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Wireless headphones shootout (H8i, P7, PX, MW60, MW50, Momentum)

  1. hudhawk
    Hey all, I’m a longtime lurker here who’s always appreciated all the thoughtful commentary and reviews here and wanted to share my own.

    Recently I finally caved and switched to an iPhone X, meaning I had to finally consider getting wireless headphones. I’ve never been a fan of Bluetooth headphones - I know they’ve come a long way but my library is all lossless and hi-res so it’s always seemed like an unnecessary step down.

    I decided to try as many wireless headphones as I could, and thought I’d share my thoughts on all of them here. My conditions were the following:
    1. Had to support AAC, since I would be using these primarily with an iPhone
    2. Had to work passively as wired headphones, for when I wanted better sound quality than BT
    3. Bonuses would be USB DAC built in and noise canceling
    Given those conditions I tried the following headphones:
    • B&O H8i
    • Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless
    • Master & Dynamic MW60
    • Master & Dynamic MW50
    I also tried the following headphones that didn’t meet my preconditions but I wanted to try for fun:
    • Bowers & Wilkins PX
    • Sennheiser Momentum 2
    Here’s my thoughts on each, ranked from my least favorite to my most:

    Bowers PX

    Shockingly, my favorite headphone I tried. I went in with high hopes. Tonally, they were more balanced than the severely V-shaped P7W's, which I appreciated; like all B&W headphones, the construction and aesthetics is fantastic, if not as lush and luxurious as the P9, P7 and P7W.

    But to me the headphones have a weird, unnatural sound to them. This is an ironic thing to say about a pair of B&W headphones, but they sound like you're listening inside a seashell - there's a weird phase thing going on with the upper frequencies, akin to the sound you get when cupping your hand around your ear. I know that the P9 and PX have a non-traditional driver configuration, where the drivers are tilted forward rather than perpendicular to your ears. It’s possible that was what I found unnatural.

    Speaking of unnatural, sound quality while running ANC on the PX’s was the worst I heard. The noise canceling worked well enough but the price was that everything sounded terrible. Everything takes on an even more over-processed sound, basically sounding like you’re applying a bit-rate reducer to everything - things get squished, lose detail, and just generally sound terrible.

    I really wanted to like these but found the phase thing super fatiguing and weird. I've never seen anyone else complain about this so it's possible that there's something about the way they fit me, I dunno.

    Sennheiser Momentum 2

    I only listened to them briefly in wired mode, and they sounded fine! Subdued, but neutral and clean character. Not very lively. No support for AAC which was a dealbreaker for me. Did not try the ANC since I was listening in passive mode, though that would’ve been nice. Not much to say here other than these are a fine option if you're partial to Sennheiser but there's probably better options out there if not.

    Sony WH-1000xm2

    The Sony's definitely exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. The ANC on them was hands down the best of the bunch, with a clever calibration mode and unique and differentiating features like the air pressure sensor. These are definitely the highest-tech ANC headphones on the market.

    Build quality is definitely on the weak side however. Being a largely plastic headphone, I'd worry about durability if these were a daily commuter headphone for you. The aesthetics are old school Sony - less channeling their higher-end headphone amps and home speakers and more of a modern distillation of a 90's minidisc player in headphone form. I will say this about them though - they're the lightest and most comfortable headphone I tried.

    For me, SQ was just ok. They're very v-shaped, with a very bright, open top end and deep, slightly exaggerated low bass. They lacked the nuance though of the P7W, so if you want a brighter, bassier headphone I'd still suggest those over the Sony's. I didn't love the sound but didn't hate it either, it wasn't fatiguing but I also didn't find them very musical.

    I wasn't able to try them wired, so I can't speak to their passive performance. Will update the review once I've had a chance to check that out.

    B&O H8i

    I really really liked the H8i. They’re definitely a jack-of-all-trades - they work well wirelessly, can be used passively and sound even better, and like the PX can be used via USB directly.

    Overall the sound quality was very good; they had a neutral-to-warm character, not quite with the detail of the P7 and MW60 but overall very musical and very listenable. I preferred them wired over the USB mode, but USB would be great for a situation where you wanted high quality sound and noise canceling at the same time. Bluetooth sound quality was good - like the P7s it was a clear step down from wired but good enough for a commute.

    Speaking of commuting, he H8i ANC worked great . I rode the train with them one day and was very impressed both by they overall noise reduction and by how little the noise reduction seemed to affect the sound quality. The ANC seems to work like a high pass filter on the noise around you, canceling out the mids and bass from things like the train, but leaving the higher frequencies alone.

    They also have what might the most useless feature ever devised, Transparency mode! Transparency mode simulates the feeling you get from taking the headphones off by passing through all of the outside noise. I’m… not sure who would use this.

    The H8i has an auto-pause feature, but as has been discussed elsewhere, it’s absolutely garbage. For me, they would pause constantly if the headphones weren’t seated just right on my head. Fortunately the feature is easy to disable.

    Honestly the H8i would’ve been my headphones of choice were it not for one awful, unforgivable flaw: microphonics. Every step you take while wearing them results in a headache-inducing clang in your head. It's like having someone bang on a garbage can every time you take a step. The ANC does seem to help with this, but I don’t always want to use ANC. In the end, I sent them back.

    Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless

    My second favorite wireless headphones I tried. The P7s sounded good in almost every circumstance - wired, they were easy to drive but very rich and dynamic; wireless, while a step down, was reasonably listenable. Their biggest flaw is that they’re a bit showy sounding sometimes, particularly on wireless - their frequency response is definitely v-shaped, with their bright top end sometimes getting a bit grating, while the bass seemed to have a big bloom in the lower registers that would sometimes be a bit much.

    The build quality and aesthetics however are unimpeachable. The lush earpads were the best of any I tried on, the clamping strength giving a nice seal around the ears. B&W’s iconic design is, to me, still among the best on the market. If I hadn’t heard the Master & Dynamic stuff, these would’ve been my pick for the best overall sound quality. And considering they’re a couple hundred less than the MW60, you can make a strong case for them - especially if you prefer a brighter, bassier character in your headphones.

    Master & Dynamic MW50

    I ended up going back and giving these a second listen, and I'm glad I did. The pair I'd listened to apparently were brand new; I also hadn't listened to them in Bluetooth mode, which was a mistake - like their bigger brother, they sound fantastic in BT mode. Overall, the sound is excellent and similar to the MW60 - a warmer overall quality, slightly rolled off on the top end, with a not-overly-sweet midrange. They're less of a step down from their large older siblings than you'd expect - resolving really well, albeit with a smaller soundstage.

    Like the MW60, I really like how easy it is to add / remove / change the cable on the MW50. Master & Dynamic sells a lightning cable, for example, so if you want to switch to wired it's easy to do so. Unlike the MW60 and P7W, the MW50 is USB-C, another plus if you're trying to consolidate down to as few charging cables as possible.

    The biggest downside to the MW50 is, because they're on-ear, they isolate pretty poorly. I commuted with them this morning and during the train portion of my commute, they were pretty drowned out by the pleasant sounds of the MTA. If these had ANC they'd be my perfect all-purpose headphones; the lack of isolation is currently the only thing nagging me about them.

    Master & Dynamic MW60

    These were the winner for me in terms of sound quality. Overall they have a much more laid back, warm quality to them than the P7s - they’re whatever the opposite of V shaped is (carrot shaped?), pleasantly rolled off on the top end, and neutral-to-slightly-rolled-off on the low end (certainly not exaggerated like I find a lot of consumer headphones to be). The midrange is the best by a country mile of any of the headphones I heard here, with vocals taking on a believable presence. The MW60 are definitely a good pick for someone who is looking for a more “analog” coloring in their digital headphones.

    The Bluetooth performance on the MW60’s is probably worthy of a post in and of itself. Along with the MW50, it's definitely the warmest, most musical-sounding BT headphone I’ve heard. Whatever they’re doing is a clever trick, coloring the sound just enough to take the digital edge off but not so much that they sound saccharine or veiled. Vocals lose some of that space and presence in wireless mode, but not insufferably so. I’ll probably still be using them wired most of the time but at least these give me a tolerable option.

    One nice thing to note about M&D is that they sell Lightning and USB-C cables for their headphones, so if you’ve got a pixel or iPhone you can use any of their wired or wireless headphones fully wired without using an adapter. I have not had a chance to hear their adapter, but I’ll update this review when I do (I ordered one).

    The build quality and aesthetics are at least as good as the P7s, with a bit more of a classic, art deco-inspired look - these are the perfect headphones for someone cosplaying as a WWII pilot on the weekend. And in keeping with the classic look, these things are very much on the heavy side. At 3/4 of a pound they’re big lads, you’re not going to forget you have them on.

    I only have one complaint about the MW60: the clamping strength was too low for me, and the sizing a bit too big. This, combined with their overall heft makes them a bit finicky to get right, fit-wise. I’ve always considered my head to be average-sized, but these I have on the smallest setting and they still feel a touch looser than I’d like. So if you’ve got a tiny noggin, I’d recommend looking at the MW50 or P7 Wireless.

    NAD HP70

    Another contender emerges! The newly released NAD HP70's check all my boxes - can be used passively, as a USB DAC, BT and they have ANC. They're pretty stylish compared to their peers and price-wise land smack dab in the middle.

    I was pretty won over by the NAD. Their sound profile is very neutral (no surprised considering they were voiced by PSB) - they're lively, dynamic, and musical. While they lack the warmth of the MW60s, they make up for it with their resolving power. Everything is clean and detailed while wired (I tried them both with the Apple iPhone adapter and the Master & Dynamic lightning cable which, it's worth noting, fits and works splendidly with the HP70s). On wireless they lose some depth but sounded better than I was expecting. Overall they reminded me very much of the B&O H8i's that I also liked.

    Comfort-wise, these were right up there with the Sony's as being the best of the bunch. They have plush leatherette pads and somehow feel lighter than their 11.5 ounces.

    The ANC on these is probably the least suppressive of the ones I tried - but perhaps as a result it was also the least "pressurizing", that weird feeling of sound pressure you feel when using ANC. It was good enough for the train though, blocking out the mids and lows of the train while leaving anything in the upper mids and higher largely untouched. Passive isolation is ok, less than the MW60 but also good enough that the train would've been fine without the ANC.

    Final Thoughts

    I ended up getting the NADs after all that; the runners up for me would've been the KEFs and the Master and Dynamic. I wish I'd been able to try the MW50+, as I suspect they would've been a contender, but so far the NADs have proven to be as close to the perfect all-around headphone I tried.

    I just want to give a shout out to http://innersanctumaudio.com (@JerseyD) who was nice enough to meet me in Brooklyn and let me audition a number of his offerings. I have no affiliation with them whatsoever but he seems like a great dealer, I was impressed with his follow through and communication.
    Last edited: May 25, 2018
  2. FenderP
    Just wanted to point out one thing - the H8i can use ANC while wired. I use 'em that way all the time on planes.
  3. hudhawk
    Corrected - I must have been too thick to figure that out. Also added more detailed impressions of the MW50 as I can them another listen last night.
  4. JerseyD
    Hey, thanks a lot, hudhawk! It was great meeting you. I always enjoy getting listener impressions of the brands I carry, especially if we arrange a shoot-out like we did with your bluetooth contenders. Hope you love your new headphones. Glad I could help.
  5. hudhawk
    Added the Sony WH-1000xm2's and got to spend some more time with the PX so I updated my review of those (and moved them down to the lowest spot on the list!)
  6. BRSxIgnition
    I'm currently in a very similar situation to yours where I'm looking for a good (preferably wireless) commuting headphone to use on the train to and from work. (See the thread here) I like the styling on the Master & Dynamic sets - especially in black - and from your post and the first online review, they're looking like a really good option.

    In your shootout, you say that the MW50's main issue is its isolation, and its clamping force & weight are better/lighter than the MW60. In your - more experienced in regards to these models - opinion, do you think the MW50+ would fix the MW50's issues with isolation when using the included full-size pads, while retaining a lighter, better fit than the MW60? And would you recommend them for my needs?

    Thanks in advance!
    Last edited: May 27, 2018
  7. hudhawk
    Hey! Yeah, I think the MW50+ with the new over the ear pad design would be a great option. It's hard to know if the isolation will be good enough without hearing them, but they fixed every issue I had with the MW60 and you could probably make a case that they actually sound better than the 60's. Even if the isolation is just, say, 50% better than the on-ear pads they'd be a killer option.

    Honestly I would've ordered the MW50+ myself if I hadn't already committed - I picked up the NAD HP70's on Friday. They're not very pretty but they sound and perform really well - if they don't work out the HP70s are my backup plan. If you get them definitely report back.
  8. BRSxIgnition
    I'll probably have to wait for more reviews to pop up before I confidently preorder/order them - but assuming they don't leak sound any worse than a pair of Apple Earpods or isolate too much less and I enjoy their sound, they're sounding like my best option. Regardless, if I end up getting them I'll be sure to let you know how they are!

    Why do you say you could make a case saying the MW50 sound better than the 60s? How punchy would you say the bass is on the MW50? How was the leakage on the MW60? (I'd say that due to the similar pad design, the leakage should be the same between the two?)

    I wish I could try out either of them but ever since they were pulled from Apple stores, I can't find anywhere nearby to do that.:disappointed_relieved:
    Last edited: May 28, 2018
  9. hudhawk
    I haven't used the new pads so I can't compare, but to me the MW50s had slightly more resolving power than the MW60s, while still having that warm sound signature that I really like about the M&D cans. Leakage on the MW60s was minimal.
  10. jchandler3
    I'm glad to have read this. I've owned these headphones for a while now with hundreds of hours on them and have always found them to sound unnatural. I really want to like them, but I just don't see what everyone else seems to rave about.

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