Bowers & Wilkins’ P3 on-ear headphones, which sell for $200, offer some stellar sonic features, and come in bold colours in addition to traditional black and white. I had the chance to take them for a test drive.
The P3s employ a drive unit that’s custom-built from the ground up. It features a specially damped diaphragm, using technology derived from the company’s loudspeaker designs, and a new venting system.
The aim is reportedly to achieve uniform airflow around the driver, lower distortion, and promote a cleaner, more natural sound.
Design & Build Quality
The B&W P3s are a superb-looking pair of headphones. As noted, you can get them in boring black or ho-hum white, or opt for the more modern, fresh blue or – my favourite – red.
They’re notably smaller, lighter and more portable than their direct predecessor, the P5s. The hinged design means I can fold them up and hide them away in my bag. Or place them in the matching clamshell case.
The brushed aluminum on the outside of each earpiece adds a touch of luxury, as does the gently twisted metal framework that connects the earcups to the headband.
The earpads are magnetic, so you can easily take them off if they need replacing. They’re covered with a special, co-developed acoustic fabric – B&W worked closely with the suppliers of the cloth for its speaker grilles to develop this.
Underneath each earpad, you’ll see B&W’s custom-made driver and a 2.5mm socket, complete with a channel through which you can run the cable. This makes the cable ultra-secure and also means that it’s easy to remove and replace if needed.
Why might you want to change the cable? There are actually two in the box: one ‘regular’ cable and one for use with the iPhone, with an inline mic and controls. These added features work well with an Apple device – call quality is loud and clear, and the controller changes track and volume pretty much instantly.
The earpieces caress rather than clamp your ears. Each pad uses memory foam to mould to the shape of your ears over time – a great excuse not to lend them to anyone.
That said, it might take a little time to get used to the smoothness of the earpads. Move your head too enthusiastically and they can slide forward and off your ears. Positioning them a little further back results in a much better fit. This shouldn’t be a problem, though, since these headphones are geared toward business professionals, not headbangers.
The headband sits comfortably on your head and a strip of padding makes sure it doesn’t dig in. In fact, I wore the P3s for six-hours, non-stop, while waiting for a flight, then for another four and-a-half hours during my flight back from Las Vegas (CES, of course) to Toronto without any fatigue.
But the big question: how do they sound?
Low frequencies have a remarkable sense of not only weight but depth, too. The P3s display good control – they provide a refined, easygoing sound that makes even low bit-rate files listenable.
The shifts in depth and weight to the bass-line from Michael Jackson’s Love Never Felt So Good are clear, rhythm-driven and solid. Pentatonix’ a-cappella album PTXmas sounded amazing thanks to the P3’s amazing vocal reproduction capabilities. Even Metallica’s Master of Puppet cacophonic audio CD was reproduced perfectly, with great detail.
Vocals, overall, sound emotive and expressive; there’s a fine sense of richness and refinement.
Because the headphones employ a closed-back design, noise leakage is kept to a minimum; and they do a decent job of isolating the wearer from outside noise. But don’t expect the noise-cancelling prowess you’d find in headphones like the PSB M4U-2, which happen to be my reference studio and noise cancelling headphones.
B&W’s P3 on-ear headphones are a perfect fit for fashion conscious traveling executives who truly appreciate sound quality.
- Very good sound quality
- Feels great for a long commute
- Available in four colours
- Only decent noise blocking capability
- Not for headbangers – can slide forward on head if you get a little too excited