Five years after the launch of the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 headphones, the brand has updated its popular on-ear headphones, the Bowers & Wilkins PX5, where the X stands for noise cancelling. We’re going out and about to see how this newcomer performs in terms of music and … noise cancelling
Bowers & Wilkins has restructured its collection with the introduction of the Formation range. The Formation range consists of wireless, multi-room loudspeakers. Then there’s Home Audio, which focuses on the 600/700/800 series. And there is an offer for the home theater and custom install. Oh yes: if you drive a BMW, Maserati, McLaren or Volvo, you can choose a Bowers & Wilkins audio system. Colleague Jaap once did a test-drive of a Volvo/Bowers combination, and yes: it sounds very well.
When we look at the Bowers & Wilkins headphone line, we notice it’s a bit modest. There are two in-ears, the P13 and P14. The on-ear is the PX5 and the over-ear is the PX7. The latter, with a price of € 399, is the most expensive in the series. Four of them. Bowers & Wilkins does not have headphones in the higher price range and that is quite special because we see a growing range of brands in the price range between around € 500 and € 1,500; just think of Hifiman, Final or Focal. The headphone market is a fast growing market, both in sales numbers and (worldwide) turnover. It would be fitting in Bowers’ series build-up to also have a range of headphones in the higher segment.
Back to Bowers & Wilkins PX5. It’s a good thing the price of this ‘5’ has stayed the same. For 300 euros, the PX5 gives you considerably more functions than the P5: Noise cancelling, bluetooth, an app (more about this later). And what we think is important: it is still possible to listen via old-fashioned ‘wire’.
The PX5 has all functions on the right auricle: on/off, bluetooth pairing, volume, play/pause/skip. Also the USB-C input for charging and for using the PX5 as a DAC and the 3.5 mm stereo input are on the right side. No touch-sensitive surface, just push buttons. What is further noticeable in terms of functions and appearance are the microphone grids on both sides, necessary for active noise cancelling; there are no less than four microphones on board. Furthermore, a large L or R has been applied to the inside of the auricle on the cover fabric; very handy! Also handy is the ‘wear detection’ function; when you take off the headphones, the music stops and vice versa. We saw this function before in the Libratone Q Adapt On Ear, which was one of the first brands to use it in 2017.
At 241 grams, the Bowers & Wilkins PX5 is neither heavy nor light. In the product description, the brand proudly writes that the materials used are inspired by car racing practice. Composite carbon is strong and light. Our impression was that the material felt somewhat plastic-like; we find the design of predecessor P5 with chrome and metal more chic and distinctive than the PX5, which looks much more common. At first the two ear shells also pressed a bit firmly on the head and due to the stiffness of the material it was quite a search for the right fit. After a longer period of use, everything became more supple (maybe part of the burn in period?)
With so many control functions on one auricle, it is sometimes hard to find which button is the right one; we sometimes get it wrong, also because the buttons are not in the place we expect them to be. And we also need these buttons because the sensors for wear detection are very sensitive. So sensitive that the music sometimes stops after an abrupt head movement; and only starts again when we have pressed the play button on the PX5. We have therefore deactivated this function; hopefully this will be solved in a next software update.
What is stated in the user manual is that the headphones are sensitive to placement. It really matters how the ear cups are placed in relation to the ear. For eyeglass wearers and long-haired people just try it on and try until it’s right. We also noticed this with the P5.
The special app for the PX5 and PX7 is a real addition to the headphones’ functionality. For example, we can connect a second Bluetooth headphone, so you can listen to music together. And there’s a menu for ‘soundscapes’; choose the sound of a forest of crisp leaves, the murmur of the sea, rain.