The Drop + THX Panda pulls no punches: this is an all-in-one headset that aims to be your go-to choice for music, movies, games, and even work-from-home meetings. Coming in at $399, it doesn’t come cheap, but the Panda offers custom planar magnetic drivers, a built-in THX AAA amp, excellent battery life and high-res Bluetooth codecs in an effort to make this the best Bluetooth headphone money can buy. Does it succeed?
- Current Price: $399 (Drop, Amazon)
- Headphone type: Closed, planar magnetic
- Bluetooth wireless technology: 5.0
- Effective range: Line of sight, approximately 10 m (30 ft)
- Battery life: 30+ hours
- Impedance: 26 ohms
- Sensitivity: 100 dB @ 1kHz / 1mW
- Isolation: -40 dB
- THD: 94 dB SPL @ 300Hz < 0.1%
- THX-AAA-0™ Amplifier: -130 dB THD, 2.6 uV A-wt noise, and 10 mW power consumption
- Frequency response: 10–50,000 Hz
- Driver unit: 55mm, ribbon planar magnetic
- Microphones: Dual
- IPX 6 waterproof
- Weight: 13.2 oz (375 g)
Optional Boom Mic
- Microphone type: Noise-canceling condenser microphone
- Volume slider and mute switch on microphone cable
- Connector: 3.5 mm
- Termination: 3.5 mm
- Cable length: 4 ft (1.2 m) or 6 ft (1.8 m)
- Compatible with all consoles and PCs with a 3.5 mm jack
- Includes 4 ft (1.2 m) and 6 ft (1.8 m) extension cable
- Designed for the Drop + THX Panda Wireless Headphones
- High-density, slow-rebound memory foam
- Sheepskin or velour cover
- Plastic attachment ring
I have a confession to make, when the Panda first launched, it didn’t click with me. As far as Bluetooth headphones go, it should have had everything: planar magnetic drivers; a built-in THX-AAA amplifier, for quiet, clean listening and volume headroom to spare; LDAC, AptX HD, AptX Adaptive - high-res wireless codecs so anything you're listening to can sound better than any other wireless headphone on the market. If you’d rather go wired, you can do that too over USB-C to your computer or straight into an amp/DAC setup with a 3.5mm jack. I was excited for months ahead of release but then it arrived and the tuning just wasn't for me.
But, the tides have finally changed thanks to the recently delivered SoundID app. This app connects to your headphones and lets you tailor your sound with a quick preference test. If that doesn't work, a full parametric equalizer is also available to dial in exactly the sound you want. The sound profile is then stored to the headphones themselves so that tuning will work on any app or platform that uses the built-in DSP. With this app, my issues have been addressed and the Pandas have arrived.
But let's take a closer look at the headphone itself. It features a robust design that feels solid in the hand. The headband and yokes are metal and it offers a good amount of flex and adjustment to fit different-sized heads. The ear cups themselves feature plastic backs but feel rigid and well-made. At this price, I would have preferred to see aluminum across the entire build but they’re already somewhat heavy at 375 grams, so I can live with that if it means it's comfortable to wear.
And for the most part it is, but you have to wear it right. Now that might sound weird for a wireless headset like this, but it's true. There's not much padding on the band, and when I put them on normally, I had a sore spot after an hour. But in fact, it seems that these are made to be worn at a bit of an angle. Once I realized that, I could wear them for 3-4 hours before needing to take a break. I would have loved to have seen more padding on the band to make these more of an all-day wear. With 30 hours of battery life, they have the juice to deliver on that.
The cushions on ear cups are also very good. They're leatherette and use a dense foam that is wonderfully noise canceling. Now, these headphones are not ANC, which at first threw me off. You can get some of the best active noise canceling headphones for less than the price of the Panda. But, the pads here are so isolating that they block out enough sound that I didn’t miss ANC once my music or game began piping through. Now if they did have it, these would be out of this world, so I hope Drop adds that in a future version.
So the cushions are good for isolation but they're also quite comfortable. The grip force is higher than most, but remember they're meant to be taken on the go and to block out the world, so delivering an isolating fit is important. I didn't find them to be too grippy either: there was no jaw pain or headache, but if you're sensitive to clamp force that's definitely something to keep in mind.
But it’s inside that the real magic happens. These are planar magnetic drivers, the same driver type as found on many extremely popular audiophile headphones. Planars are enjoyed among audio enthusiasts due to their detail and extension, and depending on how they're tuned can be really dynamic with lots of bass and treble detail. It comes down to tuning and implementation and how they're driven, but I can tell you that's true here if you tune them to hit those frequencies. The frequency response range is also 10Hz-50,000Hz, much wider than your average wireless headphone which is only 20Hz-20,000Hz, so distortion just isn't an issue because of the drivers.
Driving those transducers is a built-in THX AAA amplifier. THX: you probably know it as the company founded by George Lucas, makers of that giant wall of sound in movie theaters, but it also makes some excellent audio products and one of those is the AAA amplifier line. These amps are incredibly quiet. There's no white noise when your music or game is paused. But in addition to that, it uses feed forward error correction to remove distortion by 20 to 100 times. The only thing I noticed that threw me is that the amp actually needs a few minutes to warm up. Before it does, there is some noise that sounds almost digital, but it’s faint and it goes away quickly, even though it is occasionally audible before anything begins to play.
Now, thanks to the SoundID app, these headphones are able to be tuned to exactly the sound you'd like. The app asks you to pair the headphones and go through a series of A/B tests to dial in your preferred sound. If you don't like that, you can go into the parametric equalizer and tune it exactly how you would like. At the end, it uploads your preferences to the headphone itself.
Now, SoundID isn't perfect. It's A/B tests don't let you use your own music, so the match isn't always exact. With other headphones, I've actually found its resulting EQ to sound worse than the original, so having a customizable parametric EQ is important, even though that wasn't my experience with the Pandas. The PEQ can be finicky to use. It doesn't have unlimited bands, so you can load in the full Oratory curve (audiophiles will know what I mean, everyone else: don’t worry about that), and it doesn't let you type in the frequency you're tuning which makes fine adjustments harder than they need to be, but it works and is an excellent feature overall.
So with that tuning capability, how these sound is going to vary a lot from person to person. After tuning mine, all of my issues from launch went out the door. The bass was full, tight, and rich. Not bloated or crowding out other frequencies but enough to have punch and slam I didn't know these headphones can produce from their out-of-the-box tuning. It's excellent for games and movies and makes music fun and rich. At the same time, the Pandas can offer excellent detail across the spectrum. Guitars in particular sounded great, full of texture and tiny details like the oscillation of modulation effects or how each string rings out in combination to create a chord. Really impressive stuff.
Now, at $400, you can't expect these to compete with $1000 Audezes, for example, but without question they leap over the Sony XM4s, which is a prime competitor in this space. If you're coming from one of those headphones, you'll be impressed with the amount of detail they can deliver even without touching SoundID. If you're coming from an expensive audiophile set, you'll probably still be impressed but because what you're hearing is wireless. If at all possible, I recommend using LDAC or AptX HD to really make the most of what you're hearing.
But how about gaming? As a closed back headphone, the soundstage isn't great. It's not bad but certainly more closed in than an open-back like Drop's PC38X gaming headset. Positionality is great, imaging too, to be able to pick out the layers of sound even in intense action scenes like trying to explode a tank in Battlefield 5 as it's blasting away at you and not miss the sound of the enemy creeping around your flank. This imaging is also great for music as it allows you to pick out each individual sound source with exceptional clarity. But, for that sense of space, I would recommend picking up Dolby Atmos for even turning on Windows Sonic.
Finally, we have the optional boom microphone. Technically, you don't have to use the boom mic since there are built in microphones for taking calls you can use with PC, but I would highly recommend you do. It’s full and natural in a way that the built-in mics are not and is a clear step above most gaming headsets.
I've sat on these headphones for several months waiting on the release of the SoundID app and through a couple of personal delays. I'm glad I did. If I had reviewed these after launch, this would have been a very different article. For a listener like me, the app was transformative and has turned these into the best-sounding wireless headphones I own. If you've been on the fence, it's officially a good time to give these a closer look.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.