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Choosing between headphone types--Ask the Editors

CNET MP3 editor Jasmine France answers a reader e-mail about choosing between types of headphones.

Q: Recently I have been considering a new pair of headphones because I am getting quite tired of the standard Apple earphones that the iPods come with. I have three products in mind, and I am having trouble deciding which one is the best choice. They include the Bose QuietComfort 3, the Beats by Dr. Dre, and the Shure SE530. As you can tell, they aren't the cheapest ones out there, but price at this point really isn't an issue. Which one out of the three is the most comfortable, has the best audio quality, and is the most durable; again, price really isn't a factor. Thank you very much for your help. -- John, via e-mail.

A: Comfort is a very personal thing, especially when you are comparing such different styles of headphones--in this case, an in-ear canalphone, an on-ear (supra-aural) set, and a full-size (circumaural) pair. Personally, I think they all offer excellent sound quality, although my personal preference probably pushes the Shure to the top with the Bose very slightly under that and then the Monster Beats very slightly beneath those. In any case, you are going to get great audio quality, so narrowing it down will probably come to comfort.

The safest bets in terms of comfort are probably the on-ear style (Bose) and the full-size set (Beats), but here I would eliminate the Beats because I noticed a slight rattle in the right earcup (where the noise-cancellation module is) whenever I walked around with the headphones on. Although it's only a minor annoyance, this leads me to think that Monster needs to fine-tune the design of those headphones before they are a sure-fire winner. Also, some people find that full-size cans make their ears sweat, which can lead to discomfort.

By process of elimination, that leaves us with the Bose, though if you have average-to-large size ears and are looking for something very compact, you would probably be quite satisfied with the Shures as well. However, the large earpieces will not fit all listeners comfortably.

MP3 Mailbox Monday is a recurring feature in which 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.)