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Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless review: A top-notch on-ear headphone cuts the cord -- but raises the price

The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless is an impressive-sounding luxury Bluetooth headphone -- but is it good enough to justify its lofty price.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
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 reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

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.


Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless

The Good

The Bowers and Wilkins P5 Wireless headphones have excellent build quality and deliver rich, well-balanced sound for Bluetooth headphones (they perform even better in wired mode). The earpads are removable, and a cable is included for wired listening along with a nice carrying case. The tight seal shuts out a lot of external noise and the headphones don't leak sound. Battery life is quite good at 17 hours.

The Bad

Pretty pricey for an on-ear Bluetooth headphone; leather earpads will cause your ears to get steamy on warmer days (headphones may fit some people a little too snugly); included cable doesn't have an inline remote/microphone.

The Bottom Line

The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless is an impressive-sounding luxury Bluetooth headphone, but its high price tempers our enthusiasm.

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."

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The P5 Wireless is slightly heavier than its wired sibling, the P5 Series 2. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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The controls are located on the right earpiece. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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What you get in the box. Sarah Tew/CNET

About that SoundLink On-Ear. We did compare it to this Bowers & Wilkins and also threw the Plantronics BackBeat Sense and Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Wireless into mix.

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.

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You remove the earcup to attach the cord for wired mode. Sarah Tew/CNET


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.


Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 7