Panasonic is a name more readily associated with quality TVs and Blu-ray players, but the firm has finally moved into the highly competitive true wireless earbuds market with two pairs. The more expensive of those, the Panasonic RZ-S500W, feature noise-cancelling technology (unlike the other, more affordable RZ-S300W) and are the model we have on test here.
As you might expect from a product by a major consumer electronics brand, the Panasonic RZ-S500W spec sheet is pretty comprehensive. It includes Dual Hybrid Noise Cancelling Technology achieved through the use of feedback coupled to analogue and digital processing; an Ambient Mode to amplify surrounding noise when the time is right; twin beamforming microphones to increase the clarity of voices and reduce noise during calls; and a total of 19.5 hours of playtime with noise-cancelling activated (6.5 hours from the buds, 13 from the charging case).
The RZ-S500W initially launched at £169 ($199), but already that asking price has been reduced so it now hovers around the £100 ($150) mark. Should the competition be worried? We’re about to find out.
The smooth, matte plastic earpieces and their case resist smudges from our fingerprints well. The case is pocketable and features a premium-feel set of three white LEDs for battery life. The magnets to keep the lid shut are perhaps a little weaker than we’d like, but provided you keep it in your bag or your pocket the earbuds should be fine.
Inside each earpiece is an 8mm Neodymium driver, and the housings feature metallic accents around the circular top surface of each unit. Part of this visual flourish is a blue LED light, which flashes periodically when the headphones are paired and red when the buds are charging. At 21mm across and 31mm long, the housings are on the larger side, protruding a little from the ears when worn. The neck of each is angled ergonomically, but it is also fairly long – a consideration for those who aren’t used to more intrusive in-ears.
Five sizes of good-quality ear tips are supplied and easy to switch. However, even after downsizing from the standard size, the RZ-S500W aren’t the most secure pair of in-ears we've come across – even a brisk walk can be enough to knock one of the earpieces loose. Obviously, not getting a good seal will affect the sound presentation for dynamics, bass and detail, too, so it’s worth spending the time to get the fit right.
Bluetooth version 5.0
Battery life 6.5 hours (earbuds), 13 hours (case)
Dimensions (hwd) 2cm x 2cm x 3cm
We download the Panasonic Audio Connect app, which offers initial prompts to help pair the headphones for the first time. Although the app doesn’t look particularly slick or new, it functions well and never crashes during testing.
On the app's homepage, you can view your headphones and the battery life remaining in each earpiece. Below this are two tabs labelled ‘Ambient Sound Control’ and ‘Sound Enhancement’. Click on the former and you get two sliding controls to select the noise cancelling and ambient sound levels, plus a toggle to turn them off entirely. The latter pulls up four options: ‘Bass Enhancer’ and ‘Clear Voice’ sound profile presets, an ‘Equaliser’ tab with five sliders to tweak the sound, and an ‘Off’ toggle to listen at neutral.
Along the bottom of the screen, you can see the current listening volume, which is a useful touch, and in the top right is an Alexa icon. Tap it and, provided you’ve downloaded the Alexa app, you can add the RZ-S500W as accessories. Doing this means that long-touching the left bud now offers a direct line to Alexa, rather than the Siri default on our iPhone.
Other neat features include a USB-C quick-charge so that a 15-minute re-juice can deliver 70 minutes of playback, even with noise cancelling deployed. An IPX4 rating means that the earpieces should be able to handle a rainy day, too.
The twin beamforming mics ensure clear calls throughout our tests. The Bluetooth 5.0 connection is solid, though it’s worth noting that the superior aptX and aptX HD Bluetooth codecs aren’t supported.
Touch capacitive panels on each bud are possibly the most responsive and intuitive we’ve tested within an in-ear design. They never fail to respond to our touch, but they also seem to realise when we’re simply adjusting them in our ears rather than pressing for a response.
Play, pause and volume control are done with the left earpiece; track skipping with the right. Touching the right earpiece for two seconds scrolls between the three main noise cancelling profiles (ambient sound, noise cancelling and off), but these can be further customised in the app depending on the amount of noise-cancelling or background noise you’d prefer. It’s refreshing to find on-device controls as reliable and user-friendly as these.
The noise cancelling is exceptionally good, too – so good in fact that with the noise cancelling slider set to max, we actually feel a little disorientated when standing outside near a busy road. This isn’t a criticism of the RZ-S500W – some people experience low-level balance issues when using noise-cancelling headphones – but it’s a sure sign that consistent external sounds are being largely eliminated, especially at lower frequencies.
We find the ambient sound profile just as effective, and because the touch capacitive controls are so good it is quick to deploy them without reaching for your phone. There’s no auto-off wearer detection, but at this level and with these notable talents, the RZ-S500W look impressive value for money.
Setting all sound enhancements to neutral, we stream Eric Clapton’s Cocaine on Tidal. Slowhand’s bassy guitar riffs have ample space to shine within the spacious and cohesive mix. This particular track always makes us think that Clapton didn’t want his vocal to take centre stage, and the RZ-S500W oblige, paying his lyrics just enough attention to resonate without any hint of muddying the guitar. Before You Accuse Me is a greater test of the Panasonics’ treble frequencies and it’s a clear, agile and sparkling performance.
Switching to DJ Snake’s Taki Taki (a Tidal Master), we find agility through the low end and textured vocals across the frequencies. In direct comparison, even the Award-winning Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 suffer marginally for detail. The reggaeton track starts off quietly, almost as if played in a tunnel, and the Panasonics easily match the Cambridge Audios for the nuanced build through the intro.
Our playlist continues to Daddy Yankee and Snow’s Con Calma and the Panasonics continue to time well, with a sensible dollop of energy through the rise and fall of each beat. The sound is refined, clear, agile and never harsh. If we’re really nitpicking, it might err on the side of subtlety over fun – but it never underplays our music’s meatiness and excitement.
We stream Lascia Ch’io Pianga from Handel’s opera Rinaldo, and the piano feels nicely three dimensional beside a clear bass with plenty of depth. When the emotive build of the keys comes in – the kind of musical passage that heightens our emotions – we hear that marginal cautiousness in terms of dynamic build. Again, at this price, it almost feels churlish to mention it.
As we move on to Fractals (Truth 4) by Jessica Moss, the snaking, skulking build of the strings is as impactful through the RZ-S500W as it can be at this level. We sample the same track through the more affordable, also Award-winning Earfun Air, and there is plenty of difference in terms of nuance and detail. The Earfuns present a zealous sound with plenty of snap, but the Panasonics offer an extra ounce of detail and transparency. At this level, spending just a little more can often pay dividends, and that’s certainly the case here.
At their original asking price, these Panasonic true wireless earbuds faced plenty of tough competition in the true wireless market. However, with the price having dropped considerably, their noise-cancelling, performance, touch-capacitive controls, in-app features and general build quality are nothing short of superb for the money.
The Panasonic RZ-S500W feel like a far more expensive product, because it is. The bottom line is that the sound here is as detailed, accurate and transparent as this money can currently buy in a true wireless design. Just make sure they suit your ears.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best wireless earbuds
Read our Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 review