In general, I’m inclined to contend that the over-the-ear cup style headphones still produce a far better sound than ear buds, except for one particular variety. Etymotic Research, a company with a solid background in audiology and hearing aid technologies designed these amazing sounding in-ear headphones that are on par with listening to music in a studio mastering room. The headphones actually sit in your ear like an ear plug, which eliminates outside sound and keeps them from falling out the way most ear buds do. The sound quality is unbelievable even on their lowest end model. Dollar-for-dollar you cannot find another headphone with the same audio quality.
I don’t currently own a set of Etymotic headphones yet, because I simply haven’t gotten around to buying them, but I’ve tested them on multiple occasions with several different portable devices from Apple, Creative, Rio and iRiver. Each time, I’m blown away by the distinct difference in audio quality compared to any other headphones I’ve tried. They also capably eliminate noise by 34-36 dB without tricky engineering to create sound canceling tones. While it’s not really fair to compare headphones in the pro-sumer listening level to headphones that ship with consumer electronics, if you really want great sounding audio from any music source, you owe it to yourself to at least listen to the difference between Etymotic headphones and everything else on the planet. They’re far cheaper than those overpriced noise canceling units Bose flogs in airports and the sound quality is unparalleled. Oh, and they do come in white for the fashion conscious.