Bowers & Wilkins P3: British Acoustics
When Bowers & Wilkins the released the C5 IEM , the design didn’t blow me away but from the first time I saw the new portable P3 I was a fan. The pictures B&W released were simply gorgeous, and I absolutely loved the brand new white P3 I tried on the opening of the B&W IDLounge a couple of weeks ago. I received a black P3 for my review sample and secretly, I am even happier to receive the P3 in black. Not that the white one doesn’t look good, because it does, but I just happen to prefer black.
Everybody knows that Bowers & Wilkins has always been about design, and by now they have proven to be a worthy contender on the headphone market with the excellent P5 headphone and the revolutionary C5 IEM with the loop system. Now B&W is back with a beautiful looking P3 with drivers built from zero to reduce distortion and coloration and get a more natural sound. Unlike with the P5 you won’t be getting any leather here but you get a rubber headband with a special designed acoustic fabric (especially for the pads) and brushed aluminium details. It’s simple, it’s light (only weighs 130gr) and above all, it is foldable! The carrying pouch is rather big and sturdy however but of course you won’t be keeping these in the box, they’ll be on your head.
Design and Ergonomics
Everyone I showed the P3 to absolutely loved its design and comfort. The small on-ear pads are soft and not too big or too small and can be replaced. The bespoke fabric covering the pads provides acoustic transparency in the center, while forming a perfect seal around the edge for better bass and noise isolation. It’s an acoustic fabric made to look beautiful, not the other way around. The pads are made from heat-sensitive memory foam that molds to the shape of your ears, becoming more comfortable and enhancing sound quality over time. (according to B&W) While I expected them to bother me a whole lot, as I’m not used to using on ear headphones, they didn’t really. It’s like they are not even there when walking in the city or commuting by train, they don’t bother you one bit and the clamping force is really good. For some people with really big heads I can even imagine the headband/pads to be too tight as even my ears started to hurt a bit from the pressure after multiple hours of not taking it of at the office but I’m hoping for the memory foam to kick in soon as it should.
Last time I reviewed the Bowers & Wilkins earphone there was something to the earphones that was hard to explain. They had this special filter to get airy sound and that’s exactly what it did. It’s like B&W took the music and put this layer of “air” over it. It’s quite hard to explain until you’ve heard it for yourself. Before I had a chance to listen to the 34Ω P3 I was expecting that it would sound similar to the C5 but that isn’t quite the case. You can still clearly hear the resemblance in sound but the airy effect has been reduced. That special B&W sound however is still there and while I’ve gotten used to it by now, everyone I let audition the headphones immediately noticed it. For some people this could be a real deal breaker but I really like its sound, even if it took a few hours to get used to.
The P3 was designed to be used on the go and so I have been using it exclusively with my (for the moment) favorite portable setup (iPod + Cyperlabs CLAS + JDSLabs C421). The P3 headphone with its Ø30mm drivers has a really good level of detail and its balance is impressive. The overall sound signature is warm and of course airy but at the same time the detail is still present. Of course this isn’t the most neutral or analytic headphone but it’s a headphone that will make you enjoy your music, fun factor 10 out of 10. Sound stage is bigger as I expected it to be, it’s isn’t big but I don’t have any complaints about it at all, don’t forget this is a lightweight portable headphone.
Bass is excellent for everyone, especially in combination with the C421 Bass Boost. Using the Flat setting on the C421, not adding any boost, the bass already is good and punchy and with BB on you get a tiny bass machine, its brilliant. Bass is never distorted but it do is on the looser side but with a good punch and smoothness. No matter what music you’ll be listening to, bass will always be right around the corner waiting to pop out at the right times. The mids are warm and lush, very musical and compliment the bass section very well. The treble on the P3 is just right, not too rolled of to me, but a bit rolled of and not too peaky/harsh. I’ve been really enjoying the treble with this headphone, it has a fair amount of detail and it’s very much makes the P3 feel alive and energetic. It doesn’t have the treble detail of the major league headphones but it gives a good contrast with the warm character, bass and smoothness. A really well made combination!
I’ve been listening to all kinds of music with these and once you appreciate the typical B&W headphone sound you will find it to play all types of music really well. Slow bass Bob Marley or fast paced Pendulum’s bass, Melody Gardot’s sexy sounding “The Absence”, Eddie Vedder’s unique voice, Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Horowitz’s Last Recording or Prokofiev’s Peter and the wolf: they all sound alive, fun and energetic.
With a portable on-ear headphone, isolation is very important. I really don’t like hearing other people’s music on the train or bus and while the P3 does leak some of it’s sound it’s not in a way you’ll be worried what people think of you. The memory foam and acoustic cloth do a pretty good job in keeping the sound inside the headphone, of course all depends on your listening volume too…
The Bowers & Wilkins P3 is a fun headphone and it can really make you enjoy your music a whole lot, you just have to like the warm tones and the B&W sound signature. This isn’t an analytical or audiophile headphone and the focus is on the fun factor with a warm sound that I’m going to call “The B&W Sound Layer” from now on. B&W did a great job in making a headphone to enjoy your music with on the go and as mentioned before, it get’s a 10/10 for doing that with style. The Bowers & Wilkins P3 is available in black and white and always comes with 2 (OFC) double entry cables: one for i-Devices and the other for the standard DAP’s and phones (3.5 plug to two 2.5 plugs). Price in Europe is set to 200€, a good price quality ratio in my opinion for a foldable headphone with a gorgeous design. The P3 can be bought at the better dealers in your area and in all Apple stores. Unfortunately we don’t have the P5 available right now but we will be adding a comparison as soon as the P5 arrives. Thank you Bowers & Wilkins Group BeNeLux for providing us with the sample!
Gear used: B&W P3, JDSLabs C421, Fiio E10, Cypherlabs CLAS, iPod, ALO interconnects