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Style over substance

A Review On: Bowers & Wilkins P5 Mobile Headphones

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Mobile Headphones

Rated # 92 in Over-Ear
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Prog Rock Man
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Pros: Beautiful, beautifully made, very comfortable

Cons: The sound is mid range at best


Popped into the Apple Shop today and gave these a right good first listen……..
 I listened to a variety of tracks from The Rolling Stones to Lilly Allan. The P5s were straight into an ipod nano. I have no idea what EQ if any setting was on. I have no idea, but suspect that the files were probably itunes downloads and so lossy. Kicking off with The Rolling Stones and Street Fighting Years and there was great rhythm, clarity and detail. The sound was quite forward and bright (the file and EQ setting?) and the cymbals sounded odd and a bit flat. I then tried some Talking Heads and this was superb. David Byrne was crystal clear and the bass and drums very good without overwhelming. If that was not a lossless file then boy would lossless be a treat. Dance fans may mistake that bass clarity for a lack of bass. 
Jamie Cullum is not my usual, but I wanted something different and it was a track Grand Torino off the film with Clint Eastwood. The piano and his vocals were stunning and I got goose bumps.  Another more mellow track I tried was one form REM. I felt there Michael Stipe’s voice was too to the fore and it drowned out the plucked mandolin guitar of Peter Buck. 
Next a bit of metal and Queensriche and American Soldier. It had great attack, dynamics and a good bit of menace came over with the spoken vocals. I finished off with Lilly Allan for a bit of compressed pop and that is exactly what I got, dance along compressed pop. Again, it was a very bright and forward sound, too much for me. But, these are being marketed as portable headphones and to the ipod generation, so maybe that is the best I can expect in The Apple Store.
Overall, very promising and I am going to have another try with my own portable set up. If the volume needs to be maxed out of an ipod, the headphones need amped to really make them sing. They are a good equal to my similarly priced AKG K702s. So, many cheaper cans will also come close in the overall sound, which means how can they be £250?
They are beautifully made. They are quite small. The headband is thin and well padded. The drivers are tucked away inside the very comfortable lambs leather and memory foam pads. They are held on with magnets, one side so you can access the changeable cable. What was very clever was neither side was marked left and right. The metal adjustment looked very solid and well made.  I tried them both ways and got an equally comfortable fit. That means you can have the cable either left or right hand side. I am not sure if that is intended or not, but they work both ways round.
They have a tight clamp on your ears to get the pads to stay on your ears. There is very much a sweat point to where you have them on your ears. If they move you noticeably lose volume and sound quality.
They are closed backed, but did not isolate as well as my Goldring NS1000 or the Bose QuietComfort 15. There was a not bad soundstage with the P5s, which could be down to them being closed backed and on ear, as opposed to over ear. They appeared to leak very little sound. I got a sales person to tolerate The Cure at full volume and whilst I got intimately close to them. All I could hear was the tizzz of the cymbals.  But, it really needs a listen in a quiet room to properly judge them. They definitely leaked less sound than the Bose.
The metal back with its B&W logo makes these cans very classy.  Will I buy them? Not at the moment.  There is no doubt that you are paying a premium for the name and build. The sound is promising, but needs a trial with an amp and some lossless files to see if it improves to really impress. At the moment, for closed backed cans, the half the price AKG K271MkII remain my top of the list to get.

1 Comment:

They are most definitely marked right and left- the point where the arms join the back plates is marked L or R- it makes a huge difference to the overall sound. I was a little puzzled/bewildered initially too- the cable is on the left ear, and the wearing position seems to be the opposite of what I would naturally assume it to be. But once I knew this, and after an extended burn-in period (100 hours plus seems to be the base amount), this 'phones are prettty hard to beat. They also get much more comfortable with time as the leather conditions, and the memory foam settles.
For me, the build quality makes them a brilliant investment- I have broken countless pairs of Sennheisers over the years. They sounded brilliant, but couldn't handle day-to-day wear and tear for too long. The P5s are built superbly, they look extremely sleek, and feel pretty unbreakable. I enjoy the sound palette, and agree with some other reviewers who have described it as 'fun'. And extremely versatile- I have run everything from Slayer to Eno to Dead Can Dance to Gene Vincent (and all points in between) through these babies, and no 'phones have made them sound better through and iPod. And that's the thing to remember- the P5s have a pretty specific and narrow mission, and that is to make mobile music sound as good as possible. I'm not sure quiet listening and extreme detail are really the point
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