Apple's iconic iPod and "in ear" earbud headphones changed portable music dramatically in the first decade of the 21st century. Cheaper to manufacturer and small enough to be unobtrusive, the advantages to Apple were quite easy to spot. Complaints about them range from poor fit to lackluster sound quality. However, multiple third-party solutions now address the major failings of Apple's (and other manufacturer's) standard budget earphones.

Earbud Covers Explained

An earbud cover is a latex or molded silicone accessory that threads over the small in-ear speaker on a set of earbuds. When inserted into your ear, it's a combination of ear plug and stereo headphone. This enables the wearer to "fit" the combination speaker and earbud cover into the ear canal with a tighter fit to better keep the earbud in place.

Improved Sound Quality

While earbud manufacturers list sound quality as a product feature, the primary benefit is that earbud covers keep the speakers more reliably lodged in the ear canal. While this can improve the listening experience, this mechanism doesn't necessarily improve the sound quality but helps isolate the desired sound by dampening background noise. Because earbuds with covers fit better, you can usually turn the volume down.

Secondary Benefits

While earbud covers don't provide active noise cancellation, their better fit in the ear canal does make them a worthwhile accessory: Many users complain that earbuds don't stay lodged in the ear, or stay lodged in only a single ear, especially when jogging or exercising. Considerable variation exists in earbud cover satisfaction. If you choose to get them, make sure that they fasten securely to the earbud, and that they "fit" properly.

Better Quality Earbuds

Headphone manufacturers are learning from after-market earbud covers, but their replacements can come with sticker-shock. A typical set of earbuds is cheap and can be found online for prices ranging from $7 to around $40. Manufacturers like Bose and Shure offer earbuds that range in price from $100 to $500, including those with active noise cancellation for better isolation.