Excellent noise cancellation
Clean, balanced sound
Impressive feature set
Battery life is so-so
Fit may be tricky for some
Catching up to the crowd can be tough, and Panasonic is well behind nearly all competitors. But some of the best electronics gear arrives late to the party (just ask Apple). The options Panasonic has drawn up here offer something for every budget, offsetting the $250 Technics EAH-AZ70W with the $119 RZ-300W. But if you’re looking for budget noise-canceling, the RZ-S500W fit the bill very nicely. In fact, they’ve got some of the best dollar-for-dollar noise canceling on the market right now, along with plenty of other reasons to take them home.
Editor's note: This review has been udpated to include availability as well as a further evaluation of the earbuds' fit during workout activities in the conclusion.
About the Panasonic RZ-S500W
Panasonic's latest come dressed in a generic-looking cardboard box with a small collection of accessories, including multiple pairs of ear tips, a USB-C charging cable, a scant instruction manual, and—the hallmark of true wireless buds—a small case that both houses the earbuds and charges them on the go. Here’s a look at their basic specs:
- Price: $179
- Battery life: up to 6 hours with noise-canceling, 6.5 hours without, up to 19.5 hours with charging case
- Rapid charging: up to 70 minutes of playback on 15 minutes charge
- Colors: Black, White
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5
- Audio codecs: AAC, SBC
- Water/dust resistance: IPX4
- Ear tips: four sizes
- Weight: 7 grams per earbud, 45 grams charging case
What we like
Real, quality noise cancellation
As true wireless earbuds have evolved from their humble beginnings, active noise cancellation (ANC) has become the bonus feature for a quality pair. But not all noise cancellation is created equal—in fact, most applications are pretty subpar.
Not so with the RZ-S500W. While we haven’t had the chance to compare them directly to some of our favorite ANC buds like the Sony WF-1000XM3 and Apple’s AirPods Pro, the RZ-S500W are definitely in the upper echelon of the segment, putting them in some very small company.
Panasonic has all sorts of charts and impressive models that show the, well, badassery of their new noise-canceling buds, which use multiple microphones and both analog and digital filtering. But the proof is in practice, and I was immediately impressed with how quickly and effectively the RZ-S500W kill drone sounds, from the fan in my home office to a lawnmower on my daily walk.
They certainly can’t quell all noises, and like most ANC buds, they can struggle with upper register sounds, but even those are effectively pushed down. Case in point, the sharp bite of my dog’s incessant barking when neighbors dare to approach our walk were muffled to a barely audible nip; I could scarecely hear it with music playing and even had to check to see if he was in the yard.
The powerful ANC is all the more impressive given the RZ-S500W’s price point. In fact, only weeks ago I was bemoaning the fact that you don't see noise-canceling true wireless earbuds at this price in my Pixel Buds review, but that it would have been a coup for Google. Instead, Panasonic takes the honors.
A nice little feature set for the money
The RZ-S500W boast plenty of other handy features, most of which are adjustable via the Panasonic Connect app. The app is a little rudimentary in design, but it lets you do a lot of cool things, including impressively granular adjustment of both noise cancellation and Ambient Sound (AKA transparency mode), allowing you to block or let in exactly how much sound you desire. The ambient mode adjustment is especially handy, as having it cranked too high can create distortion.
The app also provides an intuitive five-band EQ to tailor your sound, as well as bass boost and Clear Voice features to assist those unfamiliar with frequency manipulation. Other features include the ability to use either earbud on its own, IPX4 water resistance (meaning they’re splashproof, but not dunkable) and an earbuds finder, which requires you share your location, but saves the last time the earbuds were connected via Bluetooth.
The touch controls are both comprehensive and responsive, allowing you to tap your way through playback, call up your choice of voice assistants (including Amazon Alexa), and set or deactivate ANC and ambient sound. Unlike a lot of true wireless earbuds (including the Apple and Sony models mentioned above), the RZ-S500W also let you control volume without trading out other functions, with a double or triple tap on the left earbud.
A tight—but relatively comfy—fit
Fit is paramount to a good earbuds experience, wireless or otherwise, but it’s especially important for true wireless buds as it’s the only thing keeping them from the ground. Like most pairs, the earbuds create some wear fatigue after a few hours, but for my ears they actually hold up longer than most, and once I got a fit, they’re quite comfy in the near term, too.
Speaking of fit, a word of warning to those with smaller ears: while I normally use the default medium tips, in this case I ended up using the very smallest size, as the earbuds are a bit bulbous and you’ve got to set the ear tube deep in your ear to keep them in. As such, those with especially small ears may have trouble getting the RZ-S500W to stay put.
Solid sound with rich and clear bass
Sound quality is, of course, a major factor for true wireless earbuds, though the truth is—with the exception of a few pairs like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2—most of them don’t sound all that amazing. That said, the RZ-S500W are better than most, offering solid, reliable call quality and balanced sound that goes from good to great, depending on what you’re listening to.
My first few songs with the RZ-S500W were an absolute pleasure. The earbuds do an incredible job with the lower frequencies, offering rich, chocolatey bass and smooth, resonant sound from the midrange down. Bass and acoustic guitar are especially lovely, offering equal parts sparkle and body to create fantastic definition. The earbuds also have an affinity for digging into crunchy instruments, from jazzy sax solos to a menagerie of synthesizer effects, revealing the different timbres with impressive detail.
If the RZ-S500W have a weakness it’s in the higher registers, which sometimes lean on the daintier side, matching the more skeletal, sometimes metallic sound in the top frequencies of earbuds like Jabara’s Elite 75t line. In fact, the RZ-S500W sometimes go even further, rendering poorer recordings and dirty, overdriven guitars with more noisy static than I’d like. It’s never terrible, but on songs like Jesus and Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey, I was ready to hit fast forward when the scratchy guitars take over.
They can outright dazzle on well-produced recordings, though, especially those with a healthy bassline, and they do a great job with some of my favorite tracks thanks to their penchant for both detail and balance in equal measure. I rarely needed more from these buds in a week of listening, and thanks to the stark noise cancellation, I often found myself lost in the sound.
Those who don’t feel the need to fuss about wireless connection for true wireless earbuds need only check out the latest audio forums to find a wide range of issues users have had with many pairs, most recently Google’s Pixel Buds though, to Google’s credit, it appears a fix is underway.
As such, a week with a pair of buds without a single wireless blip is notable. Not only is the RZ-S500W's connection reliable, but it extends longer than the vast majority of true wireless buds I’ve tried, allowing me to move all the way from my home office to the garage without even a hint of trouble. The earbuds pay for their connection with a somewhat bulbous design, which likely allows for a larger antenna than smaller buds can support but, especially for those in high-traffic areas, it’s comforting to know these buds hold up under duress.
What we don’t like
Battery life could be better
Frankly, with so much to offer at such a (relatively) low price, any complaints we can render about the RZ-S500W can be taken with a grain of salt. That said, while playback time of 6-6.5 hours bests the much pricier AirPods Pro, it’s certainly not eye-popping in 2020, and in practice the buds fell just shy of the mark, offering more like 5.5 hours or so depending on volume.
The real gripe here is with the charging case, which offers only two recharges. That means you’ll need to keep a closer eye on it than most competitors (the AirPods Pro offer up to four recharges). And without wireless charging capabilities, you’ll have to make sure you keep it physically plugged in before you wander too far.
Design is a little awkward
I actually really like the look of the RZ-S500W, even better than the pricier Technics pair. The matte covering is stylish, and the little horseshoe crown around the exterior caps are a nice touch.
There’s no denying these buds are pretty bulbous, though—Panasonic had to find somewhere to cram all that tech—and they stick out a fair bit from your ears. They also offer an intermittent Bluetooth LED flash when worn, recalling the garish earpieces commonly worn by businessmen in the early 2000s.
The case is impressively small, but it feels just a tad cheap, especially when compared to the bulkier, but more solid Technics case. More frustrating is the fact that it’s just sort of awkward seating the buds on their charging stands. Unlike the brilliant design of buds like the AirPods, Pixel Buds, and many others, the earbuds don’t snap to attention on their stands, requiring you futz with them and turn them until they match up.
No Auto pause
There aren’t many major features missing in this generous package, but the most notable is the lack of sensors to auto-pause sound when you pull the RZ-S500W out. That makes it a lot easier to test battery life for yours truly, but could present a battery problem if you take them out without pausing or putting them in the case. However, you can set the earbuds to power down after they’ve been paused for a certain period, so the issue is only relevant if you simply can’t miss a second of your music or show and/or don’t usually store the buds in the case.
Should you buy them
At this price, it’s a no brainer
Offering good sound, plenty of features, and powerful, adjustable active noise canceling (and ambient sound), the RZ-S500W are a steal at their price point. With nearly every pair we test at this price, there’s always lamentation the company didn't spring for decent noise cancelation. Panasonic finally filled that void, offering versatile, good sounding buds with great noise canceling at a very approachable price.
As for alternatives, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 offer a bit more premium flavor in both the sound and the ANC, and also better battery, but they cost a fair bit more and don’t have any water resistance. Apple’s AirPods Pro are still the more intuitive pair, and they’re both more convenient and more polished—but that $250 price point is no joke.
If you’re looking for sportier earbuds, Jabra’s Elite Active 75t provide a smaller, sleeker, and washable design that’s hard to beat. I prefer the sound of Panasonic’s pair, and the Jabra also lack any active noise cancellation, but after spending more time with both pairs, I far prefer to use the Jabra for running or other strenuous workouts as the RZ-S500W tend to jostle in my ears. This may not be the case for all users, but we thought it was worth noting.
While I wish the fit and battery life was a bit better, Panasonic came out swinging with the RZ-S500W, and they may well be the sleeper ANC buds of the year. The RZ-S500W are available for purchase now.
Meet the tester
Managing Editor - Electronics@ryanwaniata
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2013. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
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