Updated: Aug 19, 2021
We’re back with this pair of earbuds that could possibly have the best ANC performance on the market right now. These are the Panasonic RZ-S500W.
These are Panasonic’s first foray into the true wireless earbuds market, and they actually punch above their weight. At S$349, these are cheaper than the Apple AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM3 in the US, which I personally felt was the king of ANC true wireless earbuds until now.
Let’s talk design. The carrying case is a bit on the bulky side, but definitely more compact than the Sony WF-1000XM3. It’s matte black plastic, with a glossy ring around the area where the lid meets the body. The case is light, no doubt thanks to the choice of material, but it also results in it feeling a bit less premium.
The earbuds themselves are also on the chunky side, and they do stick out of the ears a bit, but thankfully, they sit snugly. Panasonic also includes extra silicon tips, from XS all the way to XL, so there’ll definitely be options for everybody. The buds are also made with plastic, but there’s a soft-touch coating on them which make them feel really nice. There’s a silver accent ring that goes around the faceplate, which looks pretty cool, and the LED indicator lights are also present there for charging, pairing status and more.
There are also three LED lights on the case which indicate charge level left, which is a nifty feature. Panasonic claims 6.5 hours on the earbuds with an additional 2 and a half charges in the case, for a total of 19.5 hours. Now, I’m pretty satisfied with the battery life on the earbuds, which I got around 6 hours out of, but the total battery life is kinda on the low end. It’s probably the price to pay for the case to be kept at just 45 grams though.
But let’s talk about the most important part, and that’s the active noise cancelling. This is all subjective, of course, since everybody’s ears are different, but personally, I find the ANC on these even better than the AirPods Pro, and it’s hard to pick between these and the acclaimed Sony WF-1000XM3. Panasonic claims the ANC is market-leading, and honestly, I can’t find a reason to dispute that.
Simply wearing the earbuds with no music playing already reduces external noise to such a degree that I can barely hear a fan that’s around 30 centimetres from my head. Wind noise is also very well controlled with these earbuds. This is achieved via a combination of feedforward and feedback microphones that work in tandem to cancel out noise.
Of course, if a sports car roars by right beside you, there’s no way these are blocking out all that noise. But for general commuting, these work excellently to block out chatter and the rumble of the train. I can’t comment on planes, since we’re not allowed to travel at the moment, but based on my experience so far, I think frequent fliers should definitely be considering these earbuds for when countries start reopening.
Ambient Noise, or Transparency mode, is decent. It does pump in the background noise but it’s not as natural as the AirPods Pro, and that’s one aspect that Apple has hands-down beaten everybody else on.
The sound is probably the one aspect of these earbuds that are a bit divisive. They’re not bad, by any means. With 8mm dynamic drivers in these, you get a lot of bass, and that works out really well for the general listener who favours pop and rock songs. For audiophiles who are looking for fidelity and detail in their music though, this might not be the best choice.
The earbuds do sound good, but to me, they’re just lacking that bit of musicality that the Sony’s provide. It could be that I just prefer the Sony sound, but there’s that.
You get touch controls on these, with the volume being controlled by two or three quick taps on the left earbud, which I really like. Personally, I think more companies should implement volume controls on their earbuds. The downside of this though, is that sometimes, you’ll pair to a phone and get music playing at an extremely low volume.
It has nothing to do with your phone, it’s most likely because you need to adjust the volume of the earbuds themselves. I’ve experienced this issue with quite a number of true wireless earbuds, however, so it’s nothing to fault Panasonic for.
It’s best to download the Panasonic Audio Connect app though since you need it to update the earbuds’ firmware. There’s also an EQ function there under Sound Enhancement, so that option’s there if you want it. You can also adjust the level of noise-cancelling in the app, and Panasonic claims there are 50 levels.
I’ll take Panasonic’s word for it since it’s adjusted via a slider, and I really can’t tell if there are 50 different levels or not, but hey, it works well, that’s all I need. The noise cancelling is pretty strong and it can be a bit uncomfortable, especially for people who are more sensitive to pressure changes, so it’s nice to have the option to adjust it.
There’s Alexa integration, but you can use your phone’s own Voice Assistant, like Google Assistant, so there’s no issue there.
The case charges via USB-C, but unfortunately, no wireless charging available. There is quick charge though, so you get 70 minutes of listening time after plugging the case in for 15 minutes. The one issue that people might have with these, is that the earbuds only support SBC and AAC. There’s no aptX, aptX HD, aptX low latency, nada. It’s a bit of a bummer, but considering the WF-1000XM3 didn’t support those codecs either, I can hardly fault Panasonic for skipping out and keeping the price low.
On the bright side, you do get IPX4 water resistance on the earbuds, so you won’t have to worry about sweat or the occasional drizzle spoiling these. If you’re thinking of exercising with these though, think again. The earbuds are 7g each, which is on the heavier side. Prolonged periods of wearing them will likely result in a bit of fatigue, and the earbuds aren’t really built to stay in the ear either.
All in all, these are excellent earbuds. The active noise cancellation is right at the top and as I mentioned, these are Panasonic’s first attempt. With a bit more tweaking for the sound and improvements to the noise-cancelling technology, we might see Panasonic come back with a second generation in a year or two that completely blows everything else out of the water. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for. A little competition is always good to push companies to innovate.
More information about the Panasonic RZ-S500W can be found on Panasonic’s website.