Table of Contents
The rankings for the Panda has been up for a few months now. This is just a full formal review at the request of some readers.
Oppo is probably most famous for their PM3 planar magnetic headphone, one of the first planars on the market that was specifically designed for portable use. It was pretty decent though personally I wasn’t that big of a fan.
And then in April of 2018, Oppo announced that they’ll be ending their line of headphones (also their Blu-ray players, but that’s not really relevant here). So while many mourned for the loss of Oppo in the headphone scene, I was part of the quiet few who shrugged and went on with their lives without a care in the world.
Imagine my surprise when the Panda was… well, dropped. A headphone built by Drop in collaboration with THX that’s very clearly inspired by the PM3 (using the same driver too!), with their own spins and twists on the formula that put Oppo on the headphone map.
Now to be clear, I have some very personal love towards planar headphones, mostly revolving around their bass presentations. But I’m also insanely picky, with most of Audeze’s lineup doing nothing for me and only a select few Hifimans being my personal recommendations (sound wise, not build wise). The PM3 wasn’t really my thing back when it was popular, but let’s see if Drop can change my mind.
Product page: https://drop.com/buy/drop-wireless-headphones/
Driver configuration: Planar
This Panda was kindly provided by Drop.
Signature & Tonality
The Panda’s sound signature can be described as simply “warm”. Lower frequencies are up front and centre on the Panda, providing a very deep and thick colouration to the overall sound.
It’s not a tuning that I can really approve of, considering that there is a pervasive sense of cloying and “mush” when listening to them. There is not a lot of bite or intensity to the Panda’s tonality, which may be a decent segue to say that they could very well specialise in the typical male vocals and stringed instruments, but I’m not exactly enjoying those on the Panda either. Sure, female vocals sound expectedly husky and the Pandas fall apart with any kind of percussive instrument, but even male vocals have a sense of nasal-ness and chestiness that constantly distracts me.
That said, it’s not like the Pandas are doing a particularly bad interpretation of this “warm-thick” sound signature. The general timbre of instruments is still somewhat preserved, albeit heavily coloured, and isn’t skewed completely to one specific range of instruments even within the realm of planar headphones. It’s not my thing, but looking at it from a different perspective… I can see a diehard segment of the market finding enjoyment in these cans.
However my criticism still stands; my main complaint with the Panda’s tonality is that it’s simply “too thick”. Too rich, too decadent, and ultimately too heavy to properly present the nuances in the upper harmonics of instruments. A one-trick pony that took its one trick too far.
Tone grade: B-
If you thought the tuning was the Panda’s Achilles’ Heel, then strap yourselves in.
My biggest issue with the Panda is that it is blunt. Hits are soft, lacking impact and virtually textureless. This has broad effects on the overall technical ability of the Panda of course, the most obvious being its utter lack of resolving ability.
Forget the microdetailing, they can barely resolve the surface level, with notes smearing and obscuring each other constantly. From a technical perspective, listening to music (specifically, familiar tracks) on the Panda is exhausting in that the brain is constantly filling in missing detail that they gloss over. Now I usually make it a point to have the headphone/earphone I am reviewing on my head while writing the post, but I just gave up with the Panda midway.
Its blunt attack also has an unfortunate double-whammy combo with the warm/downsloping tuning, resulting in a veiled, muddy, and muffled presentation all around.
Imaging is slightly below average, not quite Sony MDR-7506/V6/CD900ST level but nothing to brag about either. The overall soundstage width is alright but where the Panda really struggles is in instrumental positioning, where things get rather undefined and blob-ish. Barely acceptable with studio mixes, but keep the Pandas far away from orchestral tracks and live mixes.
Technical grade: D-
The Panda has been touted as the audiophile’s alternative to the popular Bose 700 headphone, the Sony WH-1000XM4, and more recently, the Apple AirPods Max.
Personally, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I’d pick all three over the Panda. Even if sound quality is the only concern in the comparison.
At $400 it handily blows past the WH1000XM4 and Bose 700, both of which are marked at $350 MSRP and retails for under $300 in recent times. And the AirPods Max, while priced at a whopping $550, isn’t too far off from the Panda either. The Panda is clearly aiming for the hifi consumer/prosumer market, though I’m not sure if it’s ready for that if it can’t beat the competition at the one thing it’s supposed to dominate on: sound quality.
And it’s not like these headphones are the crème de la crème in terms of raw audio fidelity either; notice here that I’m specifically avoiding comparisons with the audiophile market headphones, and for good reason. Against headphones like the Sundara ($350), the ATH-R70x ($350) or even closed-backs like the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless ($400, review soon), the Panda isn’t even part of the conversation.
Is there potential? Maybe, since Drop is planning a firmware update that allows the Panda to store EQ profiles, so that could help with its tonal problems. But for everything else, it’s a tough sell.
Value Rating: N/A
The Panda is a good concept on paper: an audiophile-quality headphone packaged to appeal to the masses with a sleek minimalist design and true wireless functionality.
In practice, where the Panda disappoints in the sound. Passable tonal balance, but unfortunately plagued with subpar technicalities and results in a smeared, blunted presentation. Consumer friendly? Seems like the Panda has that on lock. Audiophile-quality? That’s where In-Ear Fidelity has to disagree.