When you've just dropped a wad of your hard-earned cash on a new MP3 player, purchasing an accessory to help make the most of it may seem counter-intuitive, but that's exactly what you should do: upgrade those headphones. You needn't spend a lot to get a pair that's a noticeable improvement over the stock set that came with your device. Case in point: the Sony MDR-EX36V Stereo Headphones. These earphones will set you back only about $25, and they offer a sharp improvement in sound quality and comfort. The construction quality isn't the best, and high frequencies come across as too brittle, but the low price and handy features make it easy to forgive these shortcomings.
As you might expect of earphones in this price range, the Sony MDR-EX36V earbuds are constructed of plastic and feel pretty cheap. You do get to choose from four color accents: black, blue, red, or pink. The 'buds are small and round, and Sony includes three sets of color-coded silicone sleeves to help with fit. We had no problems achieving a seal and wore the earphones comfortably for several hours. The package also contains a soft travel pouch and a cable wrap to prevent tangles when the headphones are not in use. We must say, we're impressed these extras were included with such an inexpensive set of earbuds.
Continuing down from the Sony MDR-EX36V earpieces is a thin, black, Y cable that conjoins at an inline volume module--another surprise inclusion at this price point. Here, you'll also find a cable slider to help prevent tangles. Overall, though, the cable feels cheap and raises some serious concern for durability. In all, it measures 48 inches long and terminates in a gold-plated L-plug.
Beyond comfort, the number one reason to upgrade from stock earbuds is sound quality, and the Sony MDR-EX36V earphones certainly offer an improvement there. The first thing you'll notice is the low-end response, in that there is actually bass. In fact, these definitely tend to lean more in the bass direction, so sound is not what we'd call balanced. Mids come through with reasonable warmth, but do have a tendency to sound digitized in certain tracks. The main issue with these 'phones is the high-end: it's clear, with some detail, but almost always sounds too brittle and overly-crisp. Still, for $25, we're impressed with the overall performance from the MDR-EX36V. Also, the noise-isolating capability is a nice bonus.