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What's the difference in headphone price differences--Ask the Editors

Get the answers to all of your questions about MP3 players, headphones, and more in this weekly feature.

Jasmine France Former Editor
4 min read

Yes, the name of this column is changing once again, but don't hate me because I'm fickle! Because, well...I'm not. In fact, CNET's all-encompassing Ask the Editors feature is moving to Crave, meaning we're standardizing the naming and format across categories. But don't worry: it's still MP3 Mailbox in my head. That means you can still expect to see this column every Monday (that I am in the office), and it will continue to be packed full of digital music tidbits. Also, the "MP3 Mailbox Monday" keyword linking at the bottom of the post will persist for those who want to stay up-to-date on all the MP3 player and headphone queries. This week, we've got a cost-analysis breakdown on headphones, and as much advice as I could muster on digital voice recorders.

Shure SE530

Q: I have a question about the sound quality differences between two of the Shure SE series headphones. I read both of your reviews, but since they aren't comparative of these two models, there's no implication of what the differences may be between the two, other than the price. Specifically, what difference in sound quality (if any) is there between the Shure SE310 and the SE530. I ask because I want to get the best quality sound for my money, but I found the SE310s at $175 shipped, versus the SE530s which are over $450 shipped. So, in your expert opinion, is the difference in quality enough to substantiate such a difference in price? Would there be a noticeable difference in sound quality and performance if I were using one model or the other on a plane? Your expertise is much appreciated! -- timba1210, via CNET member messaging

A: Yes, the SE530s sound phenomenal, whereas the SE310s sound "merely" great. That being said, I tend to prefer the more bass-heavy leanings of the SE310s, as well as the smaller earbud size. I love the way the SE530s sound, but I would still buy the $175 pair over the $450 pair because, although I can tell the difference (thanks completely to the years of listening tests required of my position), I am completely satisfied by the cheaper pair, and thus consider it to be a better value for myself.

Both pairs offer the same level of passive noise isolation, so the difference you might notice between the two while flying on a plane probably wouldn't vary from the difference you'd notice walking down the street or sitting in your office.

JVC Marshmallow earphones

Q: I went to my local Best Buy and came across a pair of JVC Marshmallow headphones. They're inexpensive,at $20, and of the in-ear variety. My question is if they are worth it. My friend bought a pair and swears by it, but I want to know if they can compete with the more expensive headphones. -- Oscar, via e-mail

A: I've never listened to those particular earphones and so couldn't give a fair assessment of their value. If your friend has a pair, try giving them a listen. Generally, a $20 pair isn't going to stand up to a pair that costs five times as much, but there are certainly sets in that price range that suit the average listener just fine.

Q: I'm looking to get a digital recorder. Originally, I was going to just get a digital recorder to replace my Olympus 960PC because I wanted higher quality and wma or MP3 recording. However, it seems like for about the same price, I could get something that plays music too (which would be great). I'm looking to stay under $150. I was actually about to buy the Olympus WS-331M when I saw your review on the COWON iAudio7. For about the same price, it seems like the iAudio 7 has more storage and better music playback. However, it is difficult to find specs on the recording quality of the iAudio 7 to compare to the Olympus WS-331M. The biggest drawback of the Olympus is that if I did use it as an MP3 player, 2GB is pretty limiting.

Olympus WS-331M

Primarily, I want this to be a voice recorder. I record meetings and presentations mostly, but need them to be reasonably high-quality. Other features that are important are voice activated recording and track indexing or easy start/stop of new tracks. Do you have a suggestion between these two? Or maybe a third alternative that would be better? -- Adam, via e-mail

A: Unfortunately, I don't review standalone audio recorders, although Senior Editor Donald Bell has started to review a couple high-end portable recorders. Those are all well above $150, however. If you are looking for something primarily as an audio recorder, my rule of thumb is to go with something that is advertised as such. In MP3 players, this feature is an extra and is not going to function at quite the same level. Olympus has a good reputation, so I think that will be a good fit for you. True, 2GB is a bit limiting for an MP3 player, but recording is the thing to focus on in this case. Sony also makes voice recorders, and the company's MP3 players offer exceptional audio quality, so I would expect the same from the recorders.

CNET Networks/Corinne Schulze

MP3 Mailbox Monday is a recurring feature where I answer a selection of questions about MP3 players and accessories, such as headphones, speakers, and music services and software. Check back often to see if the advice presented here might be of some use to you, or send your questions directly to me. (Note: We never include last names, but if you prefer to remain completely anonymous, please state as much in your e-mail.)