In the past few months I've been on a minor mission to check out some budget headphones that cost less than $10. I started with Pansonic's sub-$10 ErgoFit RP-HJE120 earphones, and came away pleasantly surprised by their performance and fit. But what about something really cheap, like Panasonic's simple on-ear model, the RP-HT21, which I bought for $4.87 on Amazon, tax and shipping included thanks to my Prime membership? Could they be any good?
Well, in the world of superbudget headphones, good is a relative word. For starters, this model isn't going to win any design awards. It's not totally devoid of aesthetic flare, but it's pretty generic-looking, and out of the box, my first thought was that it was something a flight attendant would hand me on a plane. OK, maybe it's a step up from that, but if it is, it's not a big step up.
Indeed, the RP-HT21 is almost as basic as an on-ear model gets. But it is lightweight, comfortable enough, and has a seemingly durable L-shaped plug (alas, that plug may be problem for those with thicker "tough" cases on their phones). They don't fold up, there's no built-in microphone for making cell phone calls, or anything in the way of extra features. (If you can afford to splurge a little, Panasonic also makes the RP-HT46, which has a folding design and supposedly offers a bit more bass for around $13 online).
As for the sound, it's actually pretty decent, and will most likely exceed your expectations. The RP-HT21s have a reasonable amount of clarity, play loud with mobile devices, and output ample bass. No, the sound isn't all that refined, and no the bass isn't terribly tight, but I've heard plenty of $20 to $25 headphones that sound about the same. These guys also sound as good as many entry-level Bluetooth headphones that cost around $50. But that isn't saying much.