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


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.

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.

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.