REVIEW: BOWERS & WILKINS P7 WIRELESS HEADPHONES
Prefer to read the PDF? Click below to download our review of the Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless Headphones. Otherwise, read on.
Bowers & Wilkins was forged from the humble beginnings of a radio and electronics shop in a large seaside town in England, known as Worthing. Its founders, John Bowers and Roy Wilkins, met whilst serving in the Royal Corps of Signals during World War II.
When the shop began supplying public address equipment to schools and churches in Sussex, Bowers became increasingly involved in the design and assembly of loudspeakers. Eventually they’d set up a small production line behind the store, the remnants of which apparently, are still visible in that backyard to this day. B&W are mostly known for their HiFi and Home theatre loudspeakers, but since their release of the P5 headphones back in 2010, they’ve also become a strong contender in the Head-Fi market as well.
B&W have since had a smattering of headphone releases, ranging from the in-ear C5 to the on-ear P3. Eventually, a flagship landed in the form of the over-ear P7 late in 2013 that would become a huge success for the company. It’s since been trumped by the higher-priced P9 Signature but the P7 remains a staple in the Bowers & Wilkins headphone line-up.
Taking it a step further, B&W cleverly “cut the cord” and released a Bluetooth version of the P7 late last year timed either by chance, or by forward thinking, just as the latest iPhone lost its headphone jack.
The P7 has been a very classy blip on a lot of audio enthusiasts radar for a few years now. So naturally, a Bluetooth version is bound to pique some interest. Has Bowers & Wilkins created a truly audiophile friendly Bluetooth option for headphones?
Included with the P7 Wireless is a 3.5mm cable (non-threaded) and a luxurious magnetic-latch carrying pouch. With portable listening as the primary purpose in mind, there is no full-size jack adapter or cable included.
True to usual B&W releases, both the build quality and chosen materials are extraordinary. The chosen design aesthetic is unusual for a headphone, but works well in its favour.
With two polished aluminium rails, the yolks are especially unique – gently twisted from the headband to the cup, neatly guiding the cable. Despite their stylish looks, the rails are firm and solid, and keep a comfortable angle on the cups.
It’s especially worth mentioning the sheer amount of leather on this headphone which covers the entire headband, the pads, and even on the outside of the cups themselves.
Conveniently, the memory foam pads are removeable and user replaceable.
They weigh 323 grams, which is 33 grams heavier than the original P7. There are lighter wireless options on the market (Sennheiser PXC 550 springs to mind at 227 grams) but despite this, the P7 Wireless are by no means heavy.
The clamp is initially quite tight, but after a few hours is made more forgiving as the memory foam pads take shape.
There are four buttons on the headphone:
- One for power on/off and pairing.
- Two for volume control.
- One for play/pause.
The volume and play/pause are clustered together on the side of the headphone and have very light travel and a decent click, with a slightly disconcerting wobble however. The power/pairing button is a slider, which slides down for power on/off, and is pressed in to pair to a new device.
The headphones fold inward to fit into their carrying case - the cups do not swivel flat.
Inside you’ll find a non-replaceable 370mAh battery, which B&W say will last 17 hours. This battery supplies power to each of the 40mm full-range nylon-damped drivers, and the Bluetooth gadgetry.
There are also 2 microphones, for phone calls and voice control of a smartphone.
For those considering the long-haul flight, surprisingly for a premium offering there is no noise cancelling feature on the P7 Wireless.
Cabled or Wireless
The user has the choice of either wired or wireless connectivity. When using wired, the cable hiding mechanism is quite neat. Once the magnetic earpad is removed, the concealed connector is revealed inside. Once the cable is installed and the pad is placed back on, one would be forgiven for not even realising these are wireless headphones.
The downside to this great looking concealment is the time it takes to install the cable. It makes switching between wireless or cabled just that little bit longer. Fortunately, you likely wouldn’t need to make this change very often.
The P7 wireless also feature Bluetooth aptX, AAC, and SBC. aptX is often seen as the current “flagship” version of Bluetooth audio, owned by CSR (who is owned by Qualcomm).
From the CSR website:
In order to fit within the Bluetooth ‘pipe’ and transmit wirelessly, audio needs to use a bit rate reduction technique. It replicates the entire frequency of the audio, reproducing pure sound and ensuring that users hear everything as the artist intended.
By incorporating aptX audio coding technology into the next generation of Bluetooth stereo products, developers can offer consumers audio quality indistinguishable from wired with an impressive dynamic range.
Using desktop amplification is usually reserved for high impedance, low sensitivity headphones. The P7 Wireless is incredibly easy to drive, did not require heavy amplification, and did not do much justice to the Questyle Gold stack reference system (RRP $15,000 AUD).
There’s also no balanced option with the P7, but that’s expected given that it’s a portable headphone.
Gain and volume had to be wound all the way down during these tests, and considering the 3.5mm connector of the P7 is not threaded, it’s quite clear that the B&W offering was a fish out of the water in this circumstance.
More appropriate perhaps was the use of the outstanding Chord Electronics MOJO headphone amplifier/dac combination for the travel-friendly P7. When in “cabled” mode, the P7 Wireless and the MOJO are a match made in heaven. The MOJO is particularly good at scaling with a wide range of sensitivities, so playing with the highly sensitive 22 ohm P7 was a breeze.
The P7 Wireless was also very easy to drive from our smartphone tests, which included both Google’s Pixel and the iPhone 6s Plus. They were easily capable of driving the P7 Wireless to very loud volumes. No extra amplification required here, even when in noisy environments the P7 Wireless will deliver dollops of volume.
It’s quite clear that portability was the intention of the product, and it truly shines in this area. Any capable smartphone or MP3 player will be able to make the P7 Wireless sing.
It’s worth mentioning that the hardware buttons on the P7 are only useable when in “wireless” mode. They don’t work in the same way that an inline cabled remote would work.
The P7 has been a staple in the portable audio lovers diet for a while now, but with the added benefit of going wireless, the new offering from Bowers & Wilkins is now a truly viable option for travel.
Bluetooth mode has some clever features, such as powering itself off after ten minutes of no use. Many users of Bluetooth headphones complain that their batteries drain once they sit the headphones down and forget to switch them off; a problem solved with the P7 wireless. The battery will be saved after the unit turns off automatically. It’s also worth mentioning though that the automatic “off” feature is not able to be adjusted or switched off.
The good news is that sound quality is very similar to when connected via the cable, which in itself is quite an achievement and not an easy task. Thanks, no doubt to the inclusion of AptX technology.
At quieter volumes, however, there is some audible hiss.
This won’t be noticed when out and about, either on public transport or in-flight. But in a quiet room (when listening to music at lower volumes), it’s noticeable.
Having Bluetooth in a headphone also means that there is internal amplification, and in the case of the P7 Wireless, the internal amplifiers seem to have very high gain. This is evidenced by the fact that face melting volume levels on the P7 Wireless are incredibly easy to achieve. Although with both our smartphone tests, comfortable listening levels are found within the first 30% of the volume range.
The downside is this means that the P7 Wireless has a very small “window” of volume steps to play with, as anything above 40% volume will be far too loud for the average listener. Both the audible hiss and loud volume are likely the result of the high gain, and I can’t help but wonder if the inclusion of user-selectable gain may have been a worthwhile feature.
True to the Bowers & Wilkins headphones ‘house sound’, midbass has a controlled yet solid thump. Details in bass lines are clearly audible, and the P7 Wireless is not exempt from the bass benefits of having a 40mm closed-back design.
They also react well to some mild EQ and bass-boost and without going too crazy, the drivers can take a healthy amount of punishment without distorting (if you’re into that sort of thing).
The bass has neat humps around the 140Hz and 60Hz ranges, then reaches down to around 25Hz before rolling off. Even with modest portable amplification, the P7 Wireless is very capable in the bass department, and can be flexible if required.
The midrange is where the P7 Wireless’ sound truly shines. Vocals sound natural and uncoloured, and have a raw feel to them. Imaging is strong and accurate, and not congested. Acoustic, classical, orchestral, and instrumental pieces have authentic and faithful reproduction in the midrange.
In terms of quantity, the midbass and midrange don’t fight each other. The bass doesn’t bloat and bleed into the lower midrange, and takes a slight step back to let the mids shine through.
During our testing, we noticed there is mild but recognisable emphasis around the 4kHz and 6kHz areas.
The highs are gentle, relaxed, and non-fatiguing. They are not sibilant unless listened to at loud volumes. Details are effortlessly retrieved at any listening level, and are not shoved down the listener’s ears. Whilst the P7 Wireless lacks the same sparkle that it’s bigger brother, the P9, has in spades, it can keep up and pull its weight in these ranges.
Despite the lack of active noise cancellation, classic Bowers & Wilkins isolation is still prevalent here. The firm clamp and memory foam pads, combined with the thick materials and leather create an almost “lonely” passive isolation experience. Fortunately, the passive isolation does an above average job for a closed back headphone.
Soundstage is decent for a closed-back can, and there are a few “out-of-head” experiences to be had here. However, the angled drivers of the flagship P9 headphones would have been warmly appreciated to expand it out even further.
A terrific portable headphone, with stunning materials and design. A warm, fun, and detailed signature, without any painful sibilance. A great travel companion, and well-priced.
Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless Headphones are available now from Specialist Dealers for $599.95 RRP.
Visit the Bowers & Wilkins brand page for more information.
Works by day in the live audio and lighting industry and during festival season will often be found on tour around the country. In his spare time he can be found cycling, training, or tending to his vast headphone collection.
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