Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some great headphones and earphones I came across at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show. I am starting with what are now my favorite headphones in the $100-and-under category.

The Panasonic Retro RP-HTX80B over-ear Bluetooth headphones ($99) come from a large company that serves many different product categories, yet they are good enough to have come from a specialty headphone manufacturer. Available in four colors with cool retro styling that looks straight from the 1970s, they also are among the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. They are low in weight, have soft earcups and there’s a gentle, even pressure from the headband. They stay on securely, but you never feel encumbered by them.

Though not noise-canceling, the headphones do a good job of keeping out external noise. The sound quality is stellar. They have a unique sonic signature that is technically excellent, very satisfying and doesn’t resemble any other headphones I can think of. They do not sound warm, but neither do they sound bright or sterile, and they have a very robust midrange with a slightly forward sound and excellent tonal color. The treble is crisp, bass is solid and they are unfazed by complex musical passages, with everything coming through clearly and without congestion.

Battery life is also at the top of the class. A 2 ½-hour charge yields 24 hours of playback time, and a quick 15-minute charge produces 2 ½ hours, perfect for that last-minute trip to the gym.

Not everything is ideal. The buttons are a bit small, making it difficult to control playback and volume by feel, and the maximum volume is a bit lower than some competing headphones I have tried. Typically the headphones are loud enough, but there have been times I thought certain tracks could use just a touch more loudness but the volume was maxed out. Personally, I’d also like to have the ability to use them with a wired connection as well as Bluetooth.

Despite these quibbles, the comfort, sound quality, captivating appearance, long battery life and low price make the Panasonic Retro RP-HTX80B headphones among the best you can buy for under $100. I have a more detailed review with lots of pictures on my soundadviceheadphones.com website. Take note: When shopping online, be sure to look for the RP-HTX80B model number because Panasonic has multiple Retro models available. (panasonic.com)

Speaker quandary

Q: How does the JBL Flip 3 speaker sound compared with the Amazon Echo? Which is better?

A: For pure sound quality, I’d take the JBL Flip 3. The Amazon speakers sound OK, but they are not known for class-leading sound quality. The Alexa Voice Assistant is the reason to buy them.

Let me offer a third alternative: the $39 OontZ Angle 3 Ultra. Despite the price, it has better sound than any of the Echo speakers and the JBL Flip 3. If you want a speaker with Alexa, then get the Echo. (amazon.com and theoontz.com)


Send questions to Don Lindich at donlindich@gmail.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.