Q I read your recommendation of the Grado headphones and noticed that the SR80e headphones are only $20 more than the $79 SR60e model. That's not much more if the headphones are noticeably better. How do they differ? Are they worth the extra $20?

-- Tim Thompson, Minneapolis

A I have not heard the SR80e so I called Jonathan Grado at Grado Labs for his input. He said that compared to the SR60e, the SR80e "is a little more transparent, and it has a bit more bass" and "the difference is subtle but noticeable, and worth the extra $20 if you have it in your budget. If the customer wants to stay under $80 then the SR60e should serve them very well."

Given how long someone is likely to own a set of headphones, spending the extra $20 seems to be a pretty easy decision to make. As someone who has spent a lot of time purchasing and advising others about electronics, I caution you not to get "upgrade-itis" and bump yourself into another price range entirely.

For example, you start by going from the $79 model to the $99 model, a very small jump in price. Then you look and see there is another pair of headphones somewhere for $129. You think to yourself, "That's only another $30 on top of the $99 ... why not?"


Then you look at where you started at $79, and at $129 you are almost double from where you began! When shopping for myself, I've done this to the point where I was spending several times what I originally intended. At that point I stepped back and did a reality check, then usually went back and purchased one of the lower-priced items. More often than not I was fully satisfied with them. You can see the Grado headphones at www.gradolabs.com.

Q Do you have a recommendation for a good pair of noise-canceling headphones that are not expensive?

-- Lou Santoro, St. Petersburg, Florida

A The Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC7B headphones are a good choice. These closed-back headphones have active noise cancellation similar to that found in much more expensive models. They list for $179 but can be found online for under $130.

Read about them at www.audio-technica.com.

Q I read your article about the ZVOX SoundBase and am torn about what to do for my TV sound system. I have an older home theater in-a-box (HTiB) system that does not have HDMI. I am debating replacing the receiver with an HDMI receiver and using the HTiB speakers, or getting the ZVOX for less money and having a nice simple setup. I don't want to spend a lot. What are your thoughts?

-- Adam Nelson, San Francisco

A Given that the speakers are the weak link in HTiB systems, and also that speakers are the most important part of a sound system, changing the receiver and keeping the speakers is probably the absolute worst thing you can do from a performance and value standpoint.

I'd give the ZVOX SoundBase a try, especially since ZVOX is having a back-to-school sale right now and the prices have never been better. The sound is wonderful and better than most any HTiB system I have heard, all in a much less intrusive component that is probably less expensive, too. You can see the ZVOX sale at www.zvoxaudio.com.

Contact Don Lindich at www.soundadviceblog.com and use the "submit question" link on that site.