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The Panasonic RP-HC55 has boxy ear buds with an angled nozzle.


***Note the angled nozzle. This shape lets the ear

bud stay in your ear as opposed to popping out

and looking goofy ******(click for larger pic)******.***

The back of each bud has six holes for the active noise cancellation's microphone. The outside of the ear buds has a silvery design with some branding and an L or R to indicate the channel.


***This is the outside of the ear buds, and the part

people will see (click for larger pic).***

The two ear bud cables meet at a block of plastic with an adjustible neck split. After the neck split is the active cancellation control pendant.


The black plunger where the headphones connect to the pendant is the on/off switch.

It looks and controls like a clicky pen; you press the button on the top to turn active cancellation on and off. You can use the clip to hang the pendant off your lapel pocket, the pendant also has a volume switch. The bottom half has a hatch to conceal it's AAA battery cavity. After the pendant is a bit more cable and a standard 1/8-inch plug.


In the Box

In the RP-HC55s' box you'll find the headphones, three sets of sleeves, a AAA battery, a pouch, and airplane adapter, and a cord wrap that snaps onto the back of the control pendant.


***  The RP-HC55s come with some nice extras we don't typically see

in other headphones at this price point, like the airplane adapter

and the cord wrap.***


The RP-HC55 headphones seem durable enough. They have good cord guards, although the in-line pendant means there's two more cord guards then typical. Cord guards stop the cable from bending sharply against whatever hard object it's projecting from. Sharp bends equal wear and tear damage (just ask the original Vibe Duo, which was quietly updated to add in better cord guards).

Another issue we found, which is related to durability, is how well the sleeves stay on the nozzles. In the case fo the RP-HC55s, the sleeves could've clung on better. They didn't pop off to become lost on the streets of Boston or anything, but they do have a slightly looser fit than we would've liked.



These headphones have some severe disadvantages  when it comes to aesthetics. First of all, as in-ears, the RP-HC55s don't have a lot of room to impress us. The ear buds themselves are good looking enough, but where we really had a problem was with the control pendant. Like the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3s, the active cancallation pendant is a bit bulky. The difference between the two headphones, however, is the placement of the control pendant. The ATH-ANC3s place their pendant towards the end of the cord so you can shove it in your pocket. It's out of the way, but still accessible, and no one has to look at it. The RP-HC55s' pendant will only reach your front pocket if you're short. The only real option for dealing with a giant pen slapping you in the xyphoid process all day is to clip it to some part of your shirt, likely your lapel pocket.

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This gives you two real options: put the pendant in your pocket, clip facing the public, with wires coming and going, or clip the pendant to the pocket so you have a giant pen-like hunk of plastic rappelling up your shirt.

Neither option is particularly sexy.

About our testing:

Our testing rig uses the same hardware and software that manufacturers use when tweaking their own headphones. On the hardware end of the spectrum is our head and torso simulator, or HATS for short. HATS looks like an armless torso with a robot face and anatomically correct ears. Inside those ears are high-sensitivity microphones. The software we use is called SoundCheck, and is developed by our friends over at Listen, Inc. If you'd like to know more about our tests, read this article.


Frequency Response   *(3.35)*     


How the test works:

Once the headphones are fit inside HATS's magical ears our testing is ready to begin. The frequency response test measures how much emphasis the headphones are attributing to any given frequency. We do this by playing by a frequency sweep where all the frequencies are being played back at the same volume. We then have HATS listen to that output, who then informs what levels each frequency was actaully played back at. The graph below represents the roller coaster ride of added and subtracted emphasis that the headphones provides.


What we found:

We found that the Panasonic RP-HC55 performs ok overall, but has some issues with underemphasis. The curve starts out fine. The bass has an interesting curve, emphasizing the low end, dipping down a bit, then coming back up again. After that peak, which is somewhere around 700Hz, both channels decrease steadily past the bottom limit. Any of the frequencies that occur under the bottom limit could sound a bit soft. The left channel dips down a bit further than we'd like to see, but again, the difference won't be jarring. The left channel, overall, is ever so slightly louder than the right channel, but a uniform error like this one could be due to a minor fit issue.

How the Panasonic RP-HC55 compares:

Since the RP-HC55s are the second set of active-cancelling in-ear headphones we've reviewed, we can now say, with the confidence only sweeping generalization can bring, that all such headphones have a poor frequency response. Actually, although the RP-HC55s and ATH-ANC3s  have similar scores, you an see that they have very different response curves. While the RP-HC55 tends to underemphasize the area between 1kHz and 10kHz, the ATH-ANC3 pumps it past the top limit.

The RP-HC55 Finds itself in the top half of the comparison phones in terms of a score. The two that did better, the SE420 and MM 50 iP, are both (currently) in the top five on our ratings table (being #5 and #1 respectively), so the RP-HC55 shouldn't feel too bad about falling a bit behind them.



Distortion   *(1.62)*     


How the test works:

To test distortion, we again play a series of frequences through the headphones and into HATS's awaiting ears. Each frequency in the series, which ranges from 100Hz to 10kHz, is played at the same decibel level. The below graph shows any difference between the original soundwave and what HATS ended up hearing. As before, the green line is the left channel, the red line is the right channel, and the frequencies tested are lined up along the bottom. The percentage of distortion is measured by the Y-axis. Keep in mind that anything over 3% distortion is noticeable and the closer the line is to zero, the better.


What we found:

If you take someone who's never bought headphones before, showed them this trend and only told them it was a graph of distortion, they'd point to the spike at the end and say, 'so that's bad, right?' As we said in this test's intro, anything over 3% is noticeable. This line comes close to 4%, which is bad. Of course, the spike only encompasses a tiny range, but the distortion therein is significant. This being said, we were impressed with teh low levels of distortion elsewhere. This spike is likely an unfortunate side-effect of the active noise cancellation.

This result is the norm for active-cancellers. Out of all the headphones we test, active-cancellers generally have poor distortion tests. Of course, there are exceptions and some headphones actually have very little distortion when their noise cancellation is turned off (high-five, Denon AH-NC732). The reason for this is that active cancellation works by playing back sounds that aren't really there. Some will cancel out background noise as intended, but invariably some won't.

Since the RP-HC55s can't turn off their active cancellation, you're stuck with this distortion spike.

How the Panasonic RP-HC55 compares:

The RP-HC55 does about as well as the ATH-ANC3, a fellow active-canceller. The AH-NC732 is also an active-canceller, but it can switch its cancellation off, netting an absurdly low distortion score. A score like the RP-HC55s basically means you don't necessarily care all that much about distortion. This is likely to be the case, since both the in-ear form factor and active noise cancellation feature mean you're probably taking these headphones outside, where things are noisy. These headphones are not for audiophiles.



Tracking   *(5.99)*     


How the test works:

Like the two previous tests, our tracking test examines a frequency sweep, as filtered through the headphones and collected by HATS and its robotic ears. This time we're measuring how loud each channel is compared to the other. If the headphones had perfect tracking, the graph below would be a horizontal line at the zero mark. Since this is unrealistic, we should probably inform you that anything above the zero line means the left channel is louder and anything below the zero line means the left channel is louder.


What we found:

As we saw on the frequency response graph, the right channel is a bit louder than the left. Again, this could be a small fit issue; in any case, small changes like this don't really affect the score. The troubling bit is towards the high end, where the response gets crazy a bit faster than it should have.

One thing we should mention is that, while the emphasis on the right channel could be a fit issue (the change is pretty uniformly skewed towards one side), we did notice that, throughout our tests, the right channel tended to be louder than the left. The graph pictured at right represents the best score we were able to achieve, despite it being a bit off-kilter. The take-away from this score probably isn't that the right channel is louder, but rather that positioning the ear buds matters.

How the Panasonic RP-HC55 compares:

The RP-HC55 didn't do half bad on this test. It did better than the AH-NC732, which is our current poster child for active-cancellation done right. It didn't fare well compared to other headphones, however, since its jumps from left to right were a bit more severe than other headphoens pictured below. If you'll notice, most headphones tend ot have a relatively straight line up until about 10kHz, at which point the graph gets all jumbly.



Maximum Usable Volume   *(9.66)*      


How the test works:

This test is like a series of distortion tests, each one performed at an ever-increasing volume level. What we're looking for is when the overall distortion level passes 3%. At that point, distortion is noticeable and pumping the volume up further will only exacerbate things.

What we found:

The RP-HC55 was actually capable of an impressive volume level given its poor distortion score. We were able to squeeze 118.58 decibels out of it, which is less than 2 dB from the max level we award points for. Anything past 120dB is just going to be harmful, and we here at HeadphoneInfo.com care about your health. Unless you have difficulties hearing to begin with, 120dB should be plenty.


Isolation   *(8.10)*     


How the test works:

Isolation refers to your headphones' ability to shield you from outside noise. To test this, we fit the headphones onto HATS, then blast the area with pink noise. Pink noise, for those too lazy to Wikipedia it and those that did but found the wording overly obtuse, is when all frequencies are being played back at an equal power level. This means that lower frequencies are played at a higher decibel level than high frequencies. Yes, Wikipedia, it is inversely proportional, but you could throw less equally obtuse jargon in the definition. Jeez. On this graph, blue is active cancellation, green is passive cancellation (block out sound by virtue of physically obstructing the path between external sound and your ear drum).


What we found:

The RP-HC55s actually performed quite well here. The active cancellation blocked out a big chunk of bass noise, which is typically all that active cancellation is good for. It also managed to block out a bit of the mid-to-high sounds as well, which was a nice bonus. Further, it appears the active cancellation never added more noise than it reduced. We could definitely hear a high-pitched whine when we turned on cancellation in a quiet room, which is why we were a bit surprised to see the blue line didn't dip below the green one towards the high end. Although that whine might annoy you under ideal listening conditions, we never noticed it when we hit the streets, which is where you're supposed to be wearing these things anway.

How the Panasonic RP-HC55 compares:

Our ATH-ANC3 hypothesis has been destroyed: it seems like active cancellation can succeed to some extent in a pair of in-ears. This didn't score as well as a great pair of in-ears, like the SE420, so the technology probably could've been obviated for a nice pair of foam plugs. The ATH-ANC3 does block out more bass sound than the SE420s do, but only by a bit.



Leakage   *(6.00)*     


How the test works:

We test leakage by playing pink noise through the headphones at a set level. We have a microphone stationed a set distance away to pick up on any noise leaking out of the headphone-ear seal.

What we found:

As expected, these headphones weren't the best at controlling leakage. They weren't bad compared to all headphones, but for a set of in-ears they weren't good. The performance has to do with how active cancellation works. Since it requires a microphone to listen to outside noise, the headphones require tiny holes to be punched in their plastic casing. This lets sound trainsfer in and out of the headphones more easily (as evidenced by the poor passive isolation score above). Of course, since you'll feel isolated from your surroundings due to the active cancellation, it's hard to gauge how much sound is leaking out of your headphones. The RP-HC55s didn't leak as much as Audio-Technica's ATH-ANC3s, but they weren't nearly as good as a set of regular in-ear headphones.



There are two caveats to this score. The first is our typical, 'it's likely your head isn't as horribly misshapen as that of our reviewer, so trust your own judgement over this write-up' spiel. The second pertains to the active noise cancellation pendant. If you're around 5 feet tall, then the pendant will probably reach your front pocket, but we wouldn't count on it. Otherwise, you'll need to tether the pendant to your shirt somehow. If you don't or can't, then the pendant will flop around and pull on the ear buds. We thought a good strategy to combat the flopping would just be to zip up a jacket/hoodie/vest over the pendant to hold it still. This worked a bit, but the weight from the pendant still pulled on the ear buds, only now the cord rubbed against the garment we were wearing over the headphones. The combination of this extra friction and gravity's assault on the battery-carrying pendant meant the ear buds would easily pull out of our ears. The best solution is to tether the pendant (reduces pulling) and then wear something over the cord (reduces flopping). If you do this, the RP-HC55s would be an average set of in-ears as far as comfort's concerned. Other in-ear headphones don't have these crazy issues, not even the ATH-ANC3s, which also have an active cancellation pendant.

The earbuds themselves weren't particularly uncomfortable, but the pendant is simply located in an awkward place. Though these weren't the worst headphones we've had to put on, but the restrictions for a comfortable fit certainly hurt the RP-HC55s here.


Extended Use*(4.00)*

The same issues from above applied here. The headphones themselves didn't get any less comfortable over time, most likely due to the thin sleeves not putting a lot of pressure on our inner ear. The pendant just creates an awkward situation.


Cable Connectivity*(5.23)*

The total distance from ear bud to plug, including the control pendant, is 4 feet, 8.75 inches (1.44m). This is a bit longer than the average set of in-ears, but not by a great margin. The cable ends in a standard 1/8-inch plug.


***The cord guard on the plug is a bit beefier than what we

typically see, which bodes well for durability.***

An airplane adapter is also included. These aren't the most well-connected in-ears we've seen, but for they're price they're definitely above average.


***The airplane adapter isn't particularly useful, meaning

the few times you actually need it you'll likely forget

it's in your junk drawer at home.***



In-ears are typically very portable, but the RP-HC55s are a bit of an exception. The control pendant is a bit big, and even though it allows you to snap on a cord wrap to keep your headphones organized, these are going to take up more room in your pocket than the average set of in-ears.


***Just clip the control pendant into the cord manager

like a mic in its stand, then wrap the cables around

the H-shaped bit.***

While the cord wrap is a nice inclusion, we're not fans of including little pouches as a carrying case. We like somewhat rigid cases with internal pockets, since they both offer protection and optimal organization.



This is only slightly better than just shoving everything in your pocket.



There really aren't many ways to customize your RP-HC55 wear experience. The headphones come with the standard small, medium, and large soft plastic sleeves. There's also an adjustable neck split. Other than these features, however, there aren't many options available. Sometimes in-ears come with more sleeve options, and a few come with a jack split part way down the cable, so you can plug in a volue control or another accessory.


***The three sizes of soft plastic sleeves are standard

for headphones in the RP-HC55s' class.***


We have yet to review a pair of in-ears that let you disassemble them to any degree. Sure, you can remove the sleeves for easier cleaning, but that's about the extent of it. There is no cleaning tool included, there's no removeable wax guards, and there's no duplicate sleeves included in case you lose a set.


Other Features*(4.73)*

Battery Dependency

The RP-HC55s can't play back music when their battery is dead, which is something we wish we'd see less of. A lot of headphones nowadays are making the active cancellation an optional feature, allowing you to use your headphones to listen to music sans cancellation even after its batteries have died.

These gripes aside, the headphones have a stupid long battery life, however. One AAA will get you about 110 hours (4.5 days!) of continuous noise cancellation. This is an absurdly long battery life, which is especially nice since you'll need to keep feeding these things AAAs to keep them going. A 4-pack will last you for almost a month of non-stop cancellation.


***This is the battery cavity, which holds one AAA. This single AAA can

power the headphones continuously for a full business week.***

Active Noise Cancellation The RP-HC55s don't have particulary good implementation of their active noise cancellation feature. For starters, the headphones have a single on/off button that controls both power and active noise cancellation. As mentioned above, many newer active-cancellers will let you switch the feature on and off, which will let you conserve batteries for when you actually need active cancellation. Many active-cancellers will also play back music without battery backup. Plus, the pendant's shape and red LED mean that, while turning your music off or on, there's a chance some overly-dramatic onlooker will think you're trying to detonate a bomb. We're not sure if this is a good or bad thing. We're guessing bad in most cases. *Volume Switch* The side of the RP-HC55s' control pendant has a volume switch. Depending on the media source you're hooked up to, this could be a pretty useful feature. It's also good if your music isn't all volume normalized.

The volume switch is located on the right side of the device.

**Value***(6.50)* The RP-HC55 isn't particularly spectacular, but it is solid for a set of in-ears that'll run you about $60. Again, the main problem we ran into was the awkward positioning of the pendant, so if that doesn't bother you, you're really keen on active noise cancellation, and you want a pair of headphones for under $100, the RP-HC55s aren't that bad a choice.



Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3](https://www.reviewed.com/headphones/content/Audio-Technica-ATH-ANC3-Headphones-Review-638.htm) - The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 headphones are another set of active-cancellers, so this is probably the most meaningful comparison here. Panasonic will probably be happy to know that we'd recommend the RP-HC55s over the ATH-ANC3s in most cases. The ATH-ANC3s are far more easy and comfortable to wear since the pendant can easily fit in your front pocket. The RP-HC55s have negligibly better audio quality and can isolate better, have a ridiculously long battery life, and are quite a bit cheaper. If comfort is paramount, then the ATH-ANC3s are the definite winner. If isolation and price matter, go for the RP-HC55s.


Shure SE420 - The Shure SE420s are better headphones in just about every way, including isolation, but they cost a lot more than the RP-HC55s. While we think the SE420s are a good price for what they offer, we realize that a $200 set of in-ears isn't for everyone. The determining factor in this matchup is your budget and your budget alone.

Denon AH-NC732 - The Denon AH-NC732s are great headphones both in your home and out. The RP-HC55s actually perform their worst in a quiet environment, because the noise their active cancellation creates will be a bit grating. The RP-HC55s did out-perform the AH-NC732s in terms of active-cancellation prowess, but you'll get a lot more mileage out of a pair of AH-NC732s and with no pendant to deal with. This match-up comes down to a few things, but the most important factor will likely be budget: the AH-NC732s, at $300, are simply too expensive for the average user.


Sennheiser MM 50 iP - The MM 50 iPs are a great set of in-ears. They don't block out the most sound, but they have great sound quality for a set of in-ears and a tiny little control pendant as well. Further, they're inexpensive. For around $80, just a bit more than the RP-HC55s, you'll get a lot more for your money. The only area where the RP-HC55 trumps the MM 50 iPs is in isolation, but we don't believe that one area of success covers enough ground on its own. The MM 50 iPs win here.

Denon AH-C351 - The Denon AH-C351s are a good budget option. They're inexpensive, have a cord short enough to reach your lapel pocket (or a media player in an arm band) without much slack, but also come with an extension cord that'll reach down to your front pocket, and have decent audio quality. We recommend these as a good set of entry-level in-ears. They can't isolate as well as the RP-HC55s, but they don't have a control pendant to contend with and have sightly better audio quality. Since they're in the same price range, the question comes down to how much you value comfort and portability and how much you value isolation. The AH-C361s win the former scenario while the RP-HC55s win the latter.


The RP-HC55s aren't spectacular headphones. In fact, they have some issues with comfort since the control pendant is downright awkward. This being said, if the pendant doesn't annoy you, these are a very inexpensive set of active-cancelling in-ears. They'll let you get the isolation capabilities of a higher-end set without having to pay the price. If you're a commuter and don't mind dealing with the pendulous movements of the control pendant, or always have a shirt pocket to keep the thing clipped in place, then they're really not a bad choice. No, they don't have the best audio quality out there, but the same could be said for most in-ears and active-cancellers. Really, these are meant to be portable, and going outside means competing with loud, low, ambient noise.



The distortion will scare away audiophiles.


Although we really like having to work around the control pendant, it's really not all that hard to work around it. Assuming you can tether this thing to your clothing, these are a decent set of portable in-ears.


The RP-HC55s seem to be a great set of in-ears for a plane ride. They tend to not be the most comfortable when you're up and moving, but when you're sitting the control pendant won't be an issue. The active cancellation will help block out the lower-end roars of the engines and the absurd battery life means you can listen to your music the entire flight to Tokyo on a set of stale batteries. Some in-ears can isolate better, but that doesn't mean the RP-HC55s aren't good.


There are far better options for home theater users. Although the cord is long enough to perhaps do the job in a pinch, we wouldn't recommend any in-ears for home theater users. A pair of over-ears will provide you with a larger, more immersive sound. They're also likely to be more comfortable.

Meet the tester

Mark Brezinski

Mark Brezinski

Senior Writer


Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.

See all of Mark Brezinski's reviews

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