The very name alone, “Bowers & Wilkins,” sets the expectation bar suitably high in a customer’s mind. To make an impression in this segment of the headphone market, one long dominated by Sony and Bose, the Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones need to stand out amongst the crowd. This, they do in spades.
Bowers & Wilkins PX – Front View
Bowers & Wilkins PX Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones
- Open and spacious sound quality, very much like open-back cans.
- Effective and adjustable Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) system.
- Can be connected via Bluetooth, analog wired, or USB.
- AptX HD Bluetooth codec for supported devices and AAC codec for iOS devices.
- Modern, yet classy design.
- Wear Sensor automatically pauses music when headphones are removed.
- Downloadable smartphone App allows more granular control of ANC and Wear Sensor.
- Good quality construction, they feel expensive.
- Comfortable fit.
- 22 hour running time on a full charge.
I don’t recall ever listening to a bad Bowers & Wilkins product, and I have heard a lot of them (mostly speakers) over the years. Sure, there are some that I like more than others, and that’s only natural. But from an old pair of DM220s that a high school stoner acquaintance (who strangely looked like Gregg Allman) had in his Dad’s basement to the 803 D3 floorstanders that I reviewed here recently, Bowers & Wilkins speakers have always had a certain level of refinement to their sound; almost an audible elegance, if you will. If anything, they have surely never been boring. The Bowers & Wilkins PX wireless noise cancelling headphones thankfully carry on that fine tradition. They are the current top-of-the line in their wireless headphone lineup, replacing the previous generation P7 model.
Active Closed-back Headphones with Dynamic Drivers.
Manufacturer Freq. Response:
10 Hz – 20 kHz
Bluetooth Codecs Supported:
SBC, AptX, AptX HD, AAC
22 Ohms (Passive Mode)
111 dB/V @ 1 kHz
335 grams (11.8 ounces)
Space Grey or Soft Gold
One detachable 1.25-meter (50.0-inch) headphone cable with 3.5mm plugs, one 1.25-meter (50.0-inch) USB Type C cable, soft carrying case
Bowers & Wilkins, B&W, PX, Wireless, Bluetooth, ANC, AptX, Noise Cancelling Heaphones Review 2018
Visually, the Bowers & Wilkins PX are a perfect example of “less being more.” No big wide plastic headband or stonking huge earcups that threaten to blow-you-into-next-week here. What we do have is a just-wide-enough headband (to keep the PX from moving around too freely) with, seemingly, the perfect amount of padding. This transitions into strong but delicately shaped aluminum arms that have plenty of smooth travel to accommodate most head sizes but stay put and don’t move when you’ve arrived at the right positioning. The earcups are moderately sized but feel weighty and are made mostly from aluminum.
They house the 40mm dynamic drivers which are angled forward like the ones in Bowers & Wilkins’ top shelf P9 Signature model to provide a more spacious and natural sound. The earcups also house all the electronics, the right one specifically containing the controls.
From top to bottom the controls are: Volume Up, Play/Pause, Volume Down, Active Noise Cancellation On/Off, Power/Bluetooth pairing button. At the bottom of the right earcup is the power/pairing indicator light, the wired headphone jack and a USB Type C port for charging or to connect directly to a computer’s USB port. When connected to a computer via USB, the Bowers & Wilkins PX is treated as an external sound card by the computer’s operating system.
Both the headband and the earcups are trimmed with ballistic nylon for lightness and durability. It’s an uncommon but handsome looking choice. The ear pads look firm but feel soft and have sufficient give to feel comfortable when worn for extended periods. The pads also, thankfully, encircle my ear lobes completely rather than sitting on them.
Bowers & Wilkins PX Angled Driver Internal
The Bowers & Wilkins PX are equipped with Qualcomm’s newest iteration of its AptX Bluetooth wireless protocol, AptX HD. AptX HD is claimed to be able to transmit at up to a 24-bit/48 kHz resolution for more faithful High Definition music file playback. Standard AptX is billed as delivering “near CD quality” playback. AptX HD is backward-compatible with regular AptX and as of this writing, there are a handful of smartphones and DAPs that support AptX HD transmission. The headphones are also fully compatible with the AAC Bluetooth codec that iOS devices use.
Bowers & Wilkins features a downloadable smartphone app made expressly for use with the PX and the P9 headphones. Once the PX are paired with your Android or iOS device, launching the app will allow you to directly select between three levels of Active Noise Cancellation (Office, City and Flight), adjust the amount of outside noise that you want to pass through the ANC, activation and sensitivity of the Wear Sensor, and application of any firmware updates to the headphones themselves.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX come with an on-board, rechargeable 850mAh Lithium-Polymer battery that is not user replaceable. Bowers & Wilkins claims operation time on a full charge to be 22 hours.
Included accessories are sparse. You get a single headphone cable with 3.5 mm plugs on both ends, A USB Type-C charging cable and a rather plush soft carrying case. Including a 3.5 mm to ¼-inch phono plug adapter would have been nice.
For this review, the Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones were primarily paired with my iPhone 6S Plus, my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet, and a Shanling M0 DAP. Connection was made using Bluetooth wireless and both traditional wired and USB connection where appropriate. My iPhone uses the AAC Bluetooth codec while the Shanling DAP has standard AptX, AAC, LDAC, and LDAC HD codecs at its disposal. I could not get a bead on what Bluetooth codec the Surface tablet was using unfortunately.
As soon as I opened the box and pulled out the Bowers & Wilkins PX, I was immediately impressed by the feel of them in my hands. They’re well-weighted and present themselves like an upscale, quality piece of gear befitting of the brand name. You can tell that care was taken in the selection of materials and how they were used in the overall design. The choice of ballistic nylon as a trim material is an inspired surprise. It is thoroughly durable, looks stylish, and feels good in this application. Construction quality and engineering is top notch. Two months of constant use through traveling, in the gym, walking the dogs and in the studio have not loosened up any of the joints or worn down the surfaces. The PX feel as tightly put together now as they did when I first unboxed them.
In terms of comfort and long-term wear ability, the Bowers & Wilkins PX are outstanding. I had no issues adjusting them to fit my voluminous melon and, once on, they stayed put through whatever activity I was doing. Clamping force was perfectly reasonable and each time I put the PX on, I was thanking the Gods that the ear cups completely encircled my ears’ lobes, making a nice, tight and comfortable seal. I know everyone has different personal comfort bug-a-boos, but I am becoming less and less enamored of “over-the-ear” headphone designs that still partially sit on my ear lobes when I put them on. I realize that I have large ears, but they are not quite freak-of-nature big. Kudos to Bowers & Wilkins for being on point in this regard.
I stated in the “First Look” video for these headphones that if you liked the sound of open back cans in general, you would find a lot to like about the Bowers & Wilkins PX and that assessment still holds true. The angled 40 mm drivers, working with the area inside the ear cups, impart an enhanced level of spaciousness and dimension to the music that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a closed back headphone design. Frankly it took a little getting used to, the visually “slightest” of the three wireless ANC headphones that I had at the time put out the biggest soundstage of the lot. This is not to say that the sound was so big and diffuse that it lacked any clarity or precision. On the contrary, instruments all came off sounding very clear and precisely placed in space. High frequencies sounded clean, perhaps a touch rolled off but not objectionably so. Vocals sounded nice and full and tended to come from in front of my face versus being between my ears. In fact, the overall reproduction of vocal performances seemed fairly balanced-sounding. I detected no chesty-ness or thickness to either male or female voice when listening via Bluetooth. In the end, “balanced-sounding” would be the best descriptor that I could give to the audio quality of these headphones. If bass is your thing, then the Bowers & Wilkins’ may not really scratch that itch hard enough for you. They will do bass, but not with the same impact as the PSB M4U 8 that I reviewed previously. Their overall presentation is a little more linear. Both my iPhone with AAC and my Shanling DAP with AptX sounded very good with no drop outs on the Bowers & Wilkins PX. I would give the overall sound quality nod to the Shanling/PX combo, probably because it’s just a better music player while my iPhone is everything-and-the-kitchen-sink.
The Bowers & Wilkins’ Active Noise Cancellation system is fairly sophisticated and offers the user more adjustability than I’ve encountered with other similar systems. Normally, the “Office” setting was sufficient for most of the times that I needed it. When I took the PX with me on a recent plane trip to Munich High End, the “Flight” setting effectively wiped out all vestiges of engine noise intruding in on my music. And when the flight attendants needed my attention, I could easy adjust the level of voice pass through so that I didn’t have to keep removing my headset. Various types and levels of ANC can apply a certain level of pressure onto your ear drums during use. Some people can find that sensation irritating after prolonged exposure. I found the pressure felt by Bowers & Wilkins’ ANC implementation to be almost un detectable in the “Office” and “City” modes and about average in the “Flight” mode. It definitely didn’t bother me while wearing them for the lion’s share of a 7-hour return-flight. The ANC’s effect on music quality was fairly transparent in most cases. Some delicate classical pieces, occasionally, sounded a little thicker than when the ANC was off, but it was just a slight difference. Better that than not being able to enjoy such music at all over the din of jet engine noise I’d say.
The headphone’s Wear Sensor was a hit-and-miss affair. There were times where it would work as advertised, pausing my music when I removed the PX or even lifted an earcup off my ear, and other times where it would work intermittently, if at all. You can adjust the sensitivity of the sensor with the app, but that really didn’t make much of a difference in my use.
I repeated the Bluetooth range test that I used in the PSB M4U 8 review. With the headphones paired and my iPhone playing some music, I placed it on a table in our home’s entryway and walked through our living room, into the kitchen, past the laundry room and into our garage all the way to the farthest corner. The music kept playing without interruption or any discernable degradation in quality. All told, it amounts to 50-60 feet worth of distance and two walls between the headphones and my cell phone without a break in the signal. A very good result, I think, and identical to the PSB’s performance in this regard.
Battery life for the Bowers & Wilkins PX is claimed to be about 22 hours on a single charge. While I did not run a stopwatch or punch time cards to track listening uptime, I do know that I have had to charge these headphones less often than the three wireless headphones that I am currently reviewing. They clearly have a longer runtime than either the PSB or the NAD on a single charge. Food for thought.
Answering phone calls using the Bowers & Wilkins PX was easy and straightforward. Call quality in all cases was clear and strong with music pausing conveniently to answer and starting back up when done.
Some of my favorite playlist tracks to listen to with the Bowers & Wilkins PX were:
Atlantic Records, FLAC 16/44.1.
A classic song from my college years. The Bowers & Wilkins PX immediately get to work adding dimension and space to Marc Cohn’s soft, raspy vocals and to the ringing grand piano notes of the song’s intro. And the added depth is not some artificial or fake sounding embellishment either. It sounds decidedly natural, like it belongs.
As the song builds in intensity and additional instruments come in, the drums distinguish themselves with tight, solid hits from the kick drum and crisp sounding cymbals with good amounts of sizzle to them. As the backing choir comes in for the song’s finale, the headphones place them well behind me adding another layer of depth to the performance. It also provides a bit of a contrasting canvas for those beautiful ringing piano notes to continue through and finish out the song. Wonderful sounding stuff this.
Warner Brothers, FLAC 16/44.1.
A great sounding gem from their debut album. As soon as the song starts, with just the sound of the sticks hitting each other to establish the beat, you know you are in for a treat. The Bowers & Wilkins PX really add dimension to the reverberation from those beat sticks, well enough that you can hear the texture inside the decaying notes.
Speaking of dimension, the backing vocals on the track give a nice sense of envelopment from the back to the sides with Mark Knopfler’s lead vocals floating well in front. And as spacious as these headphones are, the high-level detail and character information that they relay of the slide work on the resonator guitar is very impressive. The PX made the scraping of that slide on those metal strings sound so fluid and yet so detailed. That, combined with that metallic ring and boxy resonance from the guitar body, just painted a perfect audio picture.
Roulette Records, FLAC 16/44.1.
A lovely tune from back in 1958 and surprisingly well-recorded for the time. Count Basie and his band are joined by vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross along with Joe Williams. Immediately, Count Basie’s piano playing gets your attention with the weight and body of the note sounds and their reverberation in the recording space.
As Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross start singing their harmony together, the PX imaged them well enough that I could identify each singer individually without them sounding overly soft or blended together. Annie Ross sounded particularily good during her solo verse with great presence and body to her voice. Her characteristic high notes sounding powerful and yet still airy and smooth through these headphones. The ever-present horn section sounded properly crisp and brassy in the right channel while the smooth and liquid sounding clarinet weaved in and out of the left channel. In sum, the PX delivered an excellent balance of space and clarity throughout this song.
Giant Records, FLAC 16/44.1.
Impeccably recorded, as is wont for Steely Dan, the Bowers & Wilkins PX acoustically unfolded this track with a big, voluptuous presentation. Donald Fagan’s vocals were nicely imaged, just ahead of me, sounding very smooth but with just enough of his characteristic crispness to complete the picture.
The contrast between Walter Becker’s thick and punchy bass line and both Becker and Jon Herington’s sharp and “bitey” guitar work is well managed and detailed. The bass definitely stands out on this track but, again, its rendering is balanced sounding and not overly goosed or saturated. The riding cymbals playing throughout the song have a great sheen to their sound. The layered keyboard and organ parts have a great weight and body as heard through the PX, but they also sound detailed enough to be picked out and scrutinized in isolation.
Bowers & Wilkins offers you a smart, well-dressed and great sounding travel companion for your consideration. You owe yourself a listen to the PX WIRELESS HEADPHONES!
- Addictive, spacious and balanced sound quality. Wired or wireless.
- Effective noise cancellation technology, with fine tuning via app.
- Style and build quality are top shelf.
- Excellent battery life per charge.
- 1/4” phono plug adapter please.
Of the three wireless noise cancelling headphones that I introduced in my “First Look” video, the Bowers & Wilkins PX stand out the most to me. Not because of some overwhelming superiority over the other two (they are all very capable, high performance headphones), but it’s because of what they do differently that makes them so memorable. From the quality design and build that make them feel immediately special to hold, to the high comfort and spacious, balanced sound character that make them addictive to listen to, the Bowers & Wilkins PX demand attention and earn respect. If you want gobs of bass from your headphones, don’t bother with these. If you actually care about what you are listening to (and you should if you frequent our fair website) you owe yourself a listen to the PX. Especially if you favor the sound of open back headphones. While they don’t supplant my OPPO PM-3 as my “daily driver” cans, they are the easy choice to grab, when I need effective ANC capabilities, or I don’t want to get tangled in a wire when I take our hyperactive dogs out for a walk. They look good, they sound great and they’ll be sweet sonic salvation when you travel. What more could you want?