Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless headphone review

Has going wireless come at the expense of B&W's signature sound?

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Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
  • Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
  • Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
  • Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Elegant design
  • Wireless audio with aptX support
  • Above-average sound quality
  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • Convenience of wireless is offset by a number of compromises
  • Narrow sound image

Would you buy this?

The P5 Wireless borrows its good looks from its sibling, the second-generation P5. Black leather generously upholsters the sumptuous band and the on-ear cups. Extending from the band are metal spokes, which elegantly criss-cross, before reaching chamfered nameplates. The design proves charismatic without expensing function, as the cups pivot to suit ear types and fold flat for on-the-go convenience.

Look closely and there is one sign of compromise. The original had a metal plate connecting the cups to their cushioning. Choosing to break the cups with metal echoed the headphones’ two-tone theme.

Going wireless has motivated B&W to eschew the metal plate for black plastic instead. Doing so makes it easier to hide an additional micro-USB port and a remote pad housing a volume rocker, a call button, and a toggle that alternates between power and pairing.

Resorting to plastic hedges the increase in weight. The P5 Wireless tips our scales at 213 grams, which makes it only 12 grams more than the wired variant. This is in spite of it packing a battery, wireless radio, controls and two microphones.

Cleverly concealed in the left cup is a 2.5mm port. This means when the battery of the wireless P5 drains – after a lengthy 18 hours, based on our testing – music playback can be resumed over a trusty wired connection.

Incoming phone calls can be answered and held over the P5 Wireless as it includes two microphones.
Incoming phone calls can be answered and held over the P5 Wireless as it includes two microphones.

Choosing to go wireless comes with both spoils and drawbacks. In exchange for a convenient set of features is the challenge of preserving high fidelity audio. Wirelessly transferring music over Bluetooth requires that files undergo digital compression; a process that ultimately diminishes audio quality.

B&W combats this degradation by supporting the aptX codec, which uses a patented compression methodology to “deliver CD-like audio over a Bluetooth connection”. A smartphone has to support aptX in order to get the best performance from the P5 Wireless. Many smartphones do, including select models from Samsung, Motorola and HTC, although Apple’s range does not.

These headphones aren’t designed to rival high-fidelity offerings destined to be plugged into an amplifier for a lounging session on the couch. Convenience is the aim here, going wireless for use with a smartphone or tablet, as B&W marries freedom with its enviable ear for sound.

The ear cup with its magnetised cushioning removed
The ear cup with its magnetised cushioning removed

Listening to music over Bluetooth hasn’t hampered the sound quality – at least when the source is a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Some headphones give the impression music is enveloping you from every angle. Audio produced from the P5 Wireless differs by sounding focussed, clearly emanating from a couple of identifiable source points, but achieving a sense of depth with its intelligible design.

This was most noticeable while listening to Check it out by Ferry Corsten, which was played back with gusto and ample detail. High frequency trance notes were exceedingly sharp, as was the track’s bass, which came off as little, precise, low-end jabs. Bass was better served in Thomas Bergman’s Final Frontier, the song used in the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. It had a wider stereo image and used the available space well to compliment the otherwise hurried mid- and high-range frequencies.

Vivaldi’s Spring (Part 1), as recomposed by Max Ritcher, best showcased these headphones’ clarity. The classical piece was played back with warmth and the tact needed to communicate the nuances of a bow dancing on the strings of a violin.

On the other end of the spectrum was Guy Sebastian’s Battle Scars. These elegant headphones delivered the requisite attitude, with its playback characterised by hearty bass and vocals that resonate, illustrating that the P5’s neutral character can serve all genres.

The B&W P5 Wireless comes with the same cushioned carry case as its wired subling
The B&W P5 Wireless comes with the same cushioned carry case as its wired subling

Bowers & Wilkins has found a commendable balance between wireless convenience and its renowned audio pedigree with its P5 Wireless. Anyone considering wireless on-ear headphones should head into a store and give them a test run. As far as we’re concerned, they are held back by only one problem.

And that is the original P5. Wireless headphones make sense in less expensive models or those that are going to be used when exercising. The wired variant has a better design, is lighter, delivers better audio, has one of the best cables and has a price free from a wireless premium.

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