Bowers and Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones – A Bluetooth-meets-Audiophile Harmonic Convergence

Bowers & Wilkins P5 On-Ear Headphones, with box.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 On-Ear Headphones, with box.

With my recent upgrade to the iPhone 7, I was faced with ‘the headphone-question’. What to do now that Apple removed the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack? My initial idea was to simply use my trusty AKG K545’s with the Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter provided by Apple. It only took several rounds of use at work, and a round-trip flight, to reconsider this position. The problem is the adapter. It’s short, thin, and pretty cheap for an Apple accessory. Making matters worse, the adapter is awkward to use.  For example, if you put the phone in the breast-pocket of a cut-and-sown shirt, the weight of the headphone plug will cause it to flop around against your chest. So, it became time to research a new set of Bluetooth cans.

I hate this thing ...

I hate this thing …

This time around, I wanted a pair of on-air headphones, rather than over-the-ear. Typically I go for something over-the-ear, for the passive noise-cancellation. But, as time goes by, I’ve noticed that over-the-ear headphones create enough of a difference in air-pressure that I feel like I’m on a commercial flight. And, I’ve just never been a fan of active noise-cancelling systems, so that’s something I wanted to avoid as well. This is the reason I didn’t chose The Wirecutter pick, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless Headphones. The Momentium’s sound great, but you cannot turn the noise-cancellation off.

After spending my lunch-hour at a local Best Buy, testing out the Sennheisers, and other wireless headphones from Bose, AKG, Beats and Bowers & Wilkins, the choice was crystal clear. It had to be the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones, pad-forward view, with the included padded storage bag.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones, pad-forward view, with the included padded storage bag.

Retailing for $299, the B&W P5 Wireless Headphones are not inexpensive, but, I also think that they sound better than the $400 Momentums. Bowers & Wilkins helps make up for the sting of the price with, not just some of the best headphones I’ve ever heard – wired or not – but also some high quality accessories. Let’s take a look at the specifications for the cans themselves:

  • 40mm Drivers
  • Total-Harmonic Distortion = >0.4%
  • Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX, AAC and SBC.
  • 17-hour Battery Life.
  • Weight = 213 grams (0.47 pounds).
  • 2 Microphones

In addition to world-class sound, the P5 Wireless help match their price with a high-end experience. It starts with the un-boxing, and continues on with the included carrying bag. The bag features padding and a plush finish, with a closure mechanism of four strong magnets. The touches which show consideration-for-the-customer don’t end there, as the documentation is printed in glossy, high-quality stock paper. The charging and 3.5mm adapter wires are of passable length, and include a strip of velcro for wrapping. Unfortunately, the strips are not physically attached to the wires, so they could be lost fairly easily. It’s a shame Bowers & Wilkins didn’t go 100% on the wires, as the charging wire is something you may be using often, and, otherwise, the entire product is very high-end and customer-centric.

These headphones are very much focused on a wireless-world. After all, they’re called the P5 Wireless. There is the option of using them with a 3.5mm headphone plug, but the port is oddly located under the left ear cushion. The ear pad is held on snugly by magnets, so it will come off without too much effort and is not a huge hassle to work with. But the cable is not terribly long, and the shape of the plug on the headphones means you won’t have an easy time finding a longer, 3rd-party, replacement.

The optional wire port on the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones.

The optional wire port on the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones.

After using the P5 Wireless Headphones for more than a week, for multiple hours at a stretch, I can confidently report that they are very comfortable. The half-a-pound weight is not an issue for me, and I’ve never felt as if they were pinching my head. The leather earpads are buttery smooth and comfortable, and I’ve yet to have an outbreak of ear-sweats. The leather on the headband is equally high quality and comfortable. Bluetooth pairing the set with my iPhone was simple, but how do they really sound?

Outstanding. Tremendous. Revelatory. I’m in love. I have some history with high-end audio through a previous career, and I’ve listened to a lot of high-end headphones. The Bower & Wilkins P5 Wireless, even over ‘lossy’ Bluetooth, sound better than wired headphones costing over $1000 that I’ve listened to. The bass is deep, rich and satisfying. It’s not like Beats though, and potentially make you lose your hearing in 25 years.  B&W wants you to hear and experience the bass, not feel it. Because of the size of the drives, bass is always a challenge for headphones. And, to get it, there’s almost always a corresponding loss of fidelity across the mid-to-high ends. Not here, the mid and high rangers are clear as can be.  I swear to you, these Bower & Wilkins P5’s sound like you have a set of floor-standing speakers on your ears. It’s utterly amazing, and I loved those old AKG K545’s1.

Across the entire soundstage, the P5’s never fail to delight, and across all genres of music. The squeaks of Andy Summer’s fingers across his guitar strings come alive in The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, while Sting’s bass punches, and Steward Copeland’s signature tight drum-skins snap with perfect clarity. In Hozier’s “Sedated”, the piano sweetly rings, while the double-bass drums kick you deeply in the ears. Paul McCartney’s metronome ticks like you are in the recording studio on The Beatles “Blackbird”. “Everybody’s Jumping” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet comes through as authentic as hearing it in a New York City jazz club in 1959 would. You can find better sounding on-ear headphones than the Bower & Wilkins P5’s, but you’ll need to spend three times more, at least.  For an audiophile-on-a-budget, the P5 Wireless is a tremendous value.

The control and power buttons on the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones.

The control and power buttons on the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones.

Time spent listing with the Bower & Wilkins P5 Headphones is always an absolute pleasure. Of course they produce wonderfully clear audio, they are extremely comfortably and stylish. If you are looking for a new pair of wireless headphones, try the P5’s, you’ll fall in love.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones2 

Pros:

  • Life-altering sound quality.
  • Extremely comfortable to wear and use.
  • High quality components and construction.
  • Very long battery life.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Fits on most heads, but if you are much over 6 foot tall, you may need to try something bigger.
  • Weird placement, and plug-style, for the optional wired plug.

Verdict = Highly Recommended.

References   [ + ]

1. Amazon Referral Link
2. Amazon Referral Link

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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