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Headphone durability and pirate radio--Ask the Editors

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

Is it just me, or do tech gadgets break down way too quickly and easily? I swear every cell phone I've ever owned starts petering out about the 372 day mark with sharply declining call quality. Then, there's the screen and processor problems with MP3 players after about two years. One reader said that even some expensive headphones are calling it quits way too early. I may as well start driving a Fiat (again) and get it over with. Also: I may not be the FCC's biggest fan, but I'm not one to encourage illegal activity either. Should you choose to partake in pirate radio activity, do so at your own risk.

Sleek Audio SA6 earphones

Q: Here is my quandary - I love the comfort and performance of my Shure earphones, but not their resilience. My first pair got chewed up by my mother-in-law's cat, but since then, I haven't been able to get a pair to last more than 6 months. To their credit, they have sent me two replacement sets within the two-year warranty period, even upgrading me to the 2 series. Service like that makes me want to keep doing business with them. However, I am finally out of the warranty period and my latest pair is having other problems.

I would appreciate your advice on where to invest my money on a pair of earphones that not only sound and feel great, but are also built for the long haul. I have been researching the new Klipsch, and the rubber/aluminum construction sounds great, but the fact that they don't have really crisp highs puts me off. I have also just learned about the Sleek Audio SA-6 model, but haven't seen much about their durability. Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated.--Craig, via e-mail.

A: Shure is certainly known for their excellent customer service and warranty policy. Also, I can honestly say that I've never received such a complaint about the company's earphones consistently crapping out. Unfortunately, one thing we haven't been able to do a lot of hands-on testing for here is durability. This is mostly a logistical problem, in that we have two headphone reviewers, and we are unable to put in the same hours of wear that a long-term user would into every set of headphones. While I can give a general assessment based on cable construction and user feedback research, I can't say for certain what the most durable earphone is.

Ultimate Ears 3

That being said--and taking into account that the cable is the generally least-durable part of a set of headphones--I do have a recommendation for you: Ultimate Ears. The 3, 5 Pro, and 5 EB all have earpieces that can be detached from the wire for cable-replacement. Like Shure, UE includes a two year warranty with its earphones. The Sleek Audio SA6 earphones also offer this feature, though Senior Editor Donald Bell expressed concern about the durability of the earpieces themselves, calling them "fragile."

Q: I read your article on finding open FM frequencies. What is missing? I like your thoughts, but I do not understand the process to actually grabbing an unused FM frequency. It is not clear on the entire process of broadcasting on public airwaves without a permit to occupy those public airwaves. I need some education since I was taught that there are heavy penalties for violating the rules, but I guess there is technology out there that sidesteps the legal issues on FM usage and ownership. I think it is great and grand for even local neighborhood programming. I am only aware of the squashing by Congress to permit such FM broadcasting after pressured by the big media corporations.--Tom, via e-mail

Pirate Cat Radio

A: You're initial reaction was correct: just grabbing an empty FM frequency for your own transmission is considered pirating, and there are laws against it. Although the airwaves theoretically belong to everyone, there is a strict application process required by the FCC. Personally, I agree that the current system at least appears to favor big media. Those who already own a license to broadcast certainly have an advantage. Still, people definitely get away with pirate broadcasting. In fact, we have a couple of stations here in San Francisco that have been on the air for quite some time relatively undisturbed.

Actually, though, the article that you pointed out isn't meant to encourage pirating. It's simply a tip on how to find the best frequency for transmitting your MP3 player's music to your car stereo via an FM transmitter.

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.)