On the afternoon I received them, I pulled the Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless from their classy white box, paired them (effortlessly) to my iPad, and started listening.
A couple hours later, I was still lying down on the floor of my room, staring blankly at the ceiling, lost in the music. It’s been a very long time since I listened to music the way I do with these headphones.
At this tier, headphones should do more than just relay music to your ears; they should encourage you to lean in, to focus, to discern, and to be swept away by your favorite tunes.
After several weeks of listening, I’m pleased to report that Bowers & Wilkins have outdone themselves. The P7 Wireless are everything I would expect from a pair of luxury headphones.
They’re not the do-all, take-everywhere headphone for everyone though.
Design & Build
My last Bowers & Wilkins device was the Zeppelin — a distinctive, expensive speaker system with sublime sound. At the time, I remember being skeptical of the price tag and the corresponding questions of value it raised.
There’s no shortage of choice for speakers or a pair of headphones, so what makes something like the P7 Wireless worth considering in the face of cheaper options?
To me, the degree of wisdom and taste — to say nothing of technical mastery — that goes into a Bowers & Wilkins product is compelling. Strictly speaking, you can find better sound for less money, or improvements in other individual aspects, but you’d have a hard time finding a competing product that combines all those factors into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
As a luxury good, the P7 Wireless is a clear demonstration of what happens when you err on the side of fewer compromises. From the moment it emerges from the box, you can tell the choice of materials was biased in favor of making an impression. The leather earcups are pliant and soft, the headband supple. The metallic frame is precisely chrome-plated, and the mechanism for extending and retracting the arms for a better fit is smooth, with expertly tuned tension.
It feels as expensive as it looks, and there’s very little to fault in terms of how it’s built.
One potential drawback I’d point out is that the buttons to control playback and pairing are not as large as they could be.
Don’t get me wrong: they’re very clicky, easy to discern by touch alone, and they work reliably, but on an earcup of this size, I wouldn’t have minded having the buttons be a bit wider for a larger target.
Similarly, the pairing/power switch is less pronounced, making the difference between pressing and sliding a bit indistinct. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was a button at first — it feels like a simple sliding switch.
The final aspect of the P7 Wireless’ design worth highlighting is the mechanism for attaching a headphone cable. Since these are designed to be worn wirelessly, the cable comes disconnected. But luckily it’s very easy to attach and remove.
The left earcup pops off with a gentle tug (it’s held firmly in place by magnets) to reveal a small fold-out port. This is one of those details that indicates thoughtful design. Instead of making you cram the cable in at an impossible angle, the port end folds out toward you from the driver surface, making it effortless to connect the cord.
Once plugged in, the port assembly pushes easily back into place so it’s flush with the driver surface, at which point you can simply re-attach the earcup to its magnetic home.
Fit & Finish
The P7 Wireless are not compact in any sense of the word, so comfort was one of my main concerns going into this review.
Initially, they gripped my head a bit too firmly. Some stretching and normal usage loosened them up to a much more reasonable tension.
Headbands are a common point of discomfort for me, and this is where I found the biggest weakness with the P7 Wireless. The headband is only lightly padded, and because they’re noticeably heavier than something like the Bose QC series, you’ll feel the difference if you’re sensitive to this sort of thing.
In my case, it meant that when standing or sitting upright, the headband would start to hurt the top of my head after a couple of hours of constant wear. This is by no means bad, but it’s something that doesn’t really happen with my Bose QC 25s.
That being said, I found that simply lying down or leaning back eased the pressure enough to make this a non-issue. My usage of these headphones was very much in an at-home, deep listening context, so this turned out to be a suitable compromise.
Sound & Character
There’s an expectation that wireless headphones come with a trade-off in sound quality. That was certainly the case in the earlier days of wireless audio, but if the P7 Wireless is any indication, those days are behind us.
I was blown away by how satisfying, rich, and detailed these headphones sound. And I don’t mean that with a “they-sound-good-for-wireless” caveat. These things sound awesome regardless of connectivity.
Still, we should recognize an important distinction between headphones made for casual listening and ones made for critical listening. I own a pair of Audio Technica M70x, and they’re my go-to pair for recording and editing audio, as well as checking my music mixes. They’re built to be impeccably accurate, with a flat frequency response that unflinchingly reveals every nuance of your music.
They sound accurate, not pleasing. And that’s not what I want for casual music listening.
The P7 Wireless are tuned for flattering reproduction of whatever you play through them. What I found interesting was how their approach to this compares to the Bose QC 25s I love to use when I’m out and about. With the QC 25s, the psychoacoustic “sweetening” is more noticeable. Bowers & Wilkins have opted for a gentler touch on this front, with tiny nips and tucks to the frequency spectrum. As a creator of audio content, this makes me happy, because I know my stuff will sound closer to the way I intended it to instead of being artificially hyped.
Bass is warm and articulate, with none of the fluffy whoomph of cheap headphones that make it feel like you’re losing a pillow fight. Highs are crisp but not brittle, and the midrange is generally well balanced and not too forward.
The soundstage is narrower than I was expecting, which is a bit of a shame. But, it broadens slightly when listening via a wired connection, especially if the audio material is lossless.
To Wire or Not to Wire
The convenience of wireless headphones is obvious, but since my usage was largely not on the move with the P7 Wireless, I spent a lot of time going back and forth between the two connectivity options, playing with things like streaming vs. local playback and lossy vs. lossless tracks.
My impression is the character of the sound remains very similar across all contexts (which is impressive given the stigma against wireless audio fidelity).
As mentioned above, the first thing that struck me is the way the soundstage broadens when listening via a wired connection. Wireless isn’t bad on this front, but it’s one tiny step too narrow for my liking. Then again, I’m a fan of listening to richly produced music and orchestral cues that have a lot going on from left to right, so depending on your preferences, that may or may not be something that impacts your appreciation.
A clear difference when switching between lossy/streamed audio and lossless tracks is the nature of the highs. Audio compression is always less forgiving of higher frequencies, and this is where you’ll usually hear compression artifacts first: fizzy cymbals, painful pings, and brittle sibilance. The P7s do their best to mask poorly encoded audio, but when listening to lossless music via a wired connection (the best case scenario), the highs are appreciably silkier.
One baffling downside of going wired is the provided cable has no inline controls for playback or volume…and the earcup controls stop working too! I have no idea why this is the case. Owners of an Apple Watch will be less frustrated if, like me, they’re used to controlling playback and volume from their watch anyway. Still, this is a pretty big issue that I’m surprised to see make it into the final product.
Once you cut the cord, you also have to start taking battery life into account. In my testing, which included quite a bit of daily music listening and plenty of YouTube viewing, the P7 Wireless needed a charge only once or twice a week. That strikes me as perfectly reasonable, especially given the speedy charge time of about 3 hours.
They’re also smart enough to switch themselves off automatically after ten minutes in case you forget to manually turn them off (or just prefer not to worry about it). This seems like a no-brainer, but not every wireless headphone has this feature. The time limit isn’t configurable, but I think ten minutes strikes a good balance between resuming quickly after a conversation and protecting your battery life.
While it lacks the fancy W1 chip from Apple’s AirPods and their latest Beats products, the P7 Wireless matched and, in many cases, even surpassed the connectivity of their smarter brethren.
The initial pairing is less elegant, of course, but that only happens once. The real test is how the headphones handle multiple devices and how quickly they can be ready for listening.
On the first point, the P7s are meant to support up to seven paired devices (with one connected at a time). I didn’t have seven devices to pair, but I paired them to my iPad, iPhone, and a couple Macs and saw no reason to doubt the claim.
The connection itself is where things got interesting. From startup to listening, I found the P7 Wireless faster than my AirPods. Or at least more consistent. The P7s re-connect to a paired device very quickly every time, where my AirPods are sometimes fast and sometimes hesitant. Switching devices was likewise faster with the P7s, which leads me to wonder whether the larger devices have some sort of signal strength advantage the tiny AirPods can’t overcome, even with newer technology.
In any case, the take-away is the P7 Wireless offer superb Bluetooth performance. Once you’re past the old-fashioned pairing process, you’re set up for quick, reliable connectivity.
As far as range is concerned, I had no issues wandering to the opposite corners of my apartment while listening to music or podcasts. I didn’t do any concrete stress tests to see at what exact distance things fall apart, but my impression is, for most people, range is not going to pose any problems.
Despite the glowing impression above, I don’t take the P7 Wireless with me as my daily carry headphones.
This isn’t because any failing on their part — it’s just a lifestyle incompatibility. For one thing, I don’t like wearing huge headphones when I’m out and about. The P7 Wireless are more akin to the Audio-Technica M70Xs than the Bose QC25s: they’re optimized for critical listening in a controlled environment, not braving the sonic maelstrom of the subway.
On the go, I care about portability and sound isolation, neither of which the P7 Wireless excels at. The included carrying case is wonderful, and the headphones pack down pretty small, but the headphones themselves are too big for me to comfortably wear while walking around.
As far as sound isolation is concerned, the P7 Wireless do a poorer job than I expected given the robust ear cups. There’s no active noise cancelling, which is fine, but the mechanical isolation is also surprisingly weak. A lot of sound gets in, and that puts me in the unhappy position of having to crank the volume to compensate, which is just bad for my ears.
Still, neither of those problems are necessarily problems as much as personal usage impressions. I’m not bothered because I don’t expect the P7 Wireless to perform well in those circumstances. It’s the wrong tool for that job.
I’m perfectly happy to consider them my at-home luxurious listening headphones, a role for which they are ideal.
Bowers & Wilkins have continued their legacy of crafting high quality, luxury goods for discerning geeks.
The P7 Wireless offers a surprisingly frictionless upgrade over their wired predecessor, forever banishing the notion that wireless headphones don’t sound as good. As it turns out, they can sound better!
They’re not my favorite headphones for on-the-go usage, but for every other context, they are superb. Good comfort, sublime sound, and a handsome build make for a very tempting pair of headphones.
While competitors like the outstanding Beoplay H6 (gen 2) offer similar sound quality and superior comfort, they do so only in wired form. The P7 Wireless succeed because they bring sonic excellence and cordless convenience together into the same product, without compromise.
This makes the P7 Wireless easy to recommend to nearly everyone who’s after a pair of luxury listening headphones. If your usage is mostly mobile, then you might be better served by something with active noise cancelling and a more svelte build. But for the pure enjoyment of music, you won’t find a better pair.