(Pocket-lint) - Bowers & Wilkins entered the ANC headphones market with a bang in 2017, when it released its PX wireless over-ears. It has always been known as one of the supreme audio brands around but had previously chosen to keep the listening experience as unsullied by external digital technologies as much as possible. Even Bluetooth was a reasonably late arrival for B&W.
But, while adaptive noise cancellation represented a brave departure for the company, it nailed it – retaining the high-end audio performance its headphones were known for but adding the ability to block the outside world in the process.
We were suitably impressed.
However, there was one minor niggle that presented itself over time: comfort.
Built to last, of rigid, premium materials, we discovered after numerous trips across the pond that they were a tad too heavy and restrictive on the head to be worn for long periods. They weren’t as comfortable over a 12-hour flight than, say, rival headphones from Sony and Bose.
Hence the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 – a redesigned, remodelled flagship pair with ANC that ticks all of our boxes and then some.
Lighter and with a more flexible headband, these over-ears are more comfortable over elongated listening bouts, yet retain the musicality and clarity of their predecessor. Better them even.
- Available in silver or black
- Arms made from carbon fibre composite
- Vegan-friendly synthetic material on band and earcups
- 310g weight
The visible change in design is obvious. Indeed, the PX7s look nothing like any B&W headphones before them.
The earcups are not as sleek, more bulbous and the materials chosen lend them a slightly less premium look. But boy are they more comfortable. And they still radiate a higher-end aesthetic than a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 alternatives, for example.
One of the biggest changes over the previous PX headphones is the swap from the use of aluminium for the arms to a woven carbon fibre composite. This is a lot lighter, but retains the same strength.
You can even see a mottled effect in the black carbon fibre segments, a result of the creation process that also gives the PX7s a different look to many other cans on the market.
The top and cups are covered in a nylon mesh cloth, much like the band on their predecessor. While, the backs of each over-ear unit have a flourish of brushed aluminium for old times’ sake.
One other major difference between generations is the swap from lamb’s leather for the underside of the headband and earcups to an even softer synthetic alternative. Not only will this be applauded by vegans, it too has been chosen to up the comfort – staying cooler when worn. It also helps isolate the fully encompassed ear and, therefore, further improving the efficiency of the ANC technology.
If we’re being critical, our only main bugbear is that the headset doesn’t fold like many peers. Instead, the cups turn inwards, resulting in a rather large carry case. Still, it is slimmer than many, so maybe better to slip into a carry-on bag or case.
- Support aptX Adaptive through Bluetooth 5.0
- Three modes of adaptive noise cancellation, using four microphones
- Ambient pass-through
- USB-C fast charging
- 30 hours battery life with ANC on
As well as adaptive noise cancellation, which can be set to three different modes - high, low and auto – the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 headphones carry the new aptX Adaptive wireless tech from Qualcomm – the first to do so. This effectively ensures music quality is streamed over Bluetooth at its very best, adjusting bitrates automatically as needed to present the best performance.
In many ways, it can be seen as the natural progression of aptX HD and aptX Low Latency combined, able to stream at 24-bit/48kHz while keeping lag and latency at a minimum. You won’t get much benefit when listening to music or a video track on an iPhone or iPad, as Apple doesn’t support aptX, but many others out there will reap the rewards.
The ANC technology is dramatically improved from B&W’s last offering. It drowns out pretty much anything that came in earshot of us, without negatively impacting on the listening experience. Indeed, we found that it was hard to hear any significant loss of quality between low and high settings – the latter designed for the hum of an aeroplane, say. And leaving the auto mode active seemed to be the best option all-round.
If you press the ANC button on the left cup long enough, you can also activate ambient mode to listen to a flight attendant or station announcement, for example.
While there are all buttons rather than touch panels on the PX7 headset, we kind-of prefer that as you don’t accidentally pause or change the volume when adjusting the fit. Plus, you do get the option of a proximity sensor, which will pause the music when the headphones are removed, start again once placed back on.
This undoubtedly aids battery life, which is already impressive. Bowers & Wilkins claims that the PX7s are capable of up to 30 hours of ANC-driven playback and we have no cause to dispute that. We’ve barely had to charge them, in fact, since starting our tests.
There is USB-C fast charging too, with five hours of playback available with just a 15-minute charge. Very useful when you don’t have much time.
- 43.6mm full-range drivers
- 10Hz to 30kHz frequency range
- 20 kOhms impedance
- 3.5mm stereo jack
For all their tech wizardry, the biggest crunch when it comes to any headphones is how they sound and, we can safely confirm, these carry that trademark B&W signature. They are among the best on the market when it comes to sheer audio prowess.
Each ear uses a 43.6mm driver tilted slightly towards you to widen the front soundstage. This gives a great effect for both music playback and video watching, with the latter seeming natural as you stare at a phone screen or tablet device. Gaming too, benefits from having a wider frontal effect to accompany any virtual surround sound.
We listened to a number of Master Quality Audio tracks streamed over Tidal and were suitably impressed each time.
The 2019 MQA mix of The Kinks’ Shangri-La was presented with expert clarity, for us to pick up guitar string slides and the occasional mic pop during recording. While the live performance of Happy Mondays’ Freaky Dancin’ – as found on the remastered The Early EP’s collection – genuinely sounded like it was recorded in a small club, with the sort of mix you’d expect for audience rather than listener satisfaction.
The PX7 headphones are no slouch when it comes to bass response neither. Liam Gallagher’s Shockwave has a thumping bass track underlying the higher frequency guitars and vocals and it felt tangible and meaty in each earpiece.
In effect, thanks to clever tuning from experienced engineers who are also said to be behind the brand’s 800 Series Diamond speakers, these are well-rounded and masterful wireless cans that don’t make the mistake of pandering to any specific audience at the cost of another.
They sound superb, presenting each track as it has been recorded – sometimes warts and all. But with enough grunt to shake out your fillings, if that’s your desire.
Bowers & Wilkins has been consistent over the years and, in the PX7 headphones, continues that trend. It has created another wireless pair that will undoubtedly get the stamp of approval from audiophiles, but ticks plenty of tech boxes too.
The adaptive noise cancellation utilised manages to blot out ambient annoyances without negatively impacting on the sound, while aptX Adaptive support is an excellent addition this time around.
However, we are most pleased that we finally have the best of both worlds: exemplary performance coupled with a greatly improved, more comfortable design. Not only do you get class-leading music playback, you can now rest safe in the knowledge that you’ll be able to experience it for longer periods.