Disclaimer: B&W isn’t a site sponsor, Mike isn’t selling it in his store and the P7 review sample will go back to the Press Agency right after the review.
Customers have been spoiled lately with (closed) headphones in the <$400 segment, there’s the Aedle VK-1, Sennheiser Momentum, Philips L2 (to come) and the B&O H6 just to quickly name a few. When looking at closed design headphones, of course the only “contender” is the B&O H6, which accidentally (?) is priced exactly the same at 399€. I found that last one a bit overpriced for its sound quality but when you’re buying design, you can’t argue, right? So would this new B&W P7 which is clearly targeting the same market score the same?
B&W stormed the headphone market quite a while back with the famous on the ear P5, which had a very typical sound a lot of people, like Mike, could appreciate. In 2012 B&W launched the baby of the collection, the P3. That one was also an on-ear headphone but it was smaller, had a new design but the sound quality wasn’t the absolute best for audiophiles. When the P3 was launched I already knew they were working on a full size headphone but back then it was still top secret. The P7, being the top of the line unit for B&W, has to be their best sounding headphone in theory. Yet they borrowed the design of the P3 and copied it in “big”.
B&W has always used top quality materials and in this case that isn’t any different. The real leather (even for the pouch!) feels soft and looks gorgeous and the aluminum used is really shiny. The 22Ohm drivers are 40mm as expected and they’re hidden underneath the removable pads, just like the P3. When removing the pads, which is extremely easy (magnets) you will find the same system to remove the cable as in the P3, only the cable is thicker. Folding system? Like the P3, just bigger and not that easy to put away in your pocket. The leather head band is quite comfortable and while the P7 only weighs 290gr. it does start to hurt on the top of your head after several hours of use (the things we go through to give you reviews!).
For what is supposed to be a full size over the ear headphone, the ear cups aren’t the biggest or the deepest, so do take in to account as your ears will be touching the leather pads at all times. Grip from the head band is pretty tight yet at the same time the pads do not block out all the external sound, it’s not up to the level of the H6 and certainly not the DT770. So, design wise there isn’t that much new to report and either you love or hate the design. Build quality though is exceptionally good. On our Facebook the majority of people love the way it looks and I have to say I can appreciate it too, it’s very stylish. In a lot of ways it resembles the baby P3, now I just hope the P7 sounds better.
Looks And Sound? Or…
In stead of typing 2000 words like I usually do I will try to keep it short(er) this time. Try.
When I first received the P7 it was NIB and while I normally don’t believe in burn-in for headphones the P7 changed a lot the first hour it was being used. When I first connected the P7 to my new favorite on-the-go setup, the Cypherlabs Theorem, I wasn’t positively surprised with what I was hearing. It sounded muffled, bass was bloated and treble was ear piercing. It was quite the shock and I immediately told Mike (who doesn’t believe in headphone burn-in either) about it. Convinced that it couldn’t be that bad I let it play for a while and when I came back one hour later the P7 sounded as it should sound. Phew, quite the scare that was! The very hot treble got softer to normal levels and the mids cleared up a lot, bass however is still on the bloomy (overpowering & not tight) side but I’ll get to that in detail in a bit.
Not too impressed so far? Well that’s about to change because the sound quality of the P7 is simply good. It’s better than the P3 and the P5, and it takes on the H6 and the Momentum.
Overall the P7 is a very clear sounding and detailed headphone, it’s not over-analytical and it stays pleasant to listen to. Sound stage, like with the H6, is pretty good and there is more than enough room between the instruments. Three-dimensionality and balance are also very very well done by B&W and you get generally nice and dynamic sound, not inside your head and well separated.
Upper mid range, treble and bass get a boost. While it’s lighter with the mid range and treble, the bigger boost comes in the bass section. Bass has good body, even without amplification, but it isn’t the tightest bass you’ll hear, it does go deep though, The XX’s bass in the song “Fantasy” is no problem at all. However it stays a bit bloomy to my ears. When using the C5 I even had to turn off the Bass Boost cause it was getting rather out of hand. One of the P7’s strong points is the treble which gets/seems more detailed because of the slight elevation of the frequencies but I do like how it sounds.
The P7 is less warm sounding than the Momentum but it has looser bass. H6’s bass is tighter than the Senn as well but like the P7 it isn’t that warm sounding. Compared to the H6 the P7 is easier to pair with all kinds of devices (even if you do have to turn the volume up quite a lot when using an iPod Nano 7G. for example) and it does well with all genres I threw at it.
For each his own
Looking at both design headphones, that makes it a tough choice as they both sound great and cost the same. The P7’s bass isn’t as tight as the H6’s but the P7 is easier to drive. That was one of the biggest issues I had with the H6, it needed the right source. They both look stunning and are about the same size when folded up. Personally I might like the H6 a bit more sound wise and in design but because of the ease of use of the P7, its build quality and how close they are together sound wise, I’m afraid I have to give the title of “Best Closed Design Headphone Up To $400€” to the Bowers & Wilkins P7 for now. Like with the H6 part of the price goes to the design, and it will set you back $399€, but if you like a nice looking headphone it’s worth it. The $400€ and belowmarket for headphones is sure getting crowded. Luckily some still stand out.