Bowers & Wilkins takes it up a notch with swanky new P7 headphones

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/ Updated: September 18, 2013 8:53 AM PDT

It only seemed like a matter of time before Bowers & Wilkins would introduce an over-the-ear model to round out its headphone line and now it's happened. Say hello to the P7, which looks similar to its P-series siblings but has bigger earcups and a higher price tag ($399.99).

I got my hands on an early sample, and out of the box I was impressed with the build quality and the comfort level. What I liked about these headphones is that they offer a tight seal around your ears but don't put too much pressure on your head.

Bowers & Wilkins says the "dual-cavity construction helps the pads mold to the contours of the wearer’s head" and the design "maintains a consistent volume of air between the drive unit and the surface of the ear at both sides of the head," which is supposed to enhance the stereo imaging and help optimize the sound for every listener.

The headphones fold up (but not flat) to fit into an included half-moon shaped carrying case. That they collapse helps reduce their carrying size, but they're obviously not the most compact headphones.

You remove the earpiece to detach the headphone cable (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

Along with the carrying case you get both a standard straight cable and one that integrates an Apple-friendly remote/microphone for making phone calls (in other words, the headphone can do double duty as both a home and mobile headphone). Like the P5 ($299.95) and P3 ($199.99), the earpieces adhere magnetically and can be removed to access the detachable part of the cable.

As for the sound, Bowers & Wilkins says that, "Thanks to the technological advances we’ve made with these headphones...bass is tighter, vocals are more defined, and there’s a wonderful sense of space, balance, and clarity across the entire frequency range."

Those technological advances extend to the way drive-units are designed. B&W says that to save space in typical headphones, the diaphragm must "perform the dual role of sound generator and suspension system." But for the P7 its engineers created a headphone driver that works "more like the drive-unit in a hi-fi speaker, with a diaphragm focused purely on the job it’s supposed to do: generate sound."

The headphones fold up but don't fold flat. Sarah Tew/CNET

"The internal speaker baskets encasing the P7s’ drive-units are perforated with air vents covered with a resistive film. This unique design allows for precise control of the airflow from behind the drive-unit, resulting in a more uniform, piston-like movement. Plus, while the voice coil of most headphones are made from copper, the P7s’ voice coils are constructed from a lighter aluminum-copper compound. The decrease in weight means that the drive-unit can move more freely, improving high frequency dynamics."

So how good to they sound? Well, better than the P5s, with more detail and bass that goes deeper. They definitely have more dynamic range and deliver a fuller sound, though both editor Ty Pendelbury and I preferred the sound of the $350 Sennheiser Momentum in a quick trial listening to lossless tracks.

The included carrying case has a quilted design (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

The Momentum is even more detailed and warmer in the midrange. However, I didn't find the Momentum as comfortable to wear as the P7. Also, the P7 arguably sounds smoother with compressed audio. Headphones that sound really detailed can end up accentuating the flaws in recordings, and when I was listening to tracks using Spotify, I found myself liking the P7s' sound more (compared with the Sennheisers', anyway).

The P7s ship this month (September) and beyond the Momentum, they'll face plenty of worthy competition at their $400 price point. We'll let you know how they stack up against that competition in our full review, which we'll post once we spend some more time with the headphones and fully break them in.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Sep. 17, 2013
  • Weight 10.2 oz
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Additional Features foldable
  • Headphones Form Factor Over-the-ear
  • Connector Type mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm