Bowers & Wilkins P3: British Acoustics

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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 Bowers & Wilkins 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.

Sound Impressions

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…

End Words

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

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Lieven is living in Europe and is a full time Headfonia writer and the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650. Taking pictures is a real challenge but seeing happy readers in the end is what it's all about for him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

    I’ve never heard the P5, and have briefly heard the MM-1. I enjoyed the MM-1 immensely, so I hope to at least try either the P5 or the P3 soon!

    Is the P3 comparable to any headphone like the P5 is to the ESW-9?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

    Heard the P5 while i was auditioning my DT 990, some other beyers, Stax’s and some ultrasones. I have to say that i do feel they kept up with all of them in terms of musicality and indeed fun factor. They are really clever in design too; you really do feel like you’re holding a quality product in your hands. So if this is about as good and a bit more affordable i can’t see where anybody could go wrong with this set of cans.

    • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

      Interesting. I own and love the DT990/600 ohm version, so would you recommend the P5s for DT990 fans?

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        Not by far. DT990/600 which I owned have way more detail, sound stage, etc. they are in another league. The DT990/600 is an audiophile headphone, while the P3 clearly is just for fun when on the go

        • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

          Thanks for the reply L. I wouldn’t expect the same level of quality on the P3 as the DT990/600, but I do have a question regarding the P3 as how does it compare to the ESW-9?

          Thanks!

          • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

            So no, the P3 isn’t recommended for DT990 fans. Send me your ESW-9 and I’ll tell you ;)

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

          True, though the 990 doesn’t play ‘everything’ as well as the p5 does. Jamiroquai my favorite band becomes way to bassy with anything but the dacmagic to drive it. It doesn’t emerge you in sound like the senn’s do, but it can at least keep up with rock and electro.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Depends on what you’re expecting from these portable headphones. You should just expect a warm bass heavy sound that’s fun to listen to. Those expecting to get a mini HD600 in example will be very disappointed.

  • http://www.audioexcursions.com/ Austin Morrow

    Those headphones are absolutely stunning. When it comes to aesthetics, design, and the overall modern attractiveness, B&W never disappoints.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I completely agree about the design, about the sound there can always be discussions

  • Fabio_Rocks

    B&W P3 is damn hot beautiful! Just one thing about the review. You forgot headphones comparison. On this price range we got a trio of excellent headphones: Beyer dt1350 – Sennheiser hd 25 – Vmoda m80. How the B&W compare? Maybe the trio become a quartet? I hope you have some experience with those headphones. To be honest, without this comparison, your review is not that good.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Fabio,
      We will try to add comparisons in the future.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Hi Fabio, you are partially right and while we will be adding headphones later you should also realize we simply enough can not own every single headphone on the market to compare it to. I don’t happen to have the DT1350, HD25 or any VModa with me to compare it to. Do you? Headfonia is one of the only review websites that does a lot of comparative testing, feel free to check the web. To get “criticized” for writing one review that doesn’t immediately do that, I find a bit sad. You guys are just too spoiled ;-)

      • Fabio_Rocks

        Hi Lieven, I will wait next time for more comparison. I do not own any of those nice closed-portable headphones, that’s why I am here reading your review. I know that Headfonia is full of comparative, and It’s good, because, at the end, peoples always ask for the same question: Which one should I buy? Which one is better for me? From this point of view your review is not that good. Anyway good writing, good sound impression, nice photos. Lieven accept criticism with smile:)

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          You can’t always get what you want I guess ;)

  • Fabio_Rocks

    Today I watched Tyll Hertsens from Innerfidelity review on youtube. He ended with a “not recommended” because of the treble. It is too rolled off for him. He is pretty sure it depends by the foam that absorbs too much treble energy and the result is a “muffled” sound with too much bass and little treble. Cutting the foam, the headphone really shine and the treble issue is gone. Lieven can you check the sound removing the foam? I think it’ll be helpful. I am thinking to upgrade my Senns Px100ii that I absolutely love with the B&W p3. Are you experienced with this headphone? Do you think is an upgrade? Cheers! :D

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Hi again Fabio, Tyll actually asked what I found of the P3 without pads and the sound changes completely. It really are the pads that are making these phones sound (overly) warm. Without the pads on the other hand the P3 sounded rather bright, sharp and bodyless, it wasn’t an option for me. I’d like to have something in between both, maybe some mod where part of the foam can be “bypassed” would do the trick. The Senn PX100 is still an incredible value for money and has awesome sound and I would even dare say to keep it and not upgrade to the P3 if you like the PX100 sound. Hope this helps!

      • Fabio_Rocks

        As an audio entusiast I’m always looking for the next upgrade. The problem with the p3 is the price, 200 EUR are a lot of money. I must be sure before the purchase, I don’t like to waste my money:) Maybe if I am lucky I’ll find them in the apple store, If so, I will write my impressions here. I agree with you without the pad is never an option. Thanks anyway, really helpful!

  • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

    Okay, I meant to say this before, but all the more now when people are talking about the attractiveness of headphones:
    The black-and-white dimly-lit overly-close photography is indeed a distinctive style for the web site – but it just fails at providing any real idea of what the headphones look like.
    Visually, I much prefer the headfonia facebook page, which has rows and rows of interesting, clear images that give one a good idea of what the products look like. But not only do I dislike the overall grandma-and-corporations feel of facebook, it’s also not your main site anyway.
    But, of course, that’s just my own perception… althought it actually might make an interesting poll….

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Hi Ken, I guess that’s kind of on purpose. Mike is the final picture editor so he can answer you best but I think our mix of FB and this site is just perfect. The quality of the facebook pics can be a bit lower and that’s why there are a lot more pics on FB. I think with both you get a pretty good view on how the product looks like, and if you don’t there always is Google or the official press photo ;)

      I think that’s the first time ever we get a complaint about out pictures Mike! :D

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        The logic these days is that if you need to really know what a product looks like you can go to google images search and type in the keyword. 1,000 images at your monitor right away.
        We want something better in here.

        • Earmass

          Mike ;-) that is also what I did in my review site..

  • http://www.facebook.com/reeltime Michael De Lazzer

    I own the P5’s and while they won’t give a comparably priced Grado a run for their money based on pure sound quality– They are, without question, one of the most comfortable headphones on the market at any price. They have a distinctive open and clean and warm signature but lack deep bass. The P5s are entertaining to use because of their comfort and decent overall performance. Their price is fitting with the B&W moniker, which is to say, expensive. On a late night, relaxing, they’re a great fit, like a good pair of slippers, and don’t require amplification (though the sound will benefit from one).

  • SoundEskimoo

    For P3, I’ll suggest add more US$100 and absolutely go with P5. The report from innerfidelity that the foam on P3 absorb details & highs, so they will sound kinda muted. Unless B&W made some build corrections.
    I think P5 is the better way to invest a British quality sound. Overall better product (perfect comfort with big & true leather pad) & don’t have any failed foam design.

  • http://twitter.com/leops1984 Jonathan

    I currently own two Sennheiser headphones – a PX100-II and a HD595, with a Fiio E11. My sources are either PCs or an iPod classic. How does the P3 and P5 compare to what I already have, and would it be a good replacement/upgrade/addition to what I have?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I honestly would not replace either with the P3/P5, it’s not an upgrade. The senn PX100 i.e. is awesome. If you do feel the need to change I would stick with Sennheiser and try the HD25/Amperior/HD600. Mike?

  • Hariadi Mastoyo

    Any portable amp that can better the soundstage and details for P5?

    • dalethorn

      An amp like the FiiO E12 would help the bass, but not the treble, and the E12-plus-P5 together might be too dark, unless you like it that way. A DAC plus amp like the Fostex HP-P1 (if you have ipod or iphone) would be a better bet I think, and give you a clearer sound.

      • Hariadi Mastoyo

        Many thanks Dale for the advice. Fell in love with P5 just for the looks of them actually. Quite dissapointed with the sound. My K550 knocks them out in every aspect but the looks. I’m looking for a portable amp under $200. Which one is better for P5 the JDS Cmoy or pa2v2 in your opinion? Many thanks

        • dalethorn

          The PA2V2 would be OK – it’s a good amp with a spacious sound, but not having a Cmoy I can’t compare them. I would expect the Cmoy to be better, for the P5 or many other headphones, knowing how it compares to the Objective2, which I have had. Which amp you pick when it’s a close call would probably relate to how easy it is to get replaced or repaired.

          Edit: My wife stuck with her P5 for more than a year until she got the ATH ESW9a. I’m feeding her new headphones nearly every week, but she’s sticking with the ESW9a so far.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I wouldn’t worry about it. I think you’d just end up spending a lot of money without a real significant improvement.

          But if you still insist, give the Cmoy a try.

          Or the PA2V2

          • Hariadi Mastoyo

            Thx for the advice guys. Will order Cmoy then. And I’m thinking about upgrading the P5 cable. But finding 26 awg wire isn’t easy though.