When I received a pair of the brand-new Panasonic Technics EAH-AZ80 noise-cancelling earbuds to test ahead of their announcement and release, I felt conflicted. One part of me was giddy at the prospect of having and holding a piece of tech that wouldn't be formally announced for a few weeks yet. Another part of me was filled with pure, unfiltered dread.
Why? Because I've never, not once, in my entire lifelong existence on this earth, been able to wear in-ear headphones (even those from our best noise-cancelling earbuds guide).
Whenever I've tried, be they wired or wireless, they have either been extremely uncomfortable for me to wear for more than a few minutes, or simply fallen out. There's just something about the shape and/or size of my ears that is fundamentally incompatible with this magical piece of equipment that is earbuds. But then I met the new release from Panasonic, and everything changed.
So, I was faced with the prospect of trying out an exclusive sample of an extremely high-end pair of earbuds – and they were ones that don't even officially exist yet. To make matters worse, they are wireless too. Surely I'm destined to lose at least one of these things within minutes to the floor, only for it to be immediately eaten by my cat.
And then I opened the little black charging case they came in, read the instructions more carefully than anything I've ever read before, and put them in.
To do this, you have to first orientate them a certain way, and then twist them to 'wedge' them into your ear. Along with the charging case I received a cardboard box with seven different-sized nibs/earpieces, so clearly Panasonic is aware that the fit is different for different users.
And instead of instant searing pain, or that dreadful feeling that they're wobbling around, about to go flying and be lost forever, they fit snugly into my ear. I honestly couldn't quite believe it.
The thing is, I've often found myself quietly judging people who walk around with AirPods (other models are available) like they're high-flying business gurus, self-important 'earbud twats' who simply have to be available to talk and walk at literally any time of day. I thought maybe it was warranted, or perhaps it was just my subconscious jealousy at them being able to wear earbuds without writhing in agony or literally holding them in with their hand to stop them from falling out.
But as I stood there, the earbuds fitting comfortably on the first pair of nibs I tried, I was dumbfounded. Was this magic? CGI? Surely it couldn't be real. They were not only comfortable, but after some judicious jumping and wriggling (to prevent mass hysteria, I naturally made sure to do this in private), they hadn't even nudged out of place. So that promo video I watched of athletes using them while working out wasn't a barefaced lie? Well, I'll be goshdarned.
What has followed are days of me wearing and using them. Not only for music, but to take and make calls with the hi-tech directional voice-enhancing mics, feeling like a stockbroker about to make multimillion-dollar decisions, looking importantly out the window, talking into thin air with the attitude of an executive about to catch a flight on my private jet, as I ask my wife what she wants for dinner when she comes home (and her asking why I didn't just text like I always do, I never call about this, what's going on).
I've also tested the limits of its active noise-cancelling technology in highly scientific ways. Going into the kitchen for a cup of coffee while obliviously wriggling to my Eurovision playlist, I couldn't hear the washing machine droning away or the kettle boiling, not even a little. Tapping on my clicky-clacky mechanical keyboard? Silent now. Drumming on the table to that bit in Australia's synth-metal song 'Promise' from keytar rockers Voyager? Couldn't hear a thing. Not one but two delivery drivers ringing the bell and knocking on the door? Completely missed.
As for the sound quality? You can read more on that (and everything else about them) in my full review of the Panasonic Technics EAH-AZ80 here, but in short, it's astonishing. In fact, it's so good that I prefer them to my trusty old over-ear gaming headset now. So sorry everyone, but I'm an earbuds twat now.