The blurred lines between wired and wireless.
PROS: classy design, premium materials, legendary sound tuning, 17hr battery life, BT4.1 w/aptX, wired and wireless connection.
CONS: involved wired cable attachment.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Almost every wireless headphone review I came across in the last few months started with acknowledgment of Apple’s decision to remove headphone jack. In my opinion, Apple is definitely responsible for raising awareness about wireless headphones, but they didn’t invent or reinvent it, the technology existed and continued to evolve year after year. This evolution brought us newly updated codecs and protocols, and integration with not only basic budget earphones but also luxurious premium headphones usually associated with higher quality desktop and portable wired sources.
Last year I had a pleasure to review B&W P5 Wireless on-ear headphones (reviewed here), and found them to be an excellent performer on the go in both wired and wireless modes. I was a bit surprised that it look B&W, a manufacturer with 50 year old history of legendary loudspeakers and other audio equipment, until September of this year to introduce the next wireless version of their flagship P7. But considering the announcement from early this year about B&W being acquired by Eva Automation startup (whose CEO is also president of SF 49ers and former CFO of FB and YT), I’m relieved they are still working on innovations and new releases, such as P7 Wireless (P7W) and recently introduced P9 flagship. After spending the last few months enjoying the luxury of P7W, now I would like to share about my experience.
Unboxing & Accessories.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and B&W always nails it with a packaging of their products which often appear on the shelves of Apple and Magnolia (Best Buy) stores. The cover of P7W box has an image with a detailed view of the right earcup and its sexy chrome attachment to the headband. A closer look reveals a nearly hidden control buttons along the side, a reminder this is a wireless model of P7, though it’s also hard to miss a bold writing underneath with mentioning of Bluetooth and aptX support. The back of the box has a full image of the headphones and a brief multi-lingual description of the functionality. You are not going to find a spec or a list of accessories or any marketing hype – a very limited info with a main focus on the image of P7W to show the beauty of the design.
No surprises here, except one interesting observation. Every B&W packaging box I have seen to date was always in black color, like a formal tuxedo outfit. Here for the first time, B&W broke their long standing tradition with an all white box which actually makes a better contrast with a headphone image. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I find it very interesting with this being the first release under the new company ownership. Perhaps the message in here is a fresh start?
Either way, you have a very sturdy cardboard box which always makes a great display, and once you take the cover off – you are graced with a beautiful curves of the folded P7W design and a pleasant smell of genuine leather. All you see is a chrome metal and leather, securely folded inside of a form fitted tray. Underneath you will find an expandable soft leather case with a quilted front and a magnetic latch cover. I mentioned before that I would have loved to see a more masculine hardshell leather case with B&W headphones, but I also do see a point of using something that looks like it was designed by a fashion label to compliment the looks of P7W.
Also, included was a removable custom cable, a soft flexible round cable terminated with 3.5mm TRS plug and a chrome connector and 2.5mm TRS earcup connector with a custom angled rubbery housing. Furthermore, you can find a charging USB to micro-USB cable, also a nice quality, and a quick start, warranty, and Bowers & Wilkins product catalog booklets. Typically, wired B&W headphones include two cables, one audio only and another with in-line remote. Here, you still have an audio cable, but the cable with in-line remote is replaced by usb-cable due to wireless design requiring charging of internal battery.
I don’t think you need any more accessories, but one that would have been nice to include is something for caretaking of the leather. I noticed that after some time, the leather pads can lose their shine which I typically “restore” by wiping them with a damp cloth. Would have been great to include some pro leather treatment spray bottle and a soft piece of cloth.
When it comes to a design, as I mentioned before in my other B&W reviews, all B&W headphones feature premium luxury details common across their different models, just scaled up or down depending on over-ear or on-ear design. You will find a genuine soft leather material covering memory foam of earpads, as well as the back of earcups covered in leather around a black brushed aluminum plate in the middle with an etched “Bowers & Wilkins” logo name.
Earcups are attached on one side to a solid curved chrome double metal rod that waves into the headband. Besides previously mentioned folding design, earcups themselves have a degree of tilt to adjust to your ears/head shape. The earpads are replaceable and attached magnetically to earcups, and I will cover more about it when discussing the cable attachment. One thing to mention, unlike P5W on-ear model where my ears did get warm after 20-30min of continuous use, with P7W over-ear model I didn’t find this to be an issue.
The headband is leather wrapped and has a soft foam padding on the inner side. The whole construction felt very solid and relatively light with an evenly distributed 323 grams of weight. The headband height adjustment was buttery smooth while still requiring a little bit of force so it doesn’t slide out loose. Clamping force was tight out of the box and required some break in period. After a few days it felt more comfortable while still offering a decent sound isolation which was better than on-ear P5W.
Removable earpads and cable attachment.
P7W, being similar to P5W and their P5/P7 wired models, has a proprietary cable with a standard 3.5mm connector going to your audio source and 2.5mm angled connector going inside of the left earcup. It’s a clever design which makes the cable appear like a permanent hardwired attachment. To get to the connector you will need to remove magnetically attached left earpad to gain access to internal 2.5mm socket. Right side earpad is magnetically attached as well for an easy replacement, just like the left earpad. I do want to comment about being careful if you have sharp nails so you don’t damage the leather since these magnets are quite strong. The cable itself feels sturdy yet thin, flexible, and soft. Also, thanks to a connection going inside of the earcup, I didn’t sense any microphonics effect.
Without a doubt, that is one clever way to attach a cable, but it’s not as quick as just being able to plug in a cable directly, and fiddling with earpads could be a bit time consuming. But at the same time, I don’t expect people constantly going back’n’forth between wired and wireless connection. It’s definitely a huge plus if you run out of battery (17 hours on a single charge!!!), or if your source doesn’t support wireless or you are in a place where wireless is not allowed.
Phone pair up and Controls.
The elegance of P7W design is complemented by its wireless controls, also identical to P5W. From a quick glance, you can’t even see the buttons until you take a closer look. At the bottom of the right earcup there is a multi-function spring-loaded power button that turns headphones on/off when you slide and hold it, and goes into pair-up mode when you push it. All other functionality is taken care of by 3 control buttons conveniently located on the back of right earcup. All operations are accompanied by a pleasant chime tone feedback, instead of annoying voice commands used by many other headphones.
Pair up was easy and seamless, and headphones were connected to phone and media audio without any problem. As previously mentioned, the controls are within easy reach on the back of the right earcup, using 3 buttons with volume up/down assigned to the upper and the lower ones, 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 is very convenient and easy to ID by sliding a finger to find a middle button. The same right earcup has micro-usb charging port at the bottom next to the power button, a bi-color led, and two spread mic pinhole vents. 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 up to 60 ft (!!!) 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. A support of aptX, AAC, and SBC audio codecs yielded an excellent audio performance as well. If you are using Android based devices, aptX support is a must, though I have to admit that testing with aptX (Note 4) vs non-aptX (Opus#2 and X7) yielded a nearly identical sound results. Also, I noticed the same behavior as with P5W where as soon as you plug in the cable, wireless connection was automatically disabled.