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Over-Ear item created by Farnsworth, May 5, 2010
Pros - overall design (pads, comfort, looks), build quality
Cons - non-audiophile sound, mediocre (detachable) cable
From what I understand about the P5 headphones, they were not designed with the audiophile in mind. There are two "versions" of the P5: the first with the untrimmed foam earpads and the second with the trimmed foam earpads. The second had improved clarity across the range by removing the foam that blocked part of the earpad canal.
I purchased this headphone as a durable, stylish, portable, and isolating headphone to use on the go The design and durability is what caught my attention. I have enough audiophile-oriented headphones and few are portable with good build quality, comfort, isolation, and style.
I purchased the P5 "second version" for $300 at a nearby Apple store.
Metal and leather, no plastic in sight or any weak spots. The build quality is superb throughout the headphone and it can probably last a long time even when manhandled. No loose parts, finishing is superb, very solidly built. This is the type of quality I expect from $300 headphones, full-sized or not. I do not get enough of this quality from the other plasticky headphones I have, even the "studio monitors."
The cable is sorely disappointing. It feels very cheap and thin, even is detachable.
The foam earpads are very soft and smooth. This is the second most comfortable "real" headphone I have ever worn. The headband is well padded and the headphone was designed to fit on a human, not a rock, a rhino, an elephant, or a unicorn-monkey-horse. I can wear this for hours at a time and the only discomfort would probably from when my ears get hot from the leather (not too bad). Very comfortable.
First off, the isolation from the earpads is black-magic superb. A seal is achieved but it also causes the driver to flex when put on. The driver-flex that makes a slight popping noise is annoying sometimes. Isolation is superb to my HD25s and matches that of my cheaper IEMs such as the Brainwavz M2 earbuds. However, at times it can put pressure on the ears.
The sound is....relaxed, rolled off, no sibilance at all or any sort of harshness, maintains good level of definition and clarity, absolutely no detail for cymbals (e.g. jazz-ride rivet sounds dull), lower-highs well articulated and clear with medium level of detail, smooth texture. The mids seem delicately pushed , showing signs of slightly bloated lower-mids; upper-mids have oddly good detail, vocals sound superb but sometimes too bassy.
Upper bass has little punch, smooth texture, "lush" feeling - little impact but lots of body (not one-note bass by the way), making it sound very slow and draggy but in a pleasing and buttery smooth way
Lower bass is accentuated, giving the headphones a "sub-bass" feel - almost like a cheap car subwoofer. However it is impressive at the low hertz, at least compared to other headphones in the price category
Soundstage, as expected, is very narrow, very pushed together but with strangely good depth. Not sure why. Overall very very smooth, like a cup of rich hot chocolate. Non-fatiguing, to say the least.
The P5 really does gets weird; this is one of the most odd sounding headphones I have heard. It is dark yet well defined and with detail pushed from strangest parts of the frequency spectrum, and detail pulled away from other parts. It sounds mediocre to an "audiophile."
But the P5 sounds oh-so-satisfying. I can't really describe it.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the sound. But if I want some solid sound, I grab my full-sized pair of extreme-detail-retrieving, frequency-refining, extreme-critical-listening headphones. For what its worth, the P5 is great for a non-audiophile user.
Pros - Beautiful design, comfortable, good all-rounder
Cons - Price, finding sonic sweet spot
Firstly I'd like to begin by saying that I've owned many many pairs of high quality headphones over the years, and indeed speakers. I'll not reel them all off here, but suffice it to say I've owned (and still do in many cases) Grado, AKG, Beyer, Senheiser and Shure are just a few of the companies I've bought from over the last 35 years. I'd also like to say that obviously everybody's ears are different. What seems blatantly obvious to some will be missed by others, and also everybody's taste is different. Just look through all these reviews. Many decry the rolled-off treble whilst others say the p5's have a crisp, defined top end. How can this be? Well because as stated, everybody likes different things from their audio equipment, even if they don't realise it.
Unboxing is a refined experience. Quality box and printing is followed by equally lavish packaging inside. This extends to the phones themselves. I've found them to be extremely durable if looked after well, top class materials are used in construction. Af first I found they clamped my head a bit too snugly but after 3 weeks or so they seemed to slacken up a bit (in a good way). Or maybe I just used to them. Also, don't just plonk these on your head. You need to experiment a little with position to find the optimum place for the music to breathe. As someone else found, putting them on then moving them rearwards slightly seems to provide the best, clearest sound. Again, this may depend on your ear/head size and shape I guess. Experiment.
The sound itself (after 150 hours of run-in time) is very pleasing to the ear i find. The bass is deep without being crushing, the mids are well-placed and intimate when needed. Listening to Carly Simon sing "Nobody Does it Better" via FLAC yields wonderfully personal vocals and defined sound staging.
The top end is not as shimmering as it perhaps could be, but that fits in for my personal preferences - I hate a tinny and overly cutting hi-hat or crash cymbal. Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms" provides a good benchmark here. It's an album that splits opinion in terms of recording and production. It is an extremely clean and clinical piece of work. I've found it to be unlistenable on some equipment (speakers as well as headphones). My Grado SR-80's for example made an already incisive treble a bit too painful for my tastes. The p5's just warm this area up a touch. Some would say that's a sacrifice of detail, I'd say it provides a smoother and more comfortable listening experience. I won't bore people with any more specific examples but needless to say, I've tried these with many different genres of music from all over the world. Most are pleasingly rendered. These headphones are pleasing. I did find that Drum and Bass and House Music etc. wasn't handled particularly well by these. The bass probably isn't crunching or nimble enough for that sort of music I'd say. Having said that, sometimes the bass can be a little too much. On Judas Priest's "Sad Wings of Destiny", I found it a bit overbearing, but still listenable. The p5's to my ears seem to excel at easy listening, jazz and orchestral music. Try listening to a lossless version of the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" soundtrack and you'll be amazed by the placement of instruments, richness of low-end and overall detail. In fact I've noticed that these headphones always seem to expose flaws in recordings, or unintened noises. You can hear musicians shuffling papers and creaking chairs in this case for example. Jazz, again seems to benefit from a clear and natural reproduction and excellent placement of instruments. Anyway, I could go on all day but I will finish by saying that if you enjoy easy listening, jazz, pop and orchestral music etc., you'll be very happy with the p5's. If you like fast, heavy music with a skull-splitting bottom end then you should probably look elsewhere. Dr. Dre Beats or something even. That's not my bag really. It's a testament to the p5's that despite all the other headphones I posses, these are the ones I reach for mostly when I want to relax, close my eyes and be soothed. There is a slight softening to the top end but I don't understand people saying there's a lot of coloration to the sound - I just don't find that myself. Still, we're all different as I say.
Run them in, get the positioning right and you fall in love with them.
Pros - comfort, design, sound
Cons - cord, price
I've had these cans for a few weeks to give them a fair trial. To keep this short and sweet. These are one of the best sounding portable headphones you can purchase, perhaps not the very best, but one of them. Make sure you're comparing apples to apples. These won't compete with Grado's or similar open headphones, but for portables, they are VERY impressive.
A few things to note:
These do have a very lengthly break-in period before they really warm up, especially the treble.
These are very sensitive to placement on the ear. I find putting them a little further back on the ear sounds best.
It will take around two weeks before they loosen up physically, they may hurt your ears at first, especially if you wear glasses.
These are closer to reference headphones in terms of input required. Most MP3's will sound horrible unless they are lossless---and even then it really depends on what was used to rip them to MP3 in the first place.
As long as you keep those things in mind, you'll have an incredible listening experience. Ignore one of the above, and you'll find they're just mediocre at best. Once you hear what they're really capable of, you'll be tossing your Bose QC'a and Sennheiser HD's in a box.
Pros - Comfort. Like-- you can sleep in them.
Cons - Loose low end, Treble lacks definition and soundstage.
I bought these at an Apple store after jumping around between a few display models, and they certainly were the best of the lot that they had, in both sound quality and comfort. I didn't want to take them off, so that told me something.
What's wrong with them-- Well the mids can get mucky-- like there's a film over them. The bass is loose on the extreme low end-- it gets really slappy in the extreme lows below 200hz. The treble gives me the most bother. There's a real lack of imaging in these phones-- they bowl over the transients and there's little soundstage anywhere. Compared to my UE Reference Monitors, well, there isn't really a comparison. The UE's do everything so right, it's laughable when I jump to the B & W's.
So you'd think I'd be chucking these in a drawer and never look back, but a funny thing-- despite their shortcomings (I tend to address them with EQ- and if you want a different appreciation for them fire up iTunes and put the "electronic" eq on them and dial them in a bit) these headphones are like a comfy pair of old slippers. They don't do anything particularly well, but I find myself reaching for them often because they're so darned comfortable to wear. I can take a snooze while wearing them and they're wonderful. Beware- in warm weather, your ears will sweat!
One final note-- because of their flat profile, there are about five positions they can rest on your ear, and each sounds entirely different. Play around with placement before dismissing them, you might find a really good position and spend the next two months trying to figure out where you had them on that great night of listening they provided way back when.
Yeah, they're quirky and expensive, but they look good and feel great. I'm not getting rid of them, they're a creature comfort my ears appreciate on the right occasion. They're not for detailed listening. They're for curling up with a good book on a cold night. Soul food for your ears.
Pros - Overall sound, look, easy to drive, good noise isolation
Cons - difficult sweet spot for best sound, needs lot of break in, cable quality, maybe a little bit more detailed on top?
FIRST: don't believe any reviewer who listen to the P5 only few hours or a couple of days, they need minimum 60 hours of break in to start sounding decent, at 100h they sound ok. At first they're so closed in like listenin' with a big and heavy curtain in front of your head, no detail in any frequency, no dynamic, just ugly sound with boomy bass and not even punchy. I was shocked the first time I hear them, "who could ever buy this crap?" was my first impression.
SECOND: pjoliver182 mod http://www.head-fi.org/t/576341/b-w-p5-modifications is essential and the cheapest and easiest upgrade to gain bass detail, dynamic and better definition in any freq. Just add a little isolation material (also cotton will work for testing differences) in the upper part inside the ear pad. I've done this review with this essential mod, before I was very close to return the P5. Thank you again pjoliver182!
THIRD: They're very sensitive to ear pads position, move pads up/down/front/rear to get best results for your head. You need to experiment a bit to get best bass extension and articulation, focus, dynamics or to retrieve more ambience and soundstade depth.
The target for me was to select a portable HP without the need of a stand alone dedicated headphone amp, so they must be not too big and sound ok with an iPod, smartphone or a notebook.
Any difficult to drive or low sensivity HP is ruled out.
Overall rating is based on this needs.
I've used for testing: iPhone 4, iPod Classic 160Gb, Blackberry Bold 9700, Dell Precision M6600 Notebook with IDT hd audio codec and JRiver MC16 with WASAPI Event style in Windows 7 64bit, Linn Majik Kontrol or Naim Supernait+HC2 built in headphone amps with Linn Majik Ds or Naim CD5XS+FCX2 as sources. Lots of HD tracks 24 bit downloads tested. I think some of the listed equipment is good enough to judge overall quality and differences of HPs I targeted.
I've tried a lot of different types of HP so to have a general reference, I still have the following for testing purposes and to add some direct comparisons:
Sennheiser CX300 (in-ear)
Sennheiser HD535 (low sensivity)
Grado GR10 (in-ear)
Grado SR125i (low sensivity)
Monster Beats Solo HD
Overall the CX300 (best buy in ear for Whathifi) presentation is the most similar to the P5, a lower level P5 if you will: less detail and dynamic, less articulated and punchy bass, less separation and ambience, less armonics and less stable at high volumes.
Grado's are much more dry in sound, if you like them you'll hate the P5 tube like sounds. At first Grado's seems to pull out more details but now I think they loose some body in the sounds which for me is another part of the details and they've a mid/high freq bump not so comfortable to use with common headphone sockets, don't know how things goes with dedicated amps, but I'm not interested as stated before.
Monster Solo HD is much less detailed and too much boomy and exagerated bass to be serious.
Value 4 stars: they're not cheap nor they're too much expensive, very good VFM given the quality of construction and overall sound. At nearly 300 Euro they've more VFM than Monster Solo HD at 200 Euro for example.
Design 5 stars: I love the design, colors and materials used. I rate this parameter very high and I'm proud to show them around to anyone. Very appropriate even for older guys like me at 44 who don't like to emulate rappers and prefer a classic but modern look. Beautiful bag.
Confort 3,5 stars: at first they seems very confortable, but during long listening they start to pressure your ears too much. For over the ear they could be improved at least half a point, I'll give five stars only to around ear and light HP. Also it's not so easy to find again the sweet spot position if you change the distance of the earpads for storing them in the dedicated bag, it's so narrow and that detract a little to confort of use. Last cons: If it's hot they could make your ear hotter. Isolation confort is very good even if it's still possible to do better.
Audio Quality 4,5 stars (with pjoliver182 mod, without mod 4 stars, see SECOND point above): The sound is on the warm side with very good timbre fidelity, good dynamic and detail but not the champ here especially if you don't do the mod. I can't believe some reviewers stated they could be spitty or aggressive. I wish a little bit more HF detail and extension for perfection, that's why not a 5 star rating. Maybe a better cable could do the job but it's very difficult to upgrade it given the type of implementation: 2,5mm jack and even smaller than normal to fit it inside the ear pad, 3,5mm on the amp side.
With break in AND mod AND correct sweet spot, the critical bass is excellent, powerful enough to give justice to any kind of music, controlled and detailed enough to not miss anything in that department.
Midrange is british, its stronger feature for the one like me who appreciate it that way. It's detailed and full of body, not sterile. Voice M or F, saxs and pianos are very enjoyable. Some sounds even ambient sounds or voices from people speaking in live performances like jazz sessions seems so real sometimes I pull off the P5 to ask my wife if she was speaking to me or look around if there's someone moving in my room...
Overall what is so easy to love about the P5 is the coherent sound, it's not coherent in a neutral cold way, it's coherent in a tube like fashion. Any frequency is colored in the same way, so there is not a disjointed rappresentation of the music, you don't hear a super detailed HF and at the same time a boomy undetailed bass for example, nor you need to listen to only one kind of music or just a few tracks which are recorded optimally for your headphone. Any recording and genere could be enjoyed in a satisfactory way because even if colored any parameter is in good condition. Think about giving 7, 8 or 9/10 to various aspects of the music and sound instead of a 4, 7 or 10/10. The latter is less enjoyable in the long run even if some aspects are better. So you don't have the best HF extension but it's good enough to enjoy details and the meaning of the music and interpeter. The Prat factor is very high, the midrange british and tube like, the sensation of lots of harmonics add to the musical presentation. You can feel the body of instruments even if they could be more detailed, Grado's Hps on the contrary seems to loose some weight to instruments and voices even if they're perceived more detailed. Drums are not so fast like Grado's but are much more punchy and more full. Pianos the same, not so detailed nor so thin, more round and more decays and harmonics. I like much more now this type of presentation. I think Grado's are colored too, just in another way. Just b/c you could enjoy lots of different recordings or generes not means the P5 color the music in such a way all sound the same, not at all. You could hear great differences between recordings and that's why you are always happy to check the sound of the new HD file you've just downloaded.
Another strong feature is the volume you could push these little babies, more you pump the volume more details and dynamic you gain without fatigue and without congestion or lost of control. So in the end you start thinking, are they really less detailed or I just need a stronger amp to achieve better results? On the contrary with Grado's you think, maybe a dedicated tube amp could be the right choice...
Overall an excellent 4,5 stars: they could be more confortable, less picky sweet spot, maybe more detailed, maybe...
Pros - comfort, can be used for long periods of time, warm sounding, isolation
Cons - price depenable
If you are a serious audiophile then these arent for you.
very very comfortable
a very relaxing sound
very well presented
(iphone cable/detachable cable)
6. very good for travel, easy to drive. ISOLATION
expensive (but varies)
can get hot on your ears
case a bit large (but is very nice)
can get scratched.
THAT GOD **** TREBLE ( improved .... look at the edit.)
When i first listened to these cans i thought they were not worth it. But after long periods of time and travel then i find these to shine in a place of their own. Their sound is subtle and not fast-paced these cans are for relaxing(as i said) and not for head banging.
pendulum - immersion 256kps VBR
metallica - discography ( cept the new things ) FLAC
chase & status- no more idols FLAC
avenged sevenfold - discography FLAC
Beethoven - symphony 5 and 9 320kps
I found that the cymbals in these metal bands are very recessed and are very picky about SQ. The cymbals are there just not as florishing as they could be.
I found the sound staging impressive to be honest i found it to be like a small recording room feel but this varies to the quality of the music .
The build quality is pretty good too with the leather and metal finish. The cable looks like it can break but a replacement from my shop costs £5-10 so that doesnt really bother me.
I also want to say that my headphone are a 54k serial number so relatively new.
i would not pay the full price but for £200 i found this to be a much more reasonable price. Not for audiophiles but for travel and a welcoming, warming sound i find these superb. (love or hate sound).
After I recently got a new one (old one broke me being clumsy, not the headphones fault.) I found the treble to be ALOT better. Voices seem alot closer and not as far as the first version i had. Cymbals still sound a bit off but defiantly improved.
The serial number is RC 9mil series.
Pros - Decent looks, New Zealand sheep's leather
Cons - Poor sound, uncomfortable, overpriced
I can't add much to skylab's excellent review. I was so seduced by the idea of soft sheep's leather against my ears that I pulled the trigger on these only to regret the decision and have to sell them. The sound is muffled and dark and without body. They get uncomfortable against your ears after about half an hour. They look (and smell) nice, but that alone can't justify $300. The people giving them rave reviews on the consumer websites have either never heard good cans or are utterly hypnotized by the B&W brand aura and can't stand the cognitive dissonance of having spent $300 on subpar headphones. Back to the drawing board, B&W!
Pros - Very comfortable, seems durable, sounds very good
Cons - Expensive
I think the best way I can describe myself is an aspiring audiophile. I haven't the money, or the time to audition high end gear. That being said, I do scour the internet for information and save up my pennies for things I really want, and that's where the B&W P5s come in. I was able to experiment with them several times in an Apple store before finally exchanging two previous pairs of headphones I had bought there; one being the Skullcandy Aviators (which sounded surprisingly good despite their track record) and the other being the Klipsch Image One headphones. While purchasing these at their 150 dollar price points, I still knew I was making a mistake in not saving up and just pulling the trigger on the P5s. Luckily I was within Apple's 14 day return policy and in possession of a shiny new paycheck.
The P5s originally caught my eye at the store because of their beautiful, classy, sophisticated look. As I walked over and picked them up, I was astounded by the craftsmanship that went into designing these. Sheepskin leather ear pads, and otherwise metal construction. Seems fitting that it would be in an Apple store. In any case, they are very lightweight, but solid feeling at the same time. Picking it up, you can tell you have a quality product in your hands. I am almost afraid to bring them out into the real world. The only gripe I could possibly bring up would be the somewhat thin cable that it uses. However, this possible shortcoming is allayed by the fact that the cord is replaceable and cleverly accessible. The ear pads are magnetic, and removing the left side pad reveals that the cable is connected not at the base, but snakes up towards the top. I like this because it takes away stress that would normally be subjected to the plug and directs it more towards the main part of the cord.
I have not had the luxury of trying out really high end, full size cans, so I can only compare them to what I've used before. I have a pair of Shure SRH440s (among a few others) which I've always thought sounded really good; excellent balance and whatnot, but the ear pads are almost hard and make lengthy listening session difficult. It also has quite a long, thick cable, making it a hard choice for portable headphones, even though I know they're not really meant to be. In any case, the P5s are the best sounding headphones I've heard to date. The bass is...delicious. It's not overpowering, but you can feel it, and more importantly, distinguish it. The mids are nice and powerful; very in your face, and the highs are sparkly and clear. I listen to primarily classic rock, and these deliver in a big, comfortable way. Also, if you're listening to low bit-rate files, the P5s will grab you by the shirt collar and let you know immediately.
Once again, being an amateur in the world of headphones and high quality sound, this would really have to be my first real foray down this road. I have read that there are better sounding headphones for the price, but with this kind of care and design in build quality, craftsmanship, and comfort, the B&W P5s stand out from the crowd, IMO. If you can find the money, I definitely recommend these to anyone looking for a better listening experience.
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.
Well, I just had a rather special experience with the P5 which results in me selling my T50p and ESW10jpns while retaining the much battered P5. Here it goes -
I haven't thought of getting the P5 after Skylab's comprehensive write-up, and other concurring views from other members. I was rather happy with my ESW10s, and later the T50p. I mostly use ER4S and Monster MDs these days, but there are times when I'd like to reach for a headphone. I just grew curious about the P5 after someone, who is a known Bose hater, asked me to try them. He himself got a little surprise with them. I didn't asked him in details and thought I'd come up with my own conclusion. Luckily the P5s are relatively easily available for trial.
I brought with me a light setup, just my iPod Classic and SR-71A, with my iPhone and the iQube loaned by the shopowner being guest performers. My music is mainly classical orchestral pieces, with plenty of pop to supplement that. Rock is scarce but also available.
Maybe my review would be better understood if I begin by saying what I DON'T LIKE about my own portable cans, namely T50p and ESW10:
T50p: I absolutely HATES its bass. Overpowering, embracing YET lacks impact and bite. The lower half of the spectrum is a bit too lush and mushed, while the upper half is a dry-ish and rather coarse presentation. Does that sound awful? Well no I like its presentation of slower, lazier music like jazz and small-scaled classical pieces, mostly solo works, but in larger-scaled works they sound a bit bland and lacks transparency. It shows its weakness in tonal coherence when there was an upward swoosh in strings in an orchestral piece (forgot which one now) where the lower notes and the latter upper notes sound like they come from different instruments, which was not true. Soundstage is quite disappointing, and details are present but drowned out by the all-embracing fat bass. One thing the T50p really stands out is its isolation - until its release only the HD25 performs well in that department.
ESW10: I have no gripe about its sound - it's simply 1st class, period. A bit coloured in the mids (but less so than other ATH phones), its detail rendition is jaw-droppingly good and is nicely extended at both ends of the spectrum. The one and only one possible deal-breaker is its isolation - it's almost non-existent in noisy environment, like on the underground or on buses, not to say on a flight.
OK so I know the perfect portable can would be a ESW10+T50p mixture, which is a distant dream. I'm not saying the P5 is anywhere near that dream. But, as a portable can (ultimate one maybe, as I've been looking for the ultimate one for a long time), I think it does wonders in every department in a portable can. And the obvious caveat when judging a portable can is that sound quality must be balanced with other factors, such as build quality and durability, looks (for some), weight, size, isolation, practicality in general, etc.
When I first put on the P5, I immediately searched in my memory for something similar in the sound signature, and if my memory serves me good the can appeared first in my mind was the PX200-II. Both sounds pretty balanced, but nothing excels. Both suffered from a lack of extension at both ends of the spectrum. That said, I was expecting a very, very dark sound from the P5 after all the others have said here, but the sound I got from the P5 out of my iPod directly is far from being dark. There is a peak somewhere in the mid-high region, creating a pseudo-high-extension feel - actually this feeling is quite similar to the Monster tuning in the MD and the Copper Pro, the difference being the P5's peak is located a bit lower in the spectrum, while the Monster peak is located a bit higher up. This renders the sound somewhat coloured, but not overwhelmingly so.
Besides this peak, the P5's sound is pretty balanced overall. I don't find it muffled - in fact I find its detail rendition at least on par with the T50p, which is very surprising considering Beyer's claim of the driver technology and T1's track record. When listening to classical symphonies the P5 reminds me of my bedroom Onkyo system - a rich, warm sound, with bite and grit, but not too weighty. And P5 is very good in soundstaging and presenting layers of instruments in the correct orientation with transparency and clarity. This even the ESW10 fails to satisfy me, and the T50p is a complete failure in this area.
The bass is good, not overwhelmingly deep, but comes with details and impact. Definitely not overpowering, and not lacking.
Needless to say, P5 excels in build quality and comfort, and I do not intend to repeat what others have said in these areas. What proved it to me as the able partner to my iems is its isolation - it is not iem-good, but it is miles ahead of PX200 and ESW10. It IS usable on trains and flights. And its size, together with the more reasonable approach in its method of stowing away, adds up to a winner, not in the sound department perhaps, but in the overall package.
Is the MSRP justified? As I've mentioned its sound is PX200-II-ish and though it betters the PX200, it isn't a night and day difference. I think it is difficult, if not impossible, to consider this question solely on sound quality. For the listed MSRP I think the isolation alone worths 20%, the design/looks/size/weight/comfort worths another 20%, the brand (yes I think that's the part which haters hate most) worths maybe 10-20% (though trust me the B&W brand is not THAT marketing oriented and not THAT well-known here in Asia, at least their campaigns are way less aggressive than Bose, Sony and Shure, and their showrooms are located in obscure places). The rest goes to the sound. Fair enough, eh? Yes it is way more expensive than the PX200 but doesn't offer too much improvement in sound, but to sum it up in one word: PRACTICALITY, makes it all worthwhile IMHO. It is small (relatively), extremely simple to handle, extremely intuitive in folding and storing (by contrast the T50p case, thought handsome, was HUGE and occupies too much space in my briefcase, while it's always a hassle to tug the cable of the ESW10 into the seperate cable pouch to protect the wood from scratch), great isolation making it usable in many difficult situations, the single-sided cable is very handy in everyday life situations, and the Apple-friendly remote/mic cable, if you can stand a very slight deterioration in sound, is again very handy if you use a iPhone. Even when i'm listening to music on my iPod (not my iPhone), i can just yank out the cable and plug it into the iPhone in no time if a call comes in. And if I want to listen to the broadcasting on the underground, I can turn down the volumne or stop the track in no time. Practicality may not be for all audiophiles or head-fiers, but for myself, I know there are times when I'm chilling out with my ER4S and some Mahler, I become desperate when a call comes in and I wanna fetch my hands-free buried somewhere deep in my bag.
And it sounds good, not jawdroppingly good, not $299 good, but plain good. You know what you're paying for, and that's fine.