Bowers & Wilkins has been designing speakers for over 45 years– enough time to develop several revolutionary technologies such as Kevlar speaker cones into fantastic sounding systems. Now they've decided to work on a mobile solution: the P5 headphones. Designed for ultimate comfort and portability, let's see how the B&W P5 sound.
Coming from a company with such strong roots and heritage, I expected a lot. By heritage, I mean B&W manufacturers the speakers used at Abbey Road Studios. This is the same studio that recorded almost all albums by the Beatles and Pink Floyd. By roots I mean the company was started by a special ops WWII veteran specializing in radio contact with resistance operatives. This company has enormous experience engineering sound in several ways.
The first thing I noticed about the P5s was the sheer build quality. It's rare to find headphones made with metal, especially ones that can fold flat. The P5 feel solid, even when rotating the speakers for folding. The mechanism for changing pad position also feels rock solid. Even better are is the sheepskin leather allowing for extremely supple and comfortable ear pads and headband. The quality seen in the P5s is something that is hard to find.
The earpads are stuffed with memory foam creating a feeling similar to wearing Bose's on-ear headphones. I think the P5s are more comfortable however. They also exhibit a touch of class with brushed metal and leather. They also come with two replaceable cables: a standard headphone cable and a microphone cable for use with an iPhone or other device. Finally, a high quality cloth case with magnetic flap is included allowing you to keep your $300 headphones protected all the time.
Now for what's really important: the sound! When I first tried the P5s I was less than impressed. I thought it was too bassy, muddy, and was all looks. Thankfully, I gave them several weeks to really open up and shine. And shine they did. Now to be honest, the P5s aren't the greatest headphones in the world. In fact, they are only decent at some types of music. But when you pair them up with some rock and roll, they are simply astounding. Of course, you have to keep in mind that these headphones fold flat and are extremely convenient for travel– besides in-ear monitors I can't think of anything so portable with such fantastic sound.
As I mentioned before, Rock is where the P5s really open up. Interestingly, the most amazing song I heard on them was one mastered at Abbey Road Studios. Pink Floyd's Time on their Dark Side of the Moon album was incredible. The slightly boosted bass of the P5s made the heartbeat found throughout the album tactile. I could almost feel somebody through my ears. The smooth notes and sounds throughout the album kept bringing me to the stage, almost as if I were watching Pink Floyd live. The vast soundstage, extremely impressive for the closed nature of the headphones and tiny size, felt as if I was swallowed up by the music.
I was extremely impressed with the P5s. I didn't think headphones could change so much with enough listening time– something I also found with my soon-to-be-reviewed Ultimate Ears UE18 Pro custom in-ear monitors. My advice: if you want a portable set of retro-styled headphones, get the P5s. I can't think of anything better for the size if you don't want anything in your ear canals. Once you get them, listen to them for at least 50 hours. After that, you will notice something very special. At that point, put on Dark Side of the Moon and just relax with your eyes closed.