Bowers & Wilkins always takes its time over things. It is never one to rush out a speaker or pair of headphones simply because a new technology has popped up. It would rather do something well or not at all.
That has been evidenced in almost all of its products - and most notably with the T7 Bluetooth speaker, which was late to the party but brought a mighty bottle of Champers in the form of top-notch performance. Even its wireless headphones were introduced long after others had adopted wire-free tech.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX over-ear headphones follow the same pattern: they are the company's first pair of wireless cans with active noise-cancellation (ANC) and the intentional delay has done them the world of good.
- Best noise-cancelling headphones: The best 'phones to block out external sounds
- The best Bluetooth headphones 2018: Top on-ear or over-ear wireless headphones
Bowers & Wilkins PX review: Design
- Etched aluminium, leather headband, ballistic nylon earcup exterior
- Ergonomically designed elliptical ear cushions
- Colour options: Space Grey and Soft Gold
British audiophile brand B&W has mostly stuck to the same design tropes with its headphones, opting for a high-quality black leather and silver aesthetic. They have always looked classy but, it must be said, "blokey" at the same time.
The PX headphones are different. They come in two colour schemes - Space Grey and Soft Gold - and while the former is similar to older models, the latter is a splendid departure for the firm.
They are clearly inspired by Apple's iPhone designs, especially the Space Grey elements. We reviewed the soft gold headset though and, while it retains B&W's typical mark of high-end quality and refinement, it adds an element of fun to the proceedings.
Unlike former headphones in the company's range, the outer material used is mainly ballistic nylon, a more robust material than leather. It is also blue, which offsets the gold colouring of the aluminium finish well. The interior headband matches the removable earcups, being in soft black leather for comfort.
If we're being critical, we'd have preferred the build to fold more like contemporaries. You get a carry case in the box, but while the earcups can be twisted to lay flat, there's no bend towards the band so these cans take up more space in a bag than some. That said, the case ends up being thinner, so it's horses for courses, we suppose.
Bowers & Wilkins PX review: Performance
- Digital hybrid active noise-cancellation (ANC)
- Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX HD
- 10Hz to 30kHz frequency response
Everything we chucked at the PX has been superbly staged. With Bluetooth 4.1 and aptX HD support, these cans can handle Hi-Res audio files with aplomb, giving them clarity and oomph whenever necessary.
Remove the cup and you'll see that the drivers are angled slightly towards the ear. This is a technical decision that apes similar design to the brand's £700 flagship P9 Signature headphones. It ensures the soundstage is more front-facing, much like listening to quality stereo speakers and, we feel, gives a more natural feel to stereo audio tracks.
These drivers can handle brighter notes than many headsets in this category. And because they are balanced by audiophiles, they deliver enough deep, growling bass without blowing out lyrics and otherwise missed subtleties.
That's not to say they cannot deliver decent virtual surround sound. Although they are not particularly designed for gaming, we tried them with FIFA 18 on PS4 – plugged into the controller via an included 3.5mm cable – and the effect was all-encompassing. Indeed, there was a better sense of spatial involvement than with our 3.1.2 speaker setup.
Bowers & Wilkins PX review: Technology
- iOS/Android app with four ANC settings
- USB Type-C recharging
As B&W's first headphones with ANC, it has gone to town with options. For finer control of ANC, there is a dedicated application for iOS and Android that offers a number of great features – not least four different settings for noise-cancellation and further tweaking to boot.
The company recognises that noise-cancellation does impair audio perfection at different levels, so gives you several modes for different circumstances. You can have noise-cancellation completely off, with the PX actually providing decent enough noise isolation with its closed-back, over-ear design.
Alternatively, there are Office, City and Flight modes, with progressively greater levels of cancellation tech being activated for each. Flight is obviously the most aggressive, blocking out the hum of a plane or rattle of a Tube train. It does affect the audio a touch, giving it a slightly less crisp signature, but not so you would overly notice or care in that situation.
In addition to the environment filters, you can change the voice pass-through levels via the app. A slider ranges from off to amplified and should, say, a flight attendant need to speak to you, for example, you can quick adjust it to hear what they are saying without even stopping the audio track.
The app also gives you control over a "wear sensor" in the headphones. This is a hugely clever doohickey that senses when you are wearing the PX and even when you've just lifted an ear cup. If you do the latter, it automatically pauses what you are listening to, and starts again when you place it back over your ear.
The wear sensor also knows when you have taken off the 'phones entirely, stopping the track and placing them in a very low power state. That means you can pick them up much later – even 30 days later, we are told – and there will be plenty of charge left to wake them up again as you put them on. You should never really need to power them down. It works wonderfully in practice, as we've often forgotten to switch off wireless headphones in the past only to find them without charge later down the line.
Battery charging is achieved through USB-C, so is faster than with other Micro-USB headsets. B&W also claims that the PX will last up to 22 hours using Bluetooth with active noise-cancellation switched on, which is amazing in comparison with some. Perfect for that trip to Australia then.
We've been listening in the office and on the Tube over a long weekend, and it's lasted well so far. Plus, the audio quality has transported us away from office life for sure.
The ANC-capable wireless headphones market has grown rapidly in recent times, so it makes great sense for Bowers & Wilkins to enter at this point. It does have some major rivals though, most notably in the recently announced Bose QC35 II, Sony WH-1000XM2 and Beats Studio 3 Wireless. The first couple come with class-leading noise-cancellation and more experience in the field, while the last caters for the cooler kids on the block.
B&W comes from a true audiophile perspective and, in the PX, offers an excellent alternative. There is no doubting its audio performance prowess, with ANC both on and off, and in the new design flourishes it has a device to perhaps tempt those otherwise drawn by the Apple-owned Beats.
We certainly welcome the company finally embracing ANC because patience has been rewarded. The B&W PX is a shining example of just how good noise-cancelling cans can be.
The alternatives to consider
Arguably what inspired the B&W PX, these Sony over-ears took away the coveted 'Best Headphone' at the Pocket-lint Awards 2016. The levels of noise-cancellation had remained unrivalled - until the PX came along, anyway. Oh, there's also a forthcoming Mark II pair of these Sony cans, so one to keep an eye on.
Read the full article: Sony MDR-1000X review
Bose QuietComfort 35
Touted as the ultimate travel companion, the Bose QC35 fold up small, are ultra-lightweight and targeted at frequent travellers seeking to block-out the outside world with active noise-cancellation. That's what these cans are perfect for - even if the build quality isn't up to scratch compared to its slightly pricier competition.
Read the full article: Bose QC35 review
Beats Studio 3 Wireless
The Apple-owned Beats is all about the bass. But the company seems to be adopting sophistication, too, with the latest Studio cans capable, comfortable and long-lasting. They're a little cheaper than the B&W PX and, but of course, adopt that Apple design style that many will seek.
Read the full article: Beats Studio 3 Wireless