Bowers & Wilkins P3 Review
Dashing design, inside and out
With refined sound, sleek looks, and portability in mind, Bowers & Wilkins went about designing the P3s for this year's stylish on-the-go listeners. The company nailed the design with a tasteful body of brushed aluminum, handsome fabric, and unexpected contours, but the wear is something short of posh. Sensitive-eared folk will want to keep shopping.
The sound doesn't disappoint, though, and for an asking price of $199.99, the P3s are a competitive high-end contender for shoppers with a sartorial eye and a commute that won't stop.
Design & Features
The name's 3... P3.
There's something a bit Bond about these headphones. The dark model we tested looks red-carpet ready, with matte-black ear cups, handsome fabric, and cool metal flourishes. And some of these elements are made for more than just good looks; the design components are simultaneously fashionable, useful, and leather free (a fact animal lovers will surely appreciate). A layer of memory foam works to remember the shape of your ear after each wear (though this does little to alleviate the pressure that comes with on-ear design), and the pads pop right off for easy cleaning.
Out of the box, the P3s ship with a 3.93-foot Y-shaped cord. The split is not adjustable, but the fact that this cord is replaceable helps make up for that. Just remove the ear cups—which rare-earth neodymium magnets hold into place—and unplug the jacks underneath. A spare cord even ships with the P3s, so don't fret when your maniacal house cat murders the first one (but spray her with a water gun, because the extra doesn't include a microphone). To store your P3s, simply collapse the ear cups into the band and pop the whole rig into your hard-shell carrying case. Just watch your fingers—this case snaps shut, and the edges are sharp.
Feel free to judge the P3s by their cover, because they sound as great as they look.
Overall, the P3s reproduce desirable, balanced sound. Notes throughout the frequency range are right where they should be, and most errors are barely audible. Overall, the P3s stay quite close to our ideal limits, without exaggerating or underemphasizing notes to a pronounced extent. Not only this, but the left and right channels remain fairly even in loudness, so that music should sound accurate.
There were a few problems worth mentioning, but none are deal breakers. A few extremely high notes are audibly underemphasized, and the left speaker is louder than the right—but other than cymbals and piping piccolos, this issue won't effect much. Most listening will therefore carry on undisturbed—only very practiced ears will notice the underemphasis (professional cymbalists?).
Lastly, since the P3s do not have a noise-cancellation feature—and since the cups are a bit small—they really don't do much in the way of blocking external noises. As far as leakage, they do emit some sound, but not enough to bother your neighbors very much. Beyond these minor complaints, there really isn't much to gripe about.
Before you buy the Bowers & Wilkins P3, take a look at these other headphones.
Like an impeccably dressed lady, the P3s just aren't very comfortable.
Visually, these headphones relay a sense of luxury, but it just doesn't translate into comfort. The on ear design inevitably applies pressure, causing one's ears to ache after extended use. They are made with memory foam that some may find helpful, but if you have sensitive ears, these are definitely not the headphones for you—on ears never are. Furthermore, the attractive metal limbs that extend from the band continually catch at unbound hair; long braids were my only recourse, à la Little House on the Prairie. The whole rig feels a bit unsteady, slipping about with the shake of a head, and the ear pads almost feel too small.
We do appreciate how compact and lightweight the P3s are, though. These cans weigh about 4.5 oz., and they collapse nicely into a compact form for transport. Additionally, the microphone and remote make it very easy to take calls, skips songs, tinker with volume, and pause music while on the go. Just remember that since the P3s aren't the most effective isolators, noisy environments may prove frustrating.
If looks could sell
The Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones look exactly like what they are—a gorgeous set with high-end sound and a steep price tag ($200 MSRP). If looks aren't everything, you can do better for the price—especially in terms of wear. As luxurious as these headphones look, they just aren't especially comfortable because of the on-ear design and the smallness of the pads. If you can afford to surrender another Benjamin, the P5s (MSRP $299.95) appear to be a more opulent bet.
Regardless though, the P3's produce very desirable sound for the balanced music listener. Aside from perhaps an underemphasized cymbal crash now and again, these headphones produce even, ideal sound. If you're a bass monger or a gamer, these obviously don't fit the bill, but if you don't have tender ears and you want a sleek set with high-end sound on the go, the P3 headphones are a reasonable buy.