It might surprise some to learn that Bowers & Wilkins have been manufacturing loudspeakers for almost 60 years and there is no question that the brand is in much steadier hands in 2022 under the ownership of Masimo / Sound United. Listening to the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 Wireless ANC Headphones over the past few weeks, I was reminded of its storied history.
While many audiophiles remember the raves that accompanied the launch of the Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus — that was more than 20 years ago and the company has never forgotten what makes it rather unique in the high-end audio world; a focus on solid engineering and the importance of reinvesting in R&D. Most audiophiles are probably unaware that the company holds more than 500 patents in the loudspeaker design, engineering, and manufacturing categories.
There was a moment when the Head-Fi revolution started to find its legs that a multitude of high-end loudspeaker manufacturers decided that they were suddenly experts at making headphones.
They knew how to develop drivers and cabinets and that would translate to headphones; the reality was that most of them fell on their faces and lost money in the process. The notion that they knew more than Sennheiser, AKG, Shure, Beyerdynamic, Sony, Bose, and Grado Labs — was a strange display of arrogance.
One loudspeaker manufacturer that took the early plunge back in 2009 with their first headphone was B&W; the P5 was designed at the height of the iPod revolution and it was certainly flawed but quite respectable for its first product. It was also a learning experience for the British manufacturer that realized that it needed to invest just as much into headphone R&D in order to build further generations of better products.
Bowers & Wilkins decided that being “average” in a growing category was not being true to its design ethos and it has put tremendous effort into its products.
The ANC true wireless category has become one of the most competitive categories in all of consumer electronics; the wireless headphone market is projected to grow to $27 billion by 2027 and high-end products are likely to represent a sizable percentage of that number.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 are the second generation of this popular headphone and the current flagship in the B&W lineup. Rumors have been flying for months about the new “Px9” but the official word out of the company is “no comment” and we will have to suffice with that for the time being.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 are not my first dance with the brand and I still own a P5 Series 2 in my collection that was purchased shortly after it was released.
Having owned the P7, which I took with me on the road to work and when I travelled, I have a reference point in regard to B&W’s wireless offerings and I was most curious to see if the changes to the headphone were mostly cosmetic or did the company completely redesign the Px7 S2.
The $399.95 USD retail price is slightly more expensive that some of its rivals and puts it into direct competition with the Sony WH-1000XM5 (review this week), Bose QC45, and the new Sennheiser Momentum 4. It is definitely a wireless headphone that faces some stiff headwinds against established products and companies that are not afraid to advertise.
Can it compete?
If first impressions mean anything, the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 actually feel and look like high-end headphones and that’s not good news for Sony, Bose, or Sennheiser.
$400 is a significant ask for any pair of headphones; wired or wireless, but it was clear during the unboxing that the British manufacturer did its own homework on this one.
The Px7 S2 have a substantial amount of heft and the build quality is excellent; B&W have also chosen to return to the original industrial design of the older “P” series models and gone are the oval shaped cups from the Px7. The Px7 S2 feature a stepped design with the center raised oval and the larger rectangular body and cup underneath.
The outer portion of the cups are fabric covered as is the top of the headband; the underside of the headband is memory foam wrapped in vegetable leather which matches the pads.
Height adjustment is through friction fit tubes that extend from the headband and each has a swivel in the final inch that allows a full 180° rotation on the vertical axis. Rather than attaching at the top, which is the case with the Sony, there is a single sided gimbal that attaches just above the center of the cup on the rear face.
This allows roughly 20° of pivot on the horizontal axis. The arms and gimbals manufactured from a high impact composite and perhaps oddly feel and look more upscale than the carbon fiber of the original Px7.
The other nice touch is the matching gold or silver logo on the face of the cups and band that separates the cup and ear pad. The black and grey models have silver bands while the navy blue uses the gold.
When I showed the Px7 S2 to both family and co-workers, the overall consensus was that they looked far more upscale than any of the competing headphones and that they were probably $500 or more.
Having spent a considerable amount of time commuting with 10 of the most popular high-end wireless headphones over the past 12 months, the B&W Px7 S2 just deliver on the “luxury” front better than anything else. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they sound better, but you truly get something that is worth the money at a time when everything is more expensive and consumers want some form of value for their money.
The clamping force was certainly stronger than either the Sony or Bose, but not any worse than the Master & Dynamic model; it was also not uncomfortable with eye glasses and that’s very important for a lot of users. Some of us stare into a computer screen for hours at work and not having to adjust the headphones which can shift is a plus.
The weight feels basically unchanged from the previous model; although it is slightly heavier than the average model in the category at 307 grams. That added weight would be an issue if it were centered in the wrong spot, but it is quite well distributed and after 3-4 hours of listening, there really was not any feeling of fatigue.
A careful balance has been struck between the materials, weight, and comfort level and it is clear that B&W wanted to make sure that the added weight didn’t become an issue for listeners — they succeeded.
The ear pads snap on/off easily so changing them as they wear should be simple; however, with the headband being a single piece, no quick replacement of the aging foam will be possible and that may limit the longevity of the Px7 S2.
The controls are largely unchanged from the previous model with a single button on the left cup to control ANC and a power slider and 3 buttons on the right cup for volume control, play/pause, and forward/back.
The power slider also serves as the pairing button if pressed upward and held rather than push and released. The USB Type-C port for charging and wired use is at the bottom of the right cup. There is no 3.5mm output jack for those with the desire to plug in a DAP or Dongle DAC in that manner.
Another advantage for the Px7 S2 is its support for aptX HD, aptX adaptive, AAC, and SBC; giving users a much wider range of supported devices.
The app, however, was a bit of a struggle; older models use the B&W Headphone Control app and while I already had it installed, it didn’t seem to support the new headphones. The new Bowers & Wilkins Music app is what I needed to use.
Those of us with other B&W products will discover that the new headphone isn’t found and won’t connect using the older app even though the recently released IEMs like the Pi7 require it. At the very least, it would be wise to have the older app prompt users to download the newer version if it sees a Px7 S2 connected to the device.
Once you sort out the app confusion, it’s rather straightforward to use; all of the controls and functions can be found on one screen including battery status, treble and bass sliders, Bluetooth multi-point management, and the ANC controls. A small gear on the bottom right adds the option to update firmware, check product versions, and change your user account.
The drivers on the Px7 S2 are new designs and have been reduced from 44mm to 40mm with an updated biocellulose diaphragm with a stiffening resin coating, and a larger 20mm voice coil.
Like most B&W headphones, the drivers are mounted at an angle with the forward most portion of the driver closer to the ear than the rear portion.
The mics have been updated as well with 2 dedicated for phone calls and 4 for ANC performance.
The ANC performance of the Px7 S2 was above average with better rejection of low frequency noise. It was noticeable with higher frequency sounds that one could hear more noise in the mix.
The low rumble of the subway or plane engines were handled rather well, but higher pitched sounds like vacuum cleaners and blenders were much easier to hear.
The upside was that ANC had very little impact on the overall sound quality and that was the same regardless of ANC mode. The ambient mode worked rather well in my very busy office and It wasn’t an issue having conversations with people and it certainly helped with situational awareness which needs to be a much larger discussion.
Never use ANC to the point where you can’t hear a car horn, or a stranger approaching while walking outside. We put a lot of value on ANC as a feature but it is far more important for one’s safety to have proper situational awareness. I’ve seen people jogging at dusk or during the evening wearing IEMs or headphones with ANC and I wonder if they can truly discern the traffic or people around them.
We’ve become accustomed to telling readers that there is still some daylight between wireless ANC headphones and wired models when it comes to sound quality.
For the most part — that is still very much the case. The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 might be the first wireless ANC headphones that we have reviewed that compete rather favorably with their wired competitors around $400. It wouldn’t even be a stretch to suggest that they are better than some of them.
The tuning is quite a surprise for a few reasons; the bass response is not boosted at all and was very quick and detailed with almost every genre of music. There is texture and definition and the impact doesn’t carve in the side of your head but makes its presence felt when required.
The extreme low end has solid extension with only notable roll-off around 30-35Hz.
The mid bass is rather well defined and quick with even more texture and detail; bass notes really provide a solid foundation and there was no evidence of bleed into the upper bass and lower midrange.
The midrange features only a slight dip in the lower midrange which can make that region sound slightly thinner but it’s not recessed. Male vocals have excellent timbre and weight; the overall transparency makes vocals in this range quite impressive because there is so much detail and resolution. Guitar notes had strong presence and growl and the overall tonal balance was quite even.
As you move further up, there is a reduction in color and note weight which impacted violin strings the most; there is still enough texture and resolution to find most classical recordings quite engaging.
There is a minor lift in the upper midrange and lower treble that helped female vocals push forward of the instrumentation and gave upper strings greater presence and helped with the timbral accuracy.
The lower treble does add some degree of brightness but it is still quite minor in comparison to other wireless headphones which suffer from more aggressive “V” tunings; percussion has very good snap with snare rattle displaying rather crisp definition.
The upper treble takes a step back which prevents the Px7 S2 from becoming fatiguing during longer listening sessions. There is still enough energy in the treble to sound somewhat airy but the rather effective passive isolation and ANC limit just how far that will go. It certainly sounds more closed in than non-ANC headphones.
The soundstage width and depth was surprisingly sufficient for a wireless ANC headphone; overall dimensions are limited by the recording but it certainly feels more spacious sounding than its rivals.
Instrument separation and imaging were quite accurate and it was surprising to hear how well the Px7 S2 handled complex orchestral pieces and placed everything properly on the stage. Vocalists were locked firmly in place and it was a huge improvement over other models in the category. The Px7 S2 are certainly category leaders when it comes to both criteria.
We run the battery test 3-4 times during any review and found B&W’s claim of 30 hours of battery life from a charge to be rather accurate; it does take roughly 2-3 hours to recharge them and a quick charge for 15 minutes after the headphones were completely drained produced 6.5 hours of listening time.
I did manage to squeeze more than 30 hours out of them with ANC disabled and the playtime with ANC was around 28 hours.
With the standard USB Type-C port on the right cup, charging is easy with any standard charger, although a 2.1 amp charger is needed for any quick charge. Using an older or lower amperage charge will extend the 2-3 hour recharging time to 6-8 hours.
If Bowers & Wilkins intended to upset the “Apple” cart is 2022, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams with the Px7 S2. Wireless ANC headphones are not supposed to become a reference or replace something like the Audeze LCD-4 or Beyerdynamic T1, but make no mistake about these headphones.
If your budget for headphones can climb to $400, the Px7 S2 are just as good (if not better) than many of its wired rivals in this price range and that’s somewhat shocking. The Px7 S2 might be the perfect choice for those looking for a wireless headphone with excellent sound quality and the occasional need for noise cancellation.
If your main concern is ANC, the Sony XM5 or Bose QC45 might be better options because both are better at removing higher frequency noise. The trade-off for better noise cancellation is that you lose out when it comes to industrial design, build quality, and overall sound quality.
Bowers & Wilkins have taken a huge step forward with the new Px7 S2 and it would be a huge mistake to not audition these if spending $400 makes sense to your wallet.
Long live the King.