Panasonic is the latest company to dip its toes into the lucrative truly wireless (TWS) earbud space, and it’s obvious that the company has been scoping out the market. The Panasonic RZ0S500W is competitively priced at $179 and offers surprisingly powerful active noise cancelling, easy-to-use touch controls, long battery life and clear call quality.
However, there are some first-time hitches that need to be worked out. The audio profile needs a bit more tuning and some of the touch controls could use some tweaking. But music lovers looking for a pair of inexpensive truly wireless earbuds should give the S500W a try.
Panasonic RZ-S500W Design
Panasonic isn’t going to set the world on fire with the S500W’s design. The majority of the outer casing is made of grayish-white matte plastic chassis. There’s a shiny chrome grille wrapped around the small earcap that is reminiscent of a horseshoe.
The rear portion of the bud has several gold-color circles denoting the magnetic attachments for the charging case. Directly below sits either an R or L to let you know which bud goes where. Towards the end is a silicone eartip in a similar color to the rest of the bud.
The charging case is the same grayish white as the earbuds. The plastic case has Panasonic engraved into the lid with three battery status lights stationed in front. You’ll find a USB Type-C port when it’s time to charge.
If the grayish-white color scheme isn’t your thing, the S500W is also available black. And similar to other TWS earbuds, the S500W is also IPX4 rated, meaning it’s sweat and water-resistant.
Each of the S500W weighs in at 0.3 ounces, which is just a tad heavier than the 0.2-ounce AirPods Pro. Although the S500W’s case feels lighter than the Apple AirPods Pro, they both weigh 1.6 ounces.
Also included with the earbuds are four additional earbuds ranging from XS to XL and a 1.6-foot USB Type-C charging cord.
Panasonic RZ-S500W Comfort
They might not be the flashiest-looking earbuds on the market, but they’re mighty comfy. After gently twisting them into place, I wore the S500W for three hours in pure comfort. The only part of the rather bulbous earbuds that sit in my ear canal is the silicone eartip. The rear of the bud lightly rests against my concha.
And even though they’re iPX4 rated, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the buds stayed in my ear as I fought through a workout on my BowFlex Max Trainer. There was a bit of slippage as I got deep into the session and the sweat started pouring, but I never had the feeling that either bud was about to abandon ship.
Panasonic RZ-S500W Setup
Pairing is a pretty quick affair with the S500W. They’re ready to go as soon as you take them out of the case. A chipper female voice announces the earbuds are in pairing mode. From there, it’s just a quick stop to the intended device’s Bluetooth menu, selecting the S500W and hitting pair.
Then you’ll hear the same voice declare the buds are connected. The S500W has an independent signaling system which means each bud will connect to your device, which will cut down on potential connection dropouts. If you need to pair the buds to another device, simply take them out of the case and hold the touch sensor on one for 7 seconds to initiate pairing mode.
Panasonic RZ-S500W Controls
The RZ-S500 is controlled by a series of taps. A signal tap on either bud will cause whatever you’re listening to pause or play. A double-tap on the right bud will skip the track forward, and the same move on the left bud will lower the volume. Triple tapping the right bud will skip the track backward and raise the volume on the left bud. Long pressing on the right bud will allow you to cycle through ANC, Ambient Sound and Off. On the left, it launches your chosen digital assistant.
If I had one wish, it would be that Panasonic considers using swipes instead of taps for the volume control.
Panasonic RZ-S500W App
The S500W has a free companion app (Android, iOS) called Panasonic Audio Connect. The app is pretty thorough. During the initial launch, it allows you to rename the buds, asks what color they are, and lets you set the auto power off (always on, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes and 60 minutes) and the default language.
The app gives you volume controls and the battery status for both buds. In addition, the app offers Sound Enhancement features, including Bass Enhancement, Clear Voice and Off. There’s also an equalizer, but you’ll have to feel comfortable making those tweaks manually as there aren’t any presets.
Audio Connect also has controls for the earbud’s ANC and Ambient Sound, which lets you control how much of each effect you want. You can also set the connection mode either prioritizing sound quality (which will choose the highest quality audio codec) or connectivity (which will set the codec to SBC (sub-band codec)). The app also has a locator feature in case you misplace one or both earbuds, and a digital assistant tab to switch between your default assistant or Amazon Alexa.
Panasonic RZ-S500W Active Noise Cancelling
Prepare to be pleasantly surprised. The S500W’s active noise cancelling can compete with just about any premium earbud out there. There are a pair of mics dedicated to blocking out the irritating noise of the outside world without pumping any errant white noise into the soundscape. Panasonic pulls this off with its hybrid noise-cancelling technology, which is comprised of a feed-forward mic and a feed-back mic. The setup uses digital processing software and analog processing to capture noise inside and outside the earbud.
So what does that mean in layman’s terms? Silence, beautiful silence when you’re not playing music and just pure unadulterated audio when you are listening to something. When I wore the S500W without any music, it totally blocked out my LG TV with the volume at 12, which is just below what the AirPods Pro achieved. When I went for my daily walk, the buds put a serious damper on the ambulance that happened to speed by, reducing the piercing veil to a dull whine at best.
But alas, every now and then you actually have to listen to the world around you. For those moments, the S500W has an Ambient Sound mode. When enabled, the sounds of Brooklyn flooded into my soundscape, allowing me to simultaneously listen to the latest Run The Jewels album and a couple complain about the long social distance line outside the fish market.
Panasonic RZ-S500W Audio quality
The S500W’s 8mm neodymium drivers are a pair of capable workers, delivering rich highs and mids as I listened to Chloe x Halle’s “Do It.” With audio enhancements disabled, the sisters’ vocals were light and playful and the keyboard was clean during the breakdowns. And while the snares were fairly tight throughout the song, the bass was bloated and really took away from the otherwise flirty track. The AirPods Pro (EQ, Flat) had a much more balanced performance, particularly on the bass, which allowed those angelic voices to shine.
For my next song, I wanted something a bit more energetic, so I queued up Bad Brains’ “Banned in DC.” The electric guitar was aggressive and forward on the S500W, but while I could hear the snares and cymbals, they weren’t nearly as present as the guitar. The vocals also took a back seat to the guitars, which I couldn’t fix even with the Clear Voice sound enhancement. When I switched to the AirPods Pro, those shrieking vocals weren’t exactly the star of the show, but they were much stronger. And I had an easier time hearing the different elements over those ripping electric guitars.
The S500W’s best performance by far was on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Girls in the Hood.” On this track, I got big 808s and snappy drums coupled with a wicked electric guitar riff. Meg’s braggadocious delivery was front and center with plenty of room for that delicate keyboard to breathe in the background. I definitely could have used more bass on the AirPods Pro, but on the rest of the song, the Apple buds were on a par with the Panasonics.
Panasonic RZ-S500W Battery life and Bluetooth
I was disappointed that neither the buds nor the case came charged out the box, which meant I had to wait a while before I could start testing. When the buds are fully charged, Panasonic claims they have an estimated 7.5 hours of battery life with ANC on and 12 hours with it disabled. You get an additional 13 hours from the charging case.
I wore the earbuds for a full workday; after 8 hours, the S500W had 65%battery life left for me to enjoy.
Using Bluetooth 5.0, Panasonic gives the earbuds an estimated 33 feet of range. Still, I didn’t hear any cutoffs when I went into my backyard and downstairs while leaving my phone on the couch.
Panasonic RZ-S500W Call Quality
I made several calls on the S500W and got crystal clear results every time. My callers reported the same. One person did say they could hear a siren as I walked down the block, but as for annoying wind interference, that was non-existent.
The RZ-S500W is a great first attempt at the truly wireless earbud market by Panasonic. For $179, you get a pair of long-lasting, comfortable earbuds that have one of the best companion apps on the market. And while they’re not the prettiest earbuds on the market, they’re extremely comfortable. The ANC is strong –– not as strong as the AirPods Pro –– but pretty powerful nonetheless.
Still, there are some wrinkles to be ironed out if Panasonic has its eyes on the top spot. The audio quality, while good, needs further tuning to give a more balanced performance. And the volume touch controls would do better as swipes as opposed to taps. Overall, the Panasonic RZ-S500W earbuds are a good option for music lovers who would rather not spend $249 on the AirPods Pro.