The Arc 5 ES-LV9N electric shaver is so new that it has not yet been released on the American market. To get our hands on the new Arc 5 we had to send a staff member down to Australia to buy a few units just so we could be the first in America to review it.
Recommending such an expensive shaver is not something we do lightly, but after spending the last three months testing and learning everything there is to know about the Arc 5 we are ready to give our opinion.
Spoiler: It’s fantastic.
When it comes to describing the difference between their models, Panasonic is the worst on the market. Since it’s creation, the Panasonic Arc 5 has seen three revisions since it was first released back in 2009.
To add to the confusion, at the time of writing this, Panasonic still sells all three versions, even though the first two are outdated and priced similarly to the newest model.
The Current line up of Arc 5 shavers is as follows:
The top of the line model packed with an automated cleaning and charging station. This is the model featured in this review. The international model number for this product is the ES-LV9A
Dark blue in color and missing the Automatic cleaning station. Otherwise; it is identical to the top of the line mode. Internationally this model varies in color.
The following are older Arc 5 models:
While we loved the previous models of Arc 5, be aware that if you do choose to purchase one you will be paying for an outdated design.
Panasonic Arc 5
Panasonic Arc 5 Unboxing
If you were to tear open you’re the box of your Brand new Arc 5 shaver; this is what would be waiting for you inside:
Let’s break it down:
- Panasonic Arc 5 shaver
- Foil shaving head cover
- Travel case
- Cleaning station
- Cleaning detergent
- Cleaning brush
- Lubricating oil
- Charging cord
Note: International model shown. Your Arc 5 may not come with oil or a cleaning brush depending on your geographic location.
You will also find a warranty card and instruction manual inside the box as well. we would like to point out that the Panasonic Arc 5 instruction manual is not only detailed but very well set out. Something that Braun simply does not get the concept of.
Examining the Panasonic Arc 5 Electric shaver
The first thought we had upon looking at the new ES-LV9N model was:
Wow, it’s almost as if Panasonic read our review of our the older model and went through our criticisms one by one and corrected them.
Below you can see the older model and new model of the Arc 5 side by side:
The awful polished chrome plastic that showed fingerprints and smudges from the first time you pick it up? Gone.
The dedicated travel lock switch? Gone.
The lack of a comfortable place to rest your thumb? Fixed.
It’s no secret that we loved the older model Arc 5 and we are pleased to see that few complaints we had appear to have been fixed on the newer model. The updated Arc 5 is off to a great start!
And then there are the looks. we will come straight out and say it; the Arc 5 ES-LV9N is the best looking electric shaver currently available.
It looks and feels premium. This is largely thanks to the brushed metal body, no high-gloss black or chrome plastic here. Interestingly the Arc 5 is the only high-end shaver to largely feature metal. Both Braun and Philips decided to go the plastic route which now feels cheap in comparison.
Unlike the Previous arc 5 model and the current Braun Series 9, the new Arc 5 is incredibly resistant to finger prints, watermarks and other smudges that come about with day to day use.
There is only one button to be found at the front of the Arc 5:
This is the power button. You can use this button to achieve one of three different functions:
1. On/Off – Press the button once to turn the Arc 5 on. Press it a second time to turn it off.
2. Sonic Cleaning Mode – With the shaver off press and hold the button for two seconds to activate the sonic cleaning mode. I will cover this cleaning mode in detail further down the review.
3. Travel lock – With the shaver on, press and hold the button for two seconds to activate travel lock.
With travel lock activated you will be unable to turn the Arc 5 on by pressing the button. This is to prevent the shaver from turning on at the bottom of your bag while you are traveling.
Just below the power button you will find the display screen:
The screen is the method in which the Arc 5 “communicates” with you. It does so by displaying various LED indicators. Everything you need to know about your shaver can be seen on this screen including alerting you that travel lock is activated, your remaining battery and the time you have spent shaving.
Just like the metal surrounding the plastic covering the screen is resistant to fingerprints and smudges.
If you flip the shaver over you will discover that the rear mostly covered in black rubber:
This is perhaps the best rubber grip we have come across on an electric shaver. Whether your hands are wet, dry or covered in shaving foam; the ribbed rubber grip allows you to easily grasp your shaver.
Despite the rubber grip looking slightly ugly, Panasonic has done a great job of incorporating it into the handle. Juxtaposed next to the brushed metal face of the shaver; the rubber actually enhances the overall design.
Since the rubber grip will spend most of it’s time covered by your hand or facing away from you, it’s aesthetics won’t bother you.
One thing we did notice is that the rubber grip seemed to trap dust in the ribs. However; if you are using the shaver at least once a week, you will be washing your shaver often enough that dust won’t get a chance to build up.
Towards the bottom of the shaver you find some text printed in gold lettering.
Nothing overly important to see here, just some basic specifications such asthe model number and the country of manufacture.
Now for those of you who are unaware, Panasonic is a Japanese company. With the new Arc 5; Panasonic continues a tradition of manufacturing the Arc 5 on their home turf.
Just below the specifications you will find the charging socket. When your Arc 5’s battery runs flat you can plug the charger in here.
But for those of you who purchase the ES-LV9N model, there is another way you can charge your Arc 5. Located in the middle of the rear you will find what look to be three small metal balls:
These are the charging studs. When the studs line up with the contacts on the cleaning station the shaver will begin to charge wirelessly. Much simpler than plugging and unplugging the charging cord from the handle each time you wish to use your shaver.
Panasonic Arc 5 Shaving Head
Now it’s time to take a closer look at the star of the Arc 5, the shaving unit:
The Panasonic Arc 5 has always been known as the shaver with the largest head. While the bulky head can prove to be daunting at first, once you perfect your shaving technique you will be virtually oblivious to the size.
So in a world where manufacturers continually try to their make products smaller and more streamlined, why has Panasonic decided to make the Arc 5 shaver head the biggest on the market?
The answer is simple – to fit in all the cutting elements:
The Arc 5 gets it’s name from the 5 slightly arched cutting elements that adorn the shaver head. That’s more than any other electric shaver on the market.
Working your way out from the middle, the cutting elements are as follows:
Quick-Comb Blade – The middle cutting element guides and cuts longer whiskers, trimming them in preparation for the outer foils to do their work.
Lift-Tech Foils x 2 – The next outer two foils have reverse tapered edges. These edges lift and cut annoying hairs that lay flat against your skin.
Finishing Foil x 2 – The outermost foils cut stubble down to the skin level, leaving you with a clean shave.
If you can picture it in your head; as you move the Arc 5 shaver back and forth over your skin, all the cutting elements work together to cut the different types of hair commonly found in the male beard.
Each individual cutting element can pivot back and forth and tilt from side to side.
The flexibility of the cutting head will ensure the foils remain in contact with your skin even as you pass over contoured areas of your face; such as your jawline.
Those of you who have used the older models of Arc 5 will notice that the cutting element configuration remains virtually unchanged.
There is good reason for this. The previous models of Arc 5 still offers an amazing shave. Even the recently released Braun series 9 fails to shave as close. But the old shaving head was just a bit too aggressive. Shaving with the Arc 5 would often leave red and ravaged skin, particularly if you applied too much pressure.
I am happy to report that Panasonic has attempted to fix this problem. You see those small gold bars that run along the top and bottom cutting elements? Those are comfort rollers and their sole job is to make your shave more comfortable.
The rollers spin as they come into contact with your skin, allowing the shaver head to glide smoothly across your skin. But they serve a second purpose. If you press too hard, your skin can no longer squeeze in the gaps between the cutting elements, which would leave your skin red raw. This painful pit is now blocked off by the comfort rollers.
Panasonic claims that the foils are hypoallergenic. While this is all well and good, we expect that irritation is generally caused by excessive passes with the shaver rather than the metal used in the foil.
The workmanship found on the shaver head is outstanding, from the precisely machined foil guards to the flexibility of the cutting elements. The shaving head is an example of engineering done right.
On either side of the shaving unit you will find two small switches. Pressing the switches at the same time, with your forefinger and thumb, will cause the foil guard half of the unit (the shaving head) to pop right off…
…Revealing two razor blades attached to the handle.
Now if you are keeping count at home then you may be asking yourself:
But doesn’t this electric shaver have 5 blades?
You would be 100% correct. So where are the other three blades hiding?
Flipping over the shaving head reveals just that:
While it is difficult to see in the above picture, the middle and outer blades are tucked away inside the shaving head.
There are two occasions you are going to need to remove the shaving head from the body of the Arc 5.
1. Manual Cleaning
If cleaning the Arc 5 under running water you will need to remove the shaving head to clean away hair clippings hiding behind.
2. Replacing dull blades
With continued use the blades of your Arc 5 will eventually lose their sharpness. This is true of all electric shavers. In order to get your shaver cutting good as new you are going to have to replace the worn parts.
Because of the multi-part design, you are going to need to replace both the foil cutter block and the two razor blades that attach to the handle:
An indicator will appear on the Arc 5’s display panel once a year (if you shave every day) to remind you to replace the razor blades. Panasonic recommends you change the foil cutter block once a year and the inner blades once every two years. The two parts can be purchased separately or together in a single kit.
If you use your Arc 5 to shave daily then replacing the razor blades yearly will ensure your shaver continues to cut close and smooth. Those of you who shave less frequently or don’t have coarse hair will see the razor blades last much longer before noticeable wear sets in.
At the time of writing this, replacement parts are not available for the New models of Arc 5 (ES-LV9N, ES-LV9A and ES-LV6N).
While the shaver is only new and there should not yet be a need for replacement parts we all saw the drama that unfolded when Braun had their Series 9 replacement foil shortage. Braun could not supply replacement foils leaving those who needed them with an unusable shaver.
Fortunately this is not the case with the Arc 5. If you are really in a bind you will be able to use the replacement parts for the older model Arc 5 (ES-LV95). The key difference is that the older foil cutter block does not come with the new comfort rollers. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it IS a solution so that you can continue to shave with your Panasonic Arc 5.
Panasonic has informed us that Arc 5 replacement parts will be available in the coming months.
To keep the shaving head gliding comfortably across your face, Panasonic has incorporated what it calls it’s 3D Multi-Flex technology into the shaving unit.
To put it simply, the whole shaving unit can pivot and flex back and forth, side to side and up and down. Three directions of movement.
The following diagram will help you understand how the shaving head can flex:
Now the key thing to remember is that the Arc 5 can perform all these movements at once. The range of movement is incredibly fluid and leaves the Braun and Philips Norelco’s flexible shaver heads in the dust.
The flexibility helps ensure the shaving head remains in comfortable contact with your skin even when press down that bit too hard.
Hidden inside the shaving unit is the shaving sensor.
The shave sensor detects the thickness of you’re the hairs you are shaving and adjusts the speed of the motor accordingly.
This means that if you are shaving over areas of your face with lighter hair growth, such as your cheeks, the shave will be less aggressive which in turn helps reduce irritation.
Unlike previous models of Arc 5, you are unable to turn the shave sensor off. Since we found that disabling the shave sensor lead to no noticeable improvement in the shave so it makes sense that this option has been removed from the new model.
On the rear of the shaving unit you will find a sliding toggle switch with three settings:
Free – The default position. With the switch in the free mode, the shaving head is free to pivot and flex in any position as described above.
Lock – Locks the shaving head so that it cannot pivot up and down or back and forth. Use when shaving precise areas like under your nose or near your sideburns.
mm – Sliding the switch all the way up will release the pop-up trimmer. The icon is supposed to look like the comb of the trimmer.
The detail trimmer is a nice little add on that allows you to tidy up your facial hair. Whether you are reshaping your sideburns that have grown bushy or giving your mustache a sharp edge; the built in trimmer prevents you from having to use both the shaver and a separate trimmer in one grooming session.
We were impressed at just how effective the pop up trimmer was. It aggressively buzzed away at any longer hair that came close.
There was some concern we would lose sight of the trimmer behind the bulky shaver head. To an extent this is true, but it was still easier to see than the trimmer on the Series 9. By angling the shaving head in front of a mirror you will be able to clearly see the area you are detailing for a precise trim.
But don’t throw away your full sized beard trimmer just yet. Due to the pop-up trimmers small size, it is unsuitable for trimming whole patches of body hair. Attempting to trim your beard to length with the trimmer will be a time consuming and uncomfortable experience.
But even if you could use the pop-up trimmer on your entire beard, you probably wouldn’t want to. The downside to trimmers built directly into the shaver is that they cannot be replaced.
Fortunately if you just use the trimmer for light detailing then with proper care, the blades should remain sharp for the life of the Arc 5.
Charging the Panasonic Arc 5
Before you use your brand new Panasonic Arc 5 for the first time, you are going to have to charge the battery.
There are two ways that you can achieve this:
- Plugging the charger adapter into the handle of the Arc 5
- Placing your Arc 5 into the cleaning station.
Since I will focus on the cleaning station further down the review, this section will cover the charging with the adapter.
Note: Those of you who purchase the ES-LV6N model without the cleaning station will only have this option available to charge your Arc 5.
Panasonic has made the new charging adapter about a third longer than the previous model. This does mean that those of you who have your power outlets hiding behind bathroom cabinets or other furniture may not have the space to fit the adapter into the outlet.
Note: This is the Australian charger. Panasonic may reduce the size for the American release.
As you would expect from a high-end shaver, the charger is multi-voltage (100-240v). This means you can charge your shaver in America, Australia and everywhere in between. The only thing you need is one of those travel adapters you can pick up for cheap on eBay.
Despite being an Australian model (they use 230V downunder), the Arc 5 charged perfectly on 120V. For those of you who travel internationally and want to bring your electric shaver with you, a multi-voltage charger is a must.
The cable on the adapter is 6 foot in length, and will be more than long enough to stretch from your bathroom outlet to your countertop
The shaver will begin to charge the moment you plug the cord in:
There is no audible sound to indicate that the shaver has begun to charge. Instead a red plug indicator will shine on the display panel to confirm the charging process had begun.
The Lithium ion battery takes 1 hour to charge and will reward you with 45 minutes of shaving time. If you are a daily shaver and shave for 3 minutes at a time you will see the battery last two weeks off a single charge.
If the battery does die on you then you will need to charge the battery to 10% in order to get a full 3 minute shave. Fortunately this only takes about 5 minutes.
As is common on waterproof electric shavers, you will be unable to use the shaver with the charging cord plugged in.
Once your Arc 5 has finished charging, the display screen will turn off. Now you can start shaving!
Testing the Panasonic Arc 5
Now for the part of the review were we take the Panasonic Arc 5 for a test drive.
We are fully aware that shaving is a very personal experience, so we brought in staff, friends and family to help test out the Panasonic Arc 5. The following contains summaries from the testers experience with the shaver.
The whole experience starts when you pick up the Panasonic Arc 5.
As you would expect given the bulky head the shaver does feel slightly top heavy.
Panasonic has slightly reduced the thickness of the handle to keep the unit looking streamlined. But while the previous model looked like it had a comparatively bloated belly, we found it was easier to grip in larger hands.
Despite all this, the Arc 5 is incredibly comfortable to hold. The rubber grip on the rear is second to none. Even the most clumsy of hands coated in a lather of shaving foam were able to keep a grip on the Arc 5 with little difficulty.
The addition of a thumb rest is very welcome. With your thumb resting here you will ensure your hand is in the correct position to comfortably steer the electric shaver over your skin.
In case the symmetrical design did not give it away, the Arc 5 is just as comfortable to hold in your left hand as it is your right.
Turning on the shaver is perhaps a little too easy. The relatively minor pressure required to activate the switch can see you pressing it by mistake if you do not lean your thumb on the thumb rest.
With the shaver on you are greeted with a high pitch hum. If you have ever owned an electric shaver before then the sound will be familiar. The Arc 5 is loud enough to wake those sleeping nearby. So if you are shaving in the master bathroom may want to wait until your partner awakes.
How well does it shave?
Amazingly. The Arc 5 truly lives up to it’s price tag and makes other high end shavers look like child toys.
We have always referred to the Arc 5 electric shaver as being aggressive. Aggressive to the point where it was not a suitable choice for those with sensitive skin. The comfort rollers change everything.
Don’t get us wrong, the Arc 5 still packs a punch and until you learn the proper shaving technique it is likely that you will leave yourself with red blotchy skin on more than one occasion.
But once you pass the break in period the Arc 5 really starts to shine.
The Shaver head offers a near friction free shave. With a light touch the Arc 5 foils glide across the skin, the 5 cutting elements working together to cut your hair back to the skin.
In fact, when we looked for the best electric shaver we found that the Arc 5 shaved closer than any other electric shaver on the American market. Yep, even when compared against the Braun Series 9, shaving with the Arc 5 saw that dreaded 5 o’clock shadow take longer to surface.
The shaver does all the work for you. The 3D flex head performs it’s job to keep the foils in contact with your skin while going over your jawline, even with poor technique.
The curvature of the blades even helped on that particularly troublesome area just under your chin. It was here that the Arc 5 was able to cut a larger number of hairs closer to the skin than shavers with straight foils.
It is worth mentioning that pressing down too hard will cause a warm sensation from the center foils. Those of you that are heavy handed will need to learn to lay off the pressure. Pressing down harder with the Arc 5 does not make it work better.
But this isn’t an advertisement. No electric shaver is perfect and the Arc 5; while close to it, is no exception.
While the 5 cutting elements work together to provide you with the closest shave you will experience from an electric shaver, the bulky head does take some getting used to.
Those of you who wish to remain completely clean shaven will have little problem with it. But those of you who have facial hair; a goatee or mustache, will have a little more difficulty.
You see, it is quite difficult to shave close to these areas with the large head. Even locking the head into position so that it does not move as much adds little precision. While shaving with facial hair can be done, it will take longer than using an electric shaver with a smaller sized shaving head.
The linear motor allows the shaver head to perform over 14,000 cuts per minute. The best part about linear motors is that they maintain their performance even as the battery begins to run low.
Unlike the Braun Series 9 which claims to be a Wet/Dry shaver yet cannot be used with shaving foam, the Arc 5 is a Wet/Dry shaver in every sense of the word.
Those of you who wish to experience a fierce shave with maximum comfort will be pleased to know the Arc 5 performs just as well cutting through hairs coated a thick lather of shaving foam.
Like all electric shavers, the Arc 5 smears shaving cream rather than removing it from your face with each swipe. This can make it difficult to keep track of the areas that need still need to be shaved or require a second pass.
But unlike other electric shavers which often see their performance worsen with shaving foam, the Arc 5 powers through it.
One thing worth mentioning is that the shave sensor will always work at maximum power when shaving through a lather of foam. The sensor seems to think the foam is thick beard hair and causes the shaver to work harder to cut through it. This is in no way a bad thing and may be the reason for the stellar wet shave.
Like most electric shavers the Arc 5 worked best on shorter stubble. Two days growth at most. Those of you with longer beard hairs will need to trim them to a shorter length to get the best experience from the Arc 5.
There was only one type of beard that the Arc 5 struggled to cut. Inward curling wiry beard hairs, the kind that often make up the beards of black males as well as those of middle eastern decent. While the shave could be considered as “good enough”, the Braun series of shavers performed much better. But for everyone else, the Arc 5 may be the best electric shave you will experience.
Cleaning the Panasonic Arc 5
If you want your Arc 5 to give you the best possible shave each and every time then you are going to have to clean it regularly.
Fortunately, cleaning the shaver is a rather simple task and can be done in one of two different ways:
Automatically – Place the Arc 5 in the cleaning unit and have your shaver rinsed, cleaned and dried at the touch of a button.
Manually – Either brush the hairs out with the included cleaning brush or thoroughly rinse the shaver head under running water
Those of you who have chosen the Arc 5 without the cleaning dock (ES-LV6N) will have no other choice but to clean your shaver manually.
Let’s take a closer look at the automatic method first, using the cleaning station.
Despite a slightly different shaped interior to fit the new shaving head design, the cleaning system remains unchanged from the previous model.
While it isn’t ugly, the unit isn’t exactly pretty either. The only thing you can take comfort in is that this is the smallest cleaning station on the market; it wont hog all the space on your bathroom countertop
The cleaning station is powered by the same charger that plugs directly into the Arc 5 handle. This means that if you want to take your shaver with you on your travels you will need to unplug the cleaning station. Those of you who travel frequently may wish to invest in a second charger.
The Arc 5 will begin to charge the moment you place it in the cleaning station:
Remember the three metal studs we looked at on the rear of the shaver handle earlier in the review?
Well these three studs line up perfectly with three gold colored pieces of metal on the charging dock.
When the two touch, it’s charging time.
But before you can clean your shaver, you are going to have to fill the cleaning dock with detergent.
Located on the left hand side of the dock is a big square button. Pressing this button will cause the base of the cleaning station to pop up, revealing a hidden compartment:
If you look closer you will see that the compartment has a tub inside it. This is the tub that holds the cleaning detergent.
Unlike Philips Norelco or Braun; Panasonic does not use detergent cassettes. Instead the Panasonic cleaning detergent comes in a Sachet and you must mix it yourself.
If you went above your budget and dropped more cash than you should have on this electric shaver then you will appreciate that sachets are much cheaper to purchase than the plastic cassettes that other brands of cleaning systems use.
But if money is no issue for you then you will find that the DIY approach that Panasonic has taken detracts from the whole “automatic” and hassle free cleaning experience that a cleaning dock is supposed to offer.
Then there is the other annoyance that despite the sachets being cheap, Panasonic has only included a single refill in the box. If you shave every day then the cleaning detergent will last 30 days before it is so full of hair clippings and other gunk that it will have to be replaced. Shave less? The detergent will last much longer.
The cleaning station is designed to be set up and left in a single position. Once the cleaning detergent is loaded in the tub, moving or tilting the cleaning station will result in the detergent spilling.
One button is all it takes to control the cleaning system:
With your shaver in the dock you have three options:
1. Charge – Leave your shaver in the dock to charge automatically
2. Clean/Dry – Cleans the shaving head then dries it with the built in fan
3. Dry – Skips the cleaning and dries the shaver with the built in fan.
A full clean and dry can take up to 3 hours to complete. During this time the fan will loudly whirr.
How annoying you find the fan will entirely depend on your tolerance for repetitive noise. In terms of loudness it is quiet enough to sleep through, but only just. Lighter sleepers may find themselves waking during the drying process.
Manually cleaning the Arc 5
As a general rule if an electric shaver has the option of a cleaning station then that is the easiest way to clean it. Manually cleaning Philips Norelco shavers is a huge chore. And don’t get us started on the Braun Series 7.
The Arc 5 on the other hand excels at manual cleaning. And that is largely thanks to the built in sonic cleaning mode.
To activate sonic cleaning, simply hold your finger on the power button for two seconds. The shaver will turn on and then, after another second, you will hear the sound of the motor change to a higher pitch. The Arc 5 has now activated it’s “sonic vibration mode”.
With this mode active the blades of the razor vibrate rapidly back and forth incredibly quickly, helping remove any hair clippings still clinging to the shaver.
To manually clean your shaver apply soap to the head of the shaver and turn on the vibrating mode. Hold the shaver under running water angling it as needed. After 20 seconds the shaver will turn off.
Now you remove the foil guard repeat the above step:
Once the shaver turns off the second time you will have removed all the hairs. A manual clean in under a minute. That’s impressive. More effort may be required if you have waited some time after your shave before cleaning.
The clean is so good that purchasing the ES-LV6N, the model without the cleaning station, is an entirely viable option. The Arc 5 is without a doubt the easiest electric shaver to manually clean on the market.
Arc 5 Storage
One particular area that does let down the Arc 5 is the carry case. Unlike other shaver brands come with a hard travel case, the case of the Arc 5 is soft. It is the same case that can be found on the Panasonic Arc 3.
So to protect the shaver heads from damage, Panasonic includes a separate protective cover:
We find that this method of storage is inferior and the protective cover is just one more plastic object that can be lost.
While the bag and protective cover combo do their job, keeping the foil safe from harm, the whole system is more complicated than it needs to be and we are hopeful the day will come when Panasonic chooses to include a hard travel case in the box.
Let’s be realistic. There is no such thing as a perfect electric shaver. What is right for you will entirely depend on your hair growth, density and skin sensitivity. But the Arc 5 is as good as it gets and when compared to other high end shavers it leaves them in the dust.