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

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MSRP: $399.99
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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.

7.9 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

Review Sections

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 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.

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.

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