Bowers & Wilkins P3 review: Bowers & Wilkins P3

The P3 headphones are made out of aluminum and "durable" rubber, and Bowers & Wilkins is highlighting the custom-made, "ultralight" acoustic fabric on the earpads. These headphones are very comfortable for on-ear headphones, but they don't feel quite as comfortable as the P5s, which have bigger, plusher leather earcups.

The fabric earcups on these guys do breathe better than the P5's leather earcups, though they'll still get your ears a little steamy on warmer days. You get a decent amount of passive noise-cancellation, though over-the-ear models will do an even better job muffling sounds from the outside world.

The headphones fold up to fit into a hard-shell case. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's worth noting that the P3s have a straight plug rather than an L-shaped plug. The common wisdom is that L-shaped plugs are preferable. That said, straight plugs tend to offer better compatibility with a wider variety of smartphone cases, which can sometimes leave the headphone jack fairly recessed.

As for performance, the P3s sound very good and like the P5s have detailed, well-balanced sound and good, tight bass. If you're looking for a headphone that really accentuates the low end, this isn't it. These are pleasant-sounding headphones designed to work well with a wide variety of music. They impress on their own, but my view of them changed a bit once I compared them with the step-up P5s. The P5s just sound a bit more detailed, open, and refined. In other words, that extra $100 you pay for the P5s does get you better sound. It's not a huge difference, but it's there.

Close up of the inline remote and microphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

I also compared these with the Bose OE2i mode that retails for about $30 less. The Bose is more comfortable and has a creamier sound that's rich but not as well defined as the P3's sound. Both CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg and I preferred the P3's sound. I thought the P3 sounded a bit more accurate and made my music sound more present and immediate.

In the end, the P3 is a strikingly designed headphone that sounds very good. I can't say this is a great deal at $200, but it's about what you should expect to pay for a headphone that features this level of industrial design, sound quality, and features. Yes, you can find headphones that sound better in this price range (the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 is one example), but few look as good.

If you're trying to decide between this model and the more expensive P5, that's a tough choice. Because this model is lighter, it's a bit more suited to mobile use, though I have seen plenty of people walking around New York with P5s. Of course at the time I saw them, they didn't didn't have a choice between the P5 and P3. Now that they have the choice, I have a feeling some would opt for the P3. Overall, it may not be as good as the P5, but in certain ways it's better. That's why it's a tough call.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Color black
  • Weight 4.6 oz
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Additional Features foldable
  • Type headphones
  • Headphones Form Factor on-ear
  • Connector Type mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm
About The Author

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music and The Big Exit. Both titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, and Nook e-books.