• Beau Steward

Drop+THX Panda Headphones

Drop, in collaboration with THX, created some headphones. Right up front I'm going to point out that they retail for $400. This is pretty important to note when I go on to talk about these headphones, which I purchased through their crowdfunding campaign at a discount. Spoiler: Don't buy them, at least right now, and not just because they're really expensive.

The headphones are wired and wireless via Bluetooth, supporting AAC, AptX, LDAC, etc. For most optimal quality, connecting through USB Type-C and using the embedded DAC is preferred. However, the enhanced protocols available via Bluetooth promises to provide an experience that beats any other Bluetooth audio device. They use an over the ear design and deliver superior noise isolation, but there is no active noise cancellation.

Initially, Drop advertised support for AptX Low Latency (AptX LL). Along with high-end drivers and hardware, the design and specs were really attractive to me, so I bought in.

The final product is pretty...okay. The sound profile is on the neutral side (as in, not tuned for heavy bass), they're fairly heavy due to the metal construction, but otherwise comfortable to wear, and, well, they mostly work.

The Bluetooth connection is unstable, and the stability varies depending on what the headphones are connected to. If you're using them as a headset, they occasionally lose connection. If using as a Bluetooth headset with a PC, they occasionally shut down entirely. I had a similar issue just recently using them with my iPhone on Discord, so it's not isolated to PC connectivity. Listening to music via Bluetooth will occasionally have audio skips. It's fine, and sounds great for a while. But then it acts as though the connection is unstable, and then recovers.

When connected via USB, it only acts as headphones. This means you can't use them as a USB wired headset. You can probably get away with this if you have a dedicated microphone, but when I really needed it, it failed me in this regard. It's not a matter of having an unusable microphone, either. It just never connects the inbuilt microphone to the computer.

I paid extra for the wired boom microphone. I was hoping this was just a microphone to add on for better input while either wireless or USB wired, but that is not the case. The microphone connects to the one and only analog audio port and comes with a break-out cable if you need to split input and output when you don't have a combo port. The design decision here was weird, though. It seems as though the assumption was the combo plug would be used on any device within a few feet, say, a laptop, and that if you need longer, it's assumed the further away device requires the break out. So if you have a desktop PC with a combo port, you're stuck. If your connected device has the ports broken out (no combo port] but it's closer to you, then you have a lot of extra cord. In any case, this extra cost add-on didn't help solve my wired USB connection issue with the lack of microphone as there seems to be some gating where I have to yell into it to activate it. Now, you might respond with "maybe it's a sensitivity issue" and that's what I thought at first. But a sensitivity issue would result in my yelling being quiet when played back. However, once the microphone activated, the level of the input was as expected. So it's noise gated really harshly for some reason.

As I mentioned, AptX LL was intended as a feature. I have a AptX LL transmitter on my TV, so I was expecting to use my Panda headphones with my TV. Drop claims Qualcomm is to blame as to why AptX LL couldn't be included, and that they, instead, pushed for support of AptX Adaptive, which includes a low latency mode. The problem, here, is availability of AptX Adaptive transmitters is so low that no one knows of any that exist. So the headphones are not usable with my TV.

The last major problem with these headphones is there's no app, no control, no customization, and no way to update the firmware to potentially fix these issues. I've seen rumor and speculation that something is coming, but I always take rumor with a grain of salt.

Now, with all of that noted, I want to reiterate that these are $400 headphones. They're past the crowdfunding phase and are selling them to the greater public, now. That means anyone can buy them, for the full retail price of $400, and get buggy unstable headphones that lack features of other cheaper headphones with good enough audio processing quality. There's missing features that were promised. There's bugs. Major bugs. I'm not using these headphones nearly as much as I expected to, and I regret paying $400 for them. They're simply not worth it.

Right now, anyway.

Perhaps they actually are working on software to work with these headphones and we'll see updates that fix these problems and enhance their capabilities. As of now, these are the Raycons of expensive headphones. Don't buy them. Go with Sony, instead. They even have active noise-cancelling to go with their high quality and stability.

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