With the release of its $250 RP-WH5000 infrared wireless headphones, Panasonic's designers are shooting for a more upscale audience than that of the company's previous sub-$100 headphones definitely have the beefy look and feel of a luxury model, but thanks to clever distribution of weight in the headband, they don't seem that heavy. The glossy, gray ear cup covers and thickly padded ear cushions are classy touches, while a volume-control dial is conveniently located on the bottom of the right ear cup.
The Panasonic RP-WH5000s' 7.75-inch-tall transmitter/charger base has built-in Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS surround processing circuitry. Connection options include stereo analog and optical digital inputs, so the headphones can easily be hooked up to a DVD player, a TV, a computer, or an A/V receiver--and all of the necessary cables are included. As for power, the headphones draw juice from two rechargeable 2.4-volt batteries housed in the left ear cup. One gripe: We noticed that unless we carefully placed the headphones on the charger base to engage the electrical connections, the batteries wouldn't recharge. Once fully charged, they're good for approximately 20 hours of use.
Since the Panasonic RP-WH5000s use infrared wireless technology (as opposed to Bluetooth or RF), you have to stay within the line of sight of the transmitter/charger base, or the sound will cut out. The headphones were generally comfortable, but over the course of a two-hour DVD, they exerted a little too much pressure.
The first thing we noticed about the sound of the Panasonic RP-WH5000s was the complete lack of noise; the electronics in most wireless headphones add background hiss, but the Panasonic is dead silent. That's a big plus on quieter, dialogue-driven movies such as Woody Allen's Celebrity. The transmitter base automatically decodes Dolby Digital or DTS surround tracks from DVDs such as Peter Gabriel's Still Growing Up. When Gabriel sang "Solsbury Hill," we could hear the audience singing along, seemingly from surround channels behind us. The song introductions were pretty clear, but once the band kicked into high gear, the RP-WH5000s sounded a little strained; on "Sledgehammer," for example, the bass lacked impact. Switching over to our wired headphones fixed those problems, but to be fair to the Panasonics, bass power is never a strength of wireless headphones.
Things improved when we played acoustic jazz and folk CDs. The headphones' wonderfully natural, stand-up bass was reasonably weighty, and vocals were equally excellent. Engaging the Dolby Pro Logic II surround processing for music added a lot of reverberation, which we didn't care for, but that's a matter of personal taste.
offer up similar perils and positives, but they're a better product overall, though somewhat more expensive at $300. If you're willing to spend even more, are the best wireless headphones we've tested to date. That said, Panasonic's RP-WH5000s are still a step up from most of the wireless headphones we've tested over the years, and some of the best we've heard in this price range.