Like a lot runners who sometimes take iPods out on their long runs, I like to keep one of my ears bud-free so I can keep some semblance of alertness to my surroundings. The problem with this is that some music - and even podcasts - are recorded in stereo, some heavily so.
This led to one of the more vivid memories I have of the 2009 Big Horn 100. Coming out of the Footbridge aid station just before dawn, I began the steep and sloppy grunt up to Bear Camp - around mile 68. And what made it so memorable wasn't the shoe-sucking mud, the hands-on-knees steepness, or the breaking dawn of my first 100 - it was the stereo-recorded Beatles' Back in the USSR playing irritatingly without any vocals in the one ear bud I had in my left ear.
Since then, I've kept an eye out for a way to shunt two stereo channels into one bud. Surprisingly, there's no "mono" setting on iPod audio output (at least not on my old school Nano), but I came across a more mechanical fix when I read an article on One Good Earbud.
One Good Earbud is a single, one-ear bud that mixes the stereo output into one channel. They cost about $20, and the sound quality is as good as any other at that price point. Like a lot of ear buds these days, they suffer from a bit of cord noise when it rubs or knocks against things, but it's no worse than any others. The real bonus - apart from the stereo-to-mono conversion - is the simplicity of the single cord. No more trying to find a secure, un-irritating place for that unused ear bud.
No. One Good Earbud won't likely be an indispensable part of your ultra gear, but in my book they're a nice addition, and the next time I find myself with waning energy in the last third of a 100 miler, I'll have to focus on an irritant other than than poorly mixed music.