Many companies have leaped gleefully into the choppy, Bluetooth-tinted waters of personal wireless listening, but Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) has made a more measured entry. Citing advancements in Bluetooth technology, namely the aptX standard, the British firm has felt compelled to join the party, rolling out a wireless version of its highly rated P5 Series 2 headphones. After spending some time with the plush leather pads pressed against our ears, we've got some thoughts on how they stack up, and we feel devotees of the company's high-end equipment won't be disappointed with its decision to cut the cord.
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Little has changed in the appearance of the P5 Wireless headphones from their elegant, wired predecessors. The frames are crafted from aluminum and sheep's leather covers the adjustable headband and rectangular ear cups, which are detachable should they one day need replacing.
The on-ear design won't be for everybody, but one advantage they do have on their over-the-ear equivalents is their smaller, more manageable shape and size. It may sound immaterial, but when your head's rested on a pillow or rolling from one side of the plane seat to the other while you drift in and out of sleep, big, clunky headphones can be an awkward thing to wear. So in terms of comfort, we're giving the wireless P5s a tick.
The headphones weigh 213 g (7.5 oz), a slight gain on the 195 g (6.9 oz) P5 Series 2s which is a good effort considering the new version packs a rechargeable lithium battery inside. A discreet control panel at the back of the right earpiece consists of three small buttons to control volume, play, pause and skip and reverse. A lone button on the underside of the same earpiece doubles as a switch for power and also Bluetooth discovery.
B&W pointing to the advent of aptX as a reason to get on the Bluetooth train is interesting, primarily for the reason that not all devices support the standard. Samsung's Galaxy Notes, Sony's Experia series and many of HTC's later smartphones are among those that do, but there is one notable omission from the lineup, a humble little device known as the iPhone.
Whether aptX truly provided the impetus or the company simply felt it was time to make its move doesn't really matter. We've tested the P5 Wireless headphones with both aptX-supported phones and non-supported devices and there's no huge difference in sound quality, both are excellent.
Armed with the same 40 mm drive units as the previous model, the P5 Wireless headphones deliver rich, crisp audio right up and down its 10 Hz - 20 kHz frequency range. If you are someone that listens to music across all genres, then the cable-free P5s offer a good all-round listening experience. From the twangs of Shuggie Otis' guitar, to the depths of Biggie Small's voice, all come through with an impressive clarity.
One area where they may be left wanting is at the lower end. Other headphones, particularly the over-the-ear variety, can provide a real oomph on bassier tracks. The P5 Wireless headphones aren't quite there in this regard, but they do hold up well under heavy bass, in that the sound still comes through with good clarity. We tested this on one of the bassiest tracks of them all, Three 6 Mafia's Late Night Tip, at full volume and experienced no signs of strain or distortion.
Battery and connectivity
The battery life is excellent. B&W claims 17 hours of wireless playback and our testing showed this to be around the mark, though a cable can be plugged in if you're running on empty. The headphones take around three hours to fully charge which is longer than some, such as Parrot's Zik 2.0s (they have a battery life of six hours), but we found this to be almost a non-factor as we had to do it so infrequently.
When it comes to connecting via Bluetooth, which let's face it ranges from mildly inconvenient to downright frustrating, the P5 Wireless headphones definitely sit on the more pain free end of the scale. Holding down the power button for two seconds sees the tiny LED alongside flash blue to indicate that they are discoverable. We had very little trouble finding them with laptops and both iOS and Android phones.
Are they worth your hard earned?
Priced at US$400, the P5 Wireless headphones certainly aren't on the cheap side. They cost $100 more than their wired siblings and are at the higher end for Bluetooth headphones. Parrot's Zik 2.0s will cost the same, but in addition to Bluetooth they boast impressive noise-cancelling ability and a suite of audio customization features (these features will be great for some and completely useless for others, you can read more about them in our full review).
Other than the expense, it's kind of hard to fault the P5 Wireless. The design is smart and elegant, but not at the expense of rigidity and a solid, reliable build. We see the long and luxurious battery life as a big plus and the sound quality overall is very good.
You will be able to find better value headphones south of this price point, but if you are on the hunt for a premium, cable free listening experience and aren't looking to compromise, the P5 Wireless headphones may just fit the bill.
Product page: B&W P5 WirelessView gallery - 11 images