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How to hear what’s really on your iPod

The engineers at Shure make an array of great sounding portable headsets for your iPod – including their new, top-of-the-line E500s.

When you buy a portable music player there almost always is a pair of earbuds in the box. Most people use and enjoy those mini speakers without giving it a second thought.

But, when Apple sells a headphone upgrade on their Web site, you begin to suspect that music can sound a lot better when you're on the go. That’s because those earbuds they give you are worth exactly what you pay for them: almost nothing. Some people even call them "throwaways" — and for good reason.

The engineers at Shure know better than to rely on low-cost earbuds. They make an array of great sounding portable headsets. The best of which is the E500, which has just been released.

The E500s are a little smaller than Shure’s previous top-of-the-line model, the E5c, which still are available. They have been upgraded and improved in many ways. The stiff wire used on the E5 has been replaced with a more flexible cord. Overall, the E500s are more comfortable to use over longer periods of time.

The E500PTH (that’s their full name) is not just a miniature, single-driver speaker in a tiny enclosure. The E500 is a full-range, 3-way in-ear speaker system. Inside each earphone are a high-definition tweeter and two high-def woofers. Needless to say, the E500s are designed for audiophiles who desire a premium listening experience either at home or on the go.

This earphone system is optimized for listening to high-quality recordings, as well as lossless formats. In simple terms, the better the music files you rip and play the better your music will sound.

Included in the package is an amazing array of Shure’s sound isolating sleeves. There are four different types of ear sleeves for you to try. One of the four should be a perfect fit in your ears. When you find the right one, your E500s will be comfortable to wear in your ears while also blocking more than 90 percent of ambient noise around you.

There is also a bunch of modular cables and connectors which allow you to attach them to nearly any headphone jack (like you’d find on you home hi-fi.). They’ve even included what Shure calls a level attenuator. That’s a fancy name for a built-in volume control for when you’re faced with odd music sources such as an airplane armrest jack. Best of all, all this stuff fits in a cute oval black carry case.

Are you one of those people who find that others start conversations with you whenever you’re listening through headphones? The Shure engineers have been thinking of your needs, too. The E500 includes a push-to-listen control which activates a VoicePort microphone, allowing conversation without removing your earphones.

The bottom line here though is the sound quality. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Shure E500s are the best sounding earbuds on the planet.

If you want to hear you music the way it was supposed to sound — you might not mind plunking down a hefty $549 for the the E500s.  If, on the other hand, you prefer crunching your music files so that you can fit the maximum onto your portable device I would look at less expensive models in Shure line such as the E2c ($109), E3c ($199) or the fabulous E4c ($319).

There’s an old maxim that is apropos for many situations — especially listening to music — garbage in equals garbage out.  The Shure E500s make that clearer than any other portable headphones on the market today.