Q: I read your recommendation of the Grado headphones and noticed that the SR80e headphones are only $20 more than the $79 SR60e model. That's not much more if the headphones are noticeably better. How do they differ? Are they worth the extra $20?

A: I have not heard the SR80e so I called Jonathan Grado at Grado Labs (www.gradolabs.com) for his input. He said that compared with the SR60e, the SR80e "is a little more transparent, and it has a bit more bass" and "the difference is subtle but noticeable, and worth the extra $20 if you have it in your budget. If the customer wants to stay under $80, then the SR60e should serve them very well."

Given how long someone is likely to own a set of headphones, spending the extra $20 seems to be a pretty easy decision to make. As someone who has spent a lot of time purchasing and advising others about electronics, I caution you not to get "upgrade-itis" and bump yourself into another price range entirely.

For example, you start by going from the $79 model to the $99 model, a very small jump in price. Then you look and see there is another pair of headphones somewhere for $129. You think to yourself, "That's only another $30 on top of the $99. why not?"

Then you look at where you started at $79, and at $129 you are almost double from where you began! When shopping for myself, I've done this to the point where I was spending several times what I originally intended. At that point I stepped back and did a reality check, then usually went back and purchased one of the lower-priced items. More often than not I was fully satisfied with them.

Noise-canceling headphones

Q: Do you have a recommendation for a good pair of noise-canceling headphones that are not expensive?

A: The Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC7B headphones (www.audio-technica.com) are a good choice. These closed-back headphones have active noise cancellation similar to that found in much more expensive models. They list for $179 but can be found online for under $130.

Good speakers the key

Q: I read your article about the ZVOX SoundBase and am torn about what to do for my TV sound system. I have an older home theater in-a-box (HTiB) system that does not have HDMI. I am debating replacing the receiver with an HDMI receiver and using the HTiB speakers, or getting the ZVOX for less money and having a nice simple setup. I don't want to spend a lot. What are your thoughts?

A: Given that the speakers are the weak link in HTiB systems, and also that speakers are the most important part of a sound system, changing the receiver and keeping the speakers is probably the absolute worst thing you can do from a performance and value standpoint.

I'd give the ZVOX SoundBase a try, especially since ZVOX (www.zvoxaudio.com) is having a back-to-school sale right now and the prices have never been better. The sound is wonderful and better than most any HTiB system I have heard, all in a much less intrusive component that is probably less expensive, too.

Send questions to Don Lindich at donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.