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Earphones to improve audio listening quality

By Staff | Feb 26, 2009

If you enjoy listening to music, you are now able to enjoy wonderful sound quality, whether at home, at the gym or when you travel. Advances in miniaturization have made it possible to produce tiny, comfortable earphones.

In the past, the only way to have mobile sound quality was to wear ugly, uncomfortable, over the head “ear-muff” style headphones. These giant devices resemble something from old science fiction movies instead of simple headphones. Now it is possible to upgrade from those archaic devices to palm-sized earphones that produce superior sound quality and, at the same time, insulate you from surrounding noises.

Speaker technology has reached a point where the smallest speakers can reproduce even the most complex productions accurately and beautifully. These speakers are incorporated into a category of earphones known as “ear-canal” earphones that fit in the palm of your hand and produce sound quality that rivals their larger predecessors.

(Do not confuse “ear-canal” with “ear-bud”. “Ear-canal” earphones are positioned in your ear canal when in use. “Ear-bud” sit loosely in your outer ear.)

The exceptional sound quality is due, in part, to noise isolation techniques. Ear-canal earphones sit comfortably in the ear, insulating you from surrounding noise, including airplane engines, people, motorized equipment, etc. This insulation means that there is nothing to degrade the audio coming from the speakers. This is an enormous improvement from the older ear-muff style headphones. Ear-muff style headphones use noise cancellation techniques where (depending on the manufacturer) white noise and/or inverse sound waves are used to help cancel surrounding noise. These extra sound waves reduce and impair the audio quality.

Ear-canal earphones are designed to stop the noise before it reaches your ear, so no audio quality degrading cancellation is required. These earphones provide advantages for both travelers and those who simply want to enjoy music reproduced at its best.

Modern ear-canal earphones come in varying configurations, ranging in price from about $1,200 down to about $300. The upper end provides the most accurate and pleasurable reproductions, usually coupled with custom fitting that includes making a mold of your ears to have your new earphones made to fit you exactly. The lower cost earphones still provide excellent sound quality and, because they are so small and easy to carry, will be a nice audible upgrade from the larger ear-muff noise canceling headphones.

If you are going to upgrade to ear-canal earphones, it may also be good to think about upgrading from that old MP3 player to a newer Ogg Vorbis or FLAC audio player. Ogg and FLAC players can play legacy MP3 files in addition to the newer and higher quality Ogg and FLAC files which take maximum advantage of newer speaker technology. Then you can sit back and hear the music as the composer intended.

(Bits & Bytes is a computer troubleshooting advice column provided by Zebis, a single point of contact managed service provider located on

Sanibel serving clients worldwide.)