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Bowers & Wilkins PX is its first wireless noise-cancelling headphone

Find out how the slickly designed PX stacks up against the premium Bluetooth noise-cancelling competition from Bose, Sony and Beats.

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Bowers & Wilkins has made a few different wireless headphones, but the PX is the company's first headphone to feature both Bluetooth and noise cancelling -- and it's actually the company's first noise-cancelling headphone of any kind.

Available in two color options, space gray and soft gold, the PX has that sleek, sophisticated design that Bowers & Wilkins headphones are known for, with some metal parts and ballistic nylon on its ear cups. It costs $400, £330 or AU$549.

The PX feels quite sturdy and I liked how its memory foam-equipped, elliptical-shaped ear cushions adhere magnetically and are easily replaceable (although there's no word yet on how much replacement ear pads will cost). The headphone is comfortable to wear, but it's not as light or quite as comfortable as Bose's QuietComfort 35 II.

Like earlier wireless Bowers & Wilkins headphones, the PX comes with a quilted carrying case and a cable for listening in wired mode so you can plug into an in-flight entertainment system. It's worth noting that this headphone charges via USB-C, not Micro-USB, and its battery life is rated at 22 hours with wireless and noise cancelling turned on. That number is right there with the battery life of competing models from Bose, Sony and Beats.

As for the integrated controls, I like how the middle multifunction button is raised higher than the volume controls, which lets you operate the remote -- it's on the right ear cup -- by feel alone.

The PX with its carrying case, headphone cord and USB-C charging cable.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Multiple noise cancelling settings

Overall, B&W's adaptive noise cancelling isn't quite as strong as the noise cancelling on the Bose QC35 II. But using the free companion app for iOS and Android devices you can toggle through three modes of noise cancellation based on the environment you're in. The modes include office, city and flight.

To maximize sound quality, you can turn off noise cancelling altogether in the app or push a button on the right ear cup to toggle it on or off (however, there's no voice assistant to let you know it's off, you just have to sense it). Another option is to adjust the level of pass-through sound so you can better hear people talking, and B&W promises that the headphones will add features and improve over time through software updates. 

The other feature worth highlighting is the auto-pause/auto-resume feature: If you pull an ear cup off your ear, your music pauses and then resumes as soon as you put the ear cup back on your ear. During my short initial test period, the feature worked almost flawlessly and the headphones' wireless Bluetooth performance was generally very solid. I also thought it worked well as a headset for calls.

Same drivers as high-end P9

The PX's drivers are the same angled drivers previously found in Bowers & Wilkins' high-end P9 headphone, and that angled design is supposed to create a "more convincing soundstage," according to the company.

Overall, I did think the PX sounded pretty open for a closed-back headphone and it had good clarity and was natural sounding in the midrange (and sounded pretty natural overall). The bass goes deep but I wouldn't say it's super punchy or super highly defined. In other words, there's some warmth to the headphone, which means it lacks a little sizzle, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just the way it sounds. Note: The sound signature is fixed, with no EQ settings available in the app, which I personally don't mind.

I've only been listening to the PX for a few days, so I'm not ready to give it a final rating yet. But my initial impression is that while it doesn't blow away the competition from Sony, Bose and Beats, it does sound excellent for a wireless noise-cancelling headphone and is a strong contender in this price class.

Close-up of the integrated remote and noise-cancelling on/off button just next to it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'll have a more fleshed out comparison to the Bose QC35 II, Sony WH-1000XM2 and the Beats Studio3 Wireless in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are the PX's key features, according to Bowers & Wilkins:

  • With built-in sensors, the headphones will switch on immediately and automatically resume playing your music; put them down and they return to stand-by mode. Lift an ear cup to talk, or hang them around your neck, and PX will pause the music, resuming playback when you're ready to listen.
  • PX has three adaptive noise cancelling modes via a companion app for iOS and Android: City allows through traffic noise for safety purposes; Office allows through voices so you can hear colleagues when they talk to you; Flight cancels ambient engine noise.
  • The app also enables firmware updates for additional feature upgrades.
  • The 40mm drive units feature the same angled design found on the P9 (the drivers are the same as the P9's).
  • aptX HD Bluetooth technology for devices that support that standard.
  • 22 hours of playback in wireless noise cancellation mode, 33 hours in wired noise cancellation mode.
  • Available now in two colors: space gray and soft gold with blue trim.
  • The price is $400, £330 or AU$549.

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