Bowers & Wilkins has been on a quest in recent years to expand its brand from the "classic" audiophile realms of living room stereo and home theater to the more growth-friendly audio categories of the post-smartphone era -- namely, wireless speakers and headphones -- while still maintaining its upscale appeal. In the latter category, Bowers recently introduced the P7, an over-the-ear model that looks similar to its previous well-regarded P-series siblings but has bigger earcups and a higher price tag, at $400 (also available for £330 in the UK and in Australia for AU$550).
The build quality and comfort level is generally quite impressive. What's likable about these headphones is that after a little break-in period they offer a tight seal around your ears but don't put too much pressure on your head. While they're characterized as "mobile" headphones, they're fairly beefy, weighing in at 290g. By comparison, the Beats Studio Wireless weighs 260g.
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 to reduce their carrying size, but they're obviously not the most compact headphones, and we've seen better case designs.
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). Some of the remote's features won't work with Android or Windows phones, but you'll still be able to make calls using the microphone.
Like the P5 (available for $300, £250, or AU$450) and P3 ($200, £170, and AU$280), the earpieces adhere magnetically and can be removed to access the detachable part of the cable. This makes replacing the cables relatively easy should you run into a cable problem (a short in the plug, for instance).
The P7's rich sound works well with a wide range of music genres. Not only that, it's a fairly easy headphone to wear for hours at a time. Switching over to the Bowers & Wilkins P5 on-ear headphones the sound thickened, and was less clear overall. The P7 was superior in every way.
Next, we popped on the $300 Grado SR325e (available for £300 in the UK, and AU$450 in Australia) open-back headphones, which don't isolate the wearer from external noise nearly as well as the closed-back P7. It was immediately apparent that the SR325e was significantly clearer than the P7 with Bon Iver's song "Flume." The shimmering details of the acoustic guitars and the song's ample reverberation that were muffled by the P7 were revealed by the SR325e.