With the rise of mp3 audio in the past decade and smartphones being with us all the time, having a good pair of headphones is becoming an increasingly important decision to make in the modern world. The unfortunate thing is, with headphones you really cannot tell if they’re worth it or just plain marketing hype. On the one hand you have under-marketed brands like Sennheiser or Polk Audio, and on the other hand you have over-marketed items like the infamous Beats Audio line of headphones who live more on celebrity endorsement and mainstream popularity rather than actually being worth the performance they offer.
There are also other companies we hear about every day who make headphones ranging from ‘getting the job done’, to proper ‘audiophile’ cans that have a respectably commanding price. Brands like Sony, harman/kardon and Philips come to mind. Today, I’ll be looking at four pair of headphones from Panasonic, which cover the basic to the high-end, all of them affordable, though. The idea of this article is to show you that not all headphones are worth the asking price simply because they don’t perform as good as you would think, despite having the ‘high-end specs’. So Panasonic was kind enough to give us four of their recently released headphones , ranging in price and performance from mid-range to slightly higher-end.
Now I’m not going to go into a full breakdown of each of the four headphones as their specs above are pretty self explanatory, however, testing each of them I obviously had to keep their price and advertised performance in mind. With that, I started playing up some of my favorite music, most of which are trance tracks and J-pop, along with film soundtracks and some hip-hop thrown in for good measure. And for comparison’s sake I’ve thrown in my daily usage Sennheiser CX 310 in-ear headphones as well.
So there were two tests I carried out to measure the performance of each headphone. The first one was from AudioCheck where I tested the frequency response, dynamic range and bass quality of each headphone after setting the volume level in Windows 7 to 50%.
The first thing I established was that my hearing capacity clearly doesn’t exceed 20KHz, but being able to hear 10Hz was a good enough compromise for me. And out of all the four, it’s the middle of the line RP-HXD5 that performs closer to it’s rated frequency response, while disappointingly the high-end RP-HX650 didn’t even come close to their rated specs. Obviously the above test is rather arbitrary in that it depends on how well tuned my ears are; your mileage while doing the same test with the same headphones may vary slightly.
Of course, testing out headphones against their rated specs isn’t what it’s all about. Now I’ll lay down how these headphones felt when listening to various tracks from my playlist.
While the audiophile RP-HX650 did sound really nice, the lack of bass left a bad taste. Conversely the modest RP-HT460 did a great job at overall performance despite having a flat mid-range response. In fact, the value for money and ease of use offered by the RP-HT460 was so good that I’d recommend the cheapest headphones in the comparison for purchase. Both the RP-HXD3 and HXD5 fell flat in comparison, with an overall unsatisfying audio experience. The RP-HXD5 was a surprise, since it performed so well in the Ultimate Audio Test above. Just goes to show that specs don’t mean much when it comes to getting good sound.
At the end of the day, no matter what reviews you read online, everybody has a different preference for headphones. Some prefer in-ear, other on-ear while for many these get uncomfortable so they prefer over-the-ear types. And again, the specifications boasted by a manufacturer don’t matter either, as long as you’re satisfied with the sound generated. Ideally, always try and go to an outlet and see if you can have a live demo of the earphones before spending your money; keep your favorite tracks on your smartphone all the time.