Before we get to our review of the mighty Bowers and Wilkins PX5 On Ear Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones, let’s ask a simple question – Where did the Bowers and Wilkins PX5 come from? To answer that, maybe we had better ask ourselves something else first. What if we were to ask ourselves the question, where would we be without headphones?
For some, they are an absolute essential. Can you imagine working in a TV or recording studio without them? It wouldn’t really be possible. We have headphones, it seems, for every occasion. We use them for the daily commute or even just for a walk down the road to the bus. And we can swim with them or use them in the gym or when running — a myriad of uses.
They evolved from humble beginnings to an essential. Initially, they developed very slowly. But then, in recent times, we have seen innovations that changed the way we saw them. The Apple iPod did that, and twenty years before, the Sony Walkman gave us the very first taste of life with sound on tap. Apple and Sony and others that followed them can’t take all the credit, though.
It was in the 50s and 60s that they became a new phenomenon spurred on by the explosion of ‘popular music’ Suddenly there was a new use and purpose for headphones. Listening to music for fun Before then, we had strange-looking objects produced by AKG and Beyer in the 30s and before.
I wonder what Nathaniel Baldwin, who invented the first ones, would have thought. Poor Nathaniel. He invented something very special and didn’t patent it. Don’t need to go on do we, you can guess what happened.
And so here we are today as we look at one of the shining lights in headphones from the UK…
Bowers, and Wilkins
Since its establishment in 1966, they have turned the headphone market at the highest level on its head. There’s a new kid in town. Or there was then. Now, many people would argue the town is nearly empty, and there are only Bowers, and Wilkins and a select few left.
From a humble beginning in a workshop in a sleepy English seaside town came pure innovation. They introduced curved cabinets, different fibers for the cones, and, of course, the Bowers and Wilkins 801. This became one of the reference speakers found in some of the best recording studios in the world. Abbey Road used them no less.
The ‘tweeter on the top’ design made manufacturers look again at their designs. The CM1 speaker designed by award-winning Sir Kenneth Grange used CAD in its design. The Matrix bracing system that reduces cabinet vibration. And still, this creativity goes on today. Headphone excellence has formed part of their portfolio and we get the chance to have a close look. This is the Bowers and Wilkins PX5
Bowers & Wilkins PX- Overview
The Bowers and Wilkins profile in headphones has been increased in recent times. Top of the range phones like the PX7 and P13 arrived, over-ear and in-ear headphones. It would only be a matter of time before we say a set of on-ear phones and here they are,
The joyous thing about these headphones is that they are not designed to say ‘look at me.’ In our experience, items that are designed that way are usually lacking something else. Performance. These are understated and subtle yet very strong. Could we find one word to describe them? Classy.
When you catch your first glimpse of these Bowers and Wilkins headphones, you might be excused for thinking they are made of plastic. You would be wrong. The headband and the arms are made from carbon fiber. In fact, that is the same material that Formula One racing cars are made of. Lightweight, weighing just over 8 ounces, but tough as hell.
The headband is also made from this material and has a memory foam covering on the inside. Stable yet adjustable. Tough and hard-wearing but supremely comfortable.
They have also made sure it is easy to adjust the size, so there is no clamping of the ears. It adjusts smoothly, giving off this feeling of quality and superiority. As we have said, the arms of the phone are also carbon fiber, and the hinges have a solid appearance.
The arms have a sliding mechanism for adjusting their length that also feels very secure. They are well-padded with memory foam and are covered with a faux leather where they touch your head. A soft and gentle feeling of comfort with little exerted pressure on the heard or the ears. Yet despite that, feeling very secure in their fit.
Someone has spent a lot of time on this design to get it right. As you might have gathered, the build quality is excellent and way above what you would normally encounter. Everything about them feels like they are a premium brand. Even the housing that is covered in the fabric allows easy access to the controls. This makes them easy to use.
Let’s have a look at what’s inside. Specially designed 35mm drivers provide the sound. That’s about normal we hear you say, a common size for headphone drivers. We would agree, but who else has drivers that have been designed and tuned by these people. Those people being the team that designed and tuned the speaker systems used in Abbey Road. No one.
The team that designed these drivers also designed the 800 Diamond series. Those used in probably the most famous recording studio in the world. Do you want a great sound? Here it is.
Battery life has also been taken care of. You will get 25 hours from a single charge, which is a whole day of music. If you do happen to run out, there is an excellent built-in facility. This will give you an extra three hours from just 15 minutes of quick charge.
They have some very interesting and helpful features built-in to the design. Should you need to hear what is going on around you, then just lift one ear cup. The music will automatically stop. Replace the ear cup in its natural position, and it starts again.
We will deal with connectivity in the next section, but they are, of course, Bluetooth 5.0 enabled. They feature the aptX Adaptive, HD, and Classic codecs. A USB-C is built-in, and these headphones can connect to a computer. If you need to use them wired, there is a 3.5mm input.
It is important to complete this section by re-affirming the quality of the build of these headphones. Quite unlike the vast majority of its competitors, they quite simply excel in every department. All the more interesting that all Bowers and Wilkins headphones, at all levels, are made in China.
The principal communication is through Bluetooth 5.0. This is for playing your music but also as a link to the Bowers and Wilkins app. Simply connect to ‘Bowers & Wilkins Headphones’ on the app.
When you are connecting a voice will tell you that it is connecting you to the last device it was paired with. You can run two connections at the same time, and it as sensors to record the amount of usage for each. It will then connect you to the most used.
As we have already said on removing an ear cup, the music will cease. That is the same if you actually remove the headphones completely for a short period. It simply pauses the track and then resumes it in the same place once the phones are back in place. This, as we said earlier, is a great little feature and means, of course, one less button to operate.
Bluetooth pairing is quick and efficient for all devices with iOS, Android, and Mac OS. The headphones will remember eight connections. They will automatically establish a connection without you requesting it if they are in range.
CVC or Clear Voice Communication is used for your phone calls. It utilizes version 2 of this technology to ensure good and clear voice contact.
One of the problems often encountered with controls on an ear cup is having difficulty finding them. The housing of these phones is covered with fabric isolating them and making them easy to locate.
On the right ear cup is where most of the controls and ports are located. There is a slider to power up, which also doubles up as the launch for Bluetooth pairing. There is a three-button multi-function control for playback, track selection, and volume. Finally, a USB-C port and a 3.5mm aux headphone jack for use if the battery is gone.
On the left earcup, there is just one button, the control for the noise cancellation.
The Noise Cancellation
These phones give you the option of three noise cancellation positions. High will help you exclude all unwanted sounds, for instance, in an aircraft. Whilst Low will reduce the level of unwanted noise without totally excluding it. Useful if you need to hear an announcement.
There is also an Auto setting that will adjust depending on the environment you happen to be in. Impressively whilst this is adjusting the level of ambient noise, there is no change in the sound of the music. Using the app, you can decide how much sound is allowed through for any setting in advance.
However, it is best to limit the level of noise cancellation if you are walking in the city. You might need to hear the sounds of cars etc. it has four built-in microphones that act as sensors for setting the noise cancellation levels.
If you are looking for headphones for the commute to work or other situations in public view, there is always a decision to be made. Large over-ear headphones or intrusive earbuds? The on-ear is a good happy medium. But sometimes they aren’t usually as comfortable as over-ear headphones. Phones that envelop your ears rather than sit on top of them will always have more comfort.
Having said that, there is memory foam in the headband and ear cups. And the faux leather on the cups makes these Bowers and Wilkins headphones super comfortable to wear. They do not clamp too tight, and the adjusters are precise and stable. They are a great fit and even make a lengthy session hardly noticeable.
We do not need to go into too much detail about why the sound of these headphones is so good, because we’ve already covered that earlier. However, we can look a little deeper.
The frequency range covers 10 – 30,000 Hz, so we can expect a well-balanced sound, and that is what we get. The bass is spacious and natural rather than what some would call heavy. Not so good for those genres of music that rely on heavy bass sounds but excellent for everything else.
It is well-tuned, the bass guitar sound is smooth, and there is plenty of room for the kick to be heard. Mid-range is allowed to sit and develop and has a very warm sound. There is a clear line between high and low mids. The real points are heard at the top end, where the sound is crystal clear. Not shrill or unpleasant in any way; it is full of detail, especially when delivering orchestral pieces.
The soundstage is then wide with a deliciously balanced profile. We are going to mention it again. When you have people designing the sound for your headphones, what can you expect? Well, if they are the guys that did the speakers for Abbey Road, you don’t need to say anymore, do you?
Excellence is what they delivered in London NW8, and excellence is what they deliver here. And what is the difference that we, the layman, can hear? Listen to the definition of the audio tracks. You don’t just hear every note. Every nuance in the vocal style of the singer is heard.
Even with the different requirements for recording electronic music, they still shine. A remarkable sound from a remarkable set of phones Can you give something 11 out of 10?
You don’t get much in the way of external extras. Hardly relevant really. These phones don’t need to have extra incentives. You do get a soft carry case that has some pockets to hold your USB and 3.5mm cabling but that is about it. Let’s find fault. The carrying case is more of a bag and is not the strongest of travel equipment. Oh, dear!
Bowers & Wilkins PX5 Pros & Cons
- The rich bass depth is nicely balanced with bright highs.
- Quality ANC with excellent in-app controls.
- The sculpted sound signature may not be for everyone.
- The app lacks EQ.
More Headphone Choices
As you can tell, we absolutely love these headphones and highly recommend them; however, there may be something about them that makes them unsuitable for you? If so, check out our reviews of the Bose Soundlink Around Ear, the Bose QuietComfort 25, the Sony MDR 7506, the 1More Triple Driver, the Bose QuietComfort II, and the Sony WH1000XM3.
What We Think
If we haven’t convinced you, we don’t know what else to say other than this. In the 60s two albums came out that changed music forever. They were recorded by people that knew what they wanted to achieve and what sound they wanted. The problem was the technology wasn’t there to exactly replicate the sound they were creating.
Even today, there aren’t too many that can, but these headphones give it to you. Have a listen to them through these phones. You will be staggered. ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and ‘Pet Sounds’ like you’ve never heard them before.
The build is great with high-quality materials. Connections, control elements, and functions are good and the sound exemplary. The comfort level is high.
But now we come down to the bottom line. How much? Well, as we always tend to say when dealing with products at this level, you’d better sit down. Not because the price is high but because it isn’t.
We doubt you will find better at this price anywhere. The Bowers and Wilkins PX5 On Ear Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones – given the price point, we can’t give them 11 out of ten. We will give them 12.