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VINE VOICEon January 6, 2009
I was an early adopter of active noise canceling technology and over the years have had many a pair of ANC headphones. They did serve their primary purpose of hearing protection and I still have them in the garage for the occasional power tool moments.

For long commutes, however, these headphones are simply too bulky and heavy to be comfortable. The pressure on the ears becomes particularly unbearable with glass frames. Two years ago, I got a pair of Shure E2c Sound Isolating In-Ear Earphones Color CLEAR - E2C / E2 just for my daily rides on the rail. The Shure is light, convenient and good-sounding. It lacks the active NC circuit but the in-ear design dampens the ambient noise sufficiently on the train.

Once I started flying regularly for business, however, I went looking for a stronger solution. My first try was Aiwa HP-CN6 Noise-Canceling Over-the-Ear Headphones, which is much lighter than older designs and thus gives me some hope of less crimping on the ears. Unfortunately, the Aiwa's collapsible frame is hard on the skull and won't stay in place. The noise dampening is mediocre and the pressure on the ears remains too much for me. I began looking for a pair of in-the-ear set with good active noise canceling capability.

Surprisingly, there is very little choice available in the market. Although earbuds have a natural advantage in noise isolation, its small size poses difficulties for manufacturers, who need to cram microphones next to the speaker units. Panasonic's expertise in miniaturization comes in handy here, allowing the company to deliver a product of uniquely superior design.

I wore the Panasonic RP-HC55 on a recent trip non-stop for eight hours straight and loved it. There is little if any discomfort at all and the noise-canceling works well. It is so light and the cord is short enough that I simply unplug the connector and put it in my shirt pocket without removing the buds during the occasional visits to the restroom. I usually had a hard time falling asleep on the plane, but this time I was able to doze off for a couple of hours. The Panasonic is no doubt the best earphones I have ever owned.

Despite my high regards for this product, some nitpicking remains possible. I am used to wrapping the cords of the Shure backward around my ears and lock them in place by tightening the Y-junction against my chin. This is very difficult to do with the Panasonic because its cords are made of elastic rubber and its Y-junction is not adjustable. The range of volume control is fairly limited, particularly on the low side, so one has to look elsewhere if he wants to drop the volume temporarily without killing it altogether. But overall, this is a great product, especially for frequent fliers.

================================== Added 12/08/2009 ==================================

Consumer Reports appears to agree with my assessment. The 2009 Electronics issue rates this Panasonic the Best Buy among NC headphones.
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on October 16, 2008
I bought these panasonic noise cancelling buds after the sony N/C buds I bought only worked on one ear. I use a lot of headphones, and I think the sound is pretty good, but not great, and the noise cancelling feature is good, but not great. They are comfortable, and use a rubber type bud that really helps to seal out the sound in addition to the noise cancelling.

I really prefer using buds, but the Sennheiser 250 noise cancelling are superior for not a lot more money, but if you are trying to use buds they are pretty good, especially for the money.

One annoying thing, the wire to the battery unit is just a little short for walking around with. I am pretty tall but this just hangs from my ears if I don't have a shirt with front pocket or placket.
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on January 18, 2009
These are pretty good earbuds. The downside is that the compartment that holds the battery is at an odd place on the cord, so it pulls the earbuds out of your ears (it's relatively heavy). It has a clip (like a pen) so you can put it on your t-shirt if you're working out, but it pulls pretty hard on your clothes. So it's just not quite as user-friendly as I'd like. In fact, I've gone back to using my old, regular headphones with worse sound because of the weight/awkwardness factor.
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on December 4, 2008
These are the best bang for the buck! I bought them after reading Consumer Report's review rating them higher than the Bose and Sennheisers. I own a pair of Sennheisers and they're ok, but too big. This is my 4th pair of noise cancelling and by far the best. Previously, I've owned Koss, Sennheisers, Logitech and more recently Audio Technica, ranging in price from 35-$100 and by far these are superior in every aspect. These are also the first in ear I've owned.

The only downside is the bass is a bit disappointing. I'm curious to see how these match up to the dual driver phones Apple recently released.
Give them a 4.5/5 for sound quality, 4.75/5 for sound isolation, 5/5 for value!
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on January 29, 2009
Not being a professional reviewer, take this with a big grain of salt: I've only owned one other set and that was an over the ear model 10 years ago so I have nothing to compare the RP-HC55's to.

I have Tinnitus so I'm trying to protect what I have - not make it worse, whatever.

The club where I exercise blasts the music even though 90% of clients are wearing headsets. Ditto for "The Mall" - ever notice how every store attacks you with loud music as soon as you enter. Forgive me, I digress on a very touchy subject for me.

I don't like to comment unless I've used a product for awhile but after one week I've got to say these help. Can't say to what extent because I haven't tried any other sets BUT when I plug these into the TV on the elliptical machine at my club they cancel out much of the overhead music which allows me to listen to the TV at a much lower level. It is a very significant increase in comfort and such an improvement that I have to give it 5 stars. The first time I got off the elliptical and unplugged them I was mildly shocked at how good they were doing. So in the noise cancelling category they are great for me. Would you pay $50 to take away some of the discomfort of noise? No brainer for me and that's why I say there is pretty good value here.

As far as functionals go - I expected the buds to fall out as I pedal but they stay in. I expected the battery tube to bounce as I pedal but the clip on the tube holds it tight enough to my collar that bouncing isn't an issue. The on/off button is at the end of the battery tube, it is easy to use and feels substantial. The volume is controlled by a slide on the side of the battery tube and it is real easy to adjust on the fly. I'd have to give the design 4-5 stars also.

If something goes wrong I'll get back but until then I'm very happy with these and I'd certainly buy them again.

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April '09
Have done a little flying lately and these earphones really made the flight more enjoyable. Most of the background noise and much of the high pitch of the plane's turbines was significantly decreased. I'm really happy with these, quality and lots of value.

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Dec '09
I bought a small portable SONY radio (Sony SRF-59 FM/AM Radio Walkman) to use at football/basketball games and these headphones are the bomb for eliminating all the Hype noise. I tune in the broadcast of the game I'm watching and all the PA announcements, band music, cheerleaders, stupid funky game music, melts away. They make a good pairing.
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on December 25, 2008
Just by turning on the power switch without any music, the background noise all o sudden thinned out in a errie way. The noise cancellation technology today is most effective in the sub-1000Hz range. It does not totally suppress noise, but "thin" it out. When music is turned on, human conversations around you become indistinguishable. If you are not paying attention to your environment, you may ignore a person talking directly to you.

some of the biggest complaints of many other noise cancellation headphones are the sacrifice of th sound quality and hiss from the active sound wave cancellation circuitry. I found the sound quality excellent, on par with the Shure 2C in-ear headphones. The hiss effect is an interesting issue. I personally can not hear any at all. But I know that human lose their hearing sensitivity to high frequencies rapidly after 20. So I asked my teen-ager son to check it out. He told me that he could actually hear the hiss when there was no music playing. But with music, the hiss became undetectable. This is a big improvement over other noise cancellation headphones I tried in the past as the hiss was evident even for me.

The headphone is very comfortable in the ear. It is fairly snug but not tight. But it does not isolate the noise as well as Shure 2C with foam plugs. I think that noise cancellation headphones would work even batter when combined with good noise isolation; and hope that Panasonic would offer foam based plugs option in the future.

Overall, this is an excellent product.
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on January 11, 2009
I received these as a gift (strongly hinted), and am very pleased. I don't normally wear headsets, and was somewhat worried that the ear-bud style would be uncomfortable. I'm happy to report that the silicone buds (and three sizes are included) are mostly comfortable. I sometimes have to wiggle them around, but I always find a good fit. Loss of one star for the comfort - but I think it's more something to get used to than a big deal.

I use the earbuds without music for the most part - I work in a very loud lab environment, with lots of fan noise. I use the buds to block the sound, and they work as expected. In a normal environment (car, plane) with music, the earbuds produce good base, nice treble, and the noise cancellation you want. I also find it easier to lay my head down for a nap with the buds than I do with over-the-ear models. Considering I wear glasses, and for the purpose I need them - I suspect the earbuds work best.
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on December 2, 2008
I bought on CR recommendation and for the price it's great. Comes with 3 ear buds, though the assembled ones work fine for me. It have been using it listening to music while my wife watches the TV and it does the job of almost muting the TV. UPDATED! They died after very light use (mostly used them on the train to work) Would have expected them to last longer.
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on January 23, 2009
I found the headset to be comfortable and was very good for surrounding noise surpression. The only drawback I expierienced was that it must be on at all times to hear your music or sound devices. This shortened the battery life because it must be on even when you don't require the background noise surpression. I found the sound quality to be very good and would highly reccomend the product to others. In trying other noise surpression headsets I found the on the ear to be the next most comfortable and the over the ear the least. Overall I felt this product delivered the best bang for the buck at this time.
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on December 4, 2009
I have used these headphones on my daily commute for the past six months which is 45 minutes on a noisy bus, then 45 minutes on a train, and finally a quick 10 minute bicycle ride. The sound canceling qualities of this set are extremely good (I have also used them on an airplane and they performed well there too). The few times I have been caught without an extra battery and had to make the trip listening to the engine and road/rail sounds have completely reaffirmed that this was the right set to purchase as traveling without them is unbearable and exhausting.

I would agree that these headphones are the best performers at this price range. The sound quality is phenomenal. Much better than I expected it would be. I am still blown away by the clarity and full range sound I get out of these - it sometimes freaks me out a little bit when listening to podcasts because it sounds like the people speaking are there with you - and you will hear every word no matter how noisy the background. And of course music sounds amazing too.

The cords have held up well which is great news considering you often hear complaints about the cords breaking on higher end headphones. I would say I use these heavily and they have been tugged on and stretched in use with no degradation in sound quality so far. The one build complaint that many have said before is that the battery compartment breaks easily. I knew that it broke easily when I bought them and actually still broke the connector when I first opened the package and this was while being overly gentle with it to try to avoid breaking it. If you buy these it will break - just keep that in mind. I put a tiny rubberband around the bottom part of the connector and it works great. I think they are still excellent even with this flaw.

Also as has been stated many times the noise canceling dongle is a bit of a pain - I wear long sleeve dress shirts with a breast pocket that the dongle easily fits in with more than enough slack to make it up to my ears with the actual headphones. If you did not have a pocket to put these in I would have trouble recommending them to you - especially if you are tall (I'm 6'3") as the dongle will not make it to your pants pocket.

Bottom line: I highly recommend these headphones and despite the build quirks I cannot imagine making my daily commute without their phenomenal sound quality and good noise canceling properties
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