Sound Off, Refined

Bowers & Wilkins PX Review: Supreme Design Meets Spacious Sound And Noise Cancellation


Tech By Photo by Hunter Kelley
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In the fall of 2017, Bowers & Wilkins released the PXs ($400) — its first pair of wireless headphones with active noise-cancelling, à la the Bose QC 35 IIs. And just like those, and most other newish noise-canceling headphones, the PXs allow you adjust the noise-canceling levels in case you want to hear more or less of your surroundings. However, the PXs come with added convenient smart features and a design that is, frankly, second to none.

The Good: The PX headphones are compatible with aptX HD (hi-res audio up to 24bit/48kHz) and sound supreme. The active noise-canceling works well, too. Thanks to built-in sensors, music starts and stops when you take the headphones on and off, just like with Apple’s AirPods. It charges via USB Type-C, just like most new laptops, Android smartphones and the Nintendo Switch. The headphones are designed beautifully and really don’t look like anything else (save for other B&W headphones).

Who They’re For: Anybody looking for ANC wireless headphones who want something that boosts audiophile-level sound and that also looks unique.

Watch Out For: There’s no voice assistant, like with the QC35 IIs. They’re not as foldable or lightweight as other “travel-friendly” headphones. The in-app settings that optimize noise-canceling for different scenarios (office, city, flight) can be confusing and don’t always work as advertised. Expensive.

Alternatives: The Bose QC 35 IIs are less expensive and more comfortable, but also look pretty generic. The Sennheiser HD 1 Wireless also have a unique design and cost around the same as the PXs.

Review: It’s worth reminding people that Bowers & Wilkins’s roots are in hi-fi and elaborately-designed loudspeakers — just look its Nautilus ($60,000/pair). The storied company has been making loudspeakers since the mid-1900s, but it only launched its first headphones, the P5s, in 2010; and its first wireless headphones, the P5 Wireless, in 2015. The PXs mark another first, as it’s the B&W’s first pair of headphones with active noise-canceling, wireless or not.

After two weeks of using them, I can say that the PXs sound fantastic and they’re pretty good at noise-canceling, too. The same angled drivers in B&W’s top-of-the-line P9 Signature headphones ($899) are also in the PXs. And the soundstage it creates is really tremendous. Listening to 30 Seconds to Mars‘s Vox Populi and London Grammar‘s “Hey Now” — two of my go-to tracks when testing headphones and speakers — and I heard everything. The bass is powerful, but in a good way that only pumps when it’s supposed to and when it does, it doesn’t distort everything else.

As far as active noise-canceling, the PXs are effective — they blocked out pretty much all ambient noise when I wore them while in the office or walking home through mid-Manhatten. Unlike other ANC headphones, however, the PXs have mics inside and outside of each earcup. The inside mics help with ANC, reversing the frequencies of ambient noise to eliminate them, with the outside mics can enhance specific ambient noises so you can hear them better while still using noise canceling. You need the app to control them, but the idea is that when in “office” mode — there are also “city” and “flight” modes — you can listen to music and hear a person when they talk to you at the same time.

At $400, however, they’re on the high-end compared to other noise-canceling headphones, but the unique design and terrific sound quality will make you forget about second-guessing the purchase.

In theory, this “adaptive noise canceling” is cool. In practice, it’s also cool, but also weird and imperfect. In “office” mode, for example, most of the time I couldn’t hear anybody, and the times I could the voices sounded very robotic. Personally, after a few days I turned the ANC all the way up and tried to not to go back in the app. The PX’s standard noise-canceling ability is very good as it is, plus I could turn it on/off via a small button on the right earcup. There’s no need to use the app if you don’t want to — so I didn’t.

The PXs weigh 335 grams, compared to the QC35 II’s 234 grams, and while the headphones don’t particularly feel heavy, I didn’t find them as comfortable as the QC35 IIs (which feel amazing). I’m pretty prone to ear-fatigue, too, so after an hour of wearing the PXs, I usually had to take a break and take them off. The larger size and inability to fold also mean that the PXs probably aren’t as ideal to travel with as others. That said, the PXs share a similar curvaceous industrial design of B&W’s P5 Wireless, which I find way more interesting than the Bose QC35 IIs.

Also nice, the PXs have sensors in each earcup that automatically play and pause music as you take the headphones on and off. It’s pretty much exactly the same as what AirPods do. When you take the headphones off, they go into a standby mode. I could pick them up the following day and, if I didn’t play music from my smartphone on any other device, like my AirPods or Amazon Echo, the PXs would pick up exactly where I left off.

Verdict: The PXs are very good noise-canceling headphones, even if some of the more refined features are strange. Their built-in sensors add an AirPods-esque convenience, which most people will love. At $400, however, they’re on the high-end compared to other noise-canceling headphones, but the unique design and terrific sound quality will make you forget about second-guessing the purchase.

What Others Are Saying:
• “Excellent wireless sound quality, impressive noise-canceling and a rewarding user experience make the Bowers & Wilkins PX a fantastic audio package.” — What Hi-Fi?

• “No other noise-canceling headphones come even close to rivaling the pure exhilaration and joy of listening to music on the B&W PX. Never mind making you tap your foot or nod your head, these cans will make you dance in the street. (Note: dancing in the street is generally frowned upon here in the UK, please maintain your decorum).” — Vlad Savov, The Verge

• “There’s a remarkable sense of space. Instruments are given room to breathe, and the soundstage is nicely organized. The presentation is so airy that, for a moment, I thought these might be open-back headphones.” – Ced Yuen, Trusted Reviews

Key Specs

Form: over ear, wireless
Frequency Range: 10Hz – 20kHz
Impedance: 22 ohms
Weight: 335 grams
Battery: up to 22 hours (Bluetooth and ANC), up to 50 hours (wired and no ANC)
Features: removable earcups, built-in sensors,
Ports: USB-C (charge), 3.5mm jack
Colors: space grey or soft gold

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