I recently had the opportunity to try out the RP-HXS200 headphones by Panasonic. These are budget headphones (retailing for around £18 on Amazon), something immediately evident from the rather basic clamshell packaging which claims “Clear & powerful sound”. The set I tried were a funky black, blue and light grey combination and I must admit, I did like the look of them. Once you get them out of the packaging and in hand, they do feel very plasticky and I’m not sure how much daily abuse they’ll take, although I was pleasantly surprised to see the flat, tangle-free type cables do seem reassuringly robust. A rarity at this end of the market.
One of the main gripes I have with on-ear headphones has always been a question of where you put them when they aren’t in use. I am nowhere near hipster enough to dander around with them around my neck like a big plastic fashion accessory and they are usually too big or fragile to be just chucked in a bag. The Panasonic party piece is that they fold up Transformer style into a neat little form factor that can be easily tucked into a bag or jacket pocket. This is a great feature, but sadly these headphones are not the clunky, rugged Transformers of old, they are the flimsy plastic modern ones and I was more than a little wary of putting too much strain on the various joints, hinges, and rotating pieces.
Once they were transformed and ready to roll out, I plugged them into my iPhone to see what kind of sound they were capable of. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was actually rather impressed. For under £20, the sound quality was really rather good. Well, initially it was. The Panasonics seem to handle intros and simple pieces very well indeed, punching well above their weight. I was listening to S.O.B. by Nathaniel Rateliff and was getting some great separation and a nice tone during the opening of the song. The acapella vocals, humming and clapping were all coming through extremely well. Sadly this ended swiftly when the rest of the band kicked in and price point of the Panasonics showed through. Unable to handle all the layers and detailing, the sound appeared compressed as they struggled to funnel the high, mid and bass levels through the drivers. I tried several pieces across a number of musical genres and found this to be consistent.
They did very well with the stripped back sounds of Lorde, but sounded terrible with Metallica’s layered detail and depth. I initially spent about 25-30mins testing out these headphones before I had to take them off. The plastic covering of the earpieces had slowly roasted my ears almost to the point of combustion and I had to take a break. The Panasonics are very light and have a great range of adjustment and I suspect if you are the sort that can put up with the plastic against your skin for extended periods of time, you’ll probably have no trouble with them. But if you are the sort that finds headphones make your ears start to get warm after a while, I’d maybe pass on these. In truth, I personally have never found on ear headphones particularly comfortable and these are certainly no exception, but your mileage may vary.
Overall I’d say these headphones are aimed at the younger user and at the price point there is always going to be a compromise with the quality of sound and construction. If you like on ear headphones and simple pop music, then they are a pretty good buy and certainly worthy of consideration. For those looking for a quality sound however, I would suggest leaving these for the kid in the skinny jeans and slouch hat behind you.
The Panasonic RP-HXS200’s are available at www.reichelt.co.uk the online electronics retailer where many products up to 20% cheaper than elsewhere in the UK.