Bowers & Wilkins P5 Mobile Headphones

  1. Prog Rock Man
    Style over substance
    Written by Prog Rock Man
    Published May 10, 2010
    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. sixshoota
      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
      sixshoota, Jan 27, 2012
  2. Farnsworth
    Fantastic strait out of iPhone
    Written by Farnsworth
    Published May 8, 2010
    Pros - Build quality, Comfort, Design, Sound
    Cons - flimsy Cord
    OK, firstly these headphones aren't for everyone. They have a very warm, lush, upfront and colored sound which i personally love. They have strong crisp bass with smooth mids and clear highs. I find that this sound signature nicely compensates for my iPhones slightly anemic line out. They have strong crisp bass with smooth mids and clear highs. These headphones particularly thrive is portable use. they are some of the best unamped portable sound for the money. Using them with my iPhone has been a great experience. They fold flat and nicely fit in the included pouch in my backpack.
    In addition to this, these are some fantastically built and beautiful headphones. The combination of the leather and aluminum create something that is both remarkably comfortable and solid.
    So, for those looking for a portable headphone to be used unamped I suggest buy them and try them out (the apple store is not the best place to listen to them). If you find you dont like them you can take advantage of apples 14 return.
    [​IMG] L1000895.jpg
      Adash likes this.
  3. gorgonmusic
    Bowers & Wilkins P5 Review
    Written by gorgonmusic
    Published May 8, 2010
    Pros - Great looks, great sound, very clear and transparent at high volume, work perfectly with iPhone 3Gs, Great build quality
    Cons - $300 price tag, cord is alittle thin
    Enter the Bower & Wilkins P5's !!!!
    I was in the apple store and they caught my eye from across the room... yes their physical design is that great.. I was amazed at the perfect design and build quality using extremely high quality materials all round with firm construction that seemed very out of place in the rowdy "pop culture" apple store. These cans look like something that you would be invited to listen to by invite only. Real high grade leather , polished and brushed chrome yes!!

    After a 5 minute test listen (which blew me away) _I bought them all $300 of them they are so worth it that i got the last pair they had in stock.. I realized quickly that these where designed for ipod/iphone even the packaging style is similar and the inline controller/mic is very similar to the apple one.

    So when you open the box you smell and feel quality.. these things are packaged meticulously as if they were sent straight from heaven.. velvety formed cradle under which is the silken pouch that has your alternate cables, adapter and user's manual etc. That pouch then becomes your transport case but i swear it looks like some sort of Versace gotur
    Ear cushions are magnetically attached to the driver housing. these things fit on your head and ears like a sonic glove. but they are sized perfectly and exquisitely designed such that people around will wish they could wear them in public too.. you will not look like a DJ or a crazy person .. you will look like a conosur of mobile sonic experience..

    So ok how is the sound?????

    first of its hard to divide my description into highs mids and lows cause these cans defy what you are accustomed to.. to be honest the whole sound is perfectly unified, transparent, warm full, balanced, precise , controlled. Sound stage is very high up and true to life. instruments are very natural and true to life sounding with no peaks or brightness at all.. These cans have alot of headroom that leads to a loud but relaxed sound that has to be heard to be believed.. They are very very sensitive too so if its in the recoding you will hear it just as a true reference monitor should be.... 
    These cans make me happy cause i have a very eclectic taste in music so i need speakers and phones can do what the song calls for when its time to do it.... If a song wants to be rendered at 25 Hz in some parts then these will do it with tight and accurate precision. while keeping the vocals and highs as crisp and clean as they need to be.. THERE IS NO DISTORTION AT ALL!!!

    So in conclusion these cans are the best looking and sounding $300 set i have ever witnessed.. they make iphone/pod sound fantastic i would recommend..
      Adash likes this.
  4. Skylab
    Review: B&W (Bowers & Wilkins) P5 Headphones
    Written by Skylab
    Published May 8, 2010
    Pros - A small and very attractive headphone with great isolation
    Cons - A very off sonic signature with very rolled off highs and lots of midbass
    B&W (Bowers & Wilkins) P5 Headphones

    Being a B&W speaker owner, and fan, I was eager to test out a pair of P5’s. The look of the headphone also enticed me – they are very attractive:


    So I bought a pair. My reason for buying these was to use them as portables, on the road, with the iQube and an iPod Classic. I have been using the Senn PXC350, and still will have to for sure on airplane trips, but when I travel another way, or when I am gone a long time, I want to have another, non-noise cancelling headphone for that. I was hoping the P5 would fill the bill. I had bought the Ed 8's for that, but decided I liked them for home use too much to take them on the road.

    As they arrived, I was impressed by the nice packaging. They are smaller than I thought. The build quality of the headphones themselves is outstanding. And indeed, they are very beautiful to look at. The pad design has been extensively discussed, and so I won’t go into it there, but as nice as they looked, I never found them to be completely comfortable. There is more pressure on the ear than I would like, no matter what I did. I could only wear them comfortably for about 15 minutes. On the flipside, they do isolate very, very well – the best I have gotten from a headphone that doesn’t use noise cancellation except for the Sennheiser HD25.

    Also, the included cables are very thin and un-inspiring. And due to the connection scheme coupled with the manner in which the cable is snaked through the earcup close to the earpad assembly, and the absolute requirement of the earpad assembly to be snugly coupled to the headphone, it’s very unlikely that any sort of aftermarket cable is possible.

    But worst of all, I found the sound to be very disappointing. My initial listen showed some promising things, but some very noticeable problems too, which I had hoped would be ameliorated with burn in. So I burned them in for 100 hours before listening to them again.

    I played around a LOT with positioning on my ear, and while it definitely does matter, it did not change the overall sound significantly IMO (assuming we are talking only about reasonable positionings to begin with [​IMG] ).
    I tested them using the iQube, which I consider to be a paragon of transparency in a portable amp. Just to make sure of what I was hearing, though, I also used the P5 on the Meier Audio Concerto and even the Leben CS300X.


    The P5 have a slightly muffled, muted sound, are lacking transparency, and are noticeably colored. They are maybe the darkest sounding headphones I have ever heard that were “real” headphones. The treble sounds very rolled off and lacks extension in a very noticeable way, even compared to headphones with a slightly soft treble like the JVC DX1000. As such, little musical details get lost. Cymbals don’t sound like they should – they are thrown almost behind your head since they are so muted.

    The midrange is an enigma. There is definitely a lack of transparency to it. It’s lush, but there is a odd coloration I cannot quite describe to it. Some female vocals sound very good in a beautiful sort of way, but male vocals sound odd. And piano also sounds wrong – it fails to sound realistic. Patricia Barber's outstanding recordings have some of the most natural piano rendering I know of, and yet through the P5, they did not sound as I know they should.

    The above two traits also lead to a lack of dynamics and good attack. The whole presentation comes across as slightly slow and soggy. It's been a long time since I listened to a headphone where I felt that the dynamics were so restricted. I guess I have become spoiled listening to headphones like the Beyer T1 and the Ultrasone Edition 8 - but the P5 didn't have the dynamics even of the PXC-350.

    The bass is pretty strong, and generally good, but it lacks a little in terms of punch and definition. It’s not one-note, which is good, but it’s a little loose sounding. I have heard better defined bass in headphones costing less. I would say the bass performance is good, but not great. It has better weight than depth, too -- on Joan Armatrading's "Lover's Speak", which has some very deep bass during the chorus, this was less present than I expected it to be - the bass weight is mid-upper bass, not deep bass.

    On some material, like Mae Moore’s “Love Will Bring You Back” from “It’s a Funny World”, this darkness didn’t really cause any major problems. I noticed the lack of top end extension because I am so familiar with the music, but it did not bother me, and Moore’s voice sounded good. Some tracks that are generally too bright to enjoy actually sounded great on the P5. But on other material, and especially male vocals, or music where there is musically important detailed treble, the colorations get in the way too much.

    Two examples: David Gilmour's voice on "This Heaven" from "Like in Gdansk" is rendered in a muted way that is flatter and duller than it really sounds.

    On the other hand, Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" actually sounded GREAT, but that is a track that is normally is a very bright sounding. It sounded good in a way that it actually shouldn't [​IMG]

    The lack of treble extension gives the headphones a little bit of a claustrophobic soundstage. The image isn’t all that well defined, and seems to cluster in the center of the head and around the ears, with very little forward projection and not much depth.

    My main comparison was to the Sennheiser PXC350, as it’s similarly priced, and designed for the same basic application. All of my other headphones are in a much higher price/performance range. The PXC350’s are noise canceling, and as such they have a little bit of background noise when the NC circuit is on. The P5 have a blacker background. But that is the only advantage they have. The PXC350 sound better in every other way. They are more neutral, much more transparent, and have better treble extension, bass definition, and soundstaging than the P5 do. I no longer own them, but if memory serves me at all, I would say the Denon D1000/1001 outperform the P5 sonically. I wish I still had them so I could compare the two – but I’d be surprised if the P5’s outperform the Denons in terms of just sonics.

    I don’t want to overplay this – it’s not like the P5 sound awful. But they are a very colored headphone, and you will have to really like their odd flavor to like them. It’s already clear that some people do, and that’s great. I have deep, deep respect for B&W. I absolutely love my B&W Nautilus 800’s. I had never owned a pair of speakers for more than 2 years before investing in the N800’s – and I have owned them for almost 10 years, and just yesterday I was listening to some nice vinyl through them and absolutely reveling in their sound. Unfortunately, B&W has a major miss with the P5, in my opinion. They could have been so much better, and they look so nice and are so well built, surely they could have made them more neutral sounding. It’s not like B&W doesn’t know what good sound is. I have a hard time imagining that they feel the P5 represent $300 worth of headphone sound. Maybe they needed to do more benchmarking.

    In any case, unless you have a VERY bright set-up and want to radically change the sound of it in the other direction, I cannot recommend the P5’s at all. I think B&W needs to go back to the drawing board, or at a minimum, offer us a headphone at some point that better represents what their tradition dictates that they are capable of.
      silwen likes this.
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    2. windowman
      Yep, me too - that's what I hear to a "T". These are the biggest disappointment in audio I can remember in a long time.
      windowman, Dec 5, 2011
    3. Thraex
      I must add that your comments were mine just before this mod then the clarity, detail, dynamic and bass articulation improved 0.5 to 1 star point. I was lucky to read it before returning the P5 to the store.
      The original modder stated that enlarging a bit the cavity, just cut some foam with scissors, gives even greater clarity, detail and tightness but I like this P5 after the mods even if they're still tube-like colored (not much HF extension and a little bit bass loose).
      Thraex, Jan 8, 2012
    4. demian1962
      I simply wished to write that I used these precise words when describing my first long awaited experience with these having purchased sight unseen.
      Lack of dynamics, flat, yes, I completely agree.
      Ive read this fellow's mod, and I don't know his age or experience, and although perhaps thre have been some construction flaws out there, mine do not extend to cover the hexagonal shaped pattern of the ear holes to create this apparent issue with some.
      I did find however that the sound dramatically improved upon pressing them closer to my ears.
      I also spent a full day mucking with the to get proper positioning on my ears and increase clamping pressure.
      If anything, reducing the thickness of the foam is a culprit here.
      I also agree wholeheartedly on the qualities related to musi genres you describe..
      At any rate, well done and thanks for taking time..
      Ive read a tremendous amount on these phones, trying to separate the inexperienced from the experienced, and the obsessive from the objective..
      ..and for whomever else is researching these headphones, I wished to add I find this a spot on and objective reiew of the P5.
      demian1962, May 11, 2012
  5. fella
    The best ipod solution
    Written by fella
    Published May 8, 2010
    Pros - Beautiful design, beautiful sound
    Cons - Same price might get you higher SQ if portability is not a concern
    First of all shouldn't these be classified as on-ear headphones?
    Second, I defy the previous reviewer to say where the "cheap plastic" was located on these headphones. 

    These are great sounding headphones.  Their competition in terms of portability and sound basically comes down to the Sen HD25s, which are slightly ridiculous looking DJ headphones.  Perhaps when beyer releases their portable, there will be competition in the market, until then, B&W owns their segment. 
    Edit: I've heard that phiaton have some offerings in this segment as well, so perhaps try both and see what you prefer.
    You will not find a bad review of these outside of head fi.  There's either something cliquey going on here or in the outside world.   Think, (and listen) for yourself
    The bass is clear and controlled.  The overall sound is on the warm side   It makes MP3s sound better than they have any right to.  If the idea is to buy headphones for your ipod, anything more transparent than this is going to give you diminished returns. 

    With a fourteen day return policy, you could always return them if you agree with the other reviewer :)
    Lots of people come to hifi to look for a simple unamped solution for their ipods, and are (as I was) reccomended  products that sound great but need amps and a silent room to be enjoyed.  Why would anyone be using an ipod in that setting?  These are perfect ipod headphones.