As with most technologies, headphones and speakers have gotten more advanced, as well as comparatively cheaper, over time. Even entry-level models offer some great features and excellent audio fidelity, though if you want to spend a little more you’ll get even better performance. Here’s what to look for.

Sound Quality

To a certain extent, the specs on the box are a poor substitute for a hands-on trial run with the audio equipment you’re thinking about buying. Even so, it’s still a good place to start. When you’re shopping around, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the frequency response of the models you’re considering. The human ear is capable of hearing frequencies between 20hZ and 20,000Hz, so anything that fails to match that range should be avoided.

Another factor you’ll want to consider is the impedance, particularly in headphones. Most modern headphones have a lower impedance, which simply means they require less voltage. In other words, they’ll work better with portable battery-powered devices like smartphones.

Connectivity Options

For both headphones and speakers, the hassle presented by wires can be significant. If you want to splurge a little bit, you can avoid the headaches by opting for some wireless headphones, which use Bluetooth connectivity, or a wireless speaker set, which may use Bluetooth or radio frequencies. Bluetooth headphones are a great choice for people who listen to music while they’re active, such as runners. They provide great sound quality without the swaying wires that would otherwise get in your way.

If you’ve wanted to dive into the world of home theater systems, but you’ve been afraid of the cumbersome wires, wireless speakers might be the way to go.

Noise Cancellation

Here’s one additional factor to consider when you’re looking at headphones. If you tend to listen to music in noisy surroundings, you might benefit from a pair of headphones that cancels ambient noise. This can either be an active or passive feature; some headphones simply provide a seal in the ear canal to block outside noise, while others have active noise cancellation that requires extra power. Either way, it’s worth thinking about.

Speakers and headphones have come a long way over the last few years. If there’s one thing to remember, it’s that you get what you pay for. Those $15 headphones in the checkout line might seem like a bargain, but if you want the best audio experience, you’ll want to spend a little more. You’ll thank yourself later.