Bowers and Wilkins PX hands-on review

Noise cancellation doesn't have to kill your music with B&W's PX headphones

The Bowers and Wilkins PX headphones provide noise cancellation that doesn’t alter how music sounds, and a comfort level that means you won’t want to take them off.
The Bowers and Wilkins PX headphones provide noise cancellation that doesn’t alter how music sounds, and a comfort level that means you won’t want to take them off.
The Bowers and Wilkins PX headphones provide noise cancellation that doesn’t alter how music sounds, and a comfort level that means you won’t want to take them off.

Highs

  • Full, rich sound quality
  • Three noise-cancellation modes
  • Noise cancellation doesn't drastically affect sound
  • Wonderfully comfortable
  • AptX HD

Lows

  • You’ll need an AptX HD device to get the best from them
  • No USB Type C audio in

Bowers and Wilkins has launched its first pair of noise canceling Bluetooth headphones, the PX, and they have been a long time in the making. This is due to waiting for Bluetooth audio quality to meet its standards, and with the AptX HD codec, it has. Bowers and Wilkins has used last year’s P9 Signature high-end headphones for inspiration, bringing some of the special design aspects and technology seen in them over to the PX. Despite this, they are considerably more affordable. However, it’s the new noise-canceling technology that will define them, and in our Bowers and Wilkins PX hands-on review, we find out how they perform.

Inside the Bowers and Wilkins PX

The PX draws on the acoustic design in the P9 Signature. For example, the drive unit sits in an angled plate, so the driver — which is also closely related to the one inside the P9 Signature — naturally points towards the center of your ear for an improved soundstage.

It also brings other advantages, such as having more material to stiffen the structure of the cup itself  The cups have a stiff and light composite structure, and the driver is designed to retain its shape, yet still have plenty of movement for extra bass. All this lets Bowers and Wilkins carefully tune the final sound of the headphones.

The noise canceling technology is Bowers and Wilkins’ own, and it’s the result of several years development, as the company wanted to avoid the drawback of losing the life, verve, and spaciousness often associated with noise-canceled music. There are three modes: Office, City, and Flight. Office provides the minimal noise cancellation, and Flight the most.

With the transparency mode turned up, we could very clearly the voice of someone facing and speaking to us

There’s also a transparency mode specifically turned to let voices through. This feature is directional, and by using the microphone array inside the headphones, prioritizes voices from people facing the wearer. This means you won’t hear people nearby, but will hear someone addressing you directly.

Sensors inside the headphones give the PX’s a smart control system. When you put them on, they restart your music from where you paused previously. If you lift an ear cup or hang them around your neck, they automatically pause. If you take them off and place them down on a table, the headphones slowly power down into a deep sleep mode, extending the battery life for many hours.

Used continuously, the PX headphones should return 22 hours before needing a recharge, but under normal use conditions where they’re paused and removed repeatedly, this should extend to 50 hours. This places the PX among the best-performing noise-canceling headphones we’ve ever tested.

How do they sound?

Our initial hands-on/ears-on took place in an already quiet room, but conversation was instantly removed from the headphones using the noise-canceling Flight mode, and moderately audible using Office. However, turn the transparency mode up, and when facing someone speaking to us, the voice came through very clearly.

Noise cancellation modes are changed through an app or by using a physical button on the side of the headphone cup. There are no capacitive touch-based controls here like there are on the Sony MDR-1000X.

While there was a slight difference in the sound signature with noise cancellation switched on, it was minimal, showing what a great job Bowers and Wilkins have done with the technology. With noise canceling switched off, the headphones have a rich, subtle sound to them.

bowers wilkins px and 006
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Audio was demonstrated using an iPhone 7. The mid-range response is prominent, and the soundstage very wide and airy. Subtleties in the music aren’t lost when noise cancellation is switched on, with the strumming and slapping of strings in an acoustic guitar-heavy piece sounding very realistic.

Bowers and Wilkins has used the AptX HD codec inside the PX, which it considers the best possible wireless sound format available. The Bluetooth technology also gives Bowers and Wilkins complete control over all the audio elements inside the PX, and because it doesn’t have to deal with different amplifiers, DACs, and other in-device components that influence wired headphones, it can make sure the sound produced by the PX headphones meets its expectations.

While AptX HD is excellent, it’s also limited in its availability. The format is currently supported by very few smartphones — the LG G6, LG V30, and OnePlus 5 — and music players including several from Astell & Kern.

To test the AptX HD, we listened back-to-back with the Audio Technica ATH-DRS9BT headphones using an LG G6. The Audio Technica’s have more volume, punchier bass response, and more presence. The PX headphones perform better with the lower bass notes, and aren’t quite so harsh or bright. However, we cannot pass final judgement until the Bowers and Wilkins PX’s have been fully worn in, and we’ve listened for longer.

Fit, connections, and availability

The Bowers and Wilkins PX headphones feel superb. They’re lightweight, yet still solid, and the headband and ear cups are covered in a very supple leather with memory foam inside. There’s a large amount of space between the driver and your ear, and the fit is excellent.

It perfectly fitted around my ear, and didn’t grip my glasses in an uncomfortable or distracting manner. This is often a problem with over-ear headphones, but not with the PXs. A tough nylon covers the outside of the cups and the top of the hanger, while some exposed cabling gives the design some character.

The PX don’t fold up, but the cups do rotate to lay almost flat, and the headband is very flexible to make them easier to store. They’re designed to be used wirelessly, but there is a 3.5mm headphone socket for wired use. The battery is charged with a USB Type-C cable, and the same port can be used to listen to music from a PC, Mac, or smartphone.

Bowers and Wilkins have worked hard to make the PX’s affordable, and have priced them at $400, or 330 British pounds. There are very few other AptX HD Bluetooth headphones available, but Audio Technica’s ATH-DRS9BT cost $550, or 500 British pounds, highlighting the value here. A choice of either space grey or soft gold color schemes are available. We loved the latter, where the gold was subtle enough not to overpower the understated design.

The Bowers and Wilkins PX’s rich sound, highly competent noise cancellation, and a fabulous fit make for a very positive first impression, and the price makes them very tempting.