Technics EAH-AZ70W true wireless headphones: Excellent sound, first-class noise-canceling
I can't remember the last time I reviewed a Technics product -- it's been that many years -- but the venerable audio brand, which Panasonic brought out of retirement in 2014, appears on the company's line-topping noise-canceling earbuds. The Technics EAH-AZ70W's list price of $250 (£220, AU$449) puts them squarely up against Apple's AirPods Pro ($250), Sony's WF-1000XM3 ($230) and Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 2 ($300). While they're a little large, they stack up well against that stiff competition, with impressive sound and noise-canceling function.
They have a similar look to the Sennheisers and fit similarly, though not quite as comfortably. In that sense, they're a little bigger than your average true wireless earbuds and stick from your ears a bit farther. Sennheiser managed to shrink the second-gen Momentum True Wireless model as Jabra did with its Elite 75t, so this Technics would ideally be smaller. (As it is, it may not fit those with smaller ears.) But that, along with a somewhat high price tag, are its only notable downsides.
I was able to get a comfortable fit and tight seal with the medium-sized ear tips. That tight seal is crucial for optimal sound quality and noise-canceling performance. These don't have a sport fin to lock the buds in place, but they did fit securely and would be fine for workouts at the gym. Like the AirPods Pro, they have an IPX4 water-resistance rating, which means they're sweatproof and splashproof.
The included carrying case isn't the most compact, but it's not too large and has a premium feel, as do the buds themselves, with their aluminum shell. Unfortunately, there's no wireless charging. The case charges via USB-C, with battery life rated at 6.5 hours of use while the charging case adds another 19.5 hours of playback. Those are decent numbers for noise-canceling true wireless earbuds -- the AirPods Pro are rated for 5 hours -- but the numbers have been creeping up for true wireless earbuds without noise cancellation.
The Technics EAH-AZ70W have "dual hybrid" noise cancellation, using two systems of microphones: feedforward noise cancellation (FF-NC) and feedback noise cancellation (FB-NC). This hybrid approach is becoming more common, but Panasonic's rendition is decent, right there with that of Sony, Apple and Sennheiser. And as with a lot of premium earbuds, there's a transparency mode that allows sound to leak into the buds so you can hear the outside world.
You can toggle through three modes -- noise canceling on, ambient noise on and off -- by tapping and holding the right earbud. Additionally, the level of noise-canceling and ambient sound can be adjusted in the Technics Audio Connect companion app for iOS or Android. Tapping and holding the left activates your phone's voice assistant or you can substitute that for Amazon's Alexa voice assistant.
In all, I found the touch controls responsive and these do have volume controls -- you tap the left bud twice quickly to turn the volume down and three times to turn it up. The earbuds don't have a sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take them out of ears, but you can have them automatically turn off if you leave them out, say on a table (outside the case), after a set period of time.
My wireless connection was pretty much rock solid. Panasonic says these earbuds have a "Left-Right Independent Signalling System that helps maintain a stable connection with proper sound balance between right and left channels." In future, more earbuds will have the earbuds connect independently to your device but this is among the first models to tout the feature.
The buds are equipped with 10mm drivers with a graphene-coated PEEK diaphragm that's designed to reduce vibration and distortion, Panasonic says. The ultimate result of all those features, as I said earlier, is that the EAH-AZ70W earbuds sound good. They're at the upper echelon for true wireless earbuds for sound quality. They deliver detailed, rich sound with well-defined bass and a pretty wide soundstage so the sound doesn't feel stuck in your head. They work well with a variety of music and sound relatively natural for Bluetooth headphones (by that I mean music and vocals don't sound overly processed). They support the AAC streaming codec but not aptX.
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds are warmer and I liked their sound more. The EAH-AZ70W easily beats the AirPods Pro on the sound front, however, though the AirPods are significantly lighter and more comfortable.
Sony's WF-1000XM3 has bigger bass and I found it more comfortable, although it sticks out from your ears even more. But the Technics buds were a pleasure to listen to. The only exception was some instances when I felt there was a treble push in the high mids, which made some female vocals sound a touch too bright. It's worth mentioning that there's an equalizer for tweaking the sound in the Technics companion app for iOS and Android. It doesn't make a huge difference but it will alter the sound profile.
These earbuds work well for making calls, with good noise reduction that does a decent job muffling the background noise around you. Callers said my voice sounded clear. The only thing missing is a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the earbuds so you can modulate it better when talking. You can use a single earbud to make calls.
Panasonic sells a step-down model, the Panasonic RZ-S500W ($180), which offers similar features, including noise cancellation, in a less-premium package with smaller 8mm drivers (the case does feel a little cheap). That model is selling on Amazon for around $155 right now and is probably the better value, but the Technics EAH-AZ70W is clearly superior.
I do think the EAH-AZ70W's price will have to come closer to $200 for it to compete as a newcomer in the premium true-wireless arena (I do expect to see some discounts heading into the holiday buying season). That said, aside from its size, it performs well and does justice to the Technics brand.