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Panasonic RP-HT21 (Black) review: Panasonic RP-HT21 (Black)

Despite their pedestrian design, the Panasonic RP-HT21s sound as good as headphones costing four to five times as much.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
2 min read

In the past few months I've been on a minor mission to check out some budget headphones that cost less than $10. I started with Pansonic's sub-$10 ErgoFit RP-HJE120 earphones, and came away pleasantly surprised by their performance and fit. But what about something really cheap, like Panasonic's simple on-ear model, the RP-HT21, which I bought for $4.87 on Amazon, tax and shipping included thanks to my Prime membership? Could they be any good?


Panasonic RP-HT21 (Black)

The Good

Panasonic's very inexpensive <b>RP-HT21</b> on-ear headphones are lightweight, fairly comfortable, seem sturdy enough, and sound quite decent for their low price.

The Bad

The headphones have a generic design, don't fold up, and their thicker, reinforced L-shaped plug may not be compatible with certain smartphone cases. They also leak sound.

The Bottom Line

As far as really inexpensive headphones go, you're not going to do too much better than the Panasonic RP-HT21s.

Well, in the world of superbudget headphones, good is a relative word. For starters, this model isn't going to win any design awards. It's not totally devoid of aesthetic flare, but it's pretty generic-looking, and out of the box, my first thought was that it was something a flight attendant would hand me on a plane. OK, maybe it's a step up from that, but if it is, it's not a big step up.

Indeed, the RP-HT21 is almost as basic as an on-ear model gets. But it is lightweight, comfortable enough, and has a seemingly durable L-shaped plug (alas, that plug may be problem for those with thicker "tough" cases on their phones). They don't fold up, there's no built-in microphone for making cell phone calls, or anything in the way of extra features. (If you can afford to splurge a little, Panasonic also makes the RP-HT46, which has a folding design and supposedly offers a bit more bass for around $13 online).

From a design standpoint, the HT-21s aren't much of a step up from the headphones they hand out on planes -- but they are lightweight and fairly comfortable.

As for the sound, it's actually pretty decent, and will most likely exceed your expectations. The RP-HT21s have a reasonable amount of clarity, play loud with mobile devices, and output ample bass. No, the sound isn't all that refined, and no the bass isn't terribly tight, but I've heard plenty of $20 to $25 headphones that sound about the same. These guys also sound as good as many entry-level Bluetooth headphones that cost around $50. But that isn't saying much.

They have an L-shaped plug, which is arguably more durable than a straight plug. Sarah Tew/CNET

We're fans of the Koss PortaPro on-ear headphones, which retail for around $35 online and have a folding headband. The RP-HT21s don't sound as good as the PortaPros, but their sound quality doesn't fall that short and they cost nearly $30 less.

The headphones straight on. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're looking for a cheap pair of headphones for casual listening on the go or at the gym, the RP-HT21s, despite their generic looks, actually sound pretty decent and are fairly comfortable to wear. Sure, some people may think you swiped them from your last flight, but the good news is that if you leave them anywhere (or accidentally break them), they'll only cost you $5 to replace. There's something to be said for that.


Panasonic RP-HT21 (Black)

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 5Performance 6Value 9