While iPod’s EarPod technology definitely delivers exceptional sound quality in an earbud, and according to Cnet’s Justin Yu, it’s hard to beat Klipsch’s Image S4i II for sound and fit, there are still many audiophiles who feel a tiny speaker secreted at the top of the external auditory canal cannot compare to a set of noise cancelling, circumaural stereo phones.

Circumaural is a very fancy word that simply means the headphone encircles your ear, like the padded speakers in a pair of traditional over the ear headphones. Supra-aural is the term that refers a disc-like, usually foam covered headphone, like those that came with the once-ubiquitous Walkman. Everyone is in basic agreement that while the supra-aural phones are lighter weight and easy to use, they cannot hold a candle to the circumaural phones.

Noise cancelling phones on the other hand use a frequency designed to largely eliminate sounds from the “outside” like airplane cabin noise, and allow the listener to hear music at a lower level because the recorded sound doesn’t have to overcome the other noises. The trade-off is usually, however, a decrease in low frequency punch—in other words, the bass isn’t going to punch you in the gut—but that’s true of pretty much any headphone.

For truly great bass you can’t beat a free standing speaker set. Dr. Dré’s Beats headphones are trying to answer the bass issue, but reviews on the very popular circumaural phones are mixed. Yes, they definitely amp up the lower frequency, but unless you’re willing to invest in the $300 Executive version of Dr. Dré’s noise cancelling phones, you’ll get better overall quality from Klipsch’s phones or earbuds at a smaller price tag.

It may sound like for a purist, the only way to go is a full phone, but Apple is not to be outshone. Tech Crunch recently reported that the computing giant has a patent pending for building noise cancelling, bone conducting technology into its new generation of EarPods. Yes, bone technology.
The technology is supposed to sense the vibrations in your skull, and kick its noise cancelling frequency on and off based on whether the earbud thinks you’re talking or engaged in activity that requires you to hear outside sounds. Bone tech can also filter speech sounds from others and adjust volumes accordingly. Apple seems to be banking on a marriage of bone technology and multi-microphone placements to outshine their full headphone competitors. Whether Apple can take on BOSE head-to-head (pardon the pun) remains to be heard.

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