Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 Headphones Review
Bowers & Wilkins' well-regarded on-ears bring style to an on-ear market that often lacks it.
The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 (MSRP $299.99) are solid performers in almost every area we test, save for distortion. Time in the lab revealed a semi-flat frequency response with mild extra emphasis on things like sub-bass and mid/high frequency harmonic resonance, making for a detailed soundscape that maintains a healthy balance between obvious and subtle musical elements. The only drawback here is some distortion in the bass range, which peaked above our ideal limits.
Frequency response is the measurement of how a speaker (or set of speakers) responds—in decibels, or volume—to each frequency across the audible spectrum, from 10 through 10kHz. To measure this, we put each set of headphones that we test on our Head-and-Torso Simulator and feed a frequency response (at 78 dB) through the headphones. The data we gather tells us how much a set of headphones emphasizes or under-emphasizes specific frequencies.
The P5s performed optimally here, neither over- or under-emphasizing any frequency from bass to treble. The result is a finely detailed, balanced sound with ample bass presence and plenty of harmonic emphasis. Note that sub-bass and bass frequencies play back around the same frequency as the input (78 dB), which tapers down to about 70 dB at the mid-range around 800–1kHz. Because these midrange frequencies are easier to hear than bass frequencies, the audible result evens out.
The P5s add more emphasis around 1.5kHz, peaking at about 78 dB—the same emphasis as the bass range. The result is that harmonic overtones from midrange (800-1kHz) sounds are given a little more emphasis than normal, helping valuable musical details stand out.
Total Harmonic Distortion
Total Harmonic Distortion, or THD, is a measurement of unwanted or clipped notes within headphone frequency response. Many headphones struggle to present the deepest sub-bass notes without traces of distortion, though any distortion below 3% is quite difficult to hear, especially in the bass range. The P5s didn't test with too much of an issue here, though sub-bass and bass elements do peak above 3% THD, which may really bother those of you with trained ears.
You can expect these distortion results as long as you don't listen louder than 114.554 dB, which wouldn't be safe anyway.
Our tracking test measures the relative volume between a pair of headphones' left and right speaker channels, aiming to find major discrepancies in volume. Obviously, if one speaker is notably louder than the other, it's quite distracting no matter what you're listening to. Fortunately, the P5s don't have any major issues here. There is a shift of about 3 dB around 3kHz (upper midrange), but only very astute listeners will notice this.
Our impulse response test measures how long it takes notes to stop sounding (rate of decay) after being played back through a set of headphones. We feed a full frequency sweep through the headphones, and our Head-and-Torso Simulator measures how long (in milliseconds) the sounds take to decay. Generally, we consider any decay time longer than 15 ms to be problematic, but none of the P5s frequencies persist for longer than 10 ms, which is essentially a perfect result.
Isolation & Attenuation
Our isolation test measures how well a set of headphones naturally blocks outside, ambient noise. Because they don't cup the ears and don't do any active canceling, the P5s aren't the strongest performers in this regard. Sub-bass, bass, and even mid-range frequencies aren't really dampened at all, so expect to still hear things like truck horns or airplane engines. Office chatter and crying babies will be reduced by as much as 20 to 30 dB, however, making them much harder to hear.
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