When iPods hit the scene 10 years ago, the small, white ear buds that came with the devices became the symbol for listening to music on the go.
Today, that's changing.
More and more people are expressing themselves with pricey headphones, with some fashion-forward music lovers rocking updated versions of the oversized headsets popular in earlier eras.
Bose has been known for its larger headphones in recent years, and now celebrities have taken note and aided in the resurgence of the ear amplifiers. In 2008, Monster launched Beats by Dr. Dre with Dr. Dre, and it is the most recognizable of celebrity-branded headphones. Monster later released headphones with Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Diddy, Daft Punk, Nick Cannon and LeBron James.
In 2011, 50 Cent, Quincy Jones and Ludacris released their own line of headphones.
Dre, the Grammy-winning rap legend who has produced hits for Eminem, 2Pac, 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige, says he is offended when he sees people using generic headphones.
"It's almost like a knife in the heart," he said while promoting the headphones in 2010. "We're in the studio, at least me, for years at a time trying to work on music, tweaking it, trying to get the sound right, and for people to walk around and listen to the music on those cheap white headphones is ridiculous."
But some people may have a reason for not buying Beats by Dr. Dre. The cheapest set costs $100, and the most expensive pair is $500. And 50 Cent's Sync by 50 ranges from $130 to $400; the lowest price for Soul by Ludacris is $70; the highest is $300. (Partial sales from 50 Cent and Cannon's headphones go to charity.)
"You go out and spend three, four hundred dollars on an iPod, and then you go put your earphones in and your iPod sounds like (garbage)," said Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope, A&M and Geffen Records and co-launcher of Beats by Dr. Dre. "This is about releasing the sound that's in the iPod."
Monster's CEO Noel Lee took it a step further: "Most people have never heard what their iPod sounds like."
Research shows that most MP3 listeners own multiple headphones, said Karim Noblecilla, director of product marketing for Sony's Personal Audio Accessories division.
Noblecilla says Sony has a range of headphones targeting specific demographics from surfers to 13-year-olds. Its newest series, the Balanced Armature, is billed as the "smallest and lightest in-ear digital noise canceling headphones in the market today." It ranges from $80 to $500.
Noblecilla says style and appearance have played a heavy role in headphone production in recent years.
Diddy said that was his contribution to his line, Diddybeats.
"Not only did we want to have the best sound, we wanted to have the best-looking ear bud, and we want it to come in flavors," he said when his line came out.