I admit to having a slight bias toward Panasonic shavers. It used to be Braun but the value-to-price ratio of Panasonic models have tilted that preference in recent years. However, the price of the ES-LV81-K is pretty high it would have to offer extraordinary value to benefit from that bias.
Does it? Can any electric shaver be worth this much?
5-Blade Cutting System
The Panasonic ES-LV81-K starts to earn its high price tag right out of the box. It’s stylish. Maybe not quite the high-tech looking marvel of, say, the Philips SensoTouch 3D. That model looks like something out of a science fiction movie. But this one is good looking nonetheless.
But if you’re going to plop down hundreds for a shaver you want more than style, naturally. The Arc5 starts that bidding process by offering a very high speed motor – 14,000 rpm. That doesn’t guarantee a close shave, of course, but it’s a good start.
For all that speed the shaver is surprisingly quiet and relatively low vibration. It’s not as quiet as the Norelco rotary system but quite a bit more than the latest Braun models. That’s good for those, like me, who are sensitive to such things.
Buzzing fast is useless by itself but this Panasonic takes advantage of it with a floating 5-blade system. They might not follow your personal contours in quite the same way as, say, the Norelco rotary design but the 5 independently floating blades do a very good job thanks to the Multi-Flex Pivoting Head.
Real-world use shows the five blades are good quality, too. Fortunately, there’s more at work here than just numbers. They flex well and the ultra-thin foil is cleverly configured to raise hair up to get whacked off cleanly, close to the skin, without razor burn.
Equally nice, the pop-up trimmer. The slide switch is a real Goldilocks design – not too firm not too easy to move – and the trimmer is right out there, away from the head.
Like most contemporary electric shavers the holder does double duty: cleaner and charger.
As a charger it’s one of the better designs around. It will recharge your ES-LV81-K from dead zero to full in about 45 minutes. Most others take an hour and this one is listed at that too but it outperforms the spec. Not a major issue those 15 minutes, but a sign of quality parts.
Nicer still, you get about 15 shaves per charge. It can do that in part because of the larger area of the head. The downside of that larger head, though, is that it can be a little tougher to get under the nose.
Of course, the exact number of shaves depends on how long you take and how tough is your beard. But on average, that’s accurate. Again, the exact number isn’t important but it’s another sign of good components, in this case a robust battery.
That battery does make this unit a little on the heavy side: 0.4 lbs. That’s hefty but far from horrible. Personally, I prefer it that way. A shaver that’s too light gives me too little assistance in shaving. The size is a bit larger than average, too: 6.3″ x 2.8″ x 2.0″. That’s one moderately long electric but I have long fingers so again it works for me. And, it gives the case room for that battery.
As you would expect from Panasonic, the charger is uber-easy to use. Just pop the shaver in upside down and watch the pretty blue lights on the 10-Stage LCD display.
One could wish that display system were a little better thought out in one respect, though. It shows the Battery/Shaving time for only a few seconds before disappearing. On the upside, this new model does not continue to flash the light once the charging is complete. Personally, I hated that on the older ES-LA93-K.
The cleaning system is also easy to use. On the negative side, it can add substantially to your cost of ownership. On the upside, since the solution isn’t alcohol based, it won’t evaporate rapidly like the Braun cartridge. But, like those other guys, they charge you a chunk for replacements.
The replacement cleaning cartridges (WES035P) run about $10 (as of this writing). If you use a cartridge every month that adds up. However, the solution is mixed with water so it goes a little farther than it might at first appear.
Dry cleaning the shaver can help you cut down on that expense, possibly to the point of needing a new kit only once a year. At a certain point the effort becomes more trouble than it’s worth. That’s just the dilemma with any automated cleaning system, Panasonic’s included.
You can significantly overcome that dilemma by rinsing the blades under water, something you can do with complete safety thanks to the ES-LV81-K’s good design. It will be more effective if you partly disassemble the shaver, something easy to do thanks also to that design.
By the way, like most electric shavers that can be used wet, you’ll generally get a closer-to-manual shave that way. The ES-LV81-K makes that even more true. It really shines with gel/foam in terms of giving a close shave.
If you elect to use the solution-based cleaning system – and you should from time to time – you’re bound to be pleased with the results. It’s very quick and effective. The smell is even very pleasant. The cleaning cycle takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. The drying cycle from 80 to 170 minutes depending on the ambient temperature of the self-cleaning recharger. And when the course is complete the shaver is dry and immediately ready for use again.
The Panasonic ES-LV81-K 5-blade electric shaver is unquestionably one of the best models around. The shave is quick, quiet, and close without irritation. On the other hand, the price tag reflects fully that quality. This is no steal so look for a deal.
If you prefer hand cleaning with standard soap and water over Panasonic’s cleaning system you can even save more when going for the Panasonic ES-LV61-A. It’s the same 5-blade shaver model but it comes without the automatic cleaning and charging system.