Audiophiles tend to prefer listening to music through wired headphones, but that hasn't stopped certain venerable audio companies, including Bowers & Wilkins, from jumping on the wireless bandwagon and introducing a Bluetooth headphone. The company's newest, the P5 Wireless, is for all intents and purposes a dead ringer for the P5 Series 2 but at $400 (£330 in the UK and AU$599 in Australia), it costs $130 more.
Like its wired sibling, the P5 Wireless has the look and feel of a higher-end headphone, with a swanky, sturdy design that's a mix of retro and modern styling. For an on-ear model, it's comfortable, though not exceptionally so. At 213 grams, it weighs 18 grams (0.6 ounces) more than the wired P5 and comes with a two-year warranty (most headphone warranties are one year).
"If you wince at the notion of wearing a brash pair of ostentatious Beats headphones, these more demure black and silver cans may appeal," CNET's Luke Westaway noted in his initial hands-on first take of the headphone. "The twisted metal on each earcup has a vintage radio-operator feel, and build quality feels very high."
The headphone manages to seal out a decent amount of ambient noise, although for some, the headphone may fit too snugly at first and will steam your ears up a bit if you're wearing it outside in the summer. However, you can release some of the pressure by flexing the headband (I hesitate to say you're bending it, but that's more or less what you're doing). It's not so different from working in a baseball glove.
The headphone has removable earpads -- they adhere magnetically -- which makes it easy to replace them, and a cable is included so if the battery dies or if you're not allowed to use Bluetooth on a flight, you have a backup (the cord connection is built into the driver and is accessed by pulling off the left earpad). The cable doesn't have an integrated remote/microphone, but that isn't the end of the world since you shouldn't be buying these if you plan on using them regularly as a wired headphone.
Battery life is quite good -- 17 hours of continuous music playback. It's also worth mentioning that a nice carrying case is included.
Three buttons on the right earcup allow you to control volume, skip tracks forward and back and answer calls -- yes, there's a built-in microphone and call quality was decent.
The headphone offers AptX Bluetooth streaming for devices that support AptX (the iPhone doesn't at this point, but several Android models do). AptX is supposed to deliver better quality sound though it's debatable how much of an impact it has.
This headphone has the same drivers that are in the wired P5 Series and those are based on the drivers found Bowers & Wilkins top-of-the-line P7 , an over-ear model.
This wireless version retains the same well-balanced sound profile and overall I thought it sounded excellent for a Bluetooth headphone. It's not quite as open as some of the premium over-ear models I've tested, such as the Beats Studio Wireless and Sennheiser Momentum Wireless , but the headphones deliver relatively clean, detailed sound with deep, punchy bass and you can listen to it for long periods without getting listening fatigue.
In Bluetooth mode, it isn't the most transparent (clear) or dynamic headphone, but when you connect the cord, things liven up a bit, with slightly more sparkle in the treble and slightly bigger, tighter bass. The headphone definitely sounds more dynamic in wired mode, which is not surprising considering how hard it is to find a Bluetooth headphone that sounds better than its wired equivalent. But give Bowers & Wilkins credit for having the headphone sound as good as it does in wired mode. The Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth headphone, for example, falls down a little in wired mode.
If you're trying to decide between the Sennheiser and this model, that's an easier call: the identically priced B&W wins. I just found it to be a more pleasant, better balanced-sounding headphone and I also prefer the B&W's design and fit.
Both the Bose and Plantronics headphones cost significantly less and are lighter and more comfortable than the P5 Wireless. They don't have the build quality of this headphone and depending on your ears and musical tastes, they may not sound quite as good.
The Plantronics is a little more forward and doesn't have as much bass as the B&W. On the other hand, the Bose sounds slightly smoother and warmer. All three are excellent-sounding Bluetooth headphones, but there are subtle differences and you may prefer one over the other, so try before you buy if you can.
In the end, my only hesitation about these headphones is their price. You can get other premium on-ear wireless headphones, such as the aforementioned Plantronics BackBeat Sense and Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth, for considerably less. So while the P5 Wireless may be one of the best all around on-ear Bluetooth headphones, it isn't necessarily the best value.