With the headphone jack now becoming a more exclusive port on some smartphones, more people are looking for wireless options in their headphones. While Bluetooth hasn’t always been considered fantastic for audio quality, advances including aptX and Bluetooth 4.1 help to boost audio quality while reducing dropouts caused by interference from 4G mobile signals.
Today we are taking a look at Bowers & Wilkins latest Bluetooth headphones, the P7 Wireless. Bowers & Wilkins are renowned for their range of high-end headphones, with the P7 previously being the flagship model. They also have great experience in maximising Bluetooth audio quality – as we have seen in their P5 Wireless Headphones (review), T7 Portable Speaker (review), and the iconic Zeppelin Wireless Speaker (review). Here Bowers & Wilkins aim to combine their wireless expertise with their top-end portable audio, bringing Bluetooth to their award-winning P7 Headphone series.
What’s in the Box?
Bowers & Wilkins are a premium audio brand and you realise this as soon as you see the packaging. The P7 Wireless Headphones come in a classy cardboard box that is heavy on the design and light on the feature lists. You immediately realise that this is a quality product and can start to see how you are spending your $399/£319.
Open the box and you are presented with the P7 Wireless cradled in a satin-lined tray. This is when you first get to fully appreciate the design. The headphones are extremely similar to the wired-only P7 and exude the same fine build quality with leather and chrome dominating the design.
Lift the tab at the back of the box and you reveal a further layer of packaging containing the plush case, manual, charging and audio cables. The audio cable is a simple cable, lacking the microphone and controls found on the wired-only P7.
The headphones fit snugly within the case, polished by a microfiber interior.
Overall the first impressions are very good, when compared directly with the wired P7s there is little to separate them, the main difference being the finish of the band around each ear-cup.
Getting Up and Running
The P7 Wireless come charged and ready to use. You can either choose to start by connecting to the Bluetooth radio, or by connecting the audio cable.
The power-slider is found on the right earcup and also acts as the Bluetooth-pairing function when pressed. After powering on and holding the button, the indicator LED flashes blue to inform you that you’re ready to pair. Selecting the P7 from your Bluetooth Settings is all that was required (although some devices may require a ‘0000’ code). Once connected, you should see the Bluetooth icon and a headphone battery indicator in the status bar if you are using an iPhone.
If you are lucky enough to have a headphone socket you can also choose to use the audio cable. This attaches to a small port that is concealed behind the pad on the left earcup. You just need to pull firmly on the pad to release the magnetic attachment before inserting the cable and replacing the pad.
Using the Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless Headphones
In daily use you are sure to notice the design and craftsmanship that has gone into the P7 Wireless. From the premium leather with its contrast stitching, to the sumptuous memory foam ‘ear cushions’, everything feels luxurious and well made.
The headband size adjustment is easy to use but there isn’t any feedback as to how far you have extended the band. The headband also has a folding mechanism that springs the arms into their open position with precision. When closed the headphones are easy to stow in the case for travelling but they are still sizable.
When I first put them on I immediately noticed the firm hold that they had on my head, definitely firmer than the P7 wired-only but not enough to be headache inducing.The Bluetooth controls are easily located on the rear of the right earcup, with buttons for volume up/down either side of the play/pause control. The buttons themselves are quite stiff to use but there is none of the wiggle that we found on the P5 Wireless. They remain plastic, which is a shame when the majority of the headphone uses more premium materials. They are, however, responsive, and you quickly find yourself using them with ease.
The Bluetooth connection also allows you to take phone calls when you have the headphones on, this worked seamlessly and had great audio quality on both ends.
If you run out of charge, there are multiple options! You can use the P7 Wireless headphones while they charge, or you can use the supplied audio cable with the hidden port.
Using them while charging works fine, although if you’re using the supplied cable, you may find that the cable is a bit thick and too kinked. Your power source may also be too far away for the 1m cable.
The Bluetooth function is entirely disabled when the audio cable is attached, this is great for running the headphones when you are completely out of juice but does mean that switching from one mode to the other requires removing an ear cushion and inserting/removing the cable.
Battery life is great. I never had a problem with running out of charge and testing confirmed the 17-hour battery life when using Bluetooth. If you ever get into a situation where you do exhaust the battery then you can always reach for the wired audio cable.
The Bluetooth connection was generally solid, but I did experience a couple of brief dropouts when moving around the house. However, these appeared random and I couldn’t find a reliable way of reproducing them. When I tried to test the range the Bluetooth easily reached round a sizable room but did suffer when moving past a brick wall. Overall these will cope well with the majority of listening scenarios while you are out and about.
I’ve been fortunate enough to own the wired-only predecessor to the P7 Wireless which let me do a direct comparison for this review. To get a broader picture I also I also compared the Oppo P2, Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless, and Sony MDR-1ABT.
The B&W P7 Wireless produce some of the best Bluetooth audio that I have heard. The sound produced is crisp, clear and even manages a punchy deep bass. The Bluetooth sound feels cleaner than the Sony MDR-1ABT, even though they both feature the Hi-Fi aptX codec. However, compared to the wired only P7, the Bluetooth connection just can’t compete.
While the Bluetooth audio may be a key reason to buy the P7 Wireless, it’s through the wired connection that they really shine. Here you can really experience what the P7 Wireless is capable of. The sound signature is certainly not a flat profile that is favoured by critical listening. Instead, it is similar to the original P7 but there has been a big upgrade in the bass department. While this won’t be to everyone’s taste it certainly makes for a very energetic sound that is both punchy and dynamic. Personally, I found this a great improvement over the originals when listening to anything from Daft Punk to Adele. You aren’t going to mistake the sound for a pair of Beats, but the sound is definitely tuned to be fun and slightly bass heavy. The mids and highs aren’t left out though, they still are refined and have great clarity, and are just as good as on the original P7’s.
The Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless Headphones are some of the finest designed headphones on the market. While they won’t appeal to the Beats crowd, the premium materials and finish really set them apart as something special.
If you are after a set of headphones for critical listening then you should probably look elsewhere. These don’t offer a linear response, but are instead tuned to the Bowers & Wilkins signature house sound, offering a full and deep bass. This is perfect for casual listening and really lets you enjoy the music without having to concentrate on it.
The Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless offer fantastic sound and great convenience in the Bluetooth connection. However, for me the Bluetooth should be viewed purely as a convenience. The P7 Wireless is capable of incredible sound when connected via cable and from an appropriate source. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t buy these if you are looking for a purely Bluetooth solution, The Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless are the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones that money can buy.