Klipsch Image S4 In-Ear Headphones (Black)

The good: Exceptional sound quality for the money. They're also very comfortable and come with a few handy extras such as a storage box and cleaning tool.

The bad: The cable of the Image S4 earphones doesn't seem very durable, and the included eartips may not work for everyone.

The cost: $58 to $79.99

The bottom line: Sound quality on par with and better than sets that cost many times as much; a spectacular choice for anyone looking for new earbuds. 4.5 stars

Shure SE535 Sound Isolating Earphones (Metallic Bronze)

The good: These headphones offer exceptional clarity; deep, tight bass; rich, enveloping sound, and great noise isolation. They are also relatively comfortable and include some useful extras such as an in-line volume control and an airplane adapter.

The bad: The Shure SE535s are expensive, and the earbuds are on the large side.

The cost: $434 to $499.99

The bottom line: Anyone looking for ultra-compact headphones with top-notch sound quality should consider these. This set will cost you a pretty penny, but it'll be worth it. 4 stars

Bose QuietComfort 3

The good: A smaller and more compact follow-up to the QuietComfort 2s. They offer a more compact design, extra-comfortable cushy foam earpieces, a rechargeable battery, full sound, and effective noise-canceling circuitry, and they fold up for storage in the included carrying case. Additionally, Bose offers a 30-day home trial.

The bad: Even more expensive than their predecessors. And when the battery dies, so does the music.

The cost: $349.95 to $349.99

The bottom line: Bose has done a remarkable job of shrinking its popular noise-canceling headphones while achieving similarly impressive sound quality -- but that engineering feat doesn't come cheap. 4 stars

Koss PortaPro Headphones

The good: Combines a functional design with excellent 3-D sound and a low price tag.

The bad: Hair gets caught in the collapsible band; some people will dislike the '80s aesthetic.

The cost: $38.28 to $39.95

The bottom line: Koss hit a home run with the PortaPros. Love or hate the design, there's no denying the sound quality here: They're the ideal companion for mobile audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts. 4 stars