There are plenty of wireless options out there for over-ear headphones, but Drop has gone to great lengths to create a pair of cordless cans that caters to audiophiles. Wireless headphones typically aren’t regarded as audiophile quality because of limitations found within wireless audio. The Drop Panda has combined new technologies in drivers, amps, and audio transfer to try and create a pair of cans that will perk up the ears of audiophiles. Head below to check out the video.
Drop, the company formerly know as Massdrop, has been a community oriented company from the start. What began as a way for members to come together for purchasing items as groups to secure a lower price has evolved into Drop, using that active and opinionated community to offer their input on designing everything from clothing to headphones.
With the input from their committed community, Drop came up with what they think will be the best wireless headphones for audiophiles. We got to try out a a pre-production version of the Panda. With the MSRP of $399, the Panda should be available by summer 2020.
One area where the Panda really shines in my opinion is its design, which is simple, functional and clean. It’s free of obnoxious logos or graphics and the functional nature of it keep the design simple. Actually, I’ve only found “Drop” on the entire package in two locations – once on the handle of the case, and the other is super small on the inside of the right earcup pivot.
On the right earcup you’ll also find the USB-C port for charging, control stick, super small status LED, and if you look close, the two microphones. Speaking more to the control stick, it can be moved up, down, left, right, and also pressed in. With this combination of movements, it’s extremely easy to adjust the volume, skip tracks and control calls. Then on the left can, we have only the 3.5mm port for passive inputs.
Drop Panda: Video
Tipping the scales a little
In the announcement materials, Drop claims that the Panda weighs under 350g, but this pre-production version that I have is tipping my scales at 380. 30 grams isn’t much to shake a stick at, but is different from what was stated.
When I asked the head of product marketing what set it over that mark and if they plan on hitting it, he replied that this run of sample units had a little different damping solution. They are expecting to hit the 350 mark for production, but will update the specs if not.
Despite the extra bulk, I didn’t find Panda cumbersome at all. At that weight they do feel quite substantial, which I don’t mind. To me it inspires more confidence in the build quality. And because of the headband and grip from the earcups it feels plenty comfortable. Drop actually designed the Panda so that the weight is held by the earcups and doesn’t put as much pressure on the top of your head. Overall, this makes it very comfortable. Protein leather wrapped “plush foam” earpads provide plenty of cushion.
At the core of the Panda is the fully closed design which aids in acoustic isolation. You won’t find any active noise cancellation on these but the closed back design does help to knock out noise around you similar to how an in-ear monitor would.
The only flaw I found with design is most likely just a product of these being a pre-production sample. On the head band, there was one corner of the rubber grip that would start to stick out a little bit. It appeared to press back in easily and was really only visible from certain angles. Otherwise the fit and finish was very high quality.
At CES 2020 I got to meet with Will Bright, co-founder and CPO, who heads up most of the development. He’s really excited and passionate about these headphones because Drop feels like the technology finally exists to make audiophile level wireless headphones. The combination of planar driver technology from the Oppo PM-3, THX-AAA amplification, and Sony’s LDAC make it truly one of the best sounding pairs of wireless headphones.
Drivers included in Drop Panda
Drop took the planar driver tech from Oppo. Noticing the popularity of the PM-3 with audiophiles, Drop used that technology and made it a bit brighter to offset the common critique of the PM-3’s darker sound.
Powering Panda is a discrete THX-AAA amplifier. This thing gets plenty loud. In fact, uncomfortably loud for me if I turn it up all the way. That being said, I didn’t hear any distortion in my short time testing the Panda at max volume.
One of the stars of the Panda is the support of Sony’s LDAC technology. Beyond just Bluetooth aptX, aptX HD, and aptX adaptive, this LDAC is the closest wireless headphones can get to true audiophile bitrates. Unfortunately, I was told this isn’t operational yet in the pre-production sample that I was sent.
The combination of those three technologies brings an incredible sound pair of headphones that are easy to use when mobile. Clarity abounds to pick out instruments in cluttered tracks, and the neutral tone puts it squarely in the reference category. The driver technology from the Oppo PM-3 is known for its balance and also helps to create phase coherence.
Speaking of mobility, the Panda also has a microphone for making and receiving calls while wearing them. It sounds as you would expect a mic located near your ear – kind of like a speakerphone. It’s not terrible, but not great either. Being able to make and take calls through the headset is super handy, though.
Another area of concern for mobility is battery life. Drop claims up to 30-hours on the Panda. If I remember correctly, Will mentioned this was at 80% volume – which is plenty loud. When I first turned on the Panda the battery was low and it turned off. Charging from empty to 100% too a little under two hours and I haven’t had to charge them again since.
Overall, Panda is a great package for the $399 MSRP. The combination of planar drivers, THX-AAA amp, and the promise of Sony LDAC make it a fully featured pair of headphones with 30 hours of battery life for audiophiles who want the convenience of wireless audio. The sound that comes out is very neutral and packs plenty of power. It will be interesting to see if the final production version has any big changes – and I can’t wait to try it out.
Drop Panda Availability
At the time of writing this, the Panda is expected to launch at the end of January 2020 with shipments expected to start in summer.
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