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View Full Discussion Hi guys, I'm Mad Lust Envy on headfi. I have a headphone gaming guide where I post all my reviews. I assume it makes sense to paste the Panda review here, so, here it is, below.
As stated in the review, it is a PRE-PRODUCTION UNIT, and things are subject to change. I was not paid by Drop or THX or anyone. They simply sent me the headphones for review, THAT IS IT.
If you find some errors, forgive me. I tend to find and edit them AFTER posting. There may be formatting errors as well, since I made this guide with Head-fi's coding in mind.
Drop + THX Panda$400 as of February 2020.
Where to buy: Indiegogo
Main review first posted HERE.
Disclaimer: It's worth noting that these are A PRE-PRODUCTION UNIT. Meaning things are subject to change, and the final version MAY alter, address, fix things, or outright change them to be different. I don't expect the general build, design, and audio balancing to change dramatically, but you never know. As such, do not take these impressions as gospel (not that you should take anything I say as that).A special thanks to Drop for sending the Panda out for review. As always, whether products are sent to me or not, I do my best in being 100% honest with my views and opinions. If I don't like a product, I will refuse to write a review of it or at least mention what I don't like about them, though I like to focus on products that people would like or at the very least are interested in. The only bias I have is to my readers and making sure they know about good products. Most companies tend to be good in terms of not sending me gear I'll outright dislike, so my job here is made a bit easier.
I'll spare you the nitty, gritty details on the Drop + THX Panda. If you want all that (and you really should look into all that), that's what these pages are for:
Drop + THX Panda on Drop.comCampaign of Drop + THX Panda on Indiegogo
All I'll mention myself is that I'm interested in its THX AAA technology, which apparently gives the Panda "the world's lowest possible levels of distortion." Relative to what, I'm not sure, but I'll say is that it's a damn clean sounding headphone, even through bluetooth, so there may be some merit there.
I'm also very interested in the 55mm planar-ribbon drivers which doesn't look like any dynamic or planar driver I've personally seen before. I love technology that falls outside of the norm, so...yes please.
Of course, I can't forget the fact that they somehow managed to maintain an incredible level of sonic similarity and performance between wireless and wired modes. I don't think I've heard one headphone that has managed to sound near identical without any actual discrepancies between how they sound in wired and wireless modes. It's not 1:1, but it's incredibly close.
Okay, Drop, you've piqued my curiosity. Let's see how it fares.
Design-wise The Panda is what I'd consider a prime example of utilitarian. It's all matte black, mostly if not all plastic, with absolutely nothing in the way of accents, design cues, or fanciness. There is just really nothing here to make the Panda stand out or even be identifiable from other basic black, closed back headphones (other than a meager and hard to spot Drop branding etched on the inside of the right extension arm). I like stealth, and discretion as much as the next guy, but I would've liked to see some lines or accents for contrast to break the very basic design language of the Panda's aesthetics. The Panda honestly looks like it could be from any manufacturer. AT the very least, with a name like Panda, I surely would've expected some white to contrast the black.
(Update: Just want to insert a correction on the Panda's build by @WillBright, Chief Product Officer at Drop. I'm awful at figuring out what materials are used, so this is helpful.)
"The top of the headband is just plastic, but the yokes and arms are all cast aluminum."
The headband is like any other basic headband you've seen on a million other headphones. It is wrapped in faux leather up top, and some black silicone material on the bottom where it meets the top of your head. Not much in the way of cushioning either. As in, not really any. This somehow doesn't make the Panda uncomfortable to wear, though you do get a little bit of a sore spot on top of your head after extended listening sessions. It does merely sit on your head, and doesn't provide much pressure up top, likely due to the clamping pressure taking most of the weight away from the top and moving it to the side extremes, but it's not a noticeable pressure point up top. I'm not sure how to feel about the headband, really. It's not the MOST comfortable headband out there, but it's not really all that offensive either. I'm not thrilled with the silicone material in particular, but that's a personal preference kind of problem. Really. After a few hours of use a day, I don't have any major complaints here. That's saying something, as I'm really, really picky when it comes to comfort, especially in terms of headband and ear pad comfort.
Moving on to the extension mechanism. The Panda extends with audible clicks, but no indicators of size. Which brings me to a complaint: the Panda may have size limitations. I have to wear them fully extended. I do have a large head, but I imagine some people may have bigger heads than mine. In any case, fully extended for me, just about barely allows the drivers to sit at the optimal height on my ears. I hope whatever next headphone Drop brings out in the future, has has a more generous size extension limit. If companies like Sennheiser can make headbands that can fit watermelons without changing the size profile, so can Drop.
Attaching the headband to the cups is a single sided yoke, which may be the most interesting part of the Panda's design. As it is only connecting the cups on one side, it allows them to swivel completely inward (if you wore the Panda around the neck, the pads would rest on your collar-bone as opposed to the outer cups being what rest there). I personally prefer this style, over cups swiveling outward.
Fully closed-back, oval-shaped, with a black matte face, there's not much to say about the outer side of the cups. There's just nothing there, really. Around the edges of the cups is far more interesting, if just a little. The left cup houses the 3.5mm input near the bottom which allows the Panda to be used as a wired headphone with any basic 3.5mm cable. There is a notch where the input is, so it looks like Drop may have a specific cable in mind that slots in a particular way, though the cable I received was pretty standard. What makes this input special is that unlike some other bluetooth headsets, the Panda's 3.5mm input bypasses the internal circuitry and allows the Pandas to be used passively. So even if you were to run out of battery, you can continue using the headphones with your own dac/amps, or other sources. I personally feel it makes the Panda an excellent, wired, closed-back headphone in this regard. So much that Drop could've sold the Panda as a wired headphone only, and it'd be worth looking into.
That's all as far as the left cup. The right cup's edge holds a type C USB input in the bottom for charging. (A brief note: I'll go more in depth about this in the "Software/Connectivity" section, but this particular unit has USB headphone connectivity, which, per the Drop rep I'm in contact with, states isn't intended. More info on that section.)
Behind and above the USB input is a very tiny (pin sized, really) led indicator. Indications: Red means charging, white is ON, and slow changes between red and blue is Bluetooth pairing mode.
Above the led indicator is the joystick controls. It is shaped like a cross, and feels rubbery and gummy, but works incredibly well. Well, most of the time. When paired to my PC, it can be a bit sluggish, buggy, and imprecise, but on other bluetooth devices like my phone, it's quite a bit more responsive. I love how simple and intuitive it is to use.
Near where the cups meet the pad mounting, are 2 stereo microphones for stereo. There is an additional vented area that looks like a third(?) microphone, though I have no idea of what it is, or what it's for.
The pads are made of protein leather. Faux leather, or pleather for those who understand those monikers. No cattle were harmed here. The use of this material also ensures strong acoustic isolation which is a necessity for closed back headphones. I'll keep personal preference out of this (I personally only really go for headphones with suede, velour, fabric material pads, but understand the choice here), and I'll say the pads feel fine. Certainly in the realm of what I'd consider well made pads with strong isolation, and enough plushness for decent comfort. They do trap heat, so you'll find yourself airing the pads out at random intervals to let your ears breathe.
The pads are oval in shape, have a decent not massive amount of depth, and are on the smaller end of the 'over ear' scale. around the range of the LCD-1 pads. The Mobius has similar exterior dimensions, but the inner area has much more space. So if you have a problem with the Mobius ear pads in terms of size, you'll definitely have problems here with the Panda. If you find the LCD1's pads big enough for your ears, you'll find these to be just fine.
The driver cover on the pads is thin and has large L and R indicators. A nice touch.
The pads are mounted a bit like the Mobius. They have a proprietary snap on mounting, which works well enough, though it limits your options in terms of alternatives. You'll have to hunt ones down similar in size and have a way to for excess material to slip over the edge of the surface of the Panda's pad housing. Since I'm a fan of fabric pads, I'd be the kind of potential buyer that would immediately try and find alternate pads. Not so easy here.
Final Build Impressions:
If there is one thing to take away from this headphone's physical design, it's that the joystick approach to controls is BRILLIANT. I'd be happy if all headphones with built in controls followed this type of design. All of the Panda's control are easily accessible here, which is not only intuitive and easy, but also saves space on the unit, as well as saving time on learning where the buttons are located. Seriously, people, take notes. This is, and should be, the future of headphone physical controls.
The mostly plastic build seems sturdy, and strong enough to withstand normal daily abuse. I don't see any areas that I'd considering potentially problematic. Good, well built headphones. My main gripe being that I just wish it could extend a bit more.
- Pressing it in. Play/Pause
- Press and hold: Powers on/off. I don't exactly like the sound effect for these. It's a weird trickle sound effect that sounds that isn't appealing to my ears. When turning the Panda off, it also mixes in a sort of door closing sound. Odd choices for power on/off indications, personally.
- Long press when off: Powers on and then goes into pairing mode. The sound effect for pairing is more distinct and akin to a timer.
- Up/Down: Raises and lowers volume.
- Left/Right: Go back and/or skip tracks.
- Up/Down: Volume Controls: My only gripe here is that the change in volume is a bit drastic. Drop absolutely needs to adjust this to allow for more sensitive, fine tuning of volume changes. It's just too big a change in volume per step. Also, on my PC, I do have instances where the volume changes are imprecise, as in way too slow to accept my command, or will do the opposite of what I asked. Of course, I expect this to be ironed out and fixed on release. It could also be interference outside of Drop's control, and tied to my own gear. For now, on my PC, my keyboard makes smaller steps, and thus more favorable to use than the control on the unit itself.
Case - I'm unsure whether the final version will come with the same box and layout, but the pre-production model sent to me comes in a nice, small clamshell case with an area for the two cables. Nothing too crazy, just a good neoprene case.
Type C to Type C USB charging cable - this one is a bit questionable, in that I don't think type C inputs are quite common yet. I think a better choice would be a type C to standard type A which is the most common input for charging ports. Luckily I have quite a few Type C to Type A cables around, so I didn't have any issues. That and my PC has ONE type C input in case I wanted to use the supplied cable.
3.5mm cable - Nothing fancy, and a bit shorter than I'd like. I'd wager it being a 3 foot cable, so if you plan on listening while wired, you'll have to be close to your gear. Or of course, just use your own 3.5mm (aux) cables you probably have a million of. I say this ironically, as I have somehow depleted all of my longer spare cables, and had to scrounge one up from the pits of storage hell. Ah well.
I may have given away how I feel about the Panda's comfort a bit earlier, but I'll confirm my thoughts on the subject.
At 350 grams, the Panda is in a spot that I'd consider hefty, but in a good way. It's not a particularly heavy headphone, but it has enough weight for it to feel sturdy and substantial. I can tell that they've packed a lot into the cups. While lighter is generally always better for comfort, I don't think Panda's weight is enough to be considered a downside.
This is probably going to be the main area of focus in terms of comfort or lack of. With a distinct lack of padding, you're at the mercy of how well the Panda can evenly distribute the pressure from the weight pressing down towards your head. I initially thought "Oh no, this is going to be painful, ain't it?". It's really not too bad overall. Yes, there can be a sore spot, but not overtly so. It's not bad. Not GREAT, but not bad. I'm okay with it. That says a lot, if you know how anal I am when it comes to expectations in comfort. It really depends on the time of day I wear it. If I've just awoken and been up a few hours, my head feels sensitive and it bothers me a bit more than if I've up half the day. So yeah, it really varies. If I had to lean one way, I'd say headband comfort can definitely be better, but once your head gets used to it, it's not a major issue. I can wear it all day, and don't really feel like the headband is a problem. Only initially.
Again, I'll keep my personal preferences out of it, and just say the pads feel generally fine. If you've ever worn some decent faux leather pads, you know what to expect here. They're plush enough to not cause discomfort. They trap heat like essentially all other faux leather pads out there, so it should come of no surprise to you that you will need to take the headphones off periodically to let your ears breathe. The final aspect of pad comfort comes in size. The pads being on the smaller side of over ear can cause problems for those with large ears. Personally, my ears fit just fine, so I don't have any issues there, though some others will need to manage expectations. Expect that your ears may get pinched or touch the pad's walls if you have elven ears.
This may be a hit or miss. The Panda is on the clampy side, likely to keep an optimal seal. As far as how feels for me, I'm somewhat not deadset on clamping preferences, and feel like the amount on the Panda is acceptable, and not what I'd consider uncomfortable. I've had headphones with less clamp that felt worse. Just expect the Panda to clamp a bit. I think the smaller cup size leads it to reach the part of my jowls that would cause a lot more discomfort. So, I'm fine here.
Final Comfort Impressions:
It's odd. I honestly expected to not really care for the Panda's comfort levels, due to a combination of headband, pads, and clamp. In the end, I'd give the Panda a passing grade for comfort. Not with flying colors, but it feels generally around like most normal headphones not known for comfort, but not known to be torture devices. Keep in mind that I'm VERY picky with headphone comfort, so my passing grade, may well be that it's excellent for you. Comfort is my #1 priority with headphones, so I'm a bit more strict than others may be.
The Panda may not have active noise cancelling (ANC), but to me, that's a pro, not a con. ANC tends to be detrimental to sound quality, as well as steers focus away from raw audio performance. You want an ANC headphone? Get one that specializes in that, and only that. Since the Panda is trying to focus on audio fidelity first in both wired and wireless settings, the omission of ANC feels like the right call. Not only does raw fidelity increase, but so does battery life.
In any case, how well does the Pandas control noise? I'd say incredibly well. Its passive noise cancelling is nothing to laugh at. It will muffle most outside noises to where they get drowned out by the Panda's playback. That's about as much as I'd need a headphone to control external noises. I don't commune on trains or take airplanes, so perhaps you may want something else for those purposes, but regular everyday ambience, I think it does just fine.
As far as noise leakage from the Panda to the outer world, this is also well controlled. It's barely audible a few feet away even at high volumes. You don't have worry about bothering anyone outside maybe your significant other sleeping right next to you, and even then I'd argue even that wouldn't be enough. Really good job here.
Software? We don't need no stinkin' software! At least, that's how I envision those at Drop replying when asked. The Panda is as you see it. You pair it through bluetooth, or plug it into your gear via the 3.5mm input, and that's it. Works like a charm. I love the simplicity.
Per drop, "Backed by the latest Bluetooth 5.0 QCC5124 chipset, Panda offers support for LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX adaptive, AAC, and SBC codecs."
I have a transceiever that supports SBC, aptX, and Low Latency, but I'm unsure if it is aptX Low Latency, or the built in low latency codec on the transceiver which is terrible. In any case, the Panda defaulted to aptX for the transceiver. Haven't tested gaming quite yet for low latency (I'll likely add in the future, though my gaming will be focused will wired). Through my Galaxy S9 phone, I'm able to choose what codec I want to use. The Panda was able to use SBC, AAC, and aptX. Update: Per the Drop rep I'm in contact with, LDAC wasn't ready to be implemented on the firmware with the unit I tested. LDAC support will be included on a future revision.
Connecting through Bluetooth is relatively painless, quick, and easy. Just hold the cross joystick down while the Panda is off until you hear a heartbeat-like beep. It will pair up in mere moments.
Per Drop, "...allows you to use the headphone in passive mode. When you insert an audio cable, this will deactivate and bypass internal electronics."
Testing this, I turned off the Panda, and it indeed works like any other standard headphone. And a darn good one at that. Sounds fantastic off my Schiit Magni/Modi 3 stack. As intended. If the Panda is turned on and you plug in a cable, it will immediately shut the Panda off. A very nice touch. Of course, while the Panda is in passive mode, you can't use the controls.
There is a curious thing I need to mention. This may be a byproduct of the prototyping phase, but the unit I have on hand does have USB headphone connectivity. If I plug it into my PC, it picks it up as an audio device (even named as Drop Panda), and it works relatively ok this way. It is limited to 16bit/48khz, with no mic, or joystick control capabilities. The USB connection has very loud volume at low Windows volume settings, so I see this as an indicator of it being unintended. While it works, I still don't recommend you doing this. Not only because it is unintended, but because the super high volume levels even at low settings may lead you to accidentally blow the drivers by accident. I was able to confirm with the rep that it was not intended.
Drop is touting 30+ hours of battery life for the Panda. I don't have any scientific way to test for this, but I don't have any reason to doubt their claims. This is an incredible amount of time. I'm happy with anything nearing 12 hours. 30 hours is an incredible feat, and far more than I'd even realistically need. I'm very cautious in terms of charging my gear, so I don't think I'd ever come across a time where I'd run the battery down to even half capacity. Simply amazing.
Let me jump right into the specifics, and will sum up my impressions in the end.
The bass is the only aspect of the audio spectrum that I would consider even worth debating, simply because of its added body and presence, in a headphone that doesn't truly seem to emphasize anything else and thrives on fantastic balancing in both wired and wireless modes. The Panda has absolutely no problem bottoming out all frequency tests I've conducted with various different programs. It exerts the lowest rumbles with ease. If you love bass, (not that you need to be a basshead), the Panda takes little to no effort in bringing you a solid amount of rumble, and pressure. It's a fun headphone.
The downside is that the Panda's authoritative bass does tend to bloom and mix up with the lower mids, where things like male vocals may sound a bit more boombastic. Like an extra amount of grunt that realistically shouldn't be there. It's not a problem in the grand scheme of things, but it does prove to me that it's a bit past neutral/natural, and leans on excess. Again, not "OMG BASSHEAD BABY", but does contrast the otherwise incredibly well balanced nature of the Panda.
This is absolutely not to say it isn't enjoyable. Again, I love bass, and I love bassy genres. So this extra energy is pretty awesome if you're about that. I just felt it needing to be mentioned especially for those expecting a linear, neutral, realistic sound off the Panda. The bass is beyond that scope. It's more 'hyper realistic'.
As far as the quality of the bass, I'd say it's fairly good. Good in terms of texturing, with a moderate amount of speed. A welcoming, lingering decay, that isn't super tactile or agile, but gives the Panda a nice, deep presence. The quality of the bass was never a problem with the Panda.
Midrange to Treble:
The Panda exhibits sonic excellence in its midrange to treble ranges. The vocal midrange is up front and centralized. As mentioned before, it is warmed up by the bass transition into the mids, which has a nice forward presentation, though there may be a hint of boom in vocals. Aside from that, the midrange to treble ranges is generally evenly balanced with no emphasis or recessions. Truly exceptional.
Doing frequency testing, and while running the Panda passively/wired, I could not find any noticeable peaks or valleys from the midrange all the way up to the treble. I don't think I've heard a headphone this balanced all the way up to 10khz and beyond. There are usually at least some peaks, or some valleys, or a combination of both. My ears didn't pick up a drop off until about 11khz. Which then climbs up slightly and extends to just past 14khz to my ears. Usually, headphones have some noticeable changes between 7-10khz. Not so here.
Midrange and treble representation is excellent, with nothing being subdued or overly prominent. Drop + THX did an amazing job reining in the entire mid to latter half of the frequency spectrum on the Panda. Quite possibly one of the most balanced headphones I've heard to date.
Doing the frequency tests (tried various testing programs) while in bluetooth gave me some slightly different results, with there being a slight dip after about 1.3khz, that I didn't really notice on wired/passive mode. This seems to be the only area I felt being a little different than passive (and a smidgen more bass), and it's subtle (only truly audible in frequency tests).
Something to note: It may be the pre-production unit I have, but testing various bluetooth codecs, aptX seems to have a grainy distortion from 6.5khz all the way up to just past 10khz. It disappears around 12khz, but then comes back shortly after. It's not a driver issue as it's not audible in wired mode, AAC, or SBC modes (LDAC wasn't available at the time of this review). The balancing in those ranges is as good as wired mode, just that the grainy distortion persists for aptX. I tested two different phones and my PC, and the results were repeatable. So for now, AptX may be a questionable codec to use. Hopefully it's either a problem with just this unit, or pre-production, and can be resolved. In any case, I didn't notice this under normal use, so it may just be a problem with prolonged testing of specific frequencies. Perhaps someone else can chime in and see if they can get a similar result. Again, not audible under normal playback, mainly just testing.Soundstage and Imaging:
The Panda isn't going to surprise with its soundstage. It's what can be expected of most closed-back headphones. As always, I'm practically never awed by stereo soundstages, regardless of headphone, and the trend doesn't change with the Panda. There are headphones that break this norm, but most tend to be open-backed. Now, while the Panda's soundstage isn't restricted or walled in, it just isn't anything I'd consider special. Not that it's really a detriment to its sound. Not every headphone has to have a massive soundstage. You typically can't have an intimate presentation with a headphone that has a large soundstage. Also, while soundstage and imaging correlate to one another, they are not mutually exclusive. The Panda is such a case where I feel the imaging is better than its soundstage.
The Panda's imaging clearly puts a great focus on object details regardless of direction around your headspace. Object location, and nuanced details for objects and instruments is a strength of the Panda. I've head headphones with hazy, blurry definition of objects and instruments. Not a problem for the Panda. It's really quite competent here.
I do think Imaging and clarity do tend to go hand in hand, and while not on the level of something like the LCD-1, the Panda has very good clarity performance in general. Its sole detriment that I can think of is the lower midrange details being slightly in discord with some bass bloom, but otherwise, the Panda picks up subtle details with competence. All manner of frequencies are well present, with no valleys or noticeable recession masking any finer details.
The Panda's sound signature can be best summed up as well balanced, linear, with a tilt towards warmth likely due to the mid/upper bass/lower mid bloom. So while it's not lacking in any major frequencies, that minor, but broad hump down low warms up the Panda to give it a slightly thicker than neutral sonic characteristic. If you've ever heard the LCD-1 and felt it a good representation of neutral, you'll find the Panda to fall on the warmer side of this, and noticeably so. Despite this, the midrange and treble sections have plenty of clarity and sharpness to keep the Panda from sounding veiled, overly smooth, or sleepy.
Expect a nice balance towards warmth, with some added bass energy, but not much else to take away from its great balancing. It isn't the most open sounding headphone, nor is it super intimate. It's middle of the pack, which allows it to work well enough in both giving a sense of space, and being intimate enough when needed.
While in passive/wired mode, you would think the Panda probably doesn't need much in terms of amplification to perform to spec. You'd be right. Considering it's a part-time wireless headphone, it goes without saying that the Panda was made to be powered by amplifiers small enough to fit inside the cups. As such, the Panda simply requires the bare minimum in amplification. I'd worry more about matching the headphone to a clean sounding source more than how much power it's being fed. I recommend a neutral to quick, snappy amplifier that excels in detail and accuracy over something that would further add to the inherently thick low to middle ranges. The Panda is plenty clean and detailed, but enhancing those characteristics to steer focus away from its big robust low end sounds ideal.
I do happen to think the Panda sounds its best when you use your own gear. A testament to how much care was given to utilizing high quality drivers. Usually, passive modes on bluetooth headphones sound next to nothing like its bluetooth modes due to no longer having access to the internal DSPs and frequency correcting or EQ being done. The Panda's sound is excellent right down to the core driver itself, so there was no need to mask it with DSP or EQ. I was also able to hear improvements with my gear, and so I think you'll find happiness going down the dac/amplifier road with the Panda.
The Panda makes for a very competent gaming headphone. Various reasons being:
1. Fantastic stereo separation, and ability to cleanly define objects in and around your headspace. There's no major hazy or blurriness to the definition, which is a boon for gaming.
2. One of the best audio balances in terms of not emphasizing or subduing any particular details or frequencies. It seems that most of the sound is evenly present so that nothing sticks out or is woefully lost. From the lowest levels of bass, all the way up to very top treble ranges, the Panda's sound ensures that everything is in the mix as expected. Yes, there's a little excess in the bass by a little but not in the realm of merciless, basshead levels of indiscretion. Most would consider it enhancement, not a blatant disregard of overall balancing.
3. As stated, the bass goes deep, and it goes hard (yes, yes, I get it). This of course makes the Panda an incredibly fun and immersive headphone. Fantastic rumble, and deep atmospheric lows ensures an exciting level of casual gaming. Single player games like horror, action, sci-fi, explorative genres, and what have you.
4. While it may not the most ideal headphone for competitive gaming where it's all detail first, everything second, it still would do fairly well here due to its great balancing, once you get past its bass section. If you're looking for mainly a competitive gaming headphone, perhaps look elsewhere. If you want an all around with more of a lean towards casual and fun gaming, that can still do decently well for competitive, the Panda is a solid choice. Seriously, don't overlook the Panda. It's an excellent headphone for gaming. Period.
5. As far as applying virtual surround processing to the Panda, well, you can really only gain benefits in soundstaging, as well as positional awareness, so it should definitely be looked into as an benefit for the Panda, which doesn't inherently have a large soundstage to begin with. I wouldn't put it as the greatest headphone in existence with virtual surround, but it definitely works, and works well.
Personally, if I can only make a choice to have one headphone for all forms of gaming, I will always choose something like the Panda, which enhances the experience and immersion. But I'm not someone who holds strict competitive performance to a very high degree. I can do well enough with basshead level headphones in competitive gaming, so something even better balanced like the Panda is highly suited for my preferences.
The Panda will have an optional microphone cable, which is akin to something like the V-moda BoomPro. I don't see it anywhere on their website, so I assume it'll show up once the Panda is officially released.
And as a comparison point, I've attached the V-moda BoomPro to the Panda below...
As you can hear, the Drop microphone cable is well within the performance of the V-moda BoomPro. It slots in to the Panda perfectly (the slot on the Panda's 3.5mm input seems to have been made for this particular mic cable).
The cable isn't as fancy nor as long as the BoomPro. It doesn't come with a audio/microphone splitter, which you'll need to have if your device doesn't allow for combo audio+mic plugs. Phones do, other devices may not. As this is still pre-production, I'm unsure if a splitter will indeed come with the cable.
Update: Drop's CPO @WillBright also let me know that the mic cable WILL come with a splitter. In his own words:
"The boom mic does come with a splitter cable, apologies we didn't include it with your sample. The splitter cable is 6ft long, and made of the same materials as the boom cable. The cables are 4ft and 6ft so you can use the 4ft when gaming via console, and leave the 6ft adapter plugged into the back of your gaming desktop, with the female end sitting on your desk. Theoretically, this makes it super easy to switch between console and PC when you want to. Oh also, the boom mic is a condenser capsule. This is a pretty big deal because afaik, there is no other gaming headphone with a condenser mic (using 4 pole TRRS especially), all the other headset mics are dynamic. It was a pain to engineer such a power efficient condenser system, but we're super excited about the result. Cool page with complete info on a convenient A/B test. https://www.neumann.com/homestudio/en/what-is-a-condenser-microphone TL;DR on the difference: Condenser mics use active electronics to improve the responsiveness of the transducer, which creates richer, more realistic recordings. Dynamic mics are just a transducer on a stick, sending weak signals down a wire that later get amplified to produce usable audio (same way that electric guitar pickups work)"
Very cool stuff indeed.
The gooseneck is plenty flexible and holds its shape. The pop filter is large and easily slips off in needed.
The controls on the Drop's cable is smaller and more discreet than the BoomPro's control puck, which is quite chunkier, but unlike the BoomPro, the Drop's cable lacks a clip that allows you to clip on to your clothes to keep the cable secure. The Drop cable's volume control is a simple but effective slider, and the mic mute switch is next to it with a sturdy slider that you won't accidentally turn on/off.
Not sure how I feel about the strain reliefs (or lack of) on the Drop cable. Time will tell if they hold up.
Personally, I really would like for this cable to come bundled in with the Panda. I do believe it's optional, and I'm hoping the cost doesn't creep up to the BoomPro's cost.
The Panda's well balanced if a bit warm down low balancing makes it well suited for many types of things. It makes a fantastic headphone for bass heavy genres of music due to the added richness down low, giving the Panda a lot of fun energy and gusto. The midrange is rich, well centralized and focused, so it does vocals and other midrange details justice as well. Video games and movies will benefit from its enhanced bass energy, for a deeper sense of immersion. While the soundstage size and depth isn't OMG amazing, its great precision in object detail and placement make it a good stereo headphone for competitive gaming as well. The even balanced detail spectrum of the Panda's sound really make it, at the very least, good for all sorts of things, if the slightly meatier bass isn't detracting from what you're listening to.
Practicality is a strong suit for the Panda. From being able to connect it wirelessly to many of today's devices, to its strong 30+ hour battery life, and then to its ability to be used as a passive, wired headphone with any device, there's really nothing you can't use the Panda for. The strong noise control also ensures you won't be bothering anyone around you with it, and will keep all but the most annoying external noises from interrupting your listening sessions. Then there's the optional gaming cable which turns the Panda into a gaming headset. Really, it's a multi-purpose headphone that can be used in many situations. All without excess software bloat, or gimmicks you may not even be interested in. If you're someone looking for a no-nonsense, closed-back headphone that is also equally as potent wirelessly, the Panda is hard to pass up.
The Panda doesn't collapse into a smaller footprint, but its strong plastics should allow it to be tossed into a bag without much worry. I think it would make a very good office or transportable headphone as well. It does lack ANC so perhaps not ideal for trains, or planes, but for everything else, I don't think there is a reason to forego this type of quality and going for ANC headphones instead.
Who Is It For?
I recommend it mainly for people who are absolutely going to use both their wired and wireless modes. If you plan on just using one mode exclusively, I think there are stronger options in the wired categories. Wirelessly, perhaps the Panda is still a worthy investment here as I doubt you'll find many wireless headphones that sound THIS good, though I really do think using both features makes most sense to me.
The Panda is sort of a weird shift away from most other wireless headphones. If the Panda could be aimed at a specific target demographic, it would be to the pure audiophile that wants as close to a wired experience as possible, in wireless form. Those that don't want fancy tricks, gimmicks, extras, or quality of life features that tend to be added to wireless headphones which tend to pair up with a compromise in raw audio performance.
There are no EQ presets, no software apps as a companion, no ANC, no sleep mode, no voice assistance, no other frills. This is as close to chopping off the cable off a wired headphone while retaining a connection. This makes it a special headphone, in a sea of very... mediocre competition in comparison. You may give up all those features, but really, do you need all that? EQ presets are plentiful as mobile apps, and PC software. If you're like me and like virtual surround, just like presets, there are apps, software, AND hardware that can give virtual surround to you either through the wired or wireless connection. Basically, most things that general wireless headphones do can already be found via external means. Yes, it's convenient for a product to come packed with features, but sometimes it's just better to have a product focus on the main reason you buy a headphone...the sound. What you see is what you get. Nothing to detract from the core headphone experience. Just plug it in or pair it, and boom. You're good to go.
I also believe it's for general consumers that want just that ONE headphone. Non-audiophiles that simply want a very good headphone. I think closed-back headphones make more sense for people that just want one headphone. I also think the benefit of having a wireless feature is also a huge benefit to non-audiophiles. The Panda is so far the best sounding wireless headphone I've ever heard, and a fantastic closed-back headphone in general. So it's an easy recommendation for those that don't typically fit general audiophilia that tends to buy multiple headphones for multiple use cases. The Panda makes a compelling choice for those that would say, "I just want one headphone for all things, whether I'm home, on the go, or at an office or hotel".
As for sound profile, as long as you understand that the bass may be on the thicker side, and can push up to the mids a little, the rest of the sound is very, VERY well balanced. It's not a basshead headphone, but while the LCD-1 was straying a bit on the thin side of neutral, the Panda strays a bit thicker side of neural particularly on mid bass. This is great for bassy genres, action gaming and movies, but may not appeal to those that want something more controlled, and natural. If you don't mind added boom down low, then the Panda will serve you incredibly well.
If you already have a more detail oriented, open-backed headphone, the Panda makes a great contrast. Or if you just want to supplement your fun open-backed with a fun closed-back, the Panda's got you covered. Obviously, if you're looking for a wireless headphone with a dead silent background, that sounds essentially the same as wired, this is about the only option I can think of at the moment. I may be repeating myself so I'll stop here.
Likes and DislikesLikes:
- Battery Life
- Sound quality consistency between wired and wireless
- Dead silent background noise in wireless mode
- Strong noise control even without ANC
- Great stereo separation and object visualization
- Cross/joystick controls
- Midrange to treble balance
- Headband lacks padding, silicone underside
- Could use just a little more headband extension
- Smallish earpad openings may be a problem for some.
- A little bass bloominess
- aptX codec has some shenanigans grainy distortion past 6khz (may be a unit defect, or may be something fixed in final version. Also, it's only audible in frequency tests)
The Drop + THX Panda is easily the best wireless headphone I've heard. There's so little in the way of differences between wired and wireless, you can effectively consider the Panda as two great headphones for the price of one. It holds up as a closed back headphone even if you were to take out the amazing wireless performance. The great midrange to treble balance is something I rarely, if ever see on headphones.
While the bass is a little more emphasized than I personally would've liked to see (if just slightly), there's no denying the Panda as a ton of fun whether for many genres of today's music, action movies, or casual gaming. For the everyday Joe looking to get just one serious pair of headphones for every purpose whether at home, on the go, or at work, the Panda is a hell of an option.
I think that if Drop + THX wants to perfect the sound on the Panda with a future model, they should literally keep everything the same in terms of its balancing other than maybe lowering the area between 80-300hz by 3-5db if the published graph is an indicator of what I'm hearing. I think everything else is spot on. If they do that, as well as improve the headband comfort and extension, and allow an optional suede/velour topped ear pad, and I think I'd be immediately on board. As it stands, you guys are 95% of the way there from a headphone that would have next to no major flaws in my eyes.
“I'm also very interested in the 55mm planar-ribbon drivers which doesn't look like any dynamic or planar driver I've personally seen before.”
M8, just curious if you’ve heard of or listened to the PM-3 before (a headphone that Will mentioned the HP used for the foundation)?
Also, the original PM-3 has treble graininess issues (it was solely wired of course), and driver balance QC issues, phenomena I experienced firsthand, as an owner, and read through numerous posts here and other places.
To your ears, did you recognize any noticeable imbalance issues?
Sorry, never heard the PM-3. As for channel imbalances, I haven't heard a headphone that was perfect in that regard, and it usually occurs in the upper mid to treble ranges, where small discrepancies occur. I didn't notice anything major from the Panda in this regard. But as always, driver variations need to be taken into account. The Panda I have may not have the same exact driver balance as ones you may get, etc. All I know this one was fine.
For me, any frequency below 16kHz, and as little as 1.5-2db, I hear. I can’t tolerate 3-5 or above because I shouldn’t have to EQ HPs just to get them to sound even. It messes with soundstage, depth, balance, and overall experience. That was my problem with the Quad Era-1, but many HP companies are advertising driver matching from with 2db or lower, so I appreciate that (like the Elex at .5db driver match).
My PM3s are still trudging strong to this day, with slight graininess in the 8-8.5kHz range, something I hear in cymbals and high synths.
Great review. It swung me towards ordering them a bit more. I just have one question and I'm not sure if you tested this or saw this or not when testing. I listen to a lot of music when I game in games where I have to grind. I have a mixer so what I am using now works fine. However, what I wanted to know is can you run two bluetooth sources to it at once... aka grinding out some levels in FFXIV with the volume low but also have music being stream to it by my DAP.
It can connect to multiple devices at once, but it will only play one at a time. So say I have two phones it is connected to, it will play audio on one, if both are playing, but as soon as I pause it, will auto switch to the other audio a few seconds later.
Thank you for the answer!
vmoda sounds way better to me.