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Bowers & Wilkins PX review: B&W's first noise-canceling headphone rocks high-end looks, sweet sound

Bowers & Wilkins first wireless noise-canceling headphone has a fetching design, as well as impressive sound and build quality.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

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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 e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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High-end audio brand Bowers & Wilkins has made a few different wireless headphones in the past, but the PX is the company's first headphone to feature both Bluetooth and noise canceling. It's actually B&W's first noise-canceling headphone of any kind.

Bowers & Wilkins PX
8.0

Bowers & Wilkins PX

The Good

The Bowers & Wilkins PX headphone offers impressive build quality and excellent sound. Wireless operation is nearly flawless, battery life is very good, and a premium carrying case is included. Works well as a headset for making calls.

The Bad

Competing models from Bose, Sony and Beats are less expensive, more comfortable and offer better noise cancelling. -- and its noise cancelling is quite on par with those same competitors. Battery isn't user replaceable.

The Bottom Line

Although not quite as strong as some competitors, the Bowers & Wilkins PX still ranks among the top wireless noise-canceling headphones available right now.

That feature puts it in direct competition with my two favorite wireless headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WH-1000XM2. The B&W costs a little more than those two at $400, £330 or AU$549, and while overall it's not quite as good, there are plenty of reasons to consider it a contender, too.

The biggest is design. Available in two color options, space gray and soft gold, the PX has that sleek, sophisticated look that Bowers & Wilkins headphones are known for, with some metal parts and ballistic nylon on its ear cups. It's a great looking headphone that's also very sturdily built.

I also liked how its memory foam-equipped, elliptical ear cushions adhere magnetically and are easily replaceable, although there's no word yet on how much replacement ear pads will cost. The 336-gram headphone is comfortable to wear, though it's not as light as Bose (236 grams) or Sony (272 grams). I found the weight difference particularly noticeable over longer listening sessions. 

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. This headphone charges via USB-C, not Micro-USB, and its battery life is rated at 22 hours with wireless and noise canceling turned on (the battery isn't user replaceable). That number may not be tops for the category, but it's in the same league as competitors.

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

Bowers & Wilkins PX
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Bowers & Wilkins PX

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

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Multiple noise-canceling settings

Overall, B&W's adaptive noise-canceling isn't quite as strong or effective as that offered by Bose's QC35 II, Sony's WH-1000XM2 or Beats' Studio3 Wireless. Using the free companion app for iOS and Android devices, though, you can toggle through three modes of noise cancellation based on the environment you're in: office, city or flight.

To maximize sound quality, you can turn off noise-canceling altogether in the app or push a button on the right ear cup to toggle it on or off (however, there's no voice prompt 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 it will add further headphone features and improvements over time through software updates. 

The other feature worth highlighting is auto-pause/auto-resume. If you pull an ear cup off your ear, your music pauses and then resumes as soon as you put the ear cup back in place. I found it worked almost flawlessly. The headphones' wireless Bluetooth performance was generally very solid and the integrated microphone worked well as a headset for calls.

Bowers & Wilkins PX

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Same drivers as the high-end P9

The PX's drivers are the same angled drivers previously found in Bowers & Wilkins' $900 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. It had good clarity and was natural sounding in the midrange and overall. The bass goes deep but I wouldn't say it was super-punchy or ultra-defined. There's some warmth to the headphone, which means it lacks a little sizzle, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your own personal preference. The sound signature is fixed, with no EQ settings available in the app.

It's important to note that with all of these premium wireless noise-canceling headphones, the sound isn't going to match what you'd get from a good pair of wired headphones that cost the same price -- or less. That said, in terms of sound, these are right there with the competition. They probably sound closest to the Sony WH-1000XM2, which also has a little bit of warmth to its sound. And if you like the sound profile of Bowers & Wilkins previous wireless headphones, including the P5 Wireless and P7 Wireless, you're going to like this headphone.

The PX's only drawbacks are that the headphone is somewhat heavy -- some may choose to see that heft as a sign of its build quality -- and its noise canceling isn't quite on par with that of Bose, Sony and even Beats. While the PX isn't going to be a perfect fit for everyone, particularly those who can't handle its extra weight, it's still an excellent wireless headphone, especially for B&W fans who prefer a warmer sound.    

Bowers & Wilkins PX
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Bowers & Wilkins PX

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

Sarah Tew/CNET
Bowers & Wilkins PX
8.0

Bowers & Wilkins PX

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 9Value 7