Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless

Wireless Performance.

Before I proceed to sound quality analysis, let me talk about P5W Bluetooth wireless performance and the controls.  I have reviewed a lot of wireless headphones in the past, everything from minimalistic controls or touch controls to controls with individual and exotic buttons.  In my opinion P5W strikes a perfect balance between all of these with a multi-function spring-loaded power button that turns headphones on when you slide and hold it and goes into pair-up mode when you push it.  And everything else is taken care of by 3 other conveniently located buttons.  All these operation are accompanied by a pleasant chime tone, the same one used in T7 wireless speaker.

Pair up was easy and seamless, and headphones were connected to phone and media audio without any problem.  All the controls were within easy reach on the back of the right earcup, using 3 buttons with volume up/down assigned to the upper and the lower one, and a raised button in the middle for Play/Pause/Call with a single click, Skip Next with a double click, Skip Back with a triple click, and long press to start Google NOW.  The location of buttons on the back of earcup was very convenient and easy to ID by sliding a finger to find a button in the middle.  The same right earcup has micro-usb charging port at the bottom next to power button, a bi-color led, and two mic pinhole vents contributing to an excellent voice pick up.  Sound quality during calls was noted to be excellent.

With a support of the latest BT4.1, wireless performance was quite good covering a stutter free distance of 40 feet in open space.  Also, during a testing with my Note 4 in a pocket and while covering earcups with my hands, the wireless connection was still solid.  And of course, with a support of apt-X, AAC, and SBC audio codecs – I was able to confirm a really good audio performance as well.  If you are using Android based devices, apt-X support is a must.  Btw, one interesting thing that I did notice – as soon as you plug in the cable, wireless connection was automatically disabled.

Sound Analysis.

When it comes to a sound quality, we are still dealing with a pair of 40mm drivers used in P5 Series 2 with a full dynamic range tuning.  As a result, wired performance was very similar to P5 S2, but slightly different in comparison to Wireless which now depends on internal D/A audio decoding of digital stream and analog conversion to pump the drivers.  As a matter of fact, I actually enjoyed wireless sound a little more than wired.  Wired was close in comparison, but had just a little more depth in soundstage and a little more sub-bass.  But retrieval of details wasn’t exactly on the same level as wireless.  Also due to lower sensitivity in wired mode, it needed a little volume boost.  In comparison, Wireless sound was more balanced and with a better separation and layering effect.

In more details, I found Wireless audio performance to be nicely balanced with a full body sound and excellent extension at both ends of frequency spectrum.  It had a nice soundstage with slightly above the average width and an average depth with a more intimate feeling.  I found layering and separation of instruments and vocals to be just perfect.

Low end has a deep meaty sub-bass extension which adds a nice level of rumble without overpowering the bass, mid-bass punch is fast and well controlled without crossing lower-mids threshold.  The balance between sub-bass and mid-bass quantity was just perfect and also the reason why I preferred wireless sound over wired.

Lower-mids have a nice body without adding extra “weight” to the sound, and upper mids have a great level of smooth clarity with excellent retrieval of details.  This is noticeable especially with vocals, male or female, that sound smooth and organic.  Overall mids have a perfect balance of smooth and detailed sound.

Treble has a good extension, also with a clear, crisp, and smooth sound.  No sibilance or ear fatigue during extended listening.  I was actually very pleased with upper mids/treble performance which often gets neglected in wireless headphones.

Comparison.

Here is a comparison with some other on-ear and over-ear models (MeeAudio Touch, Meelec Matrix 2, Stance S1+, and Momentum 2 Wireless).

P5W vs Touch – Touch has less sub-bass and a touch more aggressive mid-bass, lower mids are a bit thinner and upper mids are a little brighter and a bit more forward, treble is a bit crispier. For 1/4 of the price Touch is a great value, though build/design is not as luxurious, and touch controls could be a bit confusing.  Overall, P5W sounds smoother and more organic.

P5W vs M2W – M2W has a wider/deeper soundstage, a bit less sub-bass and a similar mid-bass, also similar lower mids, but upper mids are more recessed, darker, and a little less detailed, treble is also a bit darker and has less quantity in comparison.  M2W full size over-ear is more comfortable and added sound isolation of ANC is a plus.  P5W controls are straight forward and easier to reach, sound tuning is smoother and more detailed, and Bluetooth performance is more stable.

P5W vs Matrix 2 – M2 has less sub-bass and slower mid-bass, thinner lower-mids and less detailed upper mids (not the same level of clarity), similar treble.  P5W controls are more minimalistic and straight forward, and it has a more luxurious build/design.

P5W vs S1+ – S1 has a lot less sub-bass and mid-bass is less aggressive, lower mids are a little thinner and upper mids are a little brighter and slightly more detailed, treble has a better extension and a little brighter and crispier.  Soundstage in S1+ is a little wider.  Also, S1+ controls are a little more confusing.

Conclusion.

B&W P5 Wireless came out of the blue and knocked one right out of the park!  I would be very curious if they ever decide to convert P7 into wireless, or perhaps B&W thinks that wireless is more appropriate when traveling thus P5 footprint is compact enough.  But either way, I found P5W to hit the right mark in design quality, selection of premium materials, ergonomics of controls, battery life, and audio performance.  Even with a support of BT4.x and apt-X codec you can either get a muddy performance or a sterile clean lifeless sound.  Here, B&W was able to tune their drivers on a level of quality wired performance with a nicely balanced sound signature.  At the same time, fitment might not be for everyone, and even with my medium size head I had to adjust earcups a bit until I find a sweet spot.  In general, on-ear fitment could be a hit or a miss, and as I mentioned before – don’t expect super isolation.  But if you are looking for premium luxurious headphones and craving high quality wireless audio performance – P5 Wireless sounds as good as it looks!