A Sound Strategy The fundamentals of shopping for headphones
By Stephanie D. Smith

(MONEY Magazine) – Audiophiles will tell you to replace the headphones (also known as cans) that come with your consumer electronics because the quality is subpar. But with tons of styles and brands out there, and prices ranging from $10 to $700 a pair, how do you get your money's worth?

FIT No matter how much you spend, headphones that don't fit properly won't sound any better than an inexpensive pair that fits snugly. Instead of buying headphones in a sealed package, visit a specialty audio or high-end electronics store to try on several pairs before you make a purchase.

PRICES Spend about $50 on portable headphones and $250 on a pair for a home stereo. The more you spend, the better the materials and engineering--and thus sound quality. More money buys a better speaker in the ear cup and small yet significant extras that can improve sound conductivity, such as gold-plated jacks and higher-quality, more durable wiring.

FREQUENCY The greater the frequency range, the greater the spectrum of notes you'll hear. A good pair will have a frequency range of 10 Hz to 25,000 Hz. (Frequency range doesn't factor in when you are buying a headset for your cell phone because you need to hear only a human voice, not a wide range of notes: Fit takes priority over sound quality.)

NOISE CANCELING Sound snobs often pooh-pooh most "noise-canceling" headphones. Since they're designed to drown out exterior noise, you may have to crank the volume high to hear anything. If you want noise reduction, try a pair by Bose or Etymotic (they have spongy earplugs that fill the ear canal). That way nothing can come between you and your tunes.