I Can't Get Enough of Bowers & Wilkins' Freaky Carbon Fibre Headphones

By Adam Clark Estes on at

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Bowers & Wilkins headphones iconic. The recognisable chrome and leather design always drew me in, almost by whispering, “These are the fancy ones.” For reasons I cannot comprehend, Bowers & Wilkins recently trashed that great design and replaced it with an unexpected combination of carbon fibre and fabric. The new headphones are unique and they’re amazing.

While eye-catching, the carbon fibre headband on the new Bowers & Wilkins PX wireless lineup is hardly the most impressive thing about the headphones. They sound utterly fantastic. They feature the best active noise-cancelling Bowers & Wilkins has ever built. They feel great on your head. And they’re a joy to use.

Bowers & Wilkins PX5 and PX7

What is it?: Fancy wireless headphones with active noise cancelling

Cost: £270-£350

Like: Brilliant sound quality, slick auto-pause feature

Don't like: Makes me nostalgic for Bowers & Wilkins' leather and chrome days

The new Bowers & Wilkins PX series includes the £350 over-ear PX7 and the £270 on-ear PX5. (Along with those headband-style headphones, Bowers & Wilkins also launched neckband-style earbuds, the £270 noise-cancelling PI4 and the £170 PI3. I’ll focus on the PX headphones in this review.) As mentioned above, the PX series replaces the P5 and P7 headphones which were all leather and chrome. However, for those who enjoy the heft, you can still get your hands on Bowers & Wilkins' the older PX – no number, just PX – headphones for £220 at Amazon. After spending a few weeks with the PX7 and PX5, I can’t imagine why you’d opt for the older model. Which is saying something, since I absolutely loved the PX headphones when I reviewed them a couple years ago.

The new PX7 and PX5 are some of the best headphones I’ve ever put on my head. I’m partial to the over-ear PX7 design which feels equal parts cozy and light thanks to that carbon fibre headband. Like its predecessor, the P5, the new on-ear PX5 are remarkably comfortable and avoids squeezing your head too hard or wanting to fall off. They represent a serious challenger to the noise-cancelling Beats Solo Pro, which came out earlier this year.

The on-ear Bowers & Wilkins PX5 headphones cost £270. (Photo: Adam Clark Estes/Gizmodo)

Both headphones feature a slick auto-pause feature. When you take the headphones off or lift one of the ear cups, the audio will pause and then start again when you put them back on. This is not a new feature for fancy headphones. The Jabra Elite 85h have a very similar feature, but I found that the feature was a bit more dependable on the Bowers & Wilkins headphones. Other than that, there’s nothing extraordinary about the controls on the PX series. Like Bowers & Wilkins headphones before them, there are physical buttons for volume, play/pause, and power on the right ear cup. There’s also a noise-cancelling toggle on the left ear cup. The whole situation is similar to what you’ll find on the new Sennheiser Momentum Wireless, and that’s fine.

What really sets the PX7 and PX5 apart, however, is the sound quality. It’s awesome. Punchy bass, crisp mids, bright trebles – it feels like these headphones are doing everything right. The level of fidelity is phenomenal and possibly explained by support for Qualcomm’s aptX HD Bluetooth, a codec that allows for the transmission of 24-bit high-res audio. The new PX and PI series are also the first headphones on the market to support aptX Adaptive, which combines aptX HD and aptX low-latency for better synchronicity when watching movies or playing games. In other words, Bowers & Wilkins is offering a best-in-class Bluetooth experience with technology that other companies aren’t yet using.

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

It really shows. I found myself listening to music more often, because it sounded so good with the PX7. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrissette is a better song than I remember it being through the Bowers & Wilkins drivers. The bass line on “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk is super well defined and stands out against Nile Rodgers’ guitar riff. Meanwhile, “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande sounds more vibrant all around. It’s almost as if these songs become better versions of them through the PX series headphones.

I’m equally impressed by the active noise cancelling in the new Bowers & Wilkins lineup. It’s obvious that the company’s engineers worked hard on this feature because it’s dramatically improved over the noise cancelling in the older PX headphones. Whereas the noise cancelling in those basically sucked, the new PX headphones offer robust noise cancelling that I’m used to seeing on headsets made by Sony and Bose. Bowers & Wilkins’ headphones still aren’t quite as good as those market leaders in noise-cancelling, but they’re close.

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

My main worry with the PX7 and PX5 has little to do with sound quality. It should be pretty clear by now that these things sound great. The noise-cancelling is impressive. I’m just not sure the design will hold up over time as well as the old leather and chrome Bowers & Wilkins headphones. The old P7 headphones actually looked better as they got older, in my opinion. Now that Bowers & Wilkins has opted for fabric and carbon fibre, I wonder if they’ll age as gracefully. I also wish the new PX headphones folded like the old ones. They don’t fold at all.

There’s that gripe and then there’s the money gripe. At £270 for the on-ear PX5 and £370 for the over-ear PX7, these are expensive headphones. Whereas Bowers & Wilkins used to offer more value at a lower price, the PX7 are coming in at the same price point as the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless. That said, I’d argue that the top-of-the-line Bowers & Wilkins headphones sound every bit as good as the Momentums. I might even like the bass response better.

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

So here’s my crazy wish. I wish Bowers & Wilkins would make a version these new headphones that looked like the old headphones. Keep the features and the sound quality – just indulge my nostalgia. After all, carbon fibre is futuristic and all that. Leather and chrome will always be classic.

README

  • They sound fantastic.
  • The noise-cancelling is superb.
  • The design is attractive.
  • I’m worried they won’t age as gracefully as the previous generation.

Featured image: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)