Two years ago, Bowers & Wilkins debuted its P5 headphones, some of the best-sounding compact headphones we’d ever heard.
B&W’s design for the P5s coupled a minimalist and luxurious aesthetic — complete with supple memory-foam ear pads swathed in black New Zealand sheep leather — with truly stunning audio performance. They earned a very high rating from Wired (and from most other reviewers) even though they were priced at $300.
That’s pretty steep for a pair of on-the-ear headphones. B&W has won many fans who are used to paying a premium for the company’s high-end audio products. Other consumers who are less aware of the relatively obscure British manufacturer, not so much.Although not as opulent as the P5s, the P3s still sound excellent, and they deliver enough pleasure — auditory and otherwise — to justify the $200 price tag.
Now B&W has come out with a more affordable option, the P3 headphones, which sell for only $200. They look a lot like the P5s, though the materials aren’t as swank. The newer P3s are smaller, however, and they fold up, making them even more portable. Although not as opulent as the P5s, the P3s still sound excellent, and they deliver enough pleasure — auditory and otherwise — to justify the $200 price tag.
B&W made some very smart design decisions on the P5 headphones, and many of those choices are repeated here. For one, the spindly metal skeleton that forms the headband — it’s sleek, provides a good clamping force, and is very light. Also, the earpads are held attached using magnets, and you can pop the pads off with a tug, exposing the speaker and the small jack above it where the cable attaches. This layout lets you replace the two bits of the headphone that get worn the most quickly: the cables and the earpads. The P3s ship with a spare cable, and replacement earpads are available online for about $30 each.
Some corners have been cut. Gone is the lavish sheepskin leather that covered the headband and the earpads. Instead, a more traditional cloth is used. It feels rough to the fingers, but it’s actually quite comfortable on the ears (and less sweaty). Also, there’s more plastic in the build. The headphones don’t feel cheap, however, and there’s the nice addition of a hinge just above each ear, which allows the pads to fold inward. The P3s ship with a hard plastic clamshell case.
The emphasis here is clearly on portability, so during two months of testing, I listened to the P3s exclusively using mobile devices: an iPhone 4, a Nexus 7 tablet, and a MacBook. They aren’t particularly thirsty headphones, so they got plenty loud and showed an impressive level of detail without the use of an amp or software boosting. You should be able to just plug these into your phone and start listening. I would recommend going into your device’s EQ settings and cranking up the treble a bit, however. The P3s tend to be a little dark, meaning there isn’t as much of that crisp, high-end detail you’d expect if you’re used to a brighter headphone like the P5 or a really nice pair of in-ear monitors.
The P3s don’t offer much in the way of sound isolation. They get loud enough to compete with moderate street noise, and they do so without any noticeable distortion. But since these are on-the-ear headphones, they can’t block out all the revving and honking and jabbering going on around you. The memory foam pads conform to the shape of your ear, creating an adequate seal. But that immersive, all-encompassing audio experience where the world just shuts off, leaving you and Chuck Mangione alone together to chase the clouds away, is still out of reach.
One last quibble: the cabling. It’s the weak point on many of the headphones made by companies that don’t specialize in mobile products, and it’s the same story here. The remote — which advances the tracks, controls the volume and contains a microphone for phone calls — feels cheap. More troubling, the 1.9-millimeter-thick cable is gummy and doesn’t coil well. This presents a problem when it comes time to stow the headphones away inside the case. I suspect many people will simply wrap the cable around the headband, which puts unwelcome wear on the cable. Good thing it ships with an extra.
If the $300 P5s seemed too expensive, give the $200 P3s a shot. They don’t have the same super-luxe fit and finish, but they produce very good sound and the innovative, compact design is key for on-the-go listening. Besides, a Jaguar gets you there just as fast as a Bentley, yes?
WIRED Great sound quality, as expected from the Brit audio powerhouse. 30-millimeter mylar drivers handle mids and lows with gusto. Cables snake under the earpads, protecting the connection jack. Earpads and cables are user-replaceable. Folding design makes them great for travel. Available in black or white.
TIRED Light on high-end detail — you’ll have to fiddle with your EQ. Ambient noise isolation is lacking. Stowing them away inside the plastic case takes patience and practice. Cheap, thin cable.
Article by Michael Calore (c) Product Reviews - Read full story here.