The P7 are the illustrious Bowers & Wilkins headphone line’s flagship, marking the company’s first venture into an over-ear design. Crafted from a stunning combination of rich leather, brushed aluminum, and ribbons of stainless steel, the P7 perfectly encapsulate B & W’s flair for minimalist elegance. But these premium cans are more than just an ornamental piece of gear to be placed on the mantel. The P7 are designed as hi-fi road warriors, allowing any audiophile with $400 on hand to bring classic refinement and sonic immersion wherever they may roam.
We don’t mind telling you up front that spending a few days with the P7 was an absolute pleasure. But $400 is a steep price to pay, even for premium sound and design. Read on to find out if these beauties are worth a little sting to the wallet to add them to your audio arsenal.
Out of the box
As soon as we cut the stickers on the P7’s black box and pulled away the cover, we felt steeped in luxury, like a high roller walking into a swank Vegas hotel room. The headphones lay arched in a hard shell frame, lined in braided polyester. The silky leather that encompasses the headband, ear pads, and exterior of the ear cups is of the finest quality we’ve laid our hands on, and the stainless steel accents that connect the cups to the band gleamed in sexy curved lines, adding a mix of sophistication and brawn.
Pulling the grey ribbon on the P7’s bedding exposed a sleek leather satchel stashed beneath. The case lay flat, with a smooth cover flap, and a collapsed half-moon belly embroidered in a diamond pattern – it could easily have been cut from the designo interior of an upscale Mercedes. Inside the case we discovered a small booklet of instructions, a gold plated ¼-inch adapter, and a spare vinyl headphone cable with a cobra -haped jack at one end, and a chic, silver capsule at the other.
Features and design
Borrowing heavily from the design of their predecessor, the P5, the sleek shimmering lines and sumptuous curves that outline the P7’s chassis are as inviting as the cab of a new luxury sedan. The gratuitous coats of stitched leather which span virtually the entire exterior may be an animal rights activist’s nightmare, but we weren’t complaining. On top of that, the headphones are also well designed for daily use, thanks to the sturdy components that connect all of the moving parts.
The gratuitous coats of stitched leather which span virtually the entire exterior may be an animal rights activist’s nightmare, but we weren’t complaining.
The svelte steel ribbons that secure the ear cups move in and out through plates at the tips of the band in fluid strokes to adjust for size. The ear cups have a lot of give at the horizontal axis, allowing them to adjust to the side of the head easily. Round hinges at the tips of the connecting pieces allow the headphones to easily collapse inward to fold them into their leather lair, which seals magnetically, though they remain a tad bulky even when folded in.
One of the P7’s most interesting design aspects is the way their removable cables can be detached. Pulling on the thick padding of the left ear cup breaks a magnetic seal, freeing the ear cup and revealing the driver beneath.
The design seems to be aimed as much at showing off the headphone’s innards as it is to house the cable connector, exposing a gleaming silver screen guarding the driver, and a small cavity in which the cable snakes to pug into the frame.
Both of the included cables are approximately four feet in length, and fitted with silver capsules of steel at the far end, while the iOS cable also incorporates a similar shaped capsule harboring a standard Apple 3-button inline microphone, set about a foot down from the ear cup.
The P7 exert a brawny amount of clamping force, but the overstuffed pads on the cups do a lot to compensate for the pressure, making them pretty comfy in spite of a tight grip. The snug fit results in an excellent seal and extremely effective passive noise isolation, cutting out all but the loudest ambient noises with music playing at moderate volume. The headband sports a fair dose of padding as well, but we did feel a bit of wear at the top of our head once we crossed an hour or two of listening.
From the first moment we put on the P7, we were struck by their incredible attention to detail. Throughout our evaluation, the headphones brought vivid clarity to every production we auditioned, sifting through the deeper layers of backing tracks, and the subtle rustling of studio sessions to bring everything to the forefront. On top of that, the P7 provided excellent dynamic range, deep, rich bass that left a mellow burn, and a brighter attack to the midrange that made for a satisfying, multi-colored sonic landscape.
…the P7 provided excellent dynamic range, deep, rich bass that left a mellow burn, and a brighter attack to the midrange that made for a satisfying, multi-colored sonic landscape.
One of the first tracks that really grabbed our attention was “The Girl is Mine,” from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Now, this little Paul McCartney duet is a pretty cheesy sample from the epic album, but the stellar Quincy Jones production brings a collage of sounds that were a joy to explore. The track begins with a sweet percussion punch that was firm, with great depth, along with brilliantly defined finger snaps pushed out to the sides, and a center image filled with warm, punctual bass. Michael’s multi-tracked vocals were excellently outlined in the side channels, and we were able to identify every little piece the instrumentation with ease, especially enjoying the chime sweeps and cloudy strings in the back layer.
From there we moved to Vampire Weekend’s “Worship You,” which impressed with its barnyard of instruments presented in a vivid display of character and detail. The strange ring of the plunky acoustic guitars was exposed in a lucid collection of colors at the sides of the stereo field, while the vocals in the chorus gleamed in a satiny burst of reverb. The track’s multi-timbred percussion pieces and jungle gym of afro-pop instruments could easily be followed from attack, through the sustain, to exit, and the potent bass line towards the end boomed with so much force, it reminded us of the explosion at Sauron’s death during the end of The Return of the King.
As we moved through our collection we continued to enjoy the P7’s rich low end, and their crystal clear upper register, finding it hard at times to keep up with all of the facets they revealed in the music. “Stay or Leave,” by Dave Matthews almost sounded like a fresh new track as the acoustic guitar in the far right explored a clever little counter melody with glistening bends and curves of the strings, allowing us to follow it completely through the track for the first time. And Sara Watkins’ backing vocals at the climax of “Out of the Woods” swelled with a breathtaking display of dynamic expression behind the well-defined mandolin and acoustic guitar.
We weren’t quite as enthused when we ventured into stripped down productions like “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” however. It’s not that the song sounded bad by any means, we just weren’t as enamored with the textures of the bare instrumentation as we’d expected at the $400 mark. We also experienced a few instances in richer productions in which we wished for deeper dimension. That’s admittedly a super-critical appraisal, but then, the P7’s price tag demands a seriously deep inspection.
The Bowers & Wilkins P7 match their elegant and graceful design with a luscious display of clarity, power, and dynamic expression that was a joy to explore. We would absolutely love to have these phones as our go-to choice both for travelling, as well as to kick around the house listening to our favorite tunes.
That said, we wish their $400 price tag would come down a bit. The $300 tier offers some excellent travel-ready headphones (like the V-Moda Crossfade 100, for instance) that do a good job of standing with the P7. And beautiful though they are, a hundred bucks is a big price bump for B&W to demand. Still, you always pay a premium for luxury, and the P7 have that in spades. If you have the cash, these headphones will not disappoint, and they remain one of the best looking and sounding headsets we’ve evaluated in their class.
- Clear, vividly detailed treble
- Warm, powerful bass response
- Excellent dynamic expression
- Great passive noise isolation
- Gorgeous, luxurious design
- Glosses over some instrumental tone quality