The Panasonic RZ-S500w are the company’s first true wireless earbuds, and we think they’re a successful first outing.
Launched alongside the cheaper Panasonic RZ-S300w, these buds offer active noise cancellation at a lower price than both the AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM3, making them a compelling alternative to these well-established models.
With an understated design, the RZ-S500W look subtly stylish, though those with a penchant for ear bling will probably be happier with models like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2.
Nevertheless, they look and feel well-made, and a choice of five differently-sized silicone eartips makes it easy to find a snug and comfortable fit. They’re also suitable for working out, thanks to an IPX4 waterproof rating, though the lack of earfins means we’d be hesitant to take them out on a vigorous run in case they fell out.
Touch sensitive housings on the outside of each earbud allow you to control your music playback, as well as the noise cancellation, your device’s voice assistant, and your phone calls.
They come with a USB-C charging case, which gives you 20 hours of juice, on top of the 6 hours contained within the buds themselves – that’s better than the Apple AirPods Pro, and more than enough to get you through a week’s worth of commuting.
In terms of connectivity, these buds are super easy to pair, and as each earbud connects to your device independently, there’s less chance of annoying dropouts.
Audio quality is decent, and thanks to 8mm neodymium dynamic drivers, the sound is pretty powerful. The RZ-S500 provide a warm soundstage, though we found the bass frequencies sometimes muddied the mix and overpowered the mids and trebles.
Generally though, if you like your music bassy, you’ll enjoy listening with these earbuds, and you can always adjust the sound via the equalizer built-into the Panasonic Audio app.
The standout feature of these wireless earbuds is the active noise cancellation, which, according to Panasonic, combines "FeedFoward Noise Cancelling, Feedback Noise Cancelling, and an Analog/Digital Processing hybrid."
These technologies work together to reduce noise generated both inside and outside the housings, in theory resulting in an uninterrupted listening experience – and in our opinion, it’s on a par with the AirPods Pro.
As well as that, these true wireless earbuds will also block out environmental noise from your phone calls, making them sound crisp and clear, even in windy environments.
Overall, we think the Panasonic RZ-S500W make a great alternative to pricier noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds like the AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM3 – while the sound quality isn’t on the same level as the latter, there’s lots to like about these earbuds.
Panasonic RZ-S500w price and availability
The Panasonic RZ-S500W true wireless earbuds are available to buy for $179.99 / £149 / AU$349, making them a cheaper alternative to the AirPods Pro. They’re also cheaper than the best true wireless earbuds of 2020, the Sony WF-1000XM3.
If you’re not worried about active noise cancellation, there’s a cheaper version of these buds, called the Panasonic RZ-300W. They won’t be able to block out environmental noise, but they are about $50 / £50 less expensive than their siblings.
The Panasonic RZ-S500W sport a matte finish in black or white, with rounded housings that feature drilled metallic air vents around the perimeter of the buds.
On the outside of each housing, you’ll also find the Panasonic logo in gray – overall, these buds look pretty understated, which is great if you prefer a minimal look. However, if you want a bit of bling to adorn your ears, you’d be better off with flashier earbuds like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2.
The earbuds come with touch sensitive housings, which can be used to control your music playback, the level of noise cancellation, receive, reject, and end phone calls, and to summon your device’s voice assistant – we found these controls worked well in our tests, though there’s no option for volume control, which is a shame.
You get a choice of five silicone eartip sizes, which means you should be able to find a snug fit for your ears – we found them to be very comfortable when we tested them, even during long listening sessions.
The RZ-S500W come with a flip-top charging case – small enough to slip neatly into your pocket – with gold-plated pins designed to hold the earbuds in place. A row of three LEDs inside the case give you an indication of your remaining battery life, and it charges via a USB-C port on the back.
An IPX4 waterproof rating means that these wireless earbuds are suitable for working out with, and should be able to withstand a little sweat or rain; however the lack of ear fins means that some users may find they’re susceptible to falling out. How snugly they fit depends on your ears, but we’d recommend testing them out at home before taking them out on a vigorous run.
With 8mm neodymium dynamic drivers, the Panasonic RZ-S500 pack a sonic punch, providing a warm, bassy soundstage.
Listening to Think About Things by Daði Freyr, we noticed the bass sounded suitably punchy, with snappy finger clicks and wood block hits cutting through the mix. Tight vocal harmony sounded smooth and clear, while synths bubbled below the catchy melody.
While the bass sounded tight on this track, songs that feature bass lines with longer reverb sometimes felt overpowered by the lowest frequencies. On both Kelela’s Rewind and Laura Mvula’s Green Garden, all the instruments sounded well separated until the longer bass notes came in, after which the soundstage became slightly muddied.
Nevertheless, Mvula’s undulating vocals sounded pleasantly rich and lushly harmonized.
If you like your music bassy, this won’t be a problem; audiophiles who crave pure fidelity above all else may be disappointed, however. The RZ-S500s also lack the dexterity of say, the Sony WF-1000XM3s, when it comes to rhythmically complex tracks like black midi’s bmbmbm.
Saying that, you’ll get an enjoyable listen from these buds, and it’s possible to adjust the soundstage via the Panasonic Audio app.
In the app there are two presets: Bass Enhancer and Clear Voice. We can’t imagine anyone needing to use the former, but the latter preset is useful when listening to podcasts and you want to lend a little crispness to the sound.
Otherwise, there’s an equalizer where you can manually change the sound by toggling various frequency levels.
The noise cancellation offered by the Panasonic RZ-S500W is very good indeed, and we’d say it’s on a par with the AirPods Pro; these buds won’t block out very loud environmental noises, but they do a great job at cancelling out traffic, conversations, and wind.
These earbuds use a hybrid active noise cancellation technology, which is designed to reduce noise generated both inside and outside the earcups, in theory resulting in an uninterrupted listening experience
The level of noise cancellation can be adjusted via the Panasonic Audio app; according to the company there are 50 noise cancellation settings to choose from (though you do this by moving a slider in the app, so it’s hard to know exactly which setting you’re on.)
Like the AirPods Pro, you can allow environmental sound to pass through the earbuds when you need to hear what' s going on around you; just long press the touch sensor on the right housing to toggle through the different options.
As well as applying noise cancellation to your music, these true wireless earbuds will also block out environmental noise from your phone calls, using a built-in microphone that, according to Panasonic, suppresses wind noise and other interference, improving noise cancellation performance and call quality – more on that later.
Battery life and connectivity
Battery life comes in at six hours of continuous playback with noise cancellation turned on, while the charging case offers a further 20 hours of juice.
That’s better than the AirPods, though not quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3 – either way, it’s enough to comfortably get you through a week’s worth of commuting or working out.
Connectivity is very good. Pairing the RZ-S500W with both our MacBook Pro and our smartphone was a breeze, and as each bud connects independently, we didn’t experience any annoying dropouts while testing these earbuds.
As we mentioned, the Panasonic RZ-S500 earbuds apply noise cancellation to your calls as well as your music, which means calls sound clear and crisp.
We found the buds were pretty adept at picking up our voice, and phone calls sounded distinct, even in windy conditions.
Using the earbuds to summon our devices voice assistant worked really well, too; the RZ-S500 work with Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa, all of which can be summoned via the touch sensitive housings.
Should I buy the Panasonic RZ-S500W?
Buy them if...
You like your music bassy
The soundstage of these earbuds is pretty bass-heavy, and with a Bass Enhancement equalizer preset in the app, you can really blast those lower frequencies
You want a subtle look
With a matte finish and subtle metallic air vents, the Panasonic RZ-S500W look and feel well-made without being flashy.
You want to block out the world
The noise cancellation provided by these earbuds is very good indeed, and they’re cheaper than rivals like the AirPods Pro.
Don't buy them if...
You’re looking for a truly balanced sound
As we mentioned, these buds are pretty bassy, and that can lead to a muddied soundstage. If you want pure audio fidelity, check out the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 or the Sony WF-1000XM3 instead.
You like a vigorous workout
You may find that these earbuds stay in your ears just fine when you workout, but the lack of ear fins makes us hesitant to take them out on a vigorous run.
You don’t care about noise cancellation
Don’t want to block out the world? Check out the cheaper Panasonic RZ-S300W instead; there’s no point in paying for a feature you’re not going to use.
- The best true wireless earbuds of 2020