Panasonic makes a wide range of audio equipment. So, it is surprising the Japanese tech giant has just entered the crowded true wireless in-ear headphones fray, with the RZ-S500W.
One of the few on the market to have active noise cancellation (ANC) technology, it comes in white and black (version tested) and has a minimalist design. Each earbud has a round bulbous body with a touch-sensitive exterior surrounded by a silver semi-ring.
A tiny stem connects to the ear tip. Five pairs of different-size tips are included for the right fit.
The charging case, in matching matt-black finish, has a USB-C port at its rear for charging, but does not support wireless charging.
Compared with its competitors, the RZ-S500W's earbuds are a tad large and bulky. They protrude slightly from your ears.
But the size also allows the earbuds to anchor themselves well in your ears. The earbuds stay snug during my jogs and when I try to dislodge them by shaking my head vigorously. Plus, they feel comfortable even when I wear them for hours.
The earbuds' IPX4 rating for resistance against sweat and water splashes means you can wear them for a run when it is drizzling, though not when there is a torrential downpour.
They use 8mm drivers for audio output, while their ANC comes with what Panasonic coins as dual hybrid noise-cancelling technology, which combines feedforward ANC with feedback ANC.
Feedforward ANC uses an external microphone to capture noise and harnesses digital processing to reproduce signals to cancel out the noise, while feedback ANC uses an internal microphone to capture noise in your ears and analogue processing to cancel out the noise.
The result is one of the best ANC experiences I have had - bettering Apple's AirPods Pro and on a par with Sony's impressive WF-1000XM3. I can hardly hear the din from the home-improvement project that is going on above my flat when wearing the RZ-S500W.
The RZ-S500W also comes with ambient sound control, which allows you to hear the surroundings. This is great for when cycling and jogging, or when you want to hear what is going on around you.
• Superb active noise cancellation
• Great audio quality
• Long battery life
• Earbuds are a tad bulky
• Charging case does not support wireless charging
DRIVERS: 8mm neodymium
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 5.0
WEIGHT: 7g (each earbud), 45g (charging case)
BATTERY LIFE: 4.5/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
You can use the Panasonic Audio Connect app (available on Android and iOS) to update firmware, adjust the intensity of the ANC and ambient sound control and tweak the equaliser (EQ) settings. However, the app cannot change the tap controls on the earbuds.
Thankfully, the touch controls are not as confusing as those on some true wireless in-ear headphones. Tap once on either earbud to play or pause a track. A double-tap on the right earbud skips the track forward, while a triple-tap skips the track backwards. Double or triple tap on the left earbud to lower or increase the volume.
Press and hold the right earbud to cycle through ANC on, Ambient Sound and ANC off. Do the same with the left earbud to activate your smartphone's voice assistant.
With the equaliser settings set at flat, I find the audio output to be rich in the highs and detailed in the mids. The bass can be punchier, but the app has a bass enhancer EQ preset that boosts the bass while keeping the mids and highs sharp.
For those who like vocal-driven music, there is a clear voice EQ preset that amplifies vocals nicely. Overall, the audio quality is superb.
The RZ-S500W's battery life is one of the best in its class too. Listening to music with ANC switched on and at 75 per cent volume, it lasts six hours - not far from its rated six hours and 30 minutes. The charging case is said to add another 13 hours of playback time.
It is perhaps a pity the RZ-S500W ($349) is priced in the same ballpark as the AirPods Pro ($379) and WF-1000XM3 ($349).
It is a great pair of true wireless in-ear headphones, but for this price, many iPhone users will probably go for the AirPods Pro, given its tight integration with the Apple ecosystem, while others could favour entrenched genre leaders such as the WF-1000XM3.