Panasonic RP-HC800 Headphones Review
These sleek over-ears block plenty of noise, but offer an incomplete sound.
The Panasonic RP-HC800 over-ears (MSRP $229.99) are an expensive, sleek pair of headphones that utilize active noise canceling (ANC) technology. Frequent flyers and commuters hunting for high-end sound and some peace and quiet could find a companion here.
Unfortunately, testing revealed that these headphones underemphasize key treble notes within the full soundstage, causing crucial details to be lost against bass and middle sounds. They do a pretty good job blocking out sound when the ANC is turned on, but fail to deliver a completely premium listening experience.
These cancelers may find buyers who are more concerned with the sleek look than with perfect sound, but audiophiles may want to up the ante and spend more for a set that blocks noise while still delivering solid playback.
One man's sleek is another man's boring.
From a design perspective, there's nothing too mind-blowing about these Panasonics. A sturdy black band holds two padded ear cups in place—despite looking cushy, they're actually sort of cheap and hard. The backs of the cups bear the make and model of the headphones, along with scores of tiny holes (the latter essentially work as amplifiers for the active noise canceling process).
Arms reinforced by brushed aluminum extend for a larger fit, while the cups twist upon pivots for storage or to lie more comfortably around your neck. Each pivot is capped by a small microphone: This is another element of the ANC (active noise canceling), disguised as aesthetic detail.
In short, the HC800 over-ears either look professional or dull, depending on your perspective.
The cable has to be the worst thing about the entire design scheme. This cord is thin, flimsy, prone to tangling, and poorly protected from the hazards of long-term use—for over $200, I was expecting more.
Conversely, Panasonic throws in some extra goodies—a carrying pouch and an airplane adapter. The pouch has a zip-up pocket for the cable and adapter, and holds the headphones firmly when all's packed away. It's not the sturdiest case on the market, but it's stylish. Expect protection from dings and scrapes, not from crushing force.
These over-ears are solid noise blockers, but aren't the best choice for listening.
For their MSRP of $229.99, the RP-HC800 over-ear headphones ought to reliably block ambient noise and provide a full, premium listening experience. Unfortunately, they really only do one of those jobs, which makes them a letdown for anyone looking for the best audio possible.
Testing revealed that these over-ears perform better with noise canceling activated than without it—but in both instances, they underplay higher midrange tones. The upper register of a piano and the bread-and-butter notes of the piccolo suffer; overtone notes from instruments like guitar, viola, and trumpet will be hard to hear, too, compared to the rest of the soundstage. This flaw is even audible during mostly electronic/trance style music, such as from artists like Astral Projection or Ozric Tentacles.
On the upside, these over-ears do a solid job blocking out ambient noise. The active noise cancellation is powered by a single AA battery in the right ear cup, but even with the ANC turned off, these Panasonics block a good amount of ambient noise—things like ringing phones and crying babies won't disturb you a bit.
Take note that if you want to eliminate bass noises like rumbling engines, however—such as when you're waiting on a plane to take off—you'll have to switch the ANC on.
Self-conscious listeners will want to keep music playback at lower volumes, however, as the RP-HC800 over-ears do tend to leak a lot of sound. Testing revealed that, at slightly louder-than-average volumes, music you're listening to is quite audible to the outside world, so you probably don't want to bring these babies to the office if you like to blast some Van Halen on Friday afternoon.
Finally, purists will be glad to know that these Panasonic over-ears do a great job staving off unwanted sounds like clipped harmonics or subtler bass distortion. From the lowest notes to the highest, the RP-HC800 headphones provide a full, clean sound—whether or not active noise canceling is active.
Active noise winners—playback losers
For $229.99, you want more than a fancy set of ear muffs. The Panasonic RP-HC800 over-ears look nice, if a bit plain, and they do a pretty good job actively blocking noise. But as headphones, their job is to reproduce (and make audible) every facet of what you're listening to. That's where they fail.
Call us old-fashioned, but we don't think it makes sense to pay a high price for active noise canceling headphones that don't deliver top-notch audio.
While Panasonic's list price is about $200 less than these Sennheiser over-ears, the latter pair does a knockout job blocking noise and providing a commendable listening experience. For Sennheiser's sale price of $350, it's really up to you: Is getting the whole package worth another Ben Franklin?
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