Only a few hi-fi brands can claim to be so instantly recognisable that their reputation transcends the audio world. Perhaps thanks to its longstanding association supplying flagship speakers to Abbey Road Studios, Worthing’s Bowers & Wilkins can count itself firmly in this camp, because even those with little interest in hi-end audio will know the name.
And while building cutting edge loudspeakers is where Bowers has been buttering the majority of its bread for five decades, in recent years it’s also made the obvious move to apply its speaker knowhow into producing headphones in a bid to reach new audiences.
The Px7 S2 on test here is the latest and most highly specced over ear model that Bowers offers, replacing the original Px7, with the PI5 (£139) and PI7 (£239) wireless earbuds completing its earphone range.
Compared to the outgoing PX7, the S2 model brings with it new custom designed 40mm drive units that are precision angled within their cups for optimum sound beaming. A more sophisticated hybrid noise cancelling system is also part of the package, managed by four active noise cancelling mics per side (with a further two per side for call handling). Bluetooth connectivity is via the latest 5.2 codec supporting AptX, Adaptive and HD signals up to 24-bit, that’s governed by Bowers & Wilkins’ own DSP (Digital Signal Processing) engine.
The original PX7’s 30 hours of playback remains, with the S2 needing seven hours for a full change alongside a 15 minute quick charge option. Reflecting the move to a more wireless streaming age, the 3.5mm input has been dropped in favour of a solitary USB-C socket, however the supplied cables include a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter, so legacy sources can still be supported. Despite all this added tech, the Px7 S2 is actually 3g lighter than the previous model, weighing in at 307g.
Sounds with style
Alongside the included cables, the Px7 S2 package includes a high quality protective lozenge shaped hard case measuring 23x19x6cm, which may seem a little large, but for headphones of this quality you’ll want to make sure they’re properly cosseted when not in use.
With three colour schemes on offer (including pale grey and a gorgeous blue with gold accents) we opted for the classic black option, which we’d expect most buyers to go for as it’s the least attention grabbing.
In the hand the build quality of these cans is immediately impressive, from the buttery smooth rotation of the ear cups to the solid feeling outers and soft faux leather. In use they locate firmly without feeling oppressive and their noise cancelling abilities are immediately obvious before I’ve switched them on, thanks to how well they locate around my ears and their closed back design.
Getting the best from them means downloading Bowers & Wilkins’ Music app which opens the door to a range of controls including naming your product, bass and treble adjustment (over a 12dB range), battery life, a wear sensor (that auto pauses the music when removing the headphones), auto standby options and voice activation. Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) is via three ‘environment control’ options with ‘on’, ‘pass-through’ (allowing some ambient sounds through when you need to be more aware of your surroundings) and ‘off’.
Hooking the Px7 S2s up to my iPhone 13 over Bluetooth takes seconds and once connected, the controls are instantly intuitive. The right ear cup hosts the combined power switch and pairing button, with separate buttons for volume up, volume down and play/pause, and thanks to the latter having a textured surface, it’s easy to navigate them by feel.
The left ear cup hosts a single button to toggle through the three noise cancelling settings, each with its own identifiable mini jingle when selected, telling you what mode you’re in.
My recent months have been punctuated by various travel needs and the Px7 S2s have been my go to cans on the road, put to good use as office essentials, commuting companions and late night hotel listening partners. With each scenario having its own audio demands, all three noise cancelling options have been put to the test and it’s notable how the Px7 S2s meet the needs of each scenario without compromising the quality of the audio experience. Their noise cancelling abilities are excellent, but you don’t notice they’re in operation as you can with some headphones thanks to how seamlessly B&W’s tech has been implemented.
Streaming a 16-bit/44kHz master of Dennis Wilson’s River Song from his Pacific Ocean Blue album across all three settings doesn’t highlight any obvious changes in audio quality. The track’s atmospherics remain superbly layered in each instance with the soundstage sounding expansive and detailed, more so than you’d expect from a closed back design, as the overlapping harmonies extend from deep within the mix.
Packed with pedigree
Like B&W’s loudspeakers, the Px7 S2’s sonic signature is dynamic, powerful and detailed, while still being able to bring out the emotion in the music that takes you closer to the performance.
Throw them a sonic tantrum like The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition at 16/44 and I’d challenge anyone not to be foot tapping by the time the drum rolls kick in thanks to how much punch the B&Ws pack, but change the mood to Emmylou Harris telling the story of Pancho & Lefty and the Px7 S2s revel in letting the dreamy vocals and ethereal guitars work their magic as the tempo is dialled down a few notches.
And tempo is the key word here, as it’s clear B&W has engineered its new 40mm drive units to really deliver in the timing stakes which underlines their dynamic capabilities. Everything sounds effortlessly accurate, from classical concerts to furious heavy metal, highlighting that these cans treat all genres equally.
Moving to a hardwired connection via my Musical Fidelity M1 HPA headphone amp and the difference in audio quality is there thanks to the improved source, but the leap isn’t massive. Just a few years ago switching from Bluetooth to hardwired was like night and day with some cans, but thanks to vastly improved codecs, Bluetooth is now a much more viable quality audio source. That said, being fed by an audio system of dedicated separates showcases how much more the Bowers are capable of than my iPhone can offer.
Streaming Interpol’s It Probably Matters at 24/96 from their Marauder album via my Primare NP30 streamer shows how well balanced the S2s are. On some headphones at this price point the bass notes on this track can quickly become muddy and ill defined as they merge into one, but not so with the B&Ws in the driving seat, as each note and shift in key is nicely defined without dominating the performance. Guitars and vocals are just as well served, with the band’s signature reverb laden production being expertly captured.
Despite being relatively new to the headphone game, Bowers & Wilkins is clearly carving out a reputation for offering products that set the standard, echoing the reputation of its loudspeaker offerings. The Px7 S2 is a high quality can that’s packed with the latest tech and is a joy to wear, feeling built to last, it’s one of the best and most dynamic sounding headphones on the market under £500.