Are there more stylish in-ears on the market? You bet. Are there booming, bassier options? Certainly. For general, everyday use, though, the Panasonic RP-TCM125 are an absolute steal.
Finding a balanced, error-free frequency response in this price range is quite a treat. I tested a bass-forward frequency response with plenty of respect for the midrange and high-end. Frequencies within the sub-bass and bass region—from 10Hz to around 200Hz—are extra audible, providing a big low-end foundation for your tunes. Mid-range frequencies of around 1kHz experience a slight reduction in volume, but since human hearing is extra sensitive to this portion of the range, this reduction works nicely—meaning it achieves proper balance.
To look a little more closely—the RP-TCM125 actually do an excellent job following an ELC (equal loudness contour). They emphasize bass tones a little more than your ear needs for equal volume, but not so much as to detract from mid and high tones, which are mapped almost exactly to the ELC. While there proved a few discrepancies in emphasis around 7kHz and 9kHz, these won't detract from the experience in any way—they're very high, and consist entirely of harmonic overtones.
Plain, simple, and cheap
The RP-TCM125 come in a variety of colors—blue, purple, white, black, and pink. Our test sample is the white version; they haunt your ears with ectoplasmic buds and a solid white cable. The product is sort of understated, as in-ears go: With enough hair, you could probably obscure the fact that you were even wearing them for the better part of an afternoon. You'll also probably forget they're there, as they're certainly comfortable enough.
One pro of the simple design is that there aren't a lot of components to bang up or scratch. The neck split doesn't move at all, the in-line controller is shielded by hard plastic, and all three flex points have basic reinforcement. Plus, if these Panasonic buds ever do break, you'd only be out $20.
One disadvantage of the simple, cheap design is that it's... well, cheap. The cable feels flimsy, and tends to kink up and tangle. The white version of the RP-TCM125 also tends to show residual dirt and grime, for obvious reasons, but it's easy enough to clean. If you're looking for crazy special features, I must immediately remind you that these are $20, and you're lucky to be getting a single-button mic/remote for answering calls and pausing music.
Don't expect much in the package, either. You get small, medium, and large interchangeable speaker sleeves—and that's all, folks.
Sick of listening to that one guy snore on the bus? Then you need headphones with decent "attenuation"—the ability to block ambient noise. Finding the best fit on these Panasonic plugs means checking each of the silicone sleeves, but a firm fit will block plenty of noise. Bass frequencies are only partially quieted, so you'll still have to suffer low rumbling sounds like engines and mack horns. Middle frequencies will be nearly 1/4 their original loudness, however, and high-mid and treble frequencies will be up to 1/16 and 1/8 of their original loudness, respectively.
Surprisingly solid for the price
At this price, I was expecting shoddy design and awful sound—I'll be the first to admit I was straight-up wrong. For what you're paying, the RP-TCM125 provide an awesome listening experience.
Fans of bass will be pleased. Despite their relatively tiny speakers, these little Panasonics provide healthy bass support—just shy of "overdoing it."
Mid- and high-range sounds, from the murmuring baritone of that Creed guy to Mariah Carey's piercing whistle tone, will be easy to hear—for better or worse. While these Panasonics' in-ear nature means overtone notes have less room to resonate, the meat of most instrumentation is all there. For $20, that's as good as it gets.
Actually, my bad, it gets better! You can expect a number of other advantages from the RP-TCM125, too. Whether you're riding the bus home or jockeying your desk at work, the folks around you will have no idea you're blasting some Slayer (at a reasonable volume!). These headphones do a good job keeping your music in your ears instead of in your neighbor's, and at safe listening volumes, they don't distort anything either.
If you have particularly sensitive ears, you might notice that the right channel is a touch louder than the left—but most people would only notice this if they were listening for it. As far as budget headphones go, these simple plugs from Panasonic do a lot of good for very little money.
One area where I discovered some imperfection was in tracking. Perfect tracking means a perfect balance of volume between the left and right channels, or speakers. In this case, the Panasonic RP-TCM125 favor the right channel a bit when playing sub-bass and bass frequencies, but not so much that anyone's likely to notice (though you can hear it if you're listening hard). Things even out around 1kHz—where you probably would notice—and jump toward the left channel as they get towards 9kHz, which fortunately is well out of the range of "obvious" frequencies.
Buy a pair or three
It's almost impossible not to recommend the Panasonic RP-TCM125 to listeners of every kind.
At such insanely low prices (MSRP $19.99, less online), these in-ears are as much of an investment as late night pizza with breadsticks. In fact, they're cheaper: I spotted them online for 12 bucks. For that price, you get great sound and performance—the only tradeoff is that the design is a little cheap.
Are you tired of snarky reviewers telling you to invest in costly, high-grade audiophile headphones? Well take heart, deal hunter. You really found a prize bargain beast this time: The Panasonic RP-TCM125 in-ears sound as good as headphones twice or even four times the price.
Not only did the Panasonic RP-TCM125 test with less than 3% total harmonic distortion (THD), they tested with almost no distortion whatsoever, even in the dubious sub-bass range—this is an awesome result, even for very expensive headphones. Clarity across all frequency fields is yet another strong point for these budget in-ears.
You'll be able to stay distortion free all the way up to 101 dB—which is louder than is safe to listen, anyway.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
Checking our work.
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