We've been looking at awesome audio equipment lately. Today's review is of a shining example of mobile hi-fi - the Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones.
Bowers & Wilkins, or B&W as they're generally referred to, have been around since 1966 making high-end audio equipment. Back then, it was John Bowers and his buddy Roy Wilkins, handcrafting speakers in the back of an electronics shop. They're a British company, based in Worthing, England (West Sussex) - and really, if you aren't already familiar with B&W, you probably aren't an audio enthusiast.
In the Box
The box is a matte black with a photo of the headphones on it (B&W's clean design ethic starts at the box, finishes on the ear), and inside has the P5s as your first view, nestled in a black molded bit of packaging. Underneath, you're given a carrying bag (which was a little ritzy for my taste - kinda Louis Vuitton with a diamond-shaped design on it).
There is also a 1/4 inch adapter and a separate cable which doesn't have the iPod/iPhone volume/mic inline. The default cable for the P5s does work as a mic, and has plus/minus buttons for volume - feel free to take a call on these. In our testing, calls sounded fine on both ends. Nothing to write home about - it's still talking with headphones - but good quality.
Building off their knowledge of making the best of iPod/iPhone music (although, honestly, these are great for anything you're listening to), the makers of the Zeppelin Air dock (which we'll be taking a look at coming up next week) decided it was time to get into headphones as well.
The P5s are brilliant pieces of design. A strong metal faceplate on the back keeps the sound in (and out), and the brushed metal compliments the black of the New Zealand sheep leather used through the device (what? yah, New Zealand sheep). Solid metal encased in more sheep leather makes up the headband, which was smooth to expand and contract. The earpieces are memory foam, again covered in sheep leather. I don't know what they feed the sheep in New Zealand, but they make very soft leather.
Wearing the P5s was extremely comfortable. B&W advertises these headphones as being made so you can "listen longer" - and they delivered on that promise as well. While they're heavy enough you know they're quality, I never got that fatigue you get after a while of listening with some headphones. You know the feeling; after an hour or so you suddenly feel you have to keep adjusting your phones, or your ears are getting too warm, or too pressed against your head... just uncomfortable. The P5s were easy to wear for a full afternoon of testing, and sounded good the whole time.
Two 40mm drivers deliver 50mW of sound with distortion below 1%.
These are probably the best over-the-ear headphones I've personally used. I have a pair of Bose's QC3s which I'd previously used while flying, which do a great job of noise-canceling (and of hiding the battery necessary for that), but I loved the P5 sound even more.
Accuracy of sound is the goal here - as with any high end audio. You won't hear bass maxed in your ears, nor "enhanced" treble. The P5s very clearly do a swell job of recreating the sound you would have heard in the studio, and thus are much easier to listen to for long periods of time.
Noise isolation means you're hearing very little ambient noise - and are able to hear nuances in the recordings you probably missed with your old headphones (unless you've been rocking some top notch ear gear). These are not noise canceling - those are two different things. Noise canceling headphones need an external power source (battery) to generate a frequency which trick your ears and essentially cancel out a lot of mid-frequency sounds (airplane engines, ocean roar, etc). They also require you to have your volume very high to hear quiet passages of sound. Noise isolating (which the P5s are) basically seal off the ear from outside sound (some by being in-ear, these by forming to the ear with memory foam) and only allow a small amount of ambient sound in. The P5s are passively powered (by your device, not an external source), and give you much more clarity in the subtleties of your audio recordings. This also gives your ear less fatigue, making it easier to listen longer.
If you use headphones a lot and dig high end sound, buy these headphones. That is all. They'll be my new in-flight pair, and marry a beautiful design ethic to incredible sound reproduction. All in a comfortable fit.
They're $299 on Amazon.com (ok, so that's $300) - Bowers & Wilkins doesn't retail items on their own site.
We're giving these a 4.5 leaves rating - one of our highest. Great job, B&W - these are some amazing headphones.
Of course, we're also graced by B&W to be able to give away a pair of the P5s to a lucky reader. Leave a comment below, then grab some more entries to the giveaway through the various options in the widget below. We'll pick a winner on Tuesday!