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In this report

Evaluating reviews of earbuds and earphones

Earphones and earbuds are tiny and usually unobtrusive. Reviews say they are best for the gym or for commuting on public transit. For long listening sessions, many people find full-size headphones to be more comfortable. We cover these headphones in our separate report.

That said, earphones and earbuds have eclipsed headphones as the most common way to listen to music, and with the profusion of models, there are an equally bewildering amount of earphone reviews. One of the best sources is CNET, which maintains several updated top-five lists of different types of headphones, including earphones and earbuds. PCMag.com also does a great job of comparing earphones to similar models, though some of the older reviews lack the detail of more recent ones. Consumer testing sites and publications, such as ConsumerReports.org and Britain's Which? magazine, also conduct and regularly update reviews of headphones and earphones.

Gadget review sites can be another valuable resource. ILounge.com, which reviews accessories for the iPod and iPhone, covers a wide array of earphones and earbuds, while PC World Good Gear Guide (Australia) and DigitalTrends.com give useful input with pros, cons and ratings for each set of earphones.

Macworld, MacLife and AnythingButiPod.com also provide fairly good coverage. There are also many British sources that provide useful evaluations of earphones, including What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine, Pocket-Lint.com and TrustedReviews.com. Even a French-based gadget site, DigitalVersus.com, covers many popular earphones that are also sold in the U.S.

Owners usually have less experience with earphones than professional reviewers, but they are better positioned to tell how well earphones satisfy and hold up over long periods. The best source for owner reviews is Amazon.com, though you can also find a handful of reviews for popular earphones at Newegg.com.

Picking the right earphones, like picking the right headphones, is a matter of personal preference to some degree. Reviewers often point out which earbud headphones would be better for those who like bass-heavy music, for instance, or which would be better for those seeking a more balanced sound. Finding the right fit is especially important with earphones. However, reviewers are unanimous in saying that nearly any earphones would be a great improvement over the small, basic earbuds that come packaged with most MP3 players. Even some modest $20 earphones, they say, will make your $200 iPod sound a whole lot better.

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