I’ve made this methodology to try to select the best items to bring when traveling around with one bag. The first step is reading a bunch of critical rankings on the internet, basically trying to decide what is the best item according to professional critics. Then I look at which items were selected by the most people on the subreddits r/onebag and r/heronebag, which I’ve been following since the year began. Finally, I look at a few other things like how easy that item is to pack. I give each item a score out of a hundred and whatever scores highest goes into my packing lists.
I’ve now used this methodology on headphones / earphones with the result that I’ve added the Bose 700 headphones for women and the AirPods Pro earbuds for men. I considered just making one choice for men and women but I’ve been reading recently about how everything tends to be designed for men and not women: seat belts, apartments, etc. It seems to me that men and women might well have different preferences in terms of headphones too: differently-shaped ears and heads, maybe different hearing range.
To try to reflect these potential gender preferences, my men’s and women’s choices have different inputs. My Reddit spreadsheets are separate for men and women and so I kept them separate here: the men lean towards the Airpods and the women lean towards Bose and that is reflected in my headphone selection. I also looked at a few internet lists of the best headphones / earphones “for women” and included those choices alongside the other internet lists. There are no equivalent internet lists of the best headphones “for men”, so the analysis for men just relies on the generic lists that are aimed at everybody.
So the result was the Bose headphones for the women and the Airpods earbuds for the men. At first I was skeptical about the Bose headphones because they’re pretty bulky and the whole idea here is to pack light. But the sound quality and comfort of the Bose are much better than any earbuds and it’s clear from Reddit that a lot of onebaggers – both men and women – are bringing real headphones, rather than earbuds in spite of how bulky they are.
Anecdotally, this aligns with my wife and me. I want to pack really light, so I just want a pair of earbuds that works reliably. It’s too annoying to wear the earbuds for the whole of a long flight, so I’ll just switch over to doing something else after a while. My wife, on the other hand, uses headphones at home and for work, so she wants a good, comfortable experience. She doesn’t mind the extra size and weight; she just wears them around her neck on travel days.
To explain the methodology in more detail, I’ve identified seven factors that are important to me when choosing items for my bag and I’ve assigned each of these seven factors a share of 100 – an item that is perfect in every way and also free would get a score of 100. The seven factors (with the points assigned) are:
- Professional reviews (30 points)
- Reddit preferences (20)
- Sustainability (20)
- Fit (10)
- Versatility (10)
- Availability (5)
- Cost (5)
A. Professional reviews (30 points total) (15 points for individual item and 15 points for brand)
I read a number of professional (or at least heavily committed) earphone recommendations on the internet, like Wirecutter, CNET, and The Guardian. There are a lot of these out there and a lot of them are very specific, like the “Best Wired Earbuds for Audiophiles”. For my purposes, I really wanted just one central list, staying agnostic about headphones or earbuds, good for jogging or targeting audiophiles. I just wanted the best overall headphones. At first, I tried excluding the lists like Best Wired Earbuds for Audiophiles in favor of simple best-overall lists. But there weren’t really enough best-overall lists, so I went in the opposite direction and just included everything.
I ended up reading ten lists that seemed pretty well-researched and reliable and the ten lists made a total of 93 recommendations. I didn’t set out with that number in mind but that was the point where the lists seemed to degrade pretty significantly. Below that the writing is poor, there is no discussion of methodology, you sense a bunch of undisclosed interests, etc. I’m sure I missed plenty of legitimate lists too (including anything behind a paywall) but I decided to call it a day after ten lists.
I gave each list the same weight except that Wirecutter does have a best-overall category and then a bunch of earbuds-for-audiophiles, etc. entrants and plus I like Wirecutter a lot. So two Wirecutter reviews went in.
I gave every positive recommendation one point each, regardless if it was the number one choice on that list or number three or the best wired earbuds for audiophiles , etc.
As noted above, I also looked up a couple reviews that were specially dedicated to women (again they seemed to drop off in quality after that). So, in this category, the men’s list is based on ten sites while the women’s is based on twelve.
The top performers in the women’s list were:
- Bose 700 (the critical choice 6 times out of a total of 112)
- Sony WH1000xm3 (5)
- AirPods Pro (4) (tied)
- Powerbeats Pro (4) (tied)
- Jabra Elite 75t (4) (tied)
In the men’s list (relying on only ten reviews), Bose and Powerbeats both lost one vote.
I ultimately want this to show a score out of 15 because I’ve allocated 15 points out of a hundred to this factor. I’m not sure if this is the right way to do it but I scaled the score out of 112 to a 15 point scale … so the Bose with 6 votes out of 112 was is now worth 0.8036. However, that number is too low because this is the key factor and I want it to be worth some significant number out of 15. So I just multiplied 0.8036 by 15. Now the Bose scores about 12 out of 15, the Sony about 10, etc. I’m not sure what the rigorous way to do this would be – I just multiplied by 15 because that gave me about the weighting I wanted.
The individual performance tells only part of the story however. I also want to factor in the total score for the brand. For Jabra, for instance, in addition to the Elite 75t, there were votes for the Elite 65t, the 85h and three other models. So I think it makes sense to capture a score for the brand, especially where votes are diluted across near-substitutes like they were for Jabra. Therefore, from the 30 points allotted to professional reviews, 15 are for the individual model and 15 are for the brand.
The brand scores for the women’s headphones were:
- Beats (12) (tied)
- Jabra (12) (tied)
- Bose (11)
- Sony (9)
- Apple (6)
And the men’s brand scores were:
- Jabra (11)
- Beats (9)
- Sony (9)
- Bose (8)
- Apple (5)
Those weightings are about what I want out of 15, so I didn’t do any scaling or multiplying for these numbers – I just entered them like this.
B. Reddit score
Since January, I’ve been looking at every packing list posted on the Reddit subs r/onebag and r/heronebag. Through April, 21 of 41 women included headphones or earphones in their packing lists and 14 of these women named the brand that they brought. The top five choices were:
- Bose (4)
- Apple (3)
- Sony (2)
- Beats (1) (tied)
- Several other brands (1) (tied)
On the men’s side, through April, 46 of 68 men said they packed headphones and 38 named a brand. The top brands were:
- Apple (10 of 38)
- Sony (7)
- Beats (4) (tied)
- Bose (4) (tied)
- Linsoul (3)
Not many people specified the exact model of earphones in their packing list, and so I’ll just stay on the brand level for this. I’m also going to ditch all the other brands at this point. I want the final choice to be a popular choice with critics and with Reddit and there seems to be a good amount of consensus now. Even if Taotronics hits it out of the park on the remaining categories, I’d still worry that they are not good enough in terms of pure quality.
I’ve allocated 20 points to the Reddit score. I did the same complicated scaling to 20 and then multiplied that score by 3.
As I develop my packing list, it seems like a good opportunity to learn about how these items are produced and what best practices are in terms of sustainability. I suspect some people won’t be so interested in this metric (especially with respect to electronics) and this might ruin the rankings a little bit. But I’d like to end this whole process with a packing list that’s relatively conscientious towards the environment, animals and workers – or at least be a little better informed about that stuff – and so I’ve included it here for the time being.
There is quite a lot of thought given about sustainability in clothing but much less so for the electronics industry. I bet that all of the headphones in my list are pretty bad for the environment from digging up the minerals to assembling the product to chucking them into the landfill when they break or go obsolete. I think my final scores should be pretty low out of 20 but I could be wrong.
I found an old Greenpeace report that grades electronics companies from A to F and a current website called Shop Ethical!that does something similar. So I scaled these grades out of 20 and added their average score. I then added that amount to the scores of the headphones in my list.
The two sources I found don’t cover all the companies in my list. The companies that weren’t covered nevertheless get a score of 0. This means that a company that gets a grade “D” for environmental practices scores better (2 points) than a smaller company for which I have no information. I’m okay with this because I think being included on these lists is a good step in itself and we can’t really improve anything until we have this kind of information.
On this metric, Apple gets an additional 5.5 points for having B- / C grades on these websites and Sony gets 1 point (Sony got 2 points at Greenpeace and 0 points for grade “F” at Shop Ethical!). No one else gets any points as they aren’t listed.
I also looked on the website of each brand for some kind of corporate statement saying that they are doing good things for sustainability. Some of the pages were really excellent with analysis, data and demonstrations, some were polite blather, some were not even that. For the companies that had plausible sustainability information (which were all five of my contenders), I gave an extra point. Again, a very imperfect system but I feel okay about it.
So, in conclusion, Apple alone picks up serious points (6.5) in terms of sustainability. Maybe this doesn’t jibe with everything we’ve heard about Foxconn, etc. but I suspect the other electronics companies are as bad as or worse than Apple. Apple’s sustainability page is the slickest of all, for what it’s worth.
If you’re interested in sustainable electronics, Fairphone came up a few times but the most ethical option is still just not buying headphones.
I’ve assigned 10 points to “fit” by which I mean both:
- Is this product light and small and easy to pack; and
- Does it fit in with the other products here?
Part (2) is mostly an issue for clothes; I’m not too worried about my headphones clashing with my pants.
Part (1) is a big differentiator however. As I say, I was pretty skeptical that ultralight travelers would put up with headphones like the Bose or Sony but that’s what kept coming through on the Reddit packing lists.
Still, I doubt there’s another product where the contenders are at these extremes of packability. So I’ve given both the over-ear headphones (Bose and Sony) 1 point and all the earbuds (Apple, Beats and Jabra) 9 points.
By versatility, I mean that the items are useful for different situations: shoes that are okay for hiking and for dinner, scarves that double as towels.
For headphones, I thought that this would turn on whether they have a microphone (so you can take calls on them) or not but it turns out that all of these earphones and headphones have microphones included, so I guess that must be standard now for high-end headphones.
The Bose and Sony also have high quality noise cancellation according to the reviews, which I counted as an extra feature. I scored the Bose and Sony at 7 (out of 10) and the Apple, Beats and Jabra at 5.
Availability means that it’s easy to purchase and receive throughout the world. I’ve tried to buy a lot of travel gear that doesn’t deliver where I am or only with lots of taxes and customs, which is pretty frustrating. Like sustainability, I don’t think of this metric as much of a crowd-pleaser and I’ve only assigned it five points here. But I’d really like my packing lists to be useful wherever you are looking at my website from and so I’m going to factor it in.
I had complicated ideas about setting up VPNs and going through a few purchasing steps pretending to be in different countries but then I got lazy and just looked at their delivery pages. They are all big multinational companies and it looks like they can deliver most places. Jabra alone seemed a little more limited. I gave Jabra 4 points and the others the maximum 5.
Finally, I gave the items extra points for being inexpensive. Cost should also be reflected in the Reddit score and in the professional reviews. Moreover, cost isn’t the biggest factor for me, not because I’m so very rich, but more that I feel that part of the onebagging philosophy is buying good-quality items that might be expensive. I only allocated a total of five points to cost.
With that said, headphones are more expensive than I remember! To assign a score, I used $50 increments, so anything $50 and under is 5 points, under $100 is 4 points, etc.
- Apple $249 (1)
- Beats $249.95 (1)
- Bose $399.95 (0)
- Jabra $179.99 (2)
- Sony $349.99 (0)
Here are the final scores:
- Bose 700 – 54.2 / 100
- Apple AirPods Pro – 53.4
- Powerbeats Pro – 45.3
- Sony wh1000xm3 – 42.6
- Jabra Elite 75t – 41.0
- Apple Airpods Pro – 57.0 / 100
- Sony wh1000xm3 – 47.1
- Beats Powerbeats Pro – 43.6
- Jabra Elite 75t – 43.3
- Bose 700 – 40.4
The main difference between men and women is Reddit, where the men leaned heavily toward the Airpods and the women toward the Bose.
I don’t have any vested interest in these headphones – I don’t get paid if you click on the links or buy the products, no advertising or relationship with the companies. I do have a few paid affiliate links in the main packing lists (all the Amazon links), so I guess I’m trying to cross-sell you. However, I’ve made less than $10 total on this so far, so at least I have the decency to be unsuccessful with it.
Edit: I posted this on Reddit and got some interesting replies. In particular, some people said that they packed the predecessor to the Bose 700, the Bose QuietComfort, because they fold up and the 700s don’t. I would have tried to address that in this post if I’d realized that. I think that the public reviews are still pretty settled on the 700, so they are probably better sound quality. I’m not going to change my pick for now but just so you know.