Some are saying that with the tips from the Sony EX71 put onto the Apple in-ear, they sound better with the better fit/seal.
I just bought a set of the white EX71SL today, picked them up at an electronics store downtown, and I'm very satisfied with them. The bass is very good, but I have to use the "treble reducer" EQ setting.. they are more expensive than the Apple, but are from what I've read much better.
I have read that many are not satisfied with the sound and fit of the Apple buds.
I have a pair of white Sony EX71SL that I bought from ebay for $60.00 US shipped. They came from Hong Kong in 4 days. Fit is great and the sound is amazing.
Kloan, give yours some burn in time. You will be stunned how much the sound will change.
"Noise Cancelling" can mean different things as it's applied to headphones.
Basically headphones come in two types, open-ear (designed to allow you to hear around you; an example is the Sennhieser 414) and closed-ear (designed to muffle outside sound; an example is the Sennhieser 600).
The closed-ear types are designed to be noise cancelling, as they take steps to reduce outside sound levels. Open-ear 'phones are trying not to be noise-cancelling, but do end up reducing some outside sound levels.
In-ear earspeakers are also noise cancelling; they are designed to tightly fit the ear canal and therefore block extranous noise (technically, they're earspeakers, not earphones).
The best are made by a company called Etomyotic Research but cost about $400.00. Shure also make a true in-ear transducer for less money. Both of these actually fit inside the ear canal, have medical as well as hifi uses, and require custom fitting. They sound fantastic, but not everyone can wear them, as some users find them a little unnerving (you do have to put them in your ear) or uncomfortable.
The pseudo in-ear transducers such as the Apple and Sony ones are kind of half-way between a true in-ear design and earbuds. They also need to be fitted.
Although I don't know any specific people doing this, it's likely that the performance can be significantly improved if you go to the trouble of having a custom fitting done (the custom fit adapter will only fit your ears, and no-one else's).
"Active Noise Cancelling" headphones are a special type originally developed for Air Pilots and now available to the public. They use special circuitry to microphone outside sounds and create a signal designed to cancel that sound, increasing the overall sound reduction of ambient noise.
You might be confusing Active Noise Cancelling with passive Noise Cancelling; be careful because now that consumers are aware, vaguely, of Active systems you will hear the phrase "Noise Cancelling" as a buzzword designed to attract consumers. All headphones are noise cancelling; they vary only in the amount of cancelling. No different than sticking your fingers over your ears.
Don't be misled into thinking it's something special unless they specifically state it's Active. A good active system will add at least $200 to the price of the headphone, and, as always, that's the cheapest version we know how to make. Pilots pay $600 to $2500 for a pair.
I ordered a pair a week after they came out. They sound pretty good when you get a good seal. But the problem is you can't keep the seal, since they keep falling out. Feels pretty stupid to be fixing your earphones every 3 steps since they keep falling out.
I returned mine after a week of use, and got a white pair of Sony Ex71's with shipping form Hong Kong in about a week for about the same price as the Apple's with the shipping.
If you're in Toronto, I saw a few pairs at Golden Electronics across the street from the Eaton Centre yesterday, $89.
I bought the Shure E2c (~$135 Can) in-ear headphones about a month before Apple introduced theirs. I was disappointed at first, feeling like I missed the boat. I was still getting used to the Shures and was actually considering returning them. I held out, though and am glad I did. They are simply spectacular. You just need to learn how to use them (I know, that sounds weird for headphones) and then everything falls into place.
In-ear headphones are not for everyone, they are a pain in situations where you might be frequently disturbed to participate in a conversation. Consider that before buying. Also consider that much of the improved sound offered from in-ear headphones depends on how well they seal in your ear; I haven't tried Apple's, but they don't seem to have a "mechanism" like the Shures for staying put (and a tell-tale sign of bad fit is poor bass response, a common criticism of the Apple in-ear headphones).
If you are serious about an immersive experience from your headphones, and have some extra $$, consider the Shure E2c or the comparable Etymotic ER6 (there are other more expensive options, too). The Canadian distributor of Shure products is SFMarketing.