Wireless headphones might be convenient, but they generally mean taking a hit in sound quality. Perhaps that’s why the P7 Wireless is only the second pair of wireless headphones Bowers & Wilkins has produced – but they come at a critical time.
With Apple famously dumping the 3.5mm headphone socket in its latest iPhones, there’s more imperative than ever for manufacturers to cut the cord, and Bowers & Wilkins has timed the release of this pair perfectly.
How good are the new headphones? Here we review the P7 Wireless as part of our gift guide series.
Design and features
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the design and look of the P7 Wireless. They’re over-the-ear headphones that follow the classic Bowers & Wilkins template, complete with squarish earcups, oval brushed-finished earcup backs, curved spindly steel-hinge assembly and a generously upholstered leather headband.
It’s a great design that Bowers & Wilkins clearly didn’t feel the need to change, and we’re glad it didn’t, because this is a classic that will stand the test of time. Splash out on these, and you certainly won’t feel undersold. They look and feel expensive in hand, and once you’ve got them clamped to your ears, you’ll appreciate the level of comfort. It’s top notch.
Although initially the fit might feel a little a little tight, memory foam in the earcups means that, over time, the P7 Wireless moulds nicely to the shape of your head, effectively relieving the pressure. The positive flipside to the tight fit is that we never felt the headphones were going to fall off, and there’s also a decent amount of passive noise isolation. The P7 Wireless will never compete with Bose QuietComfort 35 for cutting out the clang and clatter of daily life, but it’s better than nothing.
Once you’ve finished listening, the P7 Wireless can be folded away and stowed in the supplied pouch, and in a final neat touch, the left-hand earcup can be popped off and a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm cable attached. Perfect for those times when you run out of juice (the battery is rated at 17 hours of playback, so this shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence) but just have to keep listening.
There are some niggles, but they’re small ones. The three buttons on the rear of the right earcup – used to play, pause and skip tracks – feel light and insubstantial and not up to the level of design of the rest of the package. I’d like the folding design to be more flexible: the cups don’t fold flat, so they’re not the most comfortable to wear around your neck when you’re not listening.
It’s also slightly irritating that the headphones only connect automatically to the first device in its list of paired sources. If you paired first with your laptop, it won’t then connect automatically with your phone, even if you’re out of range of the laptop. You’ll have to reset and start again if you want to change device priority.
Features and sound quality
In terms of features, however, the Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless covers all your Bluetooth headphone needs. There’s support for all of the prevalent Bluetooth codecs, including SBC, aptX and Apple’s AAC. Interestingly, the headphones defaulted to SBC when we connected them to a 13in MacBook Pro, but we was able to force aptX connection using the Bluetooth Explorer app.
Whichever codec your headphones connect via, though, the P7 Wireless sound majestic. The headphones’ 40mm full-range drivers deliver authoritative bass, an expansive mid-range and a detailed top end that simply isn’t present on other Bluetooth headphones we’ve listened to.
Some might say the bass on the P7’s is over the top, but we felt it was just about perfect. Even the pounding, ear-throbbing bass on Trentemøller’s Moan is controlled beautifully and delivered with expert levels of grip and poise. But it’s not just the low end the P7 Wireless is great at. It can’t compete with similarly priced wired headphones for sheer detail reproduction and mid-range openness, but it does a darned fine job.
The vocals on Melody Gardot’s My One And Only Thrill are delivered with a lightness and warmth that most other Bluetooth headphones we’ve listened to can’t get anywhere near. Even the ‘difficult-to-listen-to’ tracks we put on my test track list, just to see if a pair of headphones can take the edge off, sounded easy on the ear. Six by Seven’s strident (yet beautifully recorded) album The Closer You Get is great to listen to even for longer than one track, and that’s not an achievement every headphone can attest to.
Being closed-back headphones, the P7 Wireless can’t match the airy detail and crystal clarity of the very best open-back headphones, but we’ll forgive them that since they’re so much more practical.
If you love your music – and if you’re reading this then you probably do – then the Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless is well worthy of your consideration. They’re a touch heavy, but supremely comfortable, the memory-foam cups create a good seal around your ears and the sound they produce is absolutely wonderful.
If the best noise cancellation is your priority, then the $499 Bose QuietComfort 35 would be our recommendation. They’re wireless and have noise cancellation that could probably cut out the rumbling of a mildly strong earthquake. However, they don’t sound as nice, and they certainly don’t look as good, as the Bowers & Wilkins P7.
If you’ve always wanted the convenience of wireless headphones but been put off by their sound quality, then the Bowers & Wilkins’ P7 Wireless headphones might just change your mind.
This article originally appeared at alphr.com.