Driver unit: 10mm
Frequency response: 20 Hz - 40 kHz (LDAC 96 kHz/990 kbps)
Mic: Monaural, MEMS Mic
Playback time with battery: Approx. 7.0 hours (NC ON),
Approx. 7.5 hours (NC OFF)
Charging time: Case: 2.5 hours; Earbuds: 2.0 hours
Dimensions: Earbude: Approx. 22 x 27 x 24mm; Charging case: Approx. 69 x 36 x 29mm
Weight: Earbuds: 2x7g; Charging case: 50g
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3, multi-point (up to 3 simultaneous), multi-pairing (up to 10)
Noise cancellation: Dual hybrid
When I received a sample of Panasonic's Technics EAH-AZ80 earbuds to test ahead of its launch, I was apprehensive. Not because of trust issues with Panasonic or Technics, but rather issues with... my ears.
I've never been able to get on with a pair of in-ear headphones before, either because they have been extremely uncomfortable or simply fallen out. The second issue in particular has made me especially wary of wearing any wireless earbuds too, as at least if a wired pair falls out, I'm not risking losing them forever. Seemingly, my ears are simply not compatible with the vast majority of earbuds out there, so I was anticipating this test to be a test of my endurance and pain thresholds as much as of the buds' quality in its quest to stake a claim as the best noise-cancelling earbuds of all.
I have been using the AZ80 for a couple of weeks now, not only listening to music, but using them for audio-editing tasks too, and making hands-free phone calls to test Panasonic's voice-isolation technology, including specifically taking them out to busy places to see how environmental noise affects the ability to both hear the person on the other line as well them hearing me. And let me tell you, dear reader, that not only can I wear them, but in fact I quickly found myself preferring them over my trusty regular over-ear noise-cancelling headphones.
Panasonic Technics EAH-AZ80 review: Design and build
Right from the moment I opened the box, I could tell the Technics EAH-AZ80 buds were a prestige product. Coming in a neatly arranged box inside a bigger box, the buds are contained in a neat charging case, which will automatically charge the buds when they're stored inside it. Along with the case is a soft cleaning cloth and a faux-leather carry case, which doubles as a keychain. The charging case will fit snugly inside the carry case without any rattling or associated fears of it falling out and going missing.
The earphones themselves have a circular main body shape, with the in-ear audio nib protruding at an angle. The instructions for use are contained in the white-covered box, showing you how you have to first insert the bud with the Technics logo pointed directly on its side (like the letter I) and then twist it to 'lodge' (an uncomfortable notion for some, I know) the soft bud in place in your ear.
Panasonic/Technics is clearly aware that people's ears are different shapes and sizes, so along with the product itself come no less than seven pairs of swappable earpieces, each a different size. I quickly found the size to fit my usually belligerent biological audio receivers, and following the 'insertion' instructions, found that the wireless buds were quickly and effortlessly lodged in place. And without pain!
The soft rubber of the earpiece feels comfortable in place, while the metal and plastic casing of the main unit is heavy for its size, but clearly well balanced, because once lodged in place, there's no wobble or rattle to be found, even when I purposefully jerked my head from side to side they stayed firmly in place. That's good news for when you go out running or cycling.
Also included is a wireless charging pad which will charge the charging case, by plugging the pad into a USB port and placing the case on top of it.
The Technics EAH-AZ80 earbuds sport not one, but two headline features: the first is what Panasonic claims to be its best-ever active noise-cancellation technology, where using the associated app, you can swap between complete noise cancellation or an ambient mode, where some sound will filter through.
The other feature is for sound going the other way, i.e. when you're talking. With technology Panasonic calls JustMyVoice, a dedicated voice-detection mic on the earbuds combines with the buds' wind reduction structure, inputting the audio into a 'Voice Activity Detector' which works with an 'Acoustic Echo Canceler' to analyse wind noise, from where the voice and other sounds come from, filtering out everything apart from your voice using a 'Voice Call Post Filter' to leave your speech clear and isolated going through to the person on the other side of the call.
I tried this myself standing next to a busy road as well as in a shopping centre, and can confirm that it did a really good job at filtering out environmental noise clutter, although my testing partner reported my voice sounding a little synthetic coming out on the other side.
Panasonic has also made sure to put the company's trademark stamp on the sound quality itself, with a 10mm free-edge aluminium driver and an acoustic control chamber and harmoniser inside the earbud unit, with a frequency response range of 20Hz to 40kHz, for a rich, full range of sound.
The Bluetooth functionality also allows for 3 simultaneous connections to the unit, which allowed me to switch between my desktop, laptop and phone with a simple tap, and it will store up to 10 connections on the unit, for instant pairing each time you. Pairing was instantaneous and effortless with every unit I paired with the AZ80 buds, and simple tap-control on the buds could do things like answer (or reject) a phone call, skip songs, toggle play and pause or control volume on Spotify, or even turn ANC on and off.
As a dedicated fan of bulky, bassy over-ear headphone, I have never been genuinely impressed by the sound performance of any in-ear headphones – before now, that is.
The sound quality of the Technics EAH-AZ80 is, for lack of a more scientific term, incredible. Whether following the annoyingly whispery dialogue while watching a film on my laptop or making out the discrete elements of a progressive house tune from Underworld, the sound suite of the AZ80 is both rich, deep and detailed. Especially with the ANC turned on – which unlike some other head/earphones didn't give me a sensation of blocked ears or being trapped in a bubble – music felt like it was enveloping me in the best way possible, and when I started craving a little more bass, I found the app has a setting for that. Niiice.
Making and receiving phone calls felt easy too, with me quickly dispelling any worries that my voice was being picked up, even when I was out and about, and like I mentioned previously, the Bluetooth connectivity was a genuine doddle to deal with.
All-day comfort is something Panasonic touts heavily in its marketing for the buds, and I can confirm, as someone who's never been able to wear earphones for more than 30-40 minutes at a time, that I found myself wearing the AZ80 for over three hours at a time without my ears starting to ache at all.
Battery life and charging
You can extract about seven hours of battery life out the EAH-AZ80, so they will last you with constant use throughout most of the workday, and using the charging case, you can get up to 25 combined hours of use before having the charge the case up again. Placing the case on the charging pad in the evening invariably meant I had a fully charged case, and earbuds, in the morning (as it only takes about 2.5 hours to charge), so battery anxiety is non-existent with these buds. Battery life using LDAC audio instead of AAC is about five hours instead of seven.
With noise-cancelling turned on, of course, you sacrifice some battery life. I got just over six hours of life with ANC switched on before having to retire them for the evening in the charging case. For the performance you get, I can't complain about this level of battery life.
Now for the slightly less awesome news. At launch, the Panasonic Technics EAH-AZ80 will cost $299.99/€299.99 (UK pricing is TBC). Now, that's a hefty price tag for a tiny little thing. However, knowing Panasonic's history of build quality and long-lasting performance, spending this amount on the AZ80 might turn out to be a better long-term investment than a few dozen less on an inferior set of earbuds.
Should I buy the Panasonic Technics EAH-AZ80?
Are you a fan of in-ear headphones and an audiophile who likes to stay connected throughout a busy day, often on the go? Then the Technics EAH-AZ80 earphones will be just about the highest-quality purchase you can imagine. Of course, you have to be ready and willing to part with a considerable sum of money, but for studio-quality audio, the best voice-isolation tech I've experienced and noise cancellation that can block out the world, the AZ80 earbuds are worth it, and a strong candidate for the best noise-cancelling earbuds on the market today.