My reference wireless headphone has been the Bowers & Wilkins P7, which has been a trusted source of sound for countless trips across the country, to the gym, and even for a few groovy sessions at the pool while on vacation in Maui. The new $399 PX wireless headphones are the retail replacement for the P7 and the first B&W headphones to include noise cancellation. They offer a next-gen look at where the mobile market is headed--a world loaded with devices that simply can't be connected via a cable.
In terms of design, the new PX model is a big upgrade over the P7. Most notable is the ability to adjust the headphones up and down, and there's a bit of side-to-side adjustment because of the way the ear cups are attached to the headband. This little amount of "give" allows for a better, more comfortable fit than past B&W headphones and others in the category. The PX is a sturdier headphone than some others in its price class, and perhaps the heaviest that I've tried on to date. The weight isn't too much of a concern when traveling, and the PX can be folded, which helps me stow these headphone in my briefcase without it becoming too bloated or overloaded.
The buttons on the PX headphones aren't well labeled, and the power/Bluetooth button takes some getting used to: you have to pull the button to the side with the tip of your finger or your fingernail to turn the power on. Then, to connect to Bluetooth, you need to hold the button down until you hear the guitar-like chime in your ears. Most of my listening was done from my new MacBook Pro, along with a little listening on an iPad Pro. Most of my musical selections were full-resolution AIFF rips from CD.
I started with the ballad "Matte Kudesai" from King Crimson's Discipline, which has a lot of space, liquidy guitars, and very good overall composition. The PX sounded more open than others in this price class--and a clear improvement over the P7, which I was able to A/B right at my desk. My notes made reference to a much more open sound through the PX, which is not the easiest thing to find with today's $400 wireless headphones.
On "Bombtrack" from Rage Against the Machine's namesake album, I could really hear how the PX is better than the P7: it's the bass. My biggest knock on the P7 was the boomy bass, which seems to be the sonic flavor of the season with certain "B-brand" headphones. The PX headphones are much tighter in the lower registers, and that improves the overall sonic experience.
I could hear very good detail and composition in "Turn It on Again" from the Genesis best-of album that goes by the same name. The driving bassline was taut and not bloated. The chords floated above the drums and bass, with Phil Collins's voice front and present right between your ears.
As for the noise cancellation, I found myself preferring to listen to these headphones without it; I felt I could hear more of what the PX headphones are capable of sonically when it was not engaged. Is there a time and place for noise cancellation? You bet there is. Crying babies on airplanes and whatnot. Most of my time with the Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones was spent in my office, which on a normal day isn't that loud.
• The Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones get you closer to an audiophile experience in terms of overall musical accuracy than many wireless headphones in this price class.
• When mated with a smartphone, the PX headphones somehow know when you've stopped your musical session and can pick up right where you left off.
• The form factor is greatly improved over the previous generation, making these headphones easier to travel with--which is a huge upside for me. They also come in a gold-accent option, which is not to my liking but may appeal to others.
• The PX's battery life is long, much like that of many of the best players in this space. Nobody listens to headphones for 15 to 20 hours at a time, thus you will run out of willingness before you run out of battery power.
• The quilted bag that Bowers & Wilkins includes in the package is the best in its class and very luxurious.
• The buttons on the PX headphones are plastic and a little clunky to use--specifically the power/Bluetooth button. The volume up/down buttons, although I rarely used them in lieu of the volume controls on my Macbook Pro and iPad, were more useful.
• I still long for even better, tighter (yet still deep) bass performance.
• There were a few times that I lost my Bluetooth connection between the PX and my laptop. I researched this on the B&W support blog, and there were a few others who had the same issue. I haven't experienced that problem with other headphones in this price class.
Comparison and Competition
One direct competitor to the PX headphones is the Sennheiser HD1, which I recently reviewed. The HD1 is priced the same and has an excellent overall performance package. The HD1 headphones were lighter and more comfortable on my head, specifically the ear cups. The B&W headphones are a little more slick in terms of their industrial design. Both produce a very nice sound and have a really long battery life.
Getting into the more mainstream "B-brands," there's the Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Wireless Headphones at about $349 on Amazon. These headphones don't have the industrial design of the Bowers & Wilkins headphones. I plan to do a more official review of them soon.
The Beats Studio3 might be the most physically slick headphones in the category but the ones I like listening to the least. They may be bling from a fashion standpoint, but I care more about what's going on between my ears than what other people see on top of my head. Beats headphones have the most bass-forward, hip-hop sound in the category, but their packaging and industrial design are truly first-rate.
Compared with my reference P7, the new Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones are a major improvement. They sound better. They have better ergonomics. They have killer battery life. They are easier to travel with. There's just a lot to like here. In the ultra-competitive world of $400 high-performance wireless headphones, the PX headphones should absolutely be on your short list of products to consider. They deliver a more audiophile sound, great comfort, and sexy looks--that ain't half bad.
• Visit the Bowers & Wilkins website for more information.
• Check out our Headphone + Accessory Reviews page to read similar reviews.
• Bowers & Wilkins Launches First Noise Canceling Wireless Headphones at HomeTheaterReview.com.