(C12) Panasonic RP-HTX7: I've had my eye on these retro-styled Panasonic portables since long before my days at head-fi. In the months since I've owned quite a few entries in the price bracket but have always passed by the RP-HTX7 with a hint of regret. With prices for new sets falling dangerously close to the $30 mark, I figured it was finally time to take the plunge and see how the relatively popular and yet rarely-mentioned RP-HTX7 stack up.
Build Quality (7/10): The first thing that surprised me about the RP-HTX7 was just how small they are. For some reason I expected them to be closer to the size of the Creative Aurvana Live! than the JVC HA-S700. But the RP-HTX7s are just barely circumaural with their deep cups and narrow pads. The headband is metal and separates into two rods closer to the cups. The thin rods and small Panasonic badges give the headphones a rather precision-built feel, though they are far from delicate. The cups slide freely up and down the headband rods and the single-sided cable run up through the headband. The cable itself is fairly thick, quite flexible, and terminated with a large 3.5mm plug. The fact that the headphones neither fold nor collapse also helps them feel more solid than much of the competition.
Comfort (7.5/10): Like the similarly-priced JVC HA-S700, the Panasonics are small circumaurals. Unlike the JVCs, however, the pads on the RP-HTX7s are not made of memory foam and the hard pleather headband is very thinly padded. In addition, the rigid structure of the RP-HTX7 provides nowhere near the level of adjustability that the JVCs offer. But the Panasonics don't clamp too hard and as a result are usually comfortable for several hours at a time.
Isolation (8/10): The isolation of the RP-HTX7, like the comfort, is compromised slightly by the hard pads and rigid fit. Still, they cut out enough noise to be enjoyable in noisy environments and the bassy sound signature works well where outside noise would otherwise drown out low frequencies.
Sound (6/10): The sound of the RP-HTX7 falls perfectly in line with what is normally considered a 'fun' signature – big bass, big treble, and comparatively underemphasized mids. The bass hits hard, with decent extension and full body. Impact is a bit 'hollow'-sounding, but still very respectable for a headphone of this caliber. The low end is not exactly flabby, but not tight either. The midrange is slightly recessed in comparison but far from unbalanced. There is an almost negligible amount of bass bleed and some coloration to the mids. Tonally, they lean slightly towards darkness. Detail is rather typical of a $30 headphone – the RP-HTX7 certainly won't keep up with the Yuin clip-ons or the Philips SHP5400 in detail. Clarity is good, perhaps better than it should be with the low end these have. The treble is somewhat uneven, with a bit of harshness, but I've heard much worse. I'm generally sensitive to harshness and my well-burned-in set of the RP-HTX7 doesn't really bother me. The presentation is rather dimensional, with decent soundstage width and slightly poorer depth. Though not highly resolving by any means, these do a good job of separating out instruments as well. All in all the RP-HTX7 is definitely not the type of headphone you listen to at minimum volume while enjoying a glass of wine – these clearly belong to the tap-your-toes category.
Value (8.5/10). (MSRP: $59.99, Street Price: $30) As a small and stylish circumaural portable headphone, the RP-HTX7 offers plenty of bang for the buck. Well-built, isolating, comfortable, and fun to listen to, the Panasonics seem to have all the bases covered. At the price point their biggest competition is from the JVC HA-S700, which isolate better and are slightly more comfortable and a whole lot more portable. However, the Panasonics easily beat the JVCs in sound quality. While not refined by any means, the RP-HTX7 is the type of headphone that begs you to crank the volume up (not that you should comply). With a wide array of color schemes and iPod-friendly design, the RP-HTX7 really deserve more attention from head-fi than they're currently getting.
Frequency Response:7 - 22,000 Hz
Sensitivity:99 dB SPL/1mW
Cord:6.6ft (2m); Straight Plug
(C22) MEElectronics HT-21: First portable headphone from one of Head-Fi’s favourite budget IEM manufacturers
Build Quality (6.5/10): The HT-21 is a compact supraaural headphone similar in size to the Panasonic RP-DJ120 and related models. One thing that sets it apart is the single-sided attachment of the cable – something rarely seen in small budget headphones. The cord itself is slightly thicker than average, putting the much-pricier AKG K430 and similarly-priced Sennheiser PX100 and Soundmagic P20 to shame. The hockey stick-shaped 3.5mm plug is similar to those found on some of Meelec’s IEMs and provides a good compromise between the more durable L-plug and the more convenient (at least for some devices) I-plug. The construction of the headphone itself is mostly plastic, with stainless steel used for the headband. The glossy finish of the cups does retain fingerprints but they are hardly visible on black. The folding mechanism is reminiscent of the AKG K430 and provides plenty of adjustment axes. I wouldn’t expect the thinner plastics of the HT-21 to be as durable as the much-beefier $100 DJ sets but for the price the build feels like it should last and, as many of us in the IEM game know, Meelec has a reputation for standing behind their products.
Comfort (9/10): The pleather used on the pads and headband is of the thicker variety similar to that used by Audio-Technica headphones – namely the ATH-ES7 and ATH-FC700. The headband padding is quite thin but the headphones are light enough that it isn’t a problem. Clamping force is quite low and the multi-axis folding system allows the HT-21 to conform to the wearer’s ears comfortably at all times. Being supraaural the HT-21 never quite disappears completely but remains inoffensive for as long as I wear it. An additional plus is the 1.3m cable length, which feels much less constrictive than the 1.1m cord on the similarly-sized AKG K430 even with my (average) height.
Isolation (5/10): Being a medium-sized supraaural headphone, the HT-21 is hardly noise-isolating despite the closed design. Much of the isolation is traded off for comfort with these, though they are still far ahead of open sets in isolation and especially leakage.
Sound (6.25/10): Like Meelec’s multitude of reasonably-priced in-ear models, the HT-21 makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s a budget headphone when it comes to technical capability. The drivers are not the most resolving and lack a bit of detail and dynamic range compared to sets like the AKG K430, which shares the HT-21’s form factor, albeit at 2.5x the price. What the HT-21 does is make the absolute best of how it’s equipped, and that puts it head-and-shoulders above direct competitors such as the Soundmagic P20 and Audio-Technica ATH-FC700. On the whole the HT-21 is an aggressive headphone with impactful bass (for a small supraaural can) and slightly forward mids. The low end is controlled and quite accurate. The bass isn’t the most extended but there’s a fair amount of punch and good texture throughout. Impact is well ahead of that provided by the Soundmagic P20 and the HT-21 can take far more bas boost on the equalizer before distorting. Amazingly, the HT-21 can accommodate more equalization in the <150Hz region than the $100 K430, as well. Compared to the Audio-Technica FC700 the tables are turned – the FC700 has better depth and a touch more impact but sounds significantly muddier, boomier, and slower than the HT-21. In addition, the FC700 has its midrange, especially vocals, obscured by the low end on bass-heavy tracks while the slightly forward mids of the HT-21 work to prevent such obtrusions. The balance and overall sound quality of the HT-21 is much closer to the higher-end ATH-SQ5 than the entry-level FC700.
The midrange of the HT-21 is crisp and clear. There a small amount of warmth imparted by the bass (more pre-burn-in) but the headphones lean very slightly towards the cool side of the spectrum on the whole. The Soundmagic P20 is cooler and brighter still, boasting slightly better detail than the HT-21 but giving up some smoothness in return. Clarity is similar between the two – very impressive for a pair of <$40 portable sets. The slightly aggressive presentation and good clarity of the Meelecs mean that there is no veil over the midrange, making the softer-sounding Maxell DHP-II seem ‘blanketed’ in comparison. As presented by the HT-21, vocals lack the thickness of fuller-sounding sets such as the DHP-II but guitars have plenty of presence and natural-sounding ‘bite’. The HT-21 is quite energetic on the whole so those looking for a laid-back listening experience should be looking elsewhere.
The treble of the HT-21 is similar to the midrange but a bit less forward. It is crisp, clear, and reasonably detailed. Extension is decent – better than with the Koss KSC75 or Sennheiser PX100 but not as good as with the K430. The HT-21 is a fairly well-balanced headphone on the whole and the sparkly treble works to balance out what would otherwise be a slightly warm signature with boosted mid-bass. There is a bit of unevenness in the lower treble that results in the HT-21 accentuating the harshness and sibilance in some recordings, especially at high volumes. Properly-mastered tracks usually sound fine but the HT-21 isn’t one that will work to smooth out an audio track. Things like mp3 compression artifacts, on the other hand, are easily forgiven by the moderate detail level and average dynamic range of the HT-21.
The soundstage of the HT-21 has surprising air for a closed set but layering is mediocre and depth is lacking compared to open sets. The overall sense of space, however, is still quite decent, especially next to similarly-priced closed sets. The Soundmagic P20, for example, is made to sound distant in comparison and its 3-dimensionality is far less convincing. The HT-21 does a better of job of differentiating between a track’s background and foreground and sounds neither closed-in nor tubular. On the whole the HT-21 is not something one would purchase for the soundstage alone – its true strengths lie in clarity and control – but as a secondary characteristic the spacious and airy presentation is quite enjoyable.
Value (8.5/10). (MSRP: $39.99, Street Price: $40) Yet another reasonably-priced piece of portable audio equipment from Meelectronics, the HT-21 is a set that places as much emphasis on convenience as it does on sound. Lightweight and comfortable, it will easily fit into a laptop bag or simply rest unobtrusively around the wearer’s neck. Clamping force is fairly low, resulting in average isolation, but the HT-21 stays in place securely enough to be usable while running. Meelec’s usual attention to detail is seen in the design, with the sturdy angled plug at the end of the single-sided cable and grips on the headband for easy adjustment. The construction of the headphone itself is solid too, with above-average quality of plastics and a simple folding mechanism. The sound quality won’t land them in direct competition with any high-end portables any time soon but puts up a good fight against budget-minded competitors from mainstream brands. The balance is skewed very slightly towards the bass and midrange, with punchy, controlled notes down low and energetic guitars and vocals. The treble is bright and sparkly but usually inoffensive (granted, I have a relatively high tolerance for prominent (but not harsh) treble). All in all the HT-21 is a great headphone for those who can enjoy a prominent upper midrange or who listen at moderate volumes like I do. In my opinion the HT-21 is another budget set done right by Meelec but, as always, be mindful of the signature before buying.
My full review for the HT-21 can be found here.
Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000 Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 114 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 4ft (1.2m), single-sided; 45º plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: Flat-folding, collapsible