1st Place: Ultimate Ears 700 Noise-Isolating Earphones
Personal preference is a significant factor in deciding what earphones you should consider. Do they look good? Do they sound good? Will people know I have an iPod if I wear these? Getting good value for money is an important consideration, too. The Ultimate Ears 700 earphones may not be white, but they do have an attractive, compact design that still manages to accommodate dual drivers in each earpiece, without breaking the bank.
The sound signature of the Ultimate Ears 700s may not suit everyone, tending towards mid- and high-end clarity rather than low-end fullness and overall warmth, but if it does suit your tastes the output is delightful. £130 could buy you a lot of things, sure, but if you enjoy listening to music reproduced with a level of quality bundled earphones will never afford, you'll be hard pushed to do better elsewhere without spending a fair bit more money.
There was a time when custom fitted earphones were a luxury item, priced out of the reach of your average consumer. No so much any more, as the Etymotic Research hf2 custom-fitted earphones prove. At close to £200 they're not cheap, but neither are they out of the realm of affordability. The main draw, of course, is the custom tips, which provide a fit and comfort level that's simply unobtainable with even the best off-the-shelf, one-size-doesn't-quite-fit-anyone earphones. The inclusion of an in-line remote and microphone is just icing on the cake.
The upshot of the custom fit is a pair of earphones that you'll be happy to wear day in, day out for hours at a time with no trace of discomfort. And, of course, the improved noise isolation means you can appreciate the impressive audio quality of the hf2s all the better - we've yet to find a better sounding pair of single-driver 'phones.
3rd Place: iBasso D2 Boa Headphone Amplifier
It's a sad but undeniable reality that the vast majority of portable music players (iPods notoriously so, for example) aren't exactly renowned for the ground breaking quality of their audio reproduction. But with a headphone amplifier such as the iBasso Boa D2 exist you can take that meagre output and turn it into something much more befitting a quality set of headphones.
You'll need to have invested in a half-decent set of headphones to fully get the benefit, but if you do the results are excellent. Fuller, richer, crisper and warmer sounds will be yours to enjoy. Better yet, the Boa D2 also doubles as a USB DAC for your PC!
Do you need a dedicated headphone amp? No, but once you listen to your music through an iBasso Boa D2 you'll never want to be without it.