Bowers & Wilkins P9 Premium Headphones, Brown

Rating:
4/5,
  1. Army-Firedawg
    An audiophiles "fun" headphone
    Written by Army-Firedawg
    Published Sep 26, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Impressive bass, solid build, detachable pads, detachable cable, easy to drive, beautiful looks.
    Cons - Ear pads internal plastic could be a little smaller, strong clamping force can be too much for some, cables don't feel as premium as the headphone.



    The flagship of the Bowers & Wilkins headphones is a product I’ve been wanting to hear ever since I first read about it on a Head-Fi teaser post a few years ago because their P7 headphone has been a staple of mine for several years now and I’ve come to truly love their original sound. Though since the release of their “series 2” I personally don’t care too much for I’ve still yearned to hear what their best is. Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I felt like stopping into my local Magnolia store to hear what speakers they had for audition. Among them were a few Bowers & Wilkins model and I decided to have a listen after a gentleman there helps me get them going (their demo software must utilized by an employee). After a little bit we get into conversation about how I loved the original BW sound but don’t like the direction they went with their series 2 in at which point he introduces himself as a BW rep who was just in town checking up on one of his stores. We talk some more and he states that the series 2 is actually the sound they wanted and that their original releases doesn’t reflect on the sound they wanted to settle with. Being amazed by this I informed how I reviewed headphones and would really like to try their newest model myself and see how it compares with the P7 and my memory of their series 2 sound (I’ve purchased the original P3-7’s but, as I said earlier, didn’t care for the series 2’s darkness). So if I may now, after a very long intro, give my thoughts and impressions on the Bowers & Wilkins flagship headphone, the P9 Signature.


    A little about me

    I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.

    I'm a firefighter for both the civilian and military sector and the cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.

    My interests/hobbies are powerlifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.

    Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.

    My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.

    Equipment used at least some point during the review

    -Amp.(s)

    -Schiit Ragnarok

    -D.A.C.(s)

    -Schiit Yggdrasil

    -Sources

    -LG V20/HP Pavilion

    -Playing Pandora, YouTube, and various format personal music

    Disclaimer

    I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.

    The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.



    The Opening Experience

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    Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience

    Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.

    As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’

    This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?



    The handshake that Bowers & Wilkins provides in each and every headphone I’ve purchased and unboxed has always been that of class and appreciation. The exterior is very simplistic, which as I’m sure many of you know is something I LOVE seeing, with only a picture on the headphone on the front, sides, and back, and the company’s mission statement also on the back (that is printed in several different languages). The box is a thick cardboard that opens up into two separate pieces that once opened showcases the P9 folded in their cutout. Consistency is also something that I personally enjoy seeing company’s do. Every Bowers & Wilkins product that I’ve ever opened have always maintained the overall appearance and opening experience rather it be the P9’s here or their introductory product, the P3. Underneath the P9’s you’re given the second, 10’ non-mic cable, a amazingly soft carrying pouch made of alcantara leather and suede (that personally I wish came with a box but I understand it with it being primarily a “mobile” headphone). Now, inside the suede carrying pouch you’re given the third, 3’ non-mic, cable, the warranty and instruction manual, and their ¼“ adapter.

    I must say that I really enjoy the care Bowers & Wilkins put into packaging their headphones. They understand that they don’t need to bog their boxes down with “look at me” jargon and can simply say ‘here, listen to them and let them speak for themselves.’ I admire this and find the “hand shake” they gave me with their P9 an enjoyable one.


    Construction

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    The build on the P9, like all of its predecessors, is fantastic. The entire frame is made from an aluminum like material (so NO plastic) which gives it a hefty and premium weight. A lot of people I’ve let listen to them even comment on how much they love the weight to them and that really makes them feel premium unlike the plastic they’re used to. I guess I’m one of the few people who actually like weighty headphones (so long as it’s designed competently for comfort) so I certainly consider that a huge positive. The headband and ear cups are made out of alcantara leather with a nice amount of thickness to them, which I’ll cover more in the comfort section. The pads AND cable are EASILY DETACHABLE! I cannot stress how much I love seeing this feature, especially the detachable cable part. Staying on the frame, while these are on your head it is EXTREMELY difficult to make sizing adjustments. Never have I personally tried a headphone that’s like this and at first I didn’t care for it too much but after a very short time I grew to really appreciate it. So what this does is once you find the size that’s good for you, which admittedly involves a good bit of taking the headphone on and off your head, it stays there. Not one single time have I used this headphone that I had to adjust the headband, once I found the area of adjustment that worked for me it was set, five minutes of work has paved way for weeks of convenience (likely MUCH longer but that’s all I have them for). I can honestly say that my HD800 S’ do NOT share this convenience, I’m ALWAYS having to adjust them back.

    The driver housings utilize a very interesting tether like movement system that gives an impressive amount of fit options and angles over the standard x/y axis hinges, though I do foresee these wearing down and breaking in the far future. The housings are also hinged (if you didn’t already pick up on that from the opening experience section) so these can be folded down to fit nicely in their included carrying pouch an into a suitcase.

    As for negatives, I do have two. First is the cable itself. Though yet it’s detachable, which is always a positive, it’s a very basic feeling cable that doesn’t really feel premium to me at all. In the same respects I also don’t hear any microphonics from it at all so it does likely have some nice internal shielding, I wish it looked like it came off of a $900 headphone. My second is the ear cups. Though they’re, for the most part, comfortable they have a rather large piece of plastic that goes the majority of the length of the pad. I understand this adds firmness to the pad but I feel that they used too much plastic and not enough foam. Even after listening to these, a lot, for a few weeks now they always feel a little awkward for the first few minutes after putting them on until my ears get used to them.

    So overall, I’m very satisfied with the build quality of the BW P9, though there’s some small shortcomings I see none of them are but small items.


    Comfort

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    So the unboxing and build was fantastic, how is its comfort level? As I said above, they’re fairly hefty and so long as they’re designed competently in the comfort area I personally prefer a heavier headphone. Well, to cut to the chase, I find the BW P9’s comfort to be acceptable. I don’t particularly favor it but I most certainly don’t dislike it. When you first put on the P9’s they’re rock hard on your head, almost uncomfortably in fact but after a few hours of wearing them they start to stretch out a bit (sorry Bowers & Wilkins about your new [now demo] unit :p) but always maintain their firmer pressure on your head. The main thing that makes them not the best in comfort is the plastic in the ear pads, they just eliminate the foams ability to compress and mold to your head. I believe if they were to cut the plastic in half and then increase the foams density they’d have the comfort spot on.


    Sound

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    The original flagship, the P7, is what gave me my epiphany moment of what type of sound I yearned for. Mids so smooth and sensual I truly felt like whatever I listened to what being performed purely for me, highs the reached for the night sky and never gave up on the dream, and bass that’s enough slam to not sound hollow but yet also have just enough decay as to relax oneself into the music. I’ll say that my first impressions when first putting some sound through the P9 met my expectations fairly well especially after speaking to the rep. and him mentioning how the series 2 is what B&W envisioned. The sound of the P9 is very fun and personal with an emphasis on the bass slam, for those who have heard and enjoy the new “true” house sound of the Bowers & Wilkins brand will likely wholeheartedly love the new P9 for it capitalizes on what makes it good and turns it up a level. Now, for those who’re like me who enjoyed their original house sound, the new P9 may not be what you’re expecting.

    The soundstage on the P9 is up close and personal but absolutely not claustrophobic but it is most certainly VERY impressive in its positional awareness. This really became noticed when watching tv shows and the like but on well recorded tracks where there’s lot of moving pieces, like “He’s A Pirate” performed by Zebrowski Music School or “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets” by Piano Guys (the live version linked to be most specific) just to list a couple. Both of those songs have several different instruments playing that are spaced a respectable ways apart and the P9 does a fantastic job at individualizing them so you, as the listener, are able to feel like your at the performance.

    Imaging is also another area that the P9 hits home with. If you’ll let them, they’ll transport you to whatever performance you’re listening to. If you’ll close your eyes and relax and let the music take over, the P9 will show you the instruments and even the artists singing very vividly. Though I wouldn’t call these a very musical headphone for their bass punch and fun “V” shape sound, they’re still very non-fatiguing to listen to and one can truly enjoy the music, so perhaps in that regard, they are fairly musical. But if I may, allow me to now talk about the individual aspects of their sound so that, hopefully, I can convey what I’m trying to a little better.


    Treble


    The treble, to me, is the eyes of the music. It should sparkle and be full of energy and emotion and even bestow excitement. For the most part the Bowers & Wilkins P9 was an easy headphone to review but the treble is definitely the hardest for me to put my finger on how to describe and portray it. The treble on the P9 is very accurate and realistic sounding and has plenty of extension without sharpness but at the same time it sounds rather dull and unexciting. An analogy of what comes to mind on how to describe the P9’s highs is an artist who’s so good at what they do and they’ve been doing it so well for so long they’ve lost their passion. It’s like a musician singing the exact notes they always have at the same pitch etc… but they just don’t have their heart and soul in it. Everything’s there, except for the enjoyment and passion and such, the music is just missing that special something. Listen to this piece by Fritz Kreisler's called “Love’s Sorrow” performed by Anne Akiko Meyers. This is a really beautiful and emotional piece that I love listening to but when played through the P9 it’s just, not as special. I know that I always split up my review of the sound into these individual aspects so that I can describe them better, and this section didn’t really do that, but it’s the best way I can try and portray how the highs on the P9’s are. On the surface, they’ve everything that makes for outstanding treble presentation, just missing the passion.


    Mids


    The mids, the soul and voice of the music. This is where music expresses its emotion fully and with the P9 I feel that it does a fairly good job. Their motto used to be “Concert for One” (and may still be but when looking at their site I couldn’t see it mentioned anywhere [realise I may very well have just looked it over]) but as they’ve moved away from their original sound I feel as if the mids have also fell by the wayside. Now, they’re still beautifully clean and detailed and, at least for me, true to accurate, but they’re now quite recessed into the background and instead of being accented by the bass decay, they’re now sometimes drowned out by it (which is actually reminiscent of a concert so, there’s that). Now, with the above said, the P9 does have the potential to have some truly amazing vocal representation. Listen to the songs “Man I Want To Be” by Chris Young or “Long Black Train” by Josh Turner. These songs are just about all vocals with only a couple accentuating instruments and it’s such a treat to listen to. The P9’s make both of their vocals, especially Turner’s, sound very personal. I’ve learned that, as long as a song is mastered to showcase the artists voice over overwhelming instruments (which sadly is what’s popular today), the P9 will amaze you by how stunning it sounds. So you know what? Perhaps they still perform a Concert For One.


    Bass


    The heartbeat of the music. To be full a headphone must possess the ability to present a strong bass presence without overdoing it. It must have force and slam to feel the music but also the control to know its place in the onsemble. Each of these aspects are presented absolutely flawlessly in the P9, there’s so much bass density that I don’t care if you’re a traditional audiophile or a bass head, you’ll find that the P9 bass will likely satisfy whatever your needs. It’s so fun to listen to music through these that it’s sometimes hard to get work done (like writing this review) because you end up bobbing your head along with the beat and have a good time. Oh dear, I’m going to use a super non-audiophile song as an example but dear goodness is it fun to listen to, but “Freaks” by Timmy Trumpet and also “I’m an Albatraoz” by AronChupa are great examples of the forceful yet controlled bass presence that the BW P9 commands.


    Conclusion

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    In summary, I think that Bowers & Wilkins did a great job with their P9 flagship headphone. They’re goal was to create an audiophile grade, portable, headphone to showcase that B&W is not solely a speaker brand, and I think, for the most part, they accomplished their mission. Though I didn’t personally fall in love with the sound I can’t deny that it may just be biased from loving their original so much. Their construction is as rock solid as all of the products they offer and their pride in what they make shows. I do think the P9 has some room for improvement on the comfort side, mainly with the pads, but it’s not the end all be all. So for those who’re like a bass heavy and fun headphone all while maintaining audiophile quality all while on the go, I really think you should look into the Bowers & Wilkins P9, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.






    Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.

    images

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      volly likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. SoundSquare

      I fully agree with DMS, worst headphone (in this price range) ever.
      SoundSquare, Oct 1, 2018
      Schwibbles likes this.
    3. Army-Firedawg
      @fsacks I'd say the "Beats on steroirds" is reasonably accurate for the P9 is probably what Beats would've been had they taken the audiophile approach.

      @SoundSquare Hey, everyone's entitled to their own opinions.
      Army-Firedawg, Oct 1, 2018
      SoundSquare likes this.
    4. SoundSquare
      SoundSquare, Oct 1, 2018
      fsacks likes this.