Take those earbuds that came with your iPod and throw them in the garbage. No, wait. Cut the cords into little pieces, then throw them in the garbage. Then go out and buy one of these great-sounding earbuds or headphones. Plug them in to the iPod. You'll feel better within seconds. After the jump, browse our five favorite models, organized in ascending order of size and sound quality.
Sony MDR-NC11The first surprise is that earbuds can sound this good. Second is that these noise-canceling 'buds affect your balance as much as your hearing because that's another function of your inner ear. Sold with three sizes of earpad (surely one will fit) and in either iPod-white or iPod-black. $150
Shure i4cThese cellphone-compatible earbuds come with three different kinds of earpad. My favorite are the little cylinders. Squeeze them before inserting and they'll slowly expand to fill the ear canal. They seal surprisingly well, making these good-sounding Shures the next best thing to noise-canceling 'buds. $329
Yamaha RH5MAThese mid-sized headphones fit over the ear without sealing it. If you're always missing lyrics, you'll like the detailed midrange and high-frequency extension. This model has been around for decades and is a well-kept secret because audiophiles don't pay any attention to Yamaha. Musicians know better. $60
Grado SR60If you haven't had much experience with high-end audio, you may not be aware how harsh a headphone-preamp circuit can be. Okay, the iPod is above average in this respect, but you'll love the golden glow and kickin' rhythm of these comfortable mid-sized cans. A poor man's audiophile classic. $69
AKG K240 StudioThe first time I saw these Austrian-made headphones, they were on the skull of a friend who records classical concerts for public radio. Studio pros used to love 'em — and many still do. They weigh half a pound, but the definitive monster bass is something you'll get only from a high-end full-sized model. $167