Sennheiser CX 300-II
Against everything else at similar money, the Sennheisers are more detailed and attacking. Play something heavy from Deftones and you get taut, tight bass, vicious vocals and sparkly treble. Switch to the acoustic introspection of Surfjan Stevens and they've got the insight and low-level dynamics to dig up real emotion - only the presence of the half-price SoundMAGICs holds them back from a fifth star.
The SoundMAGIC PL30s prove a pleasant surprise. In the box you get an abundance of buds, both foam and plastic, as well as a chunky but solid carry case and a pair of comfortable over-ear clips. The delivery boasts bouncy, solid bass, with lovely punch and body through the range. The presentation has decent dynamics and scale.
Klipsch Image S2
We were starting to think Klipsch couldn't put a foot wrong where headphones were concerned, but these S2s prove the company is as fallible as the rest. The presentation here is distant and lacking in detail. The treble is hissy and poorly defined, the bass lacks depth, and vocals are thin and indirect. True, they are rhythmic and attacking, and like all Klipsch earphones the build quality is impressive, but sound-wise they're thrashed by rivals costing much less.
Ultimate Ears LoudEnough
These earphones reduce the volume of your source, so even at their highest point they're not loud enough to damage the delicate lugholes of children. They're available in the kinds of colours that kids might find cool, and there's a case included, but do they sound any good? Nope. They might be quite tonally even, but there's serious lack of control to the treble, which sounds distorted at the merest provocation. The overall sound is clattery and badly defined.
It's testament to how poor the iPod's bundled earphones are, that even these $49.95 Griffins are a significant improvement. You get a pair of fairly solid-feeling earphones, complete with a zip-up case and three pairs of silicone tips. Sound-wise they boast a big presentation with lots of deep bass. In fact, the low end is somewhat overbearing and fat, while treble sounds a bit sharp when pushed. However, vocals are clear, and delivery is reasonably detailed and direct.