Bowers & Wilkins P3 Series 2 review

The Bowers & Wilkins P3 Series 2 proves to be a divisive sequel

B&W's P3 Series 2 are beautiful, well-built and affordable.
B&W's P3 Series 2 are beautiful, well-built and affordable.
B&W's P3 Series 2 are beautiful, well-built and affordable.


  • Sleek, modern design
  • High-quality craftsmanship and materials
  • Hard case makes travel safe and simple
  • Good treble response


  • High clamping force erodes long-term comfort
  • Mid-bass hump overplays low-end content
  • Thin ear pads make for poor passive noise isolation

DT Editors' Rating

With a beautiful on-ear design and crisp, clear sound quality, Bowers & Wilkins’ first generation P3 headphones captured our hearts when we first heard them four years ago. We’ve long praised the company’s smallest headphone option for their clean treble response and lightweight comfort, well worth their $200 price tag. Naturally, we were excited for the newly-updated P3 Series 2, which are not only $50 cheaper than the original, but billed to improve upon the first P3 in both sound quality and comfort.

Not every upgrade is an improvement. After extended listening at the office, at home, and during our daily commutes, we’ve fallen out of love. Sure, the latest P3 are certainly cheaper and prettier than the first generation, but in this case we’d prefer B&W had left well enough alone.

Out of the box

As is typical of Bowers & Wilkins’ products, unboxing the new P3 Series 2 is a spectacular experience. The cans come in a beautiful white box with an upper shell that opens to reveal a thick, black hard case surrounded by form-fitting foam.

Inside the case lie the headphones, perfectly nestled with their iOS-compatible cable like the yolk of some fine, rare egg. Just like the previous model, they bring with them the sort of new-car smell you expect in only the finest European vehicles. Removing the hard case from the foam enclosure reveals hidden instruction booklets and warranty information underneath.

This out-of-box experience is as near-perfect as any first interface with a product gets, and easily among the classiest we’ve ever seen for $150 headphones.

Features and design

The folks at Bowers & Wilkins have ditched the first generation’s acoustic cloth coverings on the removable magnetic earpads and upper headband, adopting the same leather that appears on their higher-end models. Other than that, the rest of the original P3’s appearance is undisturbed for the 2.0 version.

As far as design is concerned, the lack of change is appreciated; The P3, with its black aluminum shell and sleek, curving metal sliders has been and remains among the most beautiful headphones created.

The build quality of the headphones is remarkable at any price point, but especially now that it comes $50 cheaper than before. All the materials are sturdy and high-end, and form continues to follow function. They still fold easily (but not too easily) to fit back into their carrying case, and the top of the headband remains a rubberized plastic for easy removal and adjustment.


If anything, the firm clamp of the P3’s first generation is tighter on the new model, creating a somewhat uncomfortable set of headphones for long-term wear for those with larger heads or glasses, but snugly fitting those with smaller heads.

The P3 remain among the most beautiful headphones ever created.

The clamping issues aren’t aided by the change from soft acoustic cloth to leather coverings. While the leather is a nice aesthetic upgrade, without the addition of more earcup padding, it certainly isn’t as easy on the ears as the previous gen’s cloth was.

In fact, the cloth-to-leather change is also noticeable on the underside of the headband, with the lack of padding becoming particularly bothersome after a few hours of listening. The comfort issues are exacerbated on those with big heads, but everyone who wore this set of headphones in our office thought the clamping of the P3 Series 2 to be aggressive.

The feel of the Series 2 improves if one lengthens the headphones and attempts to float the headband as far above their head as possible, but the clamping force — which hits the bottom of the ear with the most pressure — feels a bit lopsided when doing so.


The new P3 sports the same set of 30mm drivers as the previous generation did, but they have been newly voiced to deliver crisper highs and deeper lows, according to the company. We did note the upper end of the sonic register to have an improved brilliance (an area of the sound which we already enjoyed on the original), but the upper-middle section of the sound remains unchanged. Sound isolation is the same as the original, and with just a thin layer of foam between your ears and the surrounding sound, does leaves a little to be desired, though about par for the course for a smaller on-ear.

In terms of bass, the Series 2 takes what we previously thought to be an over-the-top mid-bass hump and exaggerates it even further, creating an at-times muddy musical atmosphere from the low end. That, coupled with the lack of pronounced mids can create a lack of focus and clarity for some instruments, such as keyboards and rhythm guitars.

That said, the added bass can be a double-edged sword, especially for a compact on-ear like the P3.

Bowers & Wilkins P3 Series 2
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

It creates a pleasant depth on chronically bass-lacking jazz tracks like Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight, but it gets in the way when listening to soul and hip-hop fare like Allen Toussaint’s Last Train or Kendrick Lamar’s untitled 05 — where the recordings’ bass lines absolutely overpower everything else in the mix.

Like the higher-end P5, the P3 Series 2 conforms to sonic norms heavily influenced by the Beats era . It provides certifiably dramatic low end in a small package, designed to accentuate the sub-bass of electronic and trap music, but strips away some of the clarity in the middle of the sound that we desire in other genres.

Our Take

The Bowers & Wilkins P3 Series 2 is an incredibly beautiful, well-built, and well-priced set of headphones that looks even cleaner than its predecessor. But despite the aesthetic upgrade from the previous generation, the fit and sound leave something to be desired, especially considering how much we enjoyed the previous version.

What are the alternatives?

There are a huge number of headphones occupying the $100-200 on-ear section of the market right now, and many of them are excellent in both sound and build quality. Those looking at the P3 will likely be considering the Sennheiser Momentum, Plantronics Backbeat Sense, and Thinksound On2.

How long will it last?

Given their solid components, replaceable cables, and standard-issue hard case, we have no reason to believe the Bowers & Wilkins P3 Series 2 won’t last many years in standard-use scenarios.

Should you buy it?

No. With so many more comfortable, better-sounding alternatives at this price point, it’s hard for us to recommend the second generation P3 to anyone other than the group basing their purchasing decisions on style alone.


Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.

Bose QuietComfort wireless headphones are more than $80 off for a limited time

The Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II is one of our favorite wireless headphones. Its noise-canceling and Bluetooth capabilities make it an excellent pair of over-ear headphones. If you've been wanting the high-quality headphones, it is now…
Home Theater

Wireless headphones are finally awesome, and these are our favorites

With sleek form factors, prime audio quality, and the freedom of untethered listening, there has never been a better time to pick up a pair of wireless headphones. These are the best ones currently available.

Transport your Nintendo Switch in style with these nifty cases

The Nintendo Switch, which boasts both wired and handheld modes, needs a good case to ensure it doesn't get beat up while you're on the go. We scoured through dozens of Switch cases to bring you the best ones.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

What are HDMI ARC and eARC? Here’s how they can simplify your home theater

HDMI ARC is one of the coolest TV features at your disposal. But if you're like most folks, you have no idea how it works, if you even know what it is at all. Here's our primer on HDMI ARC, as well as the next generation technology, eARC.
Home Theater

Walmart abandons its plans for a streaming Netflix killer

Rumored plans for a Walmart owned, Vudu-labeled Netflix streaming killer have been shelved according to a new report from CNBC. The billions it would have needed to invest in order to compete apparently gave the mega retailer cold feet.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.
Home Theater

Want to mirror your smartphone or tablet onto your TV? Here's how

A vast arsenal of devices exists to allow sending anything on your mobile device to your TV. Our in-depth guide shows you how to mirror content from your smartphone or tablet to the big screen from virtually any device available.

Need a smart speaker? Amazon knocks $50 off Sonos Beam soundbar with Alexa

If you're looking to add some oomph to your home audio setup, then through February 3, the Alexa-enabled Sonos Beam is on sale for $50 off, bringing this excellent smart sound bar down to just $349 on Amazon.
Home Theater

Dolby’s secret recording studio app may soon exit stealth mode

In secret testing since June, Dolby's stealth recording and social network app may soon be ready to make an appearance. Dolby 234 blends unique noise-canceling tech with Instagram-like audio filters.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

Plex is the latest player to contemplate the subscription streaming game

With massive reach thanks to its client app being supported virtually every media device on the planet, Plex is now looking at the future of its media curation platform. A future that may include free and subscription services.
Home Theater

Yamaha’s MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable spreads analog joy throughout your home

It can be tough to listen to your favorite analog tunes anywhere besides the room where your turntable is located. With its MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable, Yamaha allows you to stream your tunes throughout your home.