There’s plenty of well-defined bass here as well as a balanced mid-range and decent top end too. Play Bob Dylan’s Modern Times and you’ll find the bluegrass-influenced music on his latest disc is delivered with a great sense of energy and fun; Someday Baby really motors along. Switching over to the Sennheiser PXC-350s and you can see where your extra cash goes: the music simply sounds more real, with better clarity, realism and a better sense of airiness and space to go along with all that verve. But the RP-HC500s are still hugely impressive for the money.
As with the Sennheiser’s, the Panasonics lack gut-rumbling, fat-sounding bass that non-noise cancelling external headphones are capable of delivering. This isn’t apparent on acoustic tracks such as the soundtrack from Gladiator or the jazz on Lisa Ekdahl’s superb Back To Earth album, where the full range of the orchestra and double bass are reproduced extremely effectively. But as soon as you turn on something with artificially low notes they become noticeably lacking. I turned to Jamiroquai’s Black Capricorn Day, from the album Synkronized – a track I always turn to, to demonstrate audio equipment’s bass capabilities – and found there just isn’t the same grunt with the RP-HC500s as you get with a good pair of in-ear canal phones or normal external phones.
But back to the good stuff, and it’s worth pointing out that a low impedance rating of 32ohms seems to contribute to an ability to produce much louder top volume levels with smaller, lower powered MP3 players with than the more expensive Sennheiser headphones, which are rated at 150ohms. I tried them with a variety of players, from the Sansa Clip to the Trekstor Vibez and found that, coupled with the noise cancelling, I was rarely tempted to turn the volume up the three quarters mark on any of the players.
All round, I’d say Panasonic’s first foray into the noise-cancelling headphones market is a pretty successful one. Its RP-HC500 headphones are nicely made, comfortable and (for circumaural headphones) are pretty portable.
Moreover, for the sort of money we’re talking they sound very, very good and the noise cancelling works brilliantly without being over-intrusive. They can’t quite match the best that Sennheiser has to offer in terms of sound quality, and sound quality is pretty nasty once the battery dies, but if these are anything to go by, the German manufacturer is going to have to up its game, because the RP-HC500s offer very good value for money.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 8