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Affordable headphone upgrades: The essentials

Did you know the headphones that came with your new MP3 player are useless? Here are four essential upgrades to help you get the most from your new player

The headphones that came with your MP3 player are terrible. We've heard almost every pair of headphones on the market such a sweeping generalisations are our job. MP3 players never come with anything but cheap, budget disposable headphones. Apple's trademark white iPod buds are no exception.

In fact, just a pair of £40 headphones will double, triple, even quadruple the sound quality of your new music player. You wouldn't buy a new high-definition TV just to watch old standard-definition content on it, would you? The same applies to audio.

Here are four pairs of earphones that don't cost the Earth, but are guaranteed to make a huge difference in sound quality. Not only do they block out noise and chattering around you, they help deliver cleaner, higher levels of detail and richer bass. Each are essential choices as first-time upgrades.

Sennheiser CX 300-II
Brand new on the market for December 2008, Sennheiser's 'mark 2' CX 300s replace the most popular earphone upgrade on the planet, the original CX 300s. They build on everything we loved about the CX 300s -- superb sound quality for the price, terrific bass, enhanced comfort and slick design. For around £39 these will make a £100 iPod sound twice as good.

Sennheiser CX 95
Want something even better? Sennheiser's CX 95s take the CX 300s to the next level, with deeper bass, a more defined sound quality, and a richer experience overall. Several employees here at CBS Interactive took our recommendation on these, and all praise their performance. You can pick up a pair for about £45.

Etymotic ER-6i
If you think £50 is too much money to spend on earphones, be thankful we're not showing you some of our high-end favourites that cost several hundred pounds. The ER-6is from Etymotic can be picked up for little over £65 and often earn placement in round-ups of high-performers that include pairs costing upwards of £180. Through these you'll hear all kinds of subtleties in your music that bundled earphones are physically incapable of reproducing.

Apple In-Ear headphones
If you just can't prise yourself away from the look and feel of iPods' white earbuds, consider these. At about £50, these are Apple's answer to the poor performance of its own bundled earphones. With two speakers in each earphone, these are surprisingly impressive performers, earning a not-so-modest 8 out of 10 in our review. They look like iPod buds, but they sure as hell don't perform as poorly as the ones you just took out of the nano's packaging.

Curious to see what a couple of hundred quid will get you? Check out Shure's SE530s, Sennheiser's IE 8s, Audio Technica's CK10s, Klipsch's Custom-3s and Denon's AH-C751s -- all headphones in triple figures, with performance to match.