(Pocket-lint) - When B&W launched the new Px7 S2 noise-cancelling headphones back in June, it teased that there would be something even better coming later in the year – its flagship headphones, and most advanced headphones yet, the Px8.
Now, the Px8s are here - and they're predictably gorgeous. But do they make the £220 uplift in price from the also-awesome Px7 S2 make sense? Read on for our full review.
It probably comes as no surprise that B&W has designed a pair of headphones that look and sound worthy of their flagship status. The Px8 tick all the boxes - their design is stunning, noise cancellation is superb and the sound they are capable of is detailed, expansive and refined. They certainly won't leave you wanting.
However, at £599 / €699 / $699, the B&W Px8 have a high price tag for a lot of budgets, and those trying to decide between these and the Px7 S2 will need to decide what price they put on a more luxurious design and the very best sound quality.
While they do sound better, there isn't a whole lot in it, and you'll need to feed them the very best source material to reap some of those rewards. But for those that want luxurious all-rounders that simply deliver incredible sound quality and look great while they do, these are among the best you can buy.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8
- Authoritative sound
- Luxurious design
- Comfortable to wear
- Fast charging
- Tactile controls
- No passive listening
- 189mm x 63mm x 233mm
- Leather and aluminium design
- Black and tan colour options
Flagships headphones need a flagship design, and the Px8 don't disappoint. Anyone who remembers B&W's P9 Signature headphones from 2016 will recognise a similarly luxurious build here.
For a start, the headphones sit on a sturdy cast-aluminium arm structure with a matching aluminium logo plate on the earcups. There's tactile raised lettering for the Bowers & Wilkins logo and a bright diamond-cut edge that all helps give these headphones that premium look and feel you'd expect from B&W.
That's only bolstered further by a soft Nappa leather finish across the earcups, headband and memory foam cushions, which is lovely to the touch and feels much more luxurious than the more rugged Saffiano leather of the P9s. Don't let their plushness worry you though - we have been using them as our main pair of over ears for a few months now and they still look as good as when they came out of the box. There's durability here too.
In terms of core design, the Px8 are not unlike the design of the Px7 S2, but it's just a level up in materials and craftmanship. We love the way they look, but vegans will need to look elsewhere for their premium cans. Leather is the only material the Px8s are available in.
On the right earcup there are the majority of the physical controls, consisting of a Bluetooth pairing switch, volume up and down controls and a ridged multi-function button for music and call control with a varying number of presses. On the left earcup there is a single Quick Action button - this is set as standard to move through the noise cancellation modes, but you can change it to trigger your voice assistant if you prefer. All buttons are easy to access and have reassuring clickability.
There is no 3.5mm jack input here, but there is USB-C with a USB-C to 3.5mm cable included for wired listening (though they will still need to be charged) as well as a standard charging cable – all stashed in carrying case.
With the Px8s you get a choice of black or tan leather colourways, the latter having cream accents on the cushioning. Speaking of which, the comfort and fit is up a notch here too. It’s subtle but definitely noticeable when A/B testing against the Px7 S2 – and they're a comfortable pair of headphones.
This is helped by the fact that B&W has managed to keep the weight down despite the more premium materials. Weighing in at just 320g, that’s only 17g heavier than the Px7 S2. Not bad at all.
Features and battery life
- Noise cancellation
- Bluetooth 5.0, aptX Adaptive support
- Up to 30 hours battery life
- Fast charging
The B&W Px8 are noise cancelling headphones, and use the same Bowers & Wilkins-optimised noise cancelling technology as the Px7 S2. Six high-performance mics work together to deliver the best results, with two measuring the output from each drive unit inside the earcup, two reacting to the ambient noise in the outside world and another two helping to provide voice clarity for calls while suppressing noise.
As with Px7 S2, the performance of the system has been improved from B&W's original Px7 by moving the two external microphones closer together, adjusting the angling of each microphone to improve voice capture and changing the position of the second mic to reduce wind noise interference.
B&W doesn't offer levels of noise cancellation like some competitors do, and instead keeps things simple with on, off and pass-through. That's no problem for us - a good transparency mode is more than enough for our needs, but it's something to consider if you like to tweak your noise cancellation levels further than that.
The noise cancellation here is good too, and will happily block out the majority of bothersome environmental noise. It does particularly well at knocking the weight out of low transport rumbles, but beeps and bleeps and some office chit chat might cut through in between songs. It's a very natural noise cancellation though, and while there are some headphones - from the likes of Bose and Sony - that'll deliver deadly quiet with a bit more hush, what's on offer here is plenty to put the focus back on the music, rather than your surroundings.
Even better news is that it doesn't affect the character of the headphones either. Yes, the volume does jump up a notch or two with it turned on, and you might notice a tad more bass, but if anything it adds to the sound profile of the Px8 and doesn't take anything away.
The Px8 support the very latest Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity and use Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive wireless technology to ensure the best possible sound quality from compatible phones, tablets and computers. It's not quite lossless, but will support music up to 24-bit/48kHz for "better than CD" sound quality.
From a battery life perspective, B&W has matched the Px7 with up to 30 hours of battery life. It's not market leading but it still means that average listeners will likely get through at least a week of playback with ANC on, which should be more than plenty. For those caught short, there is a fast 15-minute recharge for up to seven hours of additional listening time - great for when you're in a rush.
There is a wear sensor, that will pause your music when you lift an earcup and put them into a deep sleep when removed for an amount of time. They will then jump into action wherever you left off whenever you put them back on again. We found this to work fairly smoothly, but you can play around with these settings in Bowers & Wilkins improved Music app - if you're noticing too much unwarranted pausing, you can adjust the sensitivity or turn it off completely.
As before, the Music App simplifies the connection of the Px8 to a mobile device, supports the fine-tuning of the sound through adjustable EQ (just treble and bass) and gives at-a-glance details of noise cancellation and battery life.
There are also some changes here, to introduce the support for more music streaming services from within the app (namely Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz), and also the ability to easily switch between B&W devices when listening at home. B&W has the hope that one day you'll be able to walk in the door listening to your music on your B&W headphones and immediately fire what you're listening to to your Zeppelin, for example.
- New 40mm Carbon Cone drive unit
- Angled drivers
- Improved distortion across frequency range
Of course, performance is what counts and the B&W Px8 are looking to push sound quality on from that in the Px7 S2, with an all-new 40mm Carbon Cone drive unit.
Inspired by the Carbon Dome units in the B&W 700 Series loudspeaker range, this new drive unit replaces the biocellulose cone material used in the Px7 S2's driver with carbon fibre, which is both lighter and more rigid, for a more controlled performance.
This should, says B&W, reduce distortion across the frequency range with a focus on making resolution, detail and timing even better than what was heard in the Px7 S2. In fact, B&W is saying this is the best sound quality the company has ever delivered from a pair of wireless headphones.
Another tweak in the Px8s is that the Carbon Cone drive units are carefully angled inside each earcup to ensure the entire driver’s surface is at a consistent distance from the listener’s ear, to keep the soundstage accurate.
Of course, that's all very nice indeed, but how they sound when you put them on your head is what really matters. And it may not surprise you to hear that B&W has not dropped the ball from a performance perspective.
We start with something the Px8 can really get their teeth into, with Lithium by Nirvana. The Px8 happily jump between the thrashing chorus and the more quiet, brooding verses without missing a beat. The simple bass guitar melody has depth but also detail, so you hear the pluck of each string from impact to fade, while Kurt Cobain's isolated vocals are front and centre in their simplicity. When the chorus kicks in, the Px8s ramp up accordingly, showing they have both the dynamic wherewithal and the headroom to let rip when needed. The Px8s never lose a handle on the song's various elements when things get heavy, but also manages to bring them together without sounding clinical. There's a lot of fun to be had here.