Panasonic’s premium audio brand Technics is no stranger to innovation. They were a part of one of the most profound cultural shifts in the music industry when early hip-hop was founded in New York City. Their SL-1100 turntable was used by one of hip hop’s founders, DJ Kool Herc, and the game-changing SL-1200 direct drive turntable was the weapon of choice for DJs like Afrika Bambataa as turntablism was invented.
That turntable was in heavy rotation with the world’s top DJs for decades. Over the years, Technics has engineered all manner of high-end sound equipment, from floor speakers to preamps and amps, to receivers, CD players, and more. With this pedigree in mind, I was more than interested in checking out Technics’ new EAH-AZ80 Hi-Fi true wireless earbuds. And with their 3-device multipoint connection, the most poignant question I needed to answer was, “Are these AirPods Pro killers?” Read on to find out!
Introduction to the Technics EAH-AZ80
Unlike the internet’s Alpha Males, or consumer products that yell “Pro” at you in their marketing messaging, Technics AZ80 quietly arrived on the scene with qualities that live up to the hype. Or, in this case, the lack thereof. They do, in their marketing, push an industry first in truly wireless earbuds which is the ability to be simultaneously connected to three devices at once. A feature I’ll get into in a bit. But that’s just the hook and once you bite, you find they have so much more to offer.
One of the things I love most about using any AirPods, or my personal favs the Beats Fit Pro’s, is their ubiquitous connection to the devices in my Apple ecosystem of products. And when not connected, the next best thing is the ability to “hand off” a connection. Like when I head out to the gym on my lunch breaks at work and as I walk away from my office with nothing but my LTE-connected Apple Watch Ultra, my Earth Beats Fit Pros, and my gym bag, that satisfying sound of my earbuds disconnecting from my phone and connecting to my watch is just as much music to my ears as the tunes which get me through my workouts.
In the time I’ve had with the AZ80s, I haven’t missed that at all. The multipoint technology implemented in these buds has been flawless. No need to pause audio on one device to play on another. Just hit play on the new device and the audio stops on the previous and begins playing where you want it. At one point, I was listening to music on my iPhone, then seamlessly switched to a Pixel tablet to join a Google Meet product briefing. Invoking Siri requires physically interacting with the AZ80s, but I haven’t missed that either because anytime I’m connected to my phone, or Apple Watch Ultra, Siri has been quite responsive via voice activation.
Technics EAH-AZ80: Availability
Technics AZ80s are IPX4 rated and available in two colors, black and silver. I have the silver pair, and along with their case, they are beautiful. The buds feature aluminum trim on the outer area with concentric circles etched in, the “Technics” logo in the center. The way they catch the light as you look at them screams “premium.” The inner side which fits in your concha has been designed to fit the shape of that anatomy without fatiguing your ears. I put that to the test immediately by wearing the buds all day at work. I was testing out the comfort, and since hearing what’s going on in the newsroom that I work in is mission critical, I was also testing out their Ambient Sound feature.
Let’s back up a bit, briefly.
Technics EAH-AZ80: Features and fit
When you first unbox the AZ80s, I found that with them in the case, they had that reassuring heft which just feels like quality hardware. The case is compact and Qi wireless charging enabled. It also has a brushed aluminum cover with the logo at the center. Inside the packaging you’ll also find six more silicon eartips. After you’ve chosen what you think are the right tips for a solid fit for you, you can hit the app and use their fit test to make sure you’re getting the best fit to get the most noise cancellation possible. With that finished, and finding out the right eartip needed to be changed out for a couple sizes larger, I was on my way, moving through my day. Earbuds inserted.
On day one, I had them in my ears beginning around 5AM, then around noon I began receiving the voice prompt that the battery was getting low; another premium/pro feature. I spent 90% of that day connected to only one source. At 12:51 the left bud had 18% and the right, 10%. That’s with a mix of ANC and Ambient sound, with mostly ambient sound all day, set at 80%. Yes, there’s a slider in their beautifully designed app which allows you to control how much ambient noise you allow in. I placed them in the charging case at the end of my day and removed them the next morning at 4:10AM. The buds were charged to 100%, which left the case with 60% charge remaining.
Day two started at 4:10am and I killed them by 12pm. This was a mix of multiple phone calls, music streaming, and a gym session which lasted a little more than an hour, with ANC on. I was comfortable the entire time. And, unlike some in-ear earbuds with no over-ear hooks or fins, when I laid down for bench press sets, the AZ80s didn’t move around. They were locked in during my workout. And with that IPX4 rating, these should hold up to sweaty workouts quite well over the long haul. When I left the day job around 1PM to commute home, I placed them in the case for twenty minutes then took them out to take a call and they showed 80% charged. The entirety of day two, I was connected to three devices.
I only wore them all day like that for two days. The rest of my time has been more routine usage: in and out of the case throughout the day, based on my activities. Note that the buds will automatically pause music when you remove them from your ears.
The Ambient mode is one of the best I’ve used on any pair of bluetooth earbuds. I never missed a beat communicating with colleagues, though they were probably wondering why I had two silver protuberances peeking out from my ears all day. And about that battery life? Clearly they’ll live up to their promised 7 hours of music playback. AirPods Pro are rated for 6. For most folk, I’d wager that if you actually did have them in your ears for that amount of time, as I did, you’ll find them quite comfortable for the duration as there were times I forgot that I was wearing them.
And, yes. I actually talk on the phone and the call quality here is very strong. Background noise cancellation is quite good, with the only weak point being windy days. Not terrible by any means, but you will hear some light wind. Other than that, callers said I sounded clear with plenty of volume.
Technics EAH-AZ80: Sound Quality
I know, I know, “How do they sound?” The AZ80s support AAC as well as the more robust LDAC codec. A non-starter in the Apple world, unfortunately. I ran music streamed in Apple’s lossless codec and Dolby Atmos via Apple Music, and I played hi-res .flac files directly from my iPhone 15 Pro Max via VLC media player. I went through my usual playlist in Apple Music and my usual test files in VLC. The sound quality did not leave me wanting at all. The AZ80s have a pretty well-balanced tuning, with highs just a bit forward.
That’s something which is always obvious when I play Art Blakey’s remastered Moanin’. The horns in that beautiful piece of Jazz are actually quite shrill already but when you have a pair of headphones or ‘buds tuned like these, those horns can become annoyingly shrill at louder volumes. But even with that, there was no sibilance. The good news here is that you can use the robust app to adjust the EQ and tune the sound to your liking.
But with the default sound profile, I still thoroughly enjoyed my listen to Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes in the 96khz .flac format. Plenty of open soundstage for earbuds, with Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s harmonies sounding as airy as they should. And I pushed some hip-hop tracks through the AZ80s with no disappointment.
Method Man’s Biscuits benefitted from the default EQs bright high end with Meth’s lyrics cutting through clearly and no sacrificing of the deep, muddy bass on that track. With some tracks, I briefly pushed the volume to the max with no distortion. Overall, the sound quality out of the AZ80s is on par with any other premium earbuds, not only Apple’s venerable AirPods Pro but offerings from Sony, Bose, or Sennheiser. And, in this case, I definitely prefer their tuning over Bose.
The only area with a slight edge from the competition would be the noise canceling. By degrees, Sony and Bose edge out the Technics, filtering a bit more high-frequency noise but not enough given the overall sound quality that noise canceling quality should be the deciding factor in a purchase. In the gym, the high-frequency clank of plates and weight machines didn’t cut through the dual hybrid ANC, coupled with my aggressive playlist. On the street, for testing purposes only, they did an excellent job cutting out most of the traffic noise. The true test was my airplane cabin noise recordings on YouTube, played back at 70dB through a high-end soundbar with a subwoofer. Sony and Bose fare only slightly better, dulling more of the high-frequency cabin noise.
Technics EAH-AZ80: App
Now, let’s wrap things up with the app. There’s a lot going on there! The home screen shows you the status of your earbuds, along with the current BT codec. You can power the buds down from this screen, or hit the pill buttons in the middle to access sound controls, locate your earbuds, or utilize their JustMyVoice test which allows you to hear how callers will hear you by recording you speaking into the AZ80s 8 MEMS microphones. Then along the bottom you can tap the Ambient, Sound (EQ), or Settings tabs to customize the sound to your exact liking. The Settings tab has the most menu items.
The Multi-point menu is where you can choose how your device connectivity experience is set up. You can choose single, double, or three device connectivity and it’s worth noting that LDAC is only supported when single or dual point connections are turned on. Again, not an Apple user concern, but LDAC support is not available with 3 device connection enabled. If you do have a device you want to connect to in your home which isn’t an Apple device and supports LDAC, make sure that you also go into the Connection mode menu and turn on the “LDAC for headphones” option.
Also in the Settings tab you’ll find that you can customize the well executed touch controls for either earbud. I’m generally not a huge fan of touch controls, preferring mechanical controls for earbuds, but the AZ80s controls are responsive and worked quite well in my testing. You can also customize the connection alert so that when you connect to devices you don’t just hear “Connected.” Although the options are limited, there’s no “tablet” descriptor, you can name your device according to device type and will hear “Connected to a smartphone.” There are more items you can customize than just about any other pair of truly wireless bluetooth earbuds I’ve reviewed, and I like it!
Technics EAH-AZ80: Verdict
The biggest issue when comparing Technics’ well-appointed AZ80 to Apple’s excellent AirPods Pro gen 2 is pricing. Currently, the most recent AirPods Pros retail for $249.00, while the EAH-AZ80 will cost you $50 more at $299.99. As Apple users, that may make these a tough sell for many, given how tightly integrated AirPods are with all Apple software but in my opinion, that 3 device multipoint connectivity negates the Apple handoff advantage that any variety of AirPods have over third-party earbuds. For me, AirPods Pro don’t fit well without using Comply foam ear tips, so if you find that AirPods Pro aren’t the fit for you either, I have no problem telling you that the Technics EAH-AZ80 is the best alternative to AirPods Pro that you can currently buy. And even if AirPods fit you well, but you are someone who finds themselves communicating through multiple devices throughout your day, I’d highly consider these over AirPods Pro.
AirPods Pro alternatives
The Technics EAH-AZ80 are some truly impressive headphones, beating out the AirPods in a number of key ways. You will pay a hefty sum for the privilege, but you’ll be thankful you did in the long run.