Like most good things in life, the more you invest in improving your music-listening experience, the more satisfaction you'll get from it.
True, some people can go overboard on this stuff, but for most of us, a modest investment can reap huge payoffs in the sound quality and the emotional impact derived from your music collection. Whether it's listening to an iPod during your commute, or enjoying streaming Internet radio from your computer, there are some worthwhile purchases you can make to take your music experience to the next level.
Shure E4c buds
The most worthwhile investment you can make in improving the sound quality of your MP3 player is to upgrade the stock earbuds that came with it to a decent set of in-ear headphones. A good set of in-ear headphones will also provide a nice, sound-isolating seal in the ear, reducing hearing damage caused by external noise and allowing you to listen to music at a lower volume.
Creative's Aurvana buds perform well, as do the Shure E3cs. Assuming money is no object, the pick has got to be Shure's AU$479 E4cs, which are on par the best active noise-cancelling headphones we've tried. Which bring us to...
Bose's QuietComfort 3s
Anyone who's ever tried listening to their MP3 player on a bus or train can attest to the fact that noise can ruin music, as well as cause you to crank the volume to unsafe levels. Active noise-cancelling headphones such as the Bose QuietComfort 3s are a marvel of the modern age. Even if you work in relatively quiet office, noise-cancelling headphones provide the kind of sonic solitude that can rescue your sanity and set an ideal stage for your music. While the Bose are probably the best in class for noise-cancelling headphones, there are plenty of other, less expensive, options to consider.
The Sony NWZ-A818
An MP3 player with great sound
The world may be in love with Apple's line of iPod MP3 players, but if you really want an MP3 player that will squeeze the best from your music, you'll need to tread outside of Apple's small, comfortable universe. Several manufacturers have earned a deserved reputation for outshining the iPod's sound performance, including Creative, Cowon, Samsung, Toshiba, and Sony. The Sony NWZ-A818 Walkman shown here is the best-sounding MP3 players we've tested lately.
A better sound card
Think that budget PC in front of you was engineered for great sound? Think again. The cut-rate audio card components used in most PCs were engineered for the lowest common denominator. If you really want to go hog-wild, you can outfit your home computer with a top-of-the-line internal PCI sound card with surround sound, S/PDIF output -- the works. If you're listening to music at work, however, your boss might not appreciate you cracking open the company computer to improve its sound quality. In that case, a discreet external USB sound card such as the Creative Xmod is just the ticket.
Logitech's Pure-Fi Elite
iPod speaker dock
You can't swing a fish these days with hitting some new budget iPod speaker system. Most of these things are just overpriced boomboxes, but a few of them are outstanding. The Logitech Pure-Fi Elite tops CNET.com.au's list of primo iPod speaker docks.
Why not simply patch your iPod to your home stereo using a $10 patch cable? A decent iPod speaker dock will not only offer a more convenient size than a full-blown music system, but by drawing audio from the iPod's dock connection, you'll get a cleaner signal that hasn't been coloured by the iPod's puny internal headphone amplifier.
Clean-up old recordings
Have some old tapes or LPs that you want to transfer to MP3 files? There's plenty of ways to make quick and dirty analog-to-digital transfers, but if you want to do it right, you need to invest in a program such as Cakewalk Pyro. Using a high-quality tool like Pyro will let you splice, transition, trim, enhance, and batch-export your recordings like a pro.
Tweak your software preferences
If you peek under the hood of your favourite jukebox software (iTunes, Windows Media Player, WinAmp), you'll find a treasure chest of settings that can help adjust and improve the sound quality of your music. For instance, did you know iTunes includes a 10-band equaliser, a sound enhancer control, and settings for gapless album playback?
If you're ripping music from CDs, you can increase the bit rate of your rips from the default 128kbps setting to 192kbps, or above. If file size is not a concern, then by all means rip your music to a lossless format such as WMA-Lossless, Apple Lossless, or FLAC.