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Panasonic RP-HC500 headphones review: Panasonic RP-HC500 headphones

The Panasonic RP-HC500s are attractive headphones. Wearing these cans is a comfortable experience and their build quality pays attention to detail. Their noise-cancelling abilities score two enthusiastic thumbs up, with complete silence replacing ambient noise and chatter

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
3 min read

Panasonic's RP-HC500s are lightweight noise-cancelling headphones and compete with models offered by audio heavyweights Bose and Sennheiser. Panasonic's attractive RP-HC500s can be found for a much lower cost, but does this negatively impact performance?


Panasonic RP-HC500 headphones

The Good

Sound quality; detachable cable; good build quality; effective noise-cancelling.

The Bad

Horrible sound quality when batteries die; can become uncomfortable after extended wear; sound can leak badly at higher volumes.

The Bottom Line

Excellent noise-cancelling headphones considering they can be found for a good deal if you search hard enough. While sound quality and performance sans-battery isn't up to Sennheiser PXC 450 level, most people will find these are a worthy and decent performing purchase

Wearing the HC500s is a comfortable experience on the whole. The earcups provide a decent seal around the ears and the padded headband is barely noticeable thanks to the very lightweight nature of the cans. Having a good seal around the ears is useful too, since this helps in part to provide the noise-cancelling experience.

Build quality is excellent, and we especially liked the way the AAA battery compartment is concealed by the earcup bracket when the 'phones are being worn. The 70-inch audio cable has gold-plated connectors and is detachable from the headphones, making flat packing easy. An airline adaptor and 6.3mm plug are also included inside the tough carry case.

Noise cancelling scored two very enthusiastic thumbs up on the CNET.co.uk fists. With no music playing, our office environment was severely deadened with cancellation active. The most notable effect was the complete removal of noise from the air conditioner. It was an extremely pleasant to experience even without music. The dramatic exclusion of ambient noise, chattering and keyboard tapping was sublime. Never has silence sounded so good.

For the average user, sound quality will be more than acceptable from the 40mm drivers. Fans of dance and pounding club anthems will especially pleased; bass is clean and powerful, without being overpowering. The slightly reverberated kick drum heard on Infected Mushroom's 'Albibeno' could be felt pounding the very fibres of our medulla oblongata.

On rockier numbers, such as Meshuggah's time signature-contorting track 'Spasm', we heard good detail from the array of cymbals used by the band's drummer, without the powerfully driven guitars taking away any of their sound. Muse's 'Falling Away with You' contains some subtle layering of instruments and sound effects. The panned guitars, walking bass lines, speedy synthesiser, clear vocals, quiet falsetto and multiple guitar distortions came together quite beautifully.

If you're avoiding making any new friends, you'll love the HC500s: they leak loads of sound. At higher volumes the music booming inside can be heard from many metres away. Some of the best places to use noise-cancelling 'phones -- on planes, buses and trains -- are the very places it's crucial to keep audible disturbance at a minimum, so leaking was a notable disappointment.

After extended periods of wear (upwards of an hour) we found these 'phones to be a little on the uncomfortable side. There was no stickiness as can sometimes occur, but a heated and uncomfortable tightness was definitely noticeable.

As long as the AAA battery holds out, sound quality remains excellent. However, exhaust the little AAA and you're in for a dirty audio party with muddy, poorly defined sound. While some headphones -- notably Sennheiser's PXC 450s -- bypass the noise-cancelling circuitry when batteries keel over and die. The HC500s do not do this effectively, and the result is a dirty sound only grunge fans will appreciate.

If you shop carefully, you can find some great deals on these headphones. Their performance is dependent on a healthy AAA battery and while such requirements are met, sound is generally excellent. The severe drop in audio quality when batteries are flat or removed is disappointing. This downside could force you to carry either lots of batteries or a backup set of earphones. But on the whole all but the audiophile will find these a nice snag for the price.

While much more expensive than the HC500s, Sennheiser's excellent PXC 450s shouldn't be overlooked. Their superb sound quality is feature enough, but they're also terrific when noise-cancelling batteries die out.

Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday