Bowers & Wilkins was one of the first luxury/hi-fi audio brands to begin offering more affordable speakers and headphones. Of course, “more affordable” is a relative term—B&W’s in-ear and on-ear options start at about $175, and rise steadily through the models. The new P7 is the company’s first over-the-ear (circumaural) headphone pair, and at $399.99 (list) also its most expensive. The design exudes luxury, the fit is exceedingly comfortable, and, most importantly, the audio performance is fantastic. The price may be a dealbreaker for some, but the P7 doesn’t disappoint otherwise, and it earns our Editors’ Choice award.
Styled similarly to its cousin, the on-ear (supra-aural) B&W P5, the P7 is reminiscent of the leather interior of a luxury car. Practically every surface that isn’t aluminum is covered in soft black leather. We’re not knocking the visual effect, as it looks stunning, but one does wonder how much of the $400 price tag goes toward the cosmetic materials alone.
The earcups and headband are both extremely comfortable, but over really long listening periods the weight of the headphones can start to make itself known in the form of pressure on the top of your head. Basically, this is bulky, but regal headphone design—more Rolls Royce than Ferrari.
Two 3.5mm cables (one with an in-line mic and three-button remote for iOS devices, and one with no mic or remote) are included with the P7, which adds a little value to its hefty price tag since cables are the most likely component of headphones to malfunction over time. Even if you manage to go through both cables, buying a replacement will still be far less costly than buying new headphones or sending the P7 in for repairs. The cables connect to the headphones under a left ear pad that pops off easily and reattaches magnetically.
Along with the cables, a 1/4-inch adapter is included, as is a very luxurious-looking protective leather case. It has a magnetic lid that flips down to close, and the well-designed P7 folds down to a fairly manageable size to fit inside.
The P7 handled our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” without warping even at maximum volume. For less intentionally bass-heavy songs, like, Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” vocals retained the proper amount of treble edge to stay at the front of the mix. This is important, because the drums and his baritone vocal delivery both receive a healthy dollop of low frequency presence, and that can overshadow the treble edge on bass-boosting headphones. The P7 delivers a wonderfully balanced mix, at once powerful, articulate, and dynamic.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop is delivered with an ideal focus on its high-mid attack. Somehow, the P7 sounds as if it adds a little air to the kick drum, and with the low and low-mid sustain it’s a formidable sound not often heard in headphones. The sub-bass synth hits are beefy, but not-over-the top, and throughout the track the vocals float over this layered, textured instrumental mix. It’s a sound that can appeal to bass lovers as much as audiophiles, sounding great without a completely pure flat response that can make bass seem underwhelming.
On classical tracks like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” the bass response is at its most subtle, offering soft richness without sounding unnatural. The higher register strings and brass take the spotlight, with an ideal level of crispness on the brass without sounding too bright. Classical lovers seeking true flat response might find the bass here a tad too strong, but for most listeners the P7 offers ideal audio for orchestral music.
If you’re hunting in this price range, the excellent Sennheiser Momentum is also a force to reckon with—and it’s slightly less expensive with a list price of $350. Perhaps you want something with far less bass and more of a flat response in this price range, then check out the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H6. If $350-$400 seems like too much to spend on headphones, the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro is a less-expensive option with customizable bass response. The P7 easily wins our Editors’ Choice award—it’s a fantastic, handsome headphone pair with few flaws other than its high price.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc