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Panasonic RPHX40 review: Panasonic RPHX40

Despite some shortcomings in the design and comfort department, Panasonic's $20 RP-HX40 on-ear headphones deliver very good sound for the money.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

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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 e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Panasonic has a number of budget headphones, including the RP-HX40s, that perform remarkably well for their low price points. The RP-HX40 is an on-ear model that comes in multiple colors and can be picked up for around $20 online. This model's value is enhanced further with an integrated microphone (for making cell phone calls) and inline volume controls.

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7.2

Panasonic RPHX40

The Good

The <b>Panasonic RP-HX40s</b> are lightweight on-ear headphones that look fairly attractive (they come in multiple colors), are inexpensive, have a built-in microphone for making cell phone calls, and sound very good for their low price point.

The Bad

The RP-HX40s feel like inexpensive headphones and aren't incredibly comfortable (they could use a bit of padding in the headband).

The Bottom Line

Despite some shortcomings in the design and comfort department, the Panasonic RP-HX40s deliver impressive sound for the money and are a good value at around $20 online.

From a design standpoint, the RP-HX40s are lightweight and relatively attractive. That said, when you pick them up, they do seem like an inexpensive pair of headphones and are essentially all plastic except for the cloth covering on the lightly padded earpieces.

On a positive note those earpieces swivel and fold flat; the headphones, however, do not fold up for more compact storage.

More critically speaking, the cords leading up to the earpieces are pretty thin and the RP-HX40s aren't terribly comfortable. They're not uncomfortable, but they could use a bit of padding on the headband (there's none) and the cloth on the earpads is a little slick, so the headphones have a tendency to slide around a touch on your ears. If, for instance, the cloth had been replaced with some sort of faux leather, that probably wouldn't happen.

While I wasn't a fan of the material on the earpieces, the headphones do fold flat. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance
Because the fit and finish on these headphones screams "budget," I wasn't expecting them to sound all that good. But once again another pair of inexpensive Panasonic headphones exceeded my expectations on the performance front (they sound much better than the RP-HX35s, which are among the few Panasonics to disappoint).

The headphones have an L-shaped plug that may not fit into the headphone jack of your smartphone if it has a thicker case on it. Sarah Tew/CNET

These actually sound quite decent for the money, delivering good detail and bass, with relatively well-balanced sound and nice presence and immediacy (translation: the music doesn't sound like it's coming at you through a screen door).

The bass holds together pretty well at higher volumes and manages to be more punchy than bloated. No, you can't expect too much from $20 headphones, but these measure up to a lot cans that cost $40 to $60, and I was able to wear them for more than an hour without experiencing a case of listening fatigue. That's saying a lot.

As for the built-in microphone, I was able to make a few calls without hearing any complaints from callers about sound quality. The inline remote just has volume controls, a call answer/end button, and no transport controls (skip track forward/back), but most people won't miss that feature and will just be happy that they can take calls while wearing the headphones.

Close up of the inline volume controls with microphone and call answer/end button. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
As you can see, I have some misgivings about the Panasonic RP-HX40s' design. On the plus side, they are lightweight, look decent enough, and fold flat. They get a middling score for build quality and comfort, which means they pass, but not with any distinction. Or to put it another way: depending on your head and hair type, some will think they're pretty comfortable while others will be bothered by their fit (that said, few people will really hate their fit).

I'm more bullish on the RP-HX40s' sound quality and certainly appreciate the built-in microphone. As I said, these sound impressive for $20 headphones. So, despite a few reservations, I can recommend them, particularly to people looking to make the most out of limited headphone budgets.

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7.2

Panasonic RPHX40

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 8