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Panasonic has spent years refining its lineup of audio gear, and it proves just what it’s capable of with the new Panasonic RZ-S500W earbuds. These true wireless earbuds are not only more affordable than the heavy-hitters from Apple and Sony, but the RZ-S500W actually beat the competition in a few categories like active noise cancellation. Let’s dig in and see what else there is to love about these buds.
Update, April 2022: This Panasonic RZ-S500W review was updated to include the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless as alternatives.
Who should get the Panasonic RZ-S500W?
Do the Panasonic RZ-S500W earn any style points?
The design of the Panasonic RZ-S500W has a number of pros and cons. The touch panels are encircled by a silver ring that contrasts the sleek matte black finish. Each earbud is also branded with the Panasonic logo, as is the black charging case. However, the case build is somewhat lacking and the hinge feels like it could snap with a little bit of force.
Each earbud has a number of charging points on the underside, and they’re arranged somewhat like the eyes of a spider — arachnophobes be warned. The charging case openings are wide, and I never had to be overly precise about placing the earbuds in the case to guarantee charging. Panasonic also included five different ear tips with the RZ-S500W, ranging from XS to XL, all of which play nicely with the case’s cutouts.
The Panasonic RZ-S500W offer one of the best portable noise-cancelling experiences money can buy.
One of the best design choices: the large touch-capacitive panels. They’re easy to operate even in the middle of a workout or while attempting to multitask. The earbuds use a voice prompt to indicate the noise-cancelling status, but a simple tone indicates volume and playback controls. You can also use the touch-capacitive panels to control Amazon Alexa or another preferred assistant like Google Assistant.
Is the Panasonic Audio Connect app worth downloading?
If you like aesthetically pleasing apps, you won’t be happy with Panasonic’s offering. Panasonic Audio Connect (Android/iOS)puts function over all else, making it easy to adjust prioritization and choosing a virtual assistant. Overall, the controls within the app are fairly straightforward, but the most important function is the ability to download firmware updates.
The noise-cancelling might just blow you away
If you want a pair of affordable earbuds with solid active noise-cancelling, the Panasonic RZ-S500W just might be for you. They utilize a hybrid mechanism that adjusts to your environment using feedforward and feedback technology. Basically, the louder your environment the harder your earbuds will work to counteract it. At the highest setting, low and midrange frequencies are rendered four to six times quieter than they’d sound sans-earbuds, which is great for commuting and office work — even distant chatter is heavily attenuated. The noise-cancelling was too effective for me: I felt disoriented after using these earbuds for an extended time because it was so silent. On the bright side, you can easily change the intensity through the app.
How’s the connection stability?
The connection strength was solid with the RZ-S500W, whether I was lounging around or out and about. Each earbud connects to your device independently which helps to improve the experience, and means you can use either the left or right bud for mono listening. Panasonic opted for Bluetooth 5.0 firmware with the RZ-S500W; this allows for a 10-meter range, so you don’t need your phone on your person at all times. The earbuds also easily reconnect to the most recent device, which is convenient if you want to make them your daily drivers.
As far as Bluetooth codec support goes, the Panasonic RZ-S500W is pretty standard — AAC and SBC are supported, but not aptX. This just means that iPhone users will benefit more from high-quality audio than Android users due to AAC’s inconsistent performance across Android devices. I, unfortunately, noticed a bit of audio-visual lag with my pair while trying to stream from a Samsung Galaxy S10e. Depending on what I watched, the words were delayed nearly half a second in some cases.
How to pair the earbuds
The pairing process is very simple, at least for the first device. Simply remove the buds from the case, and they will automatically enter pairing mode. Then, enable Bluetooth on your device and select the earbuds from your list of devices and select the RZ-S500W. It’s as easy as can be.
Pairing a new device is where things get tricky: the paperwork says it should be as easy as tapping and holding either touch panel for seven seconds and then selecting a new device. If you form separate connections, the earbuds should attempt to reconnect to the last used device. However, I could not get this to work and had to perform a manual reset any time I wanted to change devices.
How long does the battery last?
When SoundGuys tests battery life, they subject the headphones to a constant level of output until the battery hits 0%. During the Panasonic RZ-S500W review period, the headset lasted 5 hours and 36 minutes on a single charge — which is a long time for noise-cancelling earbuds.
The charging case granted us two extra charges, and each charge takes around two hours. Recharging the case takes two and a half hours using the included USB-C cable. While the lack of wireless charging is disappointing, the Panasonic RZ-S500W support fast charging for over an hour of playback from just 15 minutes of charging.
How do the Panasonic RZ-S500W sound?
The 8mm dynamic drivers offer a familiar sound quality by boosting the bass and midrange notes. While it’s not a neutral frequency response like some people prefer, the Panasonic RZ-S500W is a great pick if your library is full of hip-hop and pop hits. The passive isolation helps with noise-cancelling as the earbuds physically block your eardrums from the environment. This isolation actually helps your brain to focus on the music instead of trying to cut out the background noise.
Editor’s note: The frequency response chart was recorded without any EQ processing.
Can I use the Panasonic RZ-S500W for phone calls?
The Panasonic RZ-S500W is good for phone calls in the respect that it combats the proximity effect well. That means that it de-emphasizes low frequencies, so when a speaker gets too close to the microphone it doesn’t cause emphatic amplification and distortion. However, the microphones don’t block out background noise particularly well. When you listen to the demo below, you’ll notice a few ambient apartment sounds throughout.
Panasonic RZ-S500W microphone demo:
Panasonic RZ-S500W vs Panasonic RZ-S300W
How does the RZ-S500W compare to its little brother, the Panasonic RZ-S300W ($119)? The main differences are that the RZ-S300W lacks noise-cancelling and it relies on smaller drivers. Both of which keep the cost down, though they mean sacrificing some sound quality. What’s more, the RZ-S300W has a less advanced microphone system that fails to transmit accurate vocals. That’s about the extent of the differences though, as both use Bluetooth 5.0 and support the same codecs. The RZ-S300W do charge more efficiently than the noise-cancelling RZ-S500W, making them a great affordable alternative.
Panasonic RZ-S500W review: The verdict
If you’re all about the noise-cancelling experience, yes, get the Panasonic RZ-S500W. These buds are well worth the cost of admission and outperform the more expensive Apple AirPods Pro ($249) and Sony WF-1000XM3 ($199). They may not be as comfortable for all ears, but one of the five sets of ear tips is bound to fit. While Panasonic didn’t deck these out with the same high-end tech as the biggest names, the Panasonic RZ-S500W are tough to top for peace and quiet.
Panasonic RZ-S500W alternatives
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are pricier, but worth it
If you’re looking for more from noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM4 ($279) are some of the best noise-cancelling earbuds out there. Not only do they have amazing noise-cancelling, but they also come with foam ear tips for extra comfort and sound isolation. They also use Bluetooth 5.2, which can mean improved battery life and a more stable connection. They also support Sony 360 Reality Audio, if you’re into that sort of thing. This is a good choice for people with more money to spend on the best product.
For high quality audio, the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless have got you covered
The Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless ($179) earbuds have a lot of the same things as the RZ-S500W: great noise-cancelling, IPX4 water resistance, and an app for customizing EQ. But what sets these apart is aptX support for high-quality audio and reduced latency over Bluetooth. If you’re looking for a good pair of noise-cancelling earbuds to not only join you on your run or your commute, but also provide great sound while you’re out and about, these are definitely worth considering.