Audio writers and enthusiasts tend to notice things that other people don’t. I, for example, am positively obsessed with the headphones that people decide to pack for cross-country flights. (Or I was before “all this mess,” I mutter while waving my arms around in a hectic motion.) Back in steerage class, you tend to see a lot of Beats. As you move toward the seats that don’t violate the Geneva Conventions, Bose and Sony start to sneak into the mix. But one thing I’ve noticed the handful of times during the past three years I’ve been bumped up to First Class (or had no choice but to upgrade when some upwardly mobile but vertically challenged jackass buys an exit-row seat he doesn’t need) is that Bose is starting to give way to Bowers & Wilkins headphones amongst more well-to-do fliers. Strap on a B&W PX Wireless or PX5 — or more recently a PX7, the subject of this review — and nobody gives you the side-eye for sitting alongside the upper crust, even if you’re wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts. The company’s headphones have, in a few short years, become lingua franca among the jet set for “I like nice things and I deserve free alcohol.”
It takes no more than a casual glance at these beauties to understand why. In a market flooded with noise-canceling headphones costing upwards of $300, the $399 B&W PX7 (available at Audio Advice, Amazon, and Crutchfield) is one of the very few to actually look and feel like it earns its price tag. With its sexy scooped arms, swanky materials, and distinctive styling, there’s no mistaking the PX7 for any other brand of headphone (or anything that would be worn back behind that tacky curtain separating the plated-meals-and-free-booze crowd from those washing down tiny bags of stale pretzels with Canada Dry in a plastic cup).
Styling remains similar enough to the PX Wireless that their shared DNA is obvious, although Bowers & Wilkins has refined the design a good bit, upsizing the earcups and padding and softening some edges. The PX7 comes in your choice of three finishes: a silver offering with light gray cloth, a space gray offering with black accents, and the new Carbon Edition, which features a carbon black finish and diamond-cut detailing intended to evoke the aesthetic of the original wired P5 from a decade ago.
At 10.93 ounces, the PX7 isn’t the lightest wireless headphone on the market, but it’s still less weighty than the 11.8-ounce PX Wireless. The PX7’s extra weight compared to its current competition (especially the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4, both of which tiptoe across the scales at 8.95 ounces) is offset by memory foam padding that’s both denser and softer than a lot of the competition. If I had to make a direct comparison, I would put the feel of the padding somewhere in the neighborhood of something like TempurPedic’s Tempur-Cloud line of mattresses and pillows (or, for those of you with older TempurPedics, something akin to the discontinued Rhapsody model). In other words, it’s a medium-firm memory foam that nonetheless responds to touch with a soft feel.
Noteworthy features of the B&W PX7 Wireless include Bluetooth 5.0 with support for aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive codecs, as well as AAC and the bog-standard SBC. If you’re not familiar with aptX Adaptive, the replacement for aptX Low Latency, it operates at variable bitrates that adapt to the quality of the audio being played, with support for both 44.1 and 48kHz sampling rates at 16 or 24 bits per sample.
The PX7 also features adaptive active noise-cancelation as well as ambient sound pass-through, and it promises up to 30 hours of playback time (with ANC activated) on a full charge. You can also jump-start the PX7 via USB-C and get five-ish hours of playback off a mere 15-minute charge.
The earcups feature four microphones for active noise-cancelation and two mics for telephony, and also a port for a wired 3.5mm audio connection. Unfortunately, the auxiliary audio connection still requires that the headphones are powered up, so you can’t use this analog connectivity as a backup in the event of a dead battery.
The PX7 also has wear-sensor technology that will pause music when you lift an earcup and resumes it when once it’s seated around your ear again. Remove the headphones completely and they go into standby mode.
The included hard-shell case holds the PX7 itself, a four-foot USB-A to USB-C charging cable, and a 3.5mm aux audio cable, but nothing else. I would have liked to see an airplane audio adapter included, but it’s hard to grumble too vociferously given that I won’t be needing one of those again anytime soon.
Setting Up the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless
Pairing and setup of the PX7 are handled via the same Bowers & Wilkins Headphones app used for the PX and PX5 Wireless. If you already have one of the above, adding the PX7 to the mix is simple and easy, and setup is relatively quick and painless given the PX7’s feature set.
The straightforward features and hard-button controls of the PX7 also mean that there’s little you actually need the app for, aside from checking battery life. And truth be told, you honestly don’t even need that because the PX7 has a useful little LED indicator light on the bottom of the right earcup. It glows white when the battery has greater than a 30-percent charge, amber when the charge is between 10 and 30 percent, and red when less than 10-percent battery life remains.
Buttons on the right earcup handle volume control and power/pairing, and the multi-function button between Volume Up and Down can — through a series of taps, double-taps, or triple-taps — be used to pause music, resume playback, skip tracks forward or back, answer or decline incoming calls, merge calls, switch between calls, or mute your current conversation.
A button on the left earcup can be used to cycle through four settings for the active noise-cancelation — High, Low, Auto, and Off — with a single tap, as well as engage or disable ambient audio pass-through with a two-second press-and-hold.
How Does the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Perform?
The PX7 arrived at my door right as I was getting locked into a serious Yacht Rock addiction. As you know, when one finds oneself in such a condition, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. Thankfully, the PX7 came with a bit of a charge, so I paired it with my phone, fired up Qobuz, and hit Play on my “Recently Played” list.
By chance, the first track that came up was Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” which proved to be very nearly the perfect song to show off the PX7’s strengths. The headphone has a super-fun sonic signature that’s perfect for such music: a bit generous with the bass (perfect for accentuating the “Doobie Bounce” for which the genre is known), with an overall voicing that’s equal parts warm and laid-back. It’s the sort of tonal balance that Eddie Izzard would describe as “relaxed and groovy.” The PX7 also has excellent dynamic punch, which really brings out both the galloping percussion and Dean Bailin’s pop/funk guitar riffing.
Skipping forward to Toto’s “Africa,” a song with which I’m much more familiar, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the above observations apply here. Steve Porcaro’s synths and Jeff Porcaro’s percussion sound absolutely lovely. But the lead vocals struck me as a bit less clear and a little less intelligible compared with the recently reviewed Sony WH-1000XM4.
This prompted more critical analysis, so I cued up the one song whose sonic signature I know better than any other: Allman Brothers Band’s “Blue Sky.” My impression after a couple of listens is that the PX7 has one of the most distinctive voicings I’ve ever heard in a wireless headphone. Its tonal balance from the upper-midrange up to the point where my hearing acuity plummets (so, let’s say from 1,000Hz to 17,000 Hz) is recessed overall (which contributes to the headphone’s laid-back vibe), but with some pretty significant spikes in spots that are difficult for me to pin down. Difficult because even the slightest repositioning of the headphone (scooching the headband forward on my noggin like half an inch, for example), results in a somewhat different sonic fingerprint, especially in the upper-midrange and treble.
Whether this bothers me or not really depends on what style of music I’m grooving to. With “Mistadobalina” by Del the Funky Homosapien, I’m totally here for it. The boom-bap beat, funky wah-wah guitar, and that iconic sample from The Monkees’ “Zilch” all sound like hot-buttered sex, and Sir DZL’s rapping has an urgency and immediacy that I just dig.
But I sort of find Queen nigh-unlistenable through the PX7, especially with its active noise-cancelation engaged. With tracks like “Radio Ga Ga,” Freddie Mercury’s voice was simultaneously recessed and shrill, both buried in the mix and overly sibilant. It’s a real shame that B&W doesn’t include EQ functionality in its Headphones app, because the PX7 would benefit from some tinkering to bring it closer to tonal neutrality.
In terms of noise-cancelation, the PX7 isn’t up to the level of the Bose 700 in its handling of low frequencies or the Sony WH-1000XM4 in its ability to cut down on the clutter of background walla-walla of voices in a cafe. But it gets the job done, providing enough background noise attenuation that you won’t have to crank your tunes too much when traveling or commuting.
As for wearability, I found the PX7 very accommodating of my eyeglasses and would rate it a very close second to the Sony WH-1000XM4 in terms of comfort, deducting points only for the fact that it gets toasty on the ears relatively quickly. But my wife spent appreciable time with both headphones and reported a strong preference for the PX7, largely due to its superior padding.
How Does the B&W PX7 Compare to the Competition?
If you’re in the market for a new wireless headphone in the $350 to $400 range, you probably have a few competitors on your list alongside the Bowers & Wilkins PX7. The Bose 700 has a comparable MSRP at $399, although its street price has recently dropped to $380. It is lighter than the B&W, but not as stylish nor as comfortable. The 700 has superior noise-cancelation and a three-band EQ, but it only gives you 20 hours of playback at most with ANC enabled.
Out of the box, the $350 Sony WH-1000XM4 (available at Audio Advice, Amazon, and Crutchfield)
isn’t quite as fun as the B&W PX7, sonically speaking. It’s closer to neutral in its tonal balance, but not as dynamic or distinctive, and frankly I didn’t enjoy it as much until I started tinkering with its five-band EQ, which can be used to dial in near sonic perfection. Its active noise-cancelation and passive noise isolation are both better than the PX7, and its fold-down design won’t take up nearly as much space in your backpack, attaché case, or carry-on. But my goodness, the XM4 is plain-looking. Even the ability to personalize it with custom skins does little to bring the Sony into the same orbit as the B&W’s build-quality, styling, and overall pizazz. It also lacks any form of aptX codec support.
The $399 PSB M4U 8 (Amazon, Crutchfield) is another wireless ANC headphone you might consider if you’re snooping around in this territory. While the PSB has only 15 hours of battery life with ANC engaged, and while it’s a bit of a chonk at 12 ounces, it’s still a comfortable, high-fidelity wireless headphone with a quite lovely and neutral tonal balance.
First impressions, they say, are everything, and my first impressions of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 couldn’t have been better. This is exactly what a luxury headphone should look and feel like, and its sound is both relaxed and swinging. Dig a little deeper, though, and its idiosyncratic response in the upper-midrange and treble keeps it from being a headphone with universal appeal. With some music, it simply doesn’t sound as good as alternatives such as the Sony WH-1000XM4, lacking both the balance and detail of that popular headphone, as well as its sonic spaciousness.
Bowers & Wilkins could address these shortcomings by simply adding EQ functionality to its Headphones app. If they do, I’ll reevaluate the PX7. Right now, however, there’s no denying that the sound of this headphone just isn’t going to be to everyone’s liking.
That said, you may love it. With an audio product whose sound is this far off the beaten path, the only way to know for sure if it’s for you is to is to audition it. I can say this with absolutely certainty, though: you’ll instantly fall in love with the PX7’s build quality, its intuitive controls, and its comfort. Add in the enhanced styling of the new Carbon Edition and this is one of the sexiest and comfiest headphones I’ve ever strapped to my cranium.
• Visit the Bowers & Wilkins website for more product information
• Bowers & Wilkins Celebrates a Decade of Headphones with Special Release at HomeTheaterReview.com
• Check out the Headphone + Accessory Reviews page to read similar reviews