Panasonic RP-HJE355 (Black) Review
My beloved MEelectronics CC51 recently died and I was thrown back into the market again, to start from scratch. But this time around, I was skeptical about spending too much on phones, especially since my CC51s died even after receiving the highest of care, more than what my potential future baby could get. It sucked (that happening, not the IEMs), honestly. I darn loved those CC51s.
Cut down from $75 for the CC51s to a budget of about $25-$30. A lot of research and suggestions from forum-mates later, I settled on the Panasonic HJE355. Thanks to JK98 for recommending these phones, and also for patiently clarifying my questions.
I've had these for almost 2 weeks now.
Packaging and Accessories
The phones came in a plastic box similar to ones that the budget Creative Ep-630s come in. Contents are rather sparse, with just a sheet of instructions and 3 pairs of ear tips (Tiny, Less Tiny, Medium)
Physique / Build Quality
The HJE355s have a very atypical design. The cone shaped housing takes much of the outside space, and the nozzle is inclined away from the center. Most of it is constructed with matte plastic except for a silver ring which is of a shiny, low-grade plastic (goodbyes in advance to the paint in those parts). The outer end of the cone has a little bit of brushed aluminum, which looks nice. Stress reliefs originate directly from the housing, and there is no stem to guide it. I'm glad there's some protection to speak of though. Overall, design wise, the housings look very appealing.
I was flabbergasted at the size of the nozzles. Man, are they small or what? I was concerned about the isolation these things are going to give me, but I'll come to that in the next section.
HJE355 on the left, CC51 on the right
The housings themselves have little to no weight at all. This maybe a good or a bad thing. The cables are just slightly more thicker than my CC51s, but they essentially feel the same. I'm happy it doesn't feel as bad as the ones on the CC51s. They exhibit a slight degree of cable memory though. Its just short of a meter in length, which is perfectly fine by me.
The Y splitter is nothing extraordinary, but I like the simplistic design with 'Panasonic' written on it. Gets the job done is all that's needed to be said.
Top - HJE355, Bottom - CC51
The HJE355s use a gold plated, right angled plug, which is what I prefer. They feel sturdy and flexible, and looks like it could absorb some damage.
Top - HJE355, Bottom - CC51
In the ear - Comfort, Microphonics and Isolation
My first impression with these were how small the nozzles were. I mean, they're so small, its not even funny. See the difference between the Panas and MEes yourselves, so you can understand where I'm coming from.
CC51 on the left, HJE355 on the right
I was immediately skeptical about the isolation when wearing these on. The biggest ear tip that came with the Panas are about the same size as the MEes smallest tips, and the smallest are so tiny, I doubt if its useful at all. That should tell you something. Of course, I'm comparing this to a 6mm Micro driver based IEM, which isn't a balance comparison.
And I was right- the isolation is pretty average for me. The smallest tips go deep, a whole lot more than the Bi-flanges on my CC51s do, but it still doesn't give the same kind of isolation. I'd say, maybe only 30% of the outside noise was cut out. The medium tips were around the same too. However, there's a much bigger difference when using the largest tips. They aren't as deafening as the CC51s, but are good enough.
What I was extremely pleased with was the comfort- these are incredibly comfortable IEMs! I mean, the CC51s were comfortable as well, but I couldn't laugh with those on- meaning no comedy movies / shows :P The large drivers dug into the inner part of my ears whenever I so much as smiled. The Panas are very comfortable, maybe partly due to the fact that the frustum shaped housing sits snugly on the antitragus of your ears- theres no pressure put on your canals as such. The well-rounded and soft edged design is to thank for as well, which otherwise could've completely ruined the experience. The housings don't stick out too much, thankfully.
Due to the housing sitting over the outer part of your ear, the IEMs don't fall out with minor / medium tugs on the cable. Even if the nozzle loosens itself from your ear, the housings stay put over the antitragus. This design element coupled with a good seal makes it a great option to be used while running / in the gym. A big plus from me in that regard.
It isn't all that comfortable to be used in bed though; you'd need a pretty soft pillow for that. :P The little cone shaped bit at the end (the aluminum part) sticks a wee bit out of my ear. Even then, the nice design doesn't make it look like you're wearing some kind of jewellery.
Microphonics are average with these. I'm not a fan of over-the-ear design, and I doubt the design would allow that comfortably, so I wouldn't know how it fares that way. There's no shirt clip on board as well, so you'd have to add one yourself if you need one.
Sources - Sansa Clip+ (OF), Nexus 7 and custom built desktop PC based on Gigagyte X58-UD7 Motherboard
Some standout testing tracks-
Miami - Hotline Miami OST (for the low-reaching bass and pulsating bassline)
Goa - The Bourne Supremacy OST (for the lush orchestration and soundscape)
Start of Something Beautiful - Porcupine Tree (for the time signature, bassline and roaring guitars)
Photosynthesis - Carbon Based Lifeforms (for the fantastic soundscape and atmosphere)
The Trembling Willows - Pure Reason Revolution (for the sudden contrast from metal to melody and the dense music)
I'll put it down straight- I honestly don't know what a $25 IEM should sound like. But I can tell you this- it does feel like a step down from my CC51s, but reasonably and obviously so.
Out of the box these sounded funny- like the bass was 'closer to the listener' and everything else 'behind it', in terms of depth; as if the rest of the spectrum was veiled by the low end. Gave it a 50 hour burn in, and now it sounds a lot different / better. Here I was thinking burn ins were placebo.
The few reviews floating around mentioned that these phones are warm. I can agree with that- its warmer than the Mees. What I immediately noticed was that the midrange is more forward. It is fairly well detailed for the most part.
The bass, on the other hand, is ok at best. It has great range, something I wasn't expecting for this price. What it definitely does not have is the power to satisfy bass heads; there's little 'boom'. I don't crave for bass, and hence I found it adequate for my needs (it wouldn't have hurt to have a little more). Power wise, its somewhat similar to the CC51s, which didn't have thundering bass as well. There is some roll-off at the bottom end, but the stretch and range makes up for it.
Treble is slightly on the hotter side. It is overall a little sibilant, but not too much that you'd need to stuff down some foam into the nozzle. I did notice that it picks up defects for bad recordings.
Soundstage is very intimate; more tighter than my CC51s. Its mostly imaged on a 2D plane, with very little depth (or 'Z Axis', if it makes more sense). It definitely is not in-your-face and flat. Instrument separation is decent; however, I would not recommend this for listening to a lot of live material. Its not bad by any means- these are really good for rock and electronica (mostly what I listen to).
I must say I enjoyed vocals and acoustic guitars more on these than on the CC51s. The warmth makes the vocals more timbre and 'fun' for me to listen to. The guitars have a lot more 'plucked' feel, which I absolutely love.
Overall, compared to my CC51s (which I think I should stop doing already), it is an understandable a step down in terms of SQ. There is lesser detail, tighter soundstage and not too much bass. However, it still sounds really nice, and I appreciate the forward mids compared to the laid back nature of CC51.
I think these are fantastic phones for the price. Then again, I'm not sure what $25 should sound like, if there's any 'bar' for the medium. Its very comfortable, adequately durable and more importantly, is fun to listen to. Compared to my brother's more expensive Roland cans, these aren't accurate, but the warmth makes it less fatiguing for me, and with the splendid and ergonomic design, I can use these for hours at a time. Totally recommended to anyone looking for some nice IEMs on a budget. I'd buy these again, if they die out on me.
Some IEMs under $25 that I like and would buy again:
The Panasonic RP-HJE450 has more bass slam than the HJE355 due to its larger driver, however it doesn't have as much detail. I keep hoping Panasonic will make an updated version of the HJE450(the HJE 455?) that has more detail. In terms of detail, the HJE450 is close to the HJE350. The HJE355 is the next generation.
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