IRL: Nikon D3S, iPod 4G and Klipsch's Image One headphones

Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

We almost don't want to talk about our tablets and phones this week, just because one or two show-stoppers here and there have made pretty much everything we own seem wholly inadequate. So we'll tell you about the stuff we won't be trading in anytime soon. For James, that means a good pair of over-ear headphones, for Darren it's a $6,000 camera and for Daniel it's a 40GB iPod with "Dan Cooper is awesome" engraved on the back (19 year-olds, right?). No complaints this time: just a trio of Engadget editors sounding off on what's been worth it.

Making other cameras look ordinary

Thanks a lot, Nikon. And by "thanks a lot," I mean "thanks for making every camera that's not a D3S seem subpar." I worked alongside Nilay back in 2010 writing up a field review of Nikon's flagship DSLR, and while Canon just recently dished out its newest gun-for-hire, the D3S still remains on top of the heap in Nikonland. For me, it has completely and thoroughly changed my perception of photography. In the worst possible way.

Truth be told, I can't even pick up a mirrorless camera or a low-end DSLR without seeing how high I can jack the ISO. The D3S allows me to shoot at 10,000 ISO with practically no noise to speak of when compressed down to a web-suitable size, and even blown-up posters look like gems. In fact, I detest flashes now. Hate 'em. I always wonder: "how much better would this shot look with just natural light and the D3S' ISO range?"

But look, I get it. It's a $6,000 camera. It makes sense for a dramatically small amount of people. But in the five-plus years I've been writing for Engadget, I've only seen a smattering of true game-changers. Even two years after the release of the D3S, it remains a champion. It's still changing the game. And it has allowed me to take countless photos (like these and these) that would've been impossible with any other DSLR in the sub-$6K range.

I refuse to travel with checked baggage. I was recently gone a month with nothing but a backpack and a roll-a-board. Even though the D3S + lenses takes up a good 50 percent of my carry-on space, it's still worth it. Three shirts, a bodacious camera rig and a prayer that washing machines will come my way -- it's the only way to roll.

-- Darren Murph

40 well-kept gigabytes

When you grow up poor, you look after the things you have. I still use my fourth-generation 40GB iPod as my primary portable music device and I can't see that changing. It was a Christmas present from the whole family ($600!) in 2004, but no sooner had it been bought it was rendered obsolete by the iPod photo. (Apple seems to time its releases out of contempt for my buying cycles -- I bought both of my iMacs a month before it announced newer and greater models. But I digress.)

Life with the 4G is beautiful: it's as responsive as it was the day I opened the box. I can't imagine replacing it because it meets all of my needs. It's currently on its second aftermarket battery pack and as long as they remain available, I'll keep swapping them out. The reflective back scratches very easily but has withstood seven years with me and even bounced back into position when I bent it in my ham-fisted first attempt to replace the battery. The screen and clickwheel all work as well as they did on day one and it's survived numerous drops, bumps and fiancées holding the slip-case upside down. The only effort I have to make is to never leave it in the car overnight, since the temperature drop causes functioning to cease -- to the point where spending two days recharging and then reloading the library is the only solution.

It's saved my bacon a few times, too. A 40GB portable hard drive (back in 2005, remember) when your Windows box dies and you've got coursework due is something of a godsend. While I've always got my iPhone with me, I refrain from using it for music in order to prevent wasting its already impoverished battery life -- which is why my antiquated iPod never leaves my side.

-- Daniel Cooper

Balanced sound, top-notch comfort

Headphones are often considered nothing more than just an accessory, not a gadget in their own right. Most people don't get past the pair that came with their media device, and it's such a shame to think about the countless hours of sub-standard audio that has needlessly been tolerated. Worst of all, upgrading your ears is easy so there really is no excuse!

As a music-loving tech journalist I've been lucky enough to try out more headphones than one person would naturally ever encounter, and the variety on offer can be somewhat baffling. Despite all of this, there is one set of cans I keep coming back to time and time again: the Klipsch Image One. I already owned a pair of their excellent in-ear S4i headphones, so I made the leap to the over-ear Image One with confidence. The sound quality -- which is obviously of primary importance -- manages to get the balance between clinical and pumped-up just right. While I think headphones should be as transparent as possible, I also think they should allow that transparency to be heard properly, which these do well. Many other headphones are so wrapped up in being transparent, that they forget the basics such as comfort, and blocking the outside world. But the Image Ones are a joy to wear, even for extended periods -- they sit almost perfectly atop your ear providing decent isolation along with that comfort.

Looks-wise these aren't exactly head-turners, but they are, at least, modern and ergonomically sound -- cool enough to feel like you're at least a little bit down-with-the-kids. Plus, there is an iDevice friendly remote on the cord which makes quick volume changes and track-skipping easy. Personally, I'm in the habit of controlling things directly on the device, but that's simply a matter of preference. In short, there is no single reason why I keep choosing these over everything else in my collection, but the fact that I do tells me their brilliance lies in their all-around competence.

-- James Trew