes of Shure, Ultimate Ears and Etymotic Research all fighting for your hard earned cash. This year though, Klipsch threw its hat into the ring, and in the process threw the cat among the pigeons.
Although the Klipsch Images were the most discrete and comfortable earphones we'd ever encountered, they couldn't quite manage the sound quality to get them onto this list. Instead, it's the Klipsch Custom-3s that have made the cut, with their dual driver technology and full bodied sound.
The Custom-3s manage to produce a very cohesive sound, despite the dual driver configuration, making them a real alternative to the Shure SE420s. They're a little more bass heavy than the Shures, which lean more towards ultimate clarity - that alone will endear them to many potential buyers.
The bundle is also great, with large and small carry cases, multiple size ear tips, converters for aeroplane use and full size sockets, and a braided cable that keeps tangles to a minimum.
3rd Place: Shure SE102 Noise Isolating Earphones
Shure had been pretty quiet in 2008 until the launch of this new set of entry level earphones. Even though the SE102s can't produce the kind of sound you'll get from a pair of E500PTHs or even SE420s, these single driver earphones are very affordable considering Shure's heritage.
There's a design departure from the rest of the SE range, but that doesn't make them any less comfortable. While even entry level Shure sound quality is light years ahead of anything you're likely to get bundled with your MP3 player. Without a doubt, the best thing you can do to improve the quality from your iPod/Walkman/iRiver etc. is to dump the bundled headphones and buy some decent ones, and the Shure SE102s make doing that even easier.