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Headphone ratings and sets for $100 and less--Ask the Editors

CNET editor Jasmine France answers a question about scoring headphone reviews and finding a full-size set for under $100.

Philips SHE9850

Q: I read that I could send an e-mail for help on products?! I am only 16, so I couldn't really say that I am an audiophile or have mastered the world of sound. I do, however, love music and the art/technology of sound.

I used to own a pair of Shure SE120, which really introduced me to the world of above-standard sound. Those broke twice, but I got a new pair each time from Shure and I was very happy. Right now, I own a pair of Phillips SHE9850 and am very happy with those.

I was thinking of moving up from earbuds to full-size headphones. As I said, I am only 16 so around $100 is what I'm looking for, and I've seen many good-looking sets for sale. I always look to CNET for reviews, and I just realized something: there are no 5-star headsets, and I highly recommend you implement them. There is no way for me to tell what the difference between a $500 set and a $50 set is when they are both 4 stars and recommended.

Do you have any personal recommendations for a full-size headset in my price range?--Steve, via e-mail

Shure's SE530 earphones will set you back nearly $500.

A: First, let me answer your question regarding the price differences for two headphones that have the same rating. We always take several factors into consideration when reviewing headphones--fit/comfort (design), features (any extras that are included), and sound quality (performance). We then weight all of these things against the price to consider the overall value of the product. In this way, a four-star $50 headset doesn't necessarily sound as good or offer as many features as a four-star $500 headset, but it gets four-stars for being an excellent value, all things considered. That is, we think it sounds good, fits well, and/or offers an impressive array of extras for the money. (By the way, if you hover over the stars with your mouse, you can see a bit more granularity with the scoring.)

We don't pit $50 headphones head-to-head against $500 headphones because that just wouldn't be fair: they're not in the same playing field. Also, five-stars for us is basically a perfect score. I have yet to come across a perfect--or nearly perfect--pair of headphones. I still hold out hope, though!

As for full-size or earcup headphones in the $100 or less category, I would recommend the following: the Sennheiser HD280 Pro, the Sony MDR-V700DJ, the Koss PortaPro Headphones, or the Sony MDR-710LP.