I’m a bit of a gadget-head, and my goal is typically the same (to find the “best” product in a category), and unfortunately, I’ve found over and over again, that in areas where I’ve done personal testing, the Wirecutter’s recommendations have been, without exception, wrong.
This year I’ve instituted a bit of a one-in-one out policy and plan on publishing more on the tools I use (and what I end up replacing). For now though, I’ll just start off with a list of things that the Wirecutter recommends and my personal findings.
- The Best $100 In-Ear Headphones – The “final straw.” Wirecutter recommends the Sony XBA-C10IPs and commends them for having outstanding audio quality and being quite cheap. They were cheap, however, the audio quality was, to put it frankly, awful. My mind is boggled by their recommendation.
As background, I enjoy my headphones/IEMs and was looking for a quick/cheap replacement for a pair of
Phonak Audéo PFE 232’s (these are fantastic, BTW) I lost while traveling. I was looking for a cheaper stopgap replacement, and I’ve owned many IEM’s in the $100 range, so my expectations were set realistically – for that price, you can definitely get very decent sound.
I picked up the XBA-C10’s unheard due to the recommendation in Taipei’s Guang Hua Digital Plaza, but was pretty much forced to get another pair immediately due to how terrible the sound was. I ended up going to 音悦音響有限公司 in Taipei (highly recommended) later in the evening to audition some headphones.
Both the HIFIMAN RE-400 and the Shure SE215 Special Editions were far superior at the $100 price level. It wasn’t even close. I bought the Shures because I’m a big fan of Comply Foam tips. Note: the Shures have replaceable cables with standard MMCX connectors. People don’t seem to like their iPhone cables, but using the UE900 cables seem like the cheaper & better way to go.
Note: I subsequently auditioned a bunch more headsets in Singapore at Jaben Audio (also highly recommended – they have some serious gear) and ended up picking up a $150 pair Etymotic HF3s – typical Etymotic lack-of-bass, but the clarity, isolation, and iPhone controls made it worthwhile. If I lose my saving throw against shiny I may end up picking up a “good” pair of IEMs.
- The Best Travel Power Strip (with USB) – Wirecutter recommends the Accell D080B-011K. Their recommendation/review is just plain wrong. Do they even travel? If they spent any amount of time in airports/hotel rooms even domestically (not to mention internationally), they’d realize that the cable-less form-factor basically makes it useless in many situations. Which might be fine if you didn’t need the power strip, but if you did, then you are now fucked. They note that the strips they tested weren’t rated for 220V/international use as well, which makes the definition of “travel” pretty limited.
While they’re a terrible company, I have yet to find a superior alternative to the Monster OTG400 (there is a 3-plug+USB OTG300 but I don’t recommend it since the USB is only 1A and I’ve found that I almost always would rather have the extra plug). The only other cabled alternative is the Tripp Lite TRAVELER3USB – it has the advantage of surge protection, but is also 1A USB and does not have 220V support. It’s also twice as large.
Here is the uber-compact international travel adapter I use. Besides supporting most countries (
basically everything except UK plugsactually UK plugs supported via clever use of EU plug; tested in HK), it also serves as a 2-prong adapter. I haven’t seen this for sale in the US. Note: I’ve also upgraded this in HK to a version that has a 1A USB plug built in.
- The Best USB battery pack for travel – while we’re talking about power, the Wirecutter’s recommendation isn’t particularly offensive, there are just better options. The Anker Astro 3E 10000mA is 2/3 the price and otherwise equivalent. I’m currently carrying the Anker Astro 3 12000mA which is a bit heavier but has 3 USB ports (up to 4A) – the Astro Pro looks better if I were buying today. (Note: I’ve just bought an Astro Pro and a Limefuel and will write up a comparison shortly).
In Tokyo, I picked up a cheapie 100g 4000mA battery for carrying around everywhere since my iPhone battery tends to not last at all out here.
- The Best Mirrorless Camera Under $1,000 – The Wirecutter recommends the Sony NEX-6 (and the NEX-5 before it) even though it has the worst lens selection ever. There are other issues (handling for example), but I wouldn’t recommend a NEX camera to someone unless I hated them.
While there’s a good argument for the Fuji X-Series (especially w/ the X-T1), but if you want an X, you should know. For people who actually need camera advice, I’d recommend m43 in general, and the GX7 in particular for <$1,000.