Empire Earphones reviewed in The Phantom TollboothThere is more than one good reason to upgrade your iPod’s stock earbuds. The two most important are performance and comfort. Then there is style. . .

Wicked Audio’s series of Wicked Empire earphones beat standard Apple earbuds on both scores, while providing a stylish flair for goth and punk rockers. Listeners can choose a pair decorated with an iron cross, chrome-plated skull or 8-ball, among other designs. I went with the “Ace,” featuring a chrome spade to perfectly suit days spent listening to Adam Again’s “Dig” on repeat play.

These plugs certainly don’t outperform the customized in-ear monitors I frequently wear, but a choice of three rubberized earpiece sizes enables flexible fit and superior isolation compared to the previously mentioned baseline earbuds. Performance specs are on par with other units in its class, claiming a range of 20-20,000 Hz. The improved isolation leads to a more balanced sound compared to rigid earphones, with better control in the midrange and bass. The gentle fit is ideal for extended wear (watch your volume). The buds are mounted onto a four foot long cable with adjustable collar, ending with a gold-plated 1/8” stereo jack.  Wicked Empire supports their earphones with a lifetime warranty. As of this writing, Amazon has the “Bones” model for $15.50.

[MSRP: $34.99; www.wickedheadphones.com] - Jeff Elbel