Pros: Comfort, Form Factor, Excellent Passive Noise Cancelling
Cons: sound isn't there for the money spent
When I first heard that Bowers & Wilkins had entered the mobile headphone market I was very excited. Anyone who knows anything about high end audio has heard the name Bowers & Wilkins. The company has a long distinguished history amongst the audiophile community with their excellent product line of stereo speakers. I've never owned a pair of B&W speakers but I have been lucky enough to hear a set and I was blown away at the sonic signature of their stereo speakers.
First lets get the pros out of the way. The build quality on these cans is excellent. They have a very firm very solid feel in your hands and if properly taken care of they will last for many years to come. B&W also provides a sturdy display box and a nice travel pouch to help protect your 300 dollar investment. Included in the pouch is a spare cable and a standard 3.5 mm head jack. The fit of the P5 is incredibly comfortable on the ears and have got to be the most comfortable set of cans I have ever owned. I have been able to wear them for 3 to 4 hours on end and have felt no discomfort whatsoever.
The passive noise canceling capabilities of the P5 is very impressive. The headphone cuffs and the fitted leather over the cuffs act like a sort of tight sealing suction cup over the ears allowing no noise leakage in or out. I've sat on a packed bus with these cans blasting away and have not disturbed anyone around me. I've even worn these cans blaring away in a library where I was in close proximity to the working librarian and have had no requests to turn the volume down due to the noise leaking out into the surrounding environment. I've walked down a busy sidewalk with rush hour traffic zooming by barely 3 feet away from me and have been able to enjoy my music undisturbed by blaring horns and rumbling buses and trucks.
The con is unfortunately where it matters the most which is the sound. Before I begin I want to make it absolutely clear that the P5's are good sounding headphones. The problem is when I think Bowers & Wilkins I expect great sound not just good sound. When I first tried my P5's out I was left for a lack of a better word disappointed. I did try to give them a chance though and proceeded to loosen the drivers up (burn) by playing music nonstop through them for a good 50 to 60 hours. I also chose a wide selection of different genres to see how they would perform. Although I did notice some improvement the overall sound was still lacking.
Depending on the music the bass seemed hollowed out and not properly balanced with the treble. In certain spots the mids and highs sounded grainy and other times almost nonexistent due to the bass drowning everything around it out. Vocals on other headsets that sounded like the singer was standing 3 feet from me on the P5's sounded distant and even at times tinny. Transparency was lacking on so many of my song selections. One band I've always loved is Epica (Symphonic Metal) and on the P5's I found many Epica songs so lacking in transparency it was almost painful to listen to.
It's not to say the listening experience was all bad. For whatever reason when I played various songs from Disturbed (alt Rock/Nu Metal) I was pleasantly surprised. For whatever reason that bands sound or maybe just how the music was mixed paired with the P5 very nicely. Vocals were clear in your face and mids and highs seemed acceptably clear with the bass seeming less hollowed out. I also took the liberty of running various different mixes of Darude's (Electronica) Sandstorm through the P5's and was again pleasantly surprised with good mids, highs, and less hollowed out bass. Matter of fact the P5's seemed to mesh well with most of the electronica and dance songs I threw at it.
I don't hate the P5's but I'm not exactly in love with them either. As a mobile headphone they offer a extremely comfortable fit, excellent passive noise canceling, and have a very solid form factor that will last for years to come if the consumer takes care of them. What bothers me the most about the P5's is for 300 dollars there are far better sounding headphones on the market. I'm not a huge fan of Dr Dre Beats headphones but given the 300 price tag a future consumer might consider Beats headphones as a slightly cheaper alternative. Sonicly the P5's aren't that much better sounding then the entry level Dr Dre headphone. Klipish also just recently put out what I'm told is a good sounding mobile headphone at a good price point.
Does this mean I'm going to dump my P5's? Probably not. I think they're generally good headphones. My main problem with the P5 is I think they're overpriced for the sound quality they offer. I also can't help but think that if Bowers & Wilkins were going to put out a headphone they should have taken more time and done better sound benchmarking. Considering this is a product with the Bowers & Wilkins logo on it I expected far more from a company whose name has become respected for putting out great products with great sound.