One of the things that no-one ever tells you about before you get an iPod is that Apple earphones are RUBBISH. I don't know why Apple made such a big deal about them in the advertising; anyone with sense ditches them as soon as possible because they're ugly and sound terrible (JLS, take note). When I got my iPod I used them for about an hour during which the sound quality was really tinny and awful and my ears started to throb and ache. And I was listening to The Beach Boys, so it's nothing to do with the ear-assailing qualities of my chosen sounds. So, in short measure I bought another pair, prompted by the fact that they were reduced in Sainsbury's to £4.99.
~*~ Appearance ~*~
Mine came in a ridiculous amount of packaging, for something so small: the kind of heat-sealed clear plastic that is impossible to get into without scissors and the courage of a lion and which still, somehow, manages to scrape the skin on your thumb as you try to retrieve your item. Why a simple cardboard box wouldn't suffice, I have no idea. They're available in different colour combinations but mine are pink and orange. It's a pretty garish combination but the wires are so thin that they don't stand out really obviously from your clothes. The earbuds themselves are the in-ear ones and have a white, soft silicone cover so you can get a good seal in your lugholes. Included in my box were extra silicone covers, although only one of each size, bizarrely. Still, unless you were buying these for a small child I think the standard silicone cover would fit in most people's ears as it's soft and malleable.
~*~ Sound Quality ~*~
Mine are a really good fit in my ears and are very comfortable to wear. If worn for long enough the heat build up can make your inner ear feel a bit itchy and uncomfortable but this only seems to happen after hours and hours.
The music on my mp3 player ranges from delicate, plinky-plonky Sigur Ros, through to multi-layered instruments and harmonies of the Delgados with the odd Jurassic 5 song and a bit of the Rolling Stones and AC/DC taking care of the rock element. There's even quite a bit of Maria Callas (I know - get me and my cultured listening habits. It's alright, though, there's plenty of Sesame Street songs on there to even up the balance). I've never thought that there's any of these genres that the headphones can't cope with, or that don't sound quite right.
The only negative points are that the earphones fit so well in the inner ear that it can, at times, feel a bit like you're underwater. If listening to quiet instrumental music you will be able to hear your own breathing and heartbeat very clearly and this can be slightly disconcerting. The noise-cancelling is so effective that if I have music on at a medium or loud volume I often won't hear the phone or the doorbell, so caution is advised if using these whilst out running, walking or cycling.
When doing the mad earphones test on YouTube all the sounds were accurately placed during the bit where the odd German man shouts "MOVING MOVING MOVING" at you and I heard everything from 120 Hz down to 20 Hz (at which point it kind of feels like all your inner organs are gently vibrating). In truth, those stats mean little to me but the test is oddly entertaining to do, especially the Hz bit, as it reminds you of what bad jazz is like (the cynic would say that all jazz is, by default, bad).
~*~ Durability ~*~
Obviously, most earphones are quite fragile and won't stand up to much battering around as the wires are so thin and these are no different. They tended to get shoved in my pocket or at the bottom of my bag and showed no signs of wear and tear but, unfortunately, they failed the lunatic cat test. The first I knew that anything was amiss was when one of the cats started making the unmistakeable 'Mum! I'm going to be sick on your shoes!' noise. Seconds later she vomited up one of the earphones. I should really be pleased that it didn't necessitate emergency surgery, but then she has a history of impressive grazing, including a battery, a five pound note, several ribbons and a twenty pence piece, so obviously has a cast iron digestive system.
Obviously, this necessitated another pair and they're no longer on sale, retailing at £10.99 in my local Tesco. This time you get extra silicone covers (two of each size, hurrah!) and a little plastic storage case included. Obviously, the latter is useful for me as it keeps the earphones safe from kitty teeth and it will also, at a push, accommodate my iPod Shuffle. These newer ones also have a teeny little clip on the wire so you can loop up any cable that you don't need. The part of the wire that's attached to the metal pin/plug is quite flimsy and I suspect the wire would break quickly if you pull it out roughly.
For around ten pounds, these are great earphones that are much, much better than the Apple ones. They fit securely in the ear, cancel external sound well (if a little too effectively at times) and do a pretty good job of preventing sound leakage. The sound quality is reasonably good for something in this price bracket: nowhere near as good as you'd get with a really good pair of Sennheisers, but well above average and certainly a marked improvement on Apple's effort.