B&W P3 headphones
B&W's P5 headphones get a smaller sibling in the P3
Bowers & Wilkins’ P5 headphones made waves on release for their perfectly modern-yet-classic styling, excellent sound quality, and exacting build quality. The Bowers & Wilkins P3 is a cut-down version of the P5 — smaller, using fabric padding instead of leather, and with a folding headband.
- Excellent overall sound
- Good bass response
- Excellent build quality and design
- Treble is slightly overshadowed
- Can leak sound at high volumes
B&W's P3 earphones are smaller than the brilliant, premium P5 model, but still pack in excellent sound quality that's rich and exciting. Treble isn't quite as crisp as you'd expect, but mid-range and bass response is excellent and the headphones are extremely well built.
Price$ 269.00 (AUD)
B&W P3: Design and build quality
The P3 headphones are some of the best-looking that we’ve ever seen. Bowers & Wilkins has always been a design company as much as an audio company, and has made some stunningly beautiful products: Nautilus speakers and the Zeppelin Air iPod dock, for example.
The B&W P3 are similar in shape and construction to the P5, with a thin headband, small on-ear earcups, and a great mix of matte black rubberised plastic and fabric.
The headband bends smoothly and telescopes to accomodate all head sizes, with two metal stems that run from the band to the headphones’ cups. These stems attach to the rear of the cups, so the metal twists and curves — it looks brilliant.
Half-way along the metal stems, a hinge on each side of the headband lets the P3 headphones fold up into the headband, making them significantly smaller for carrying. The headphones don’t swivel from front to back, though, so they can’t be twisted in the same way that the P5 can.
The ear-cups are a mix of the same rubberised plastic as on the headband, matte plastic, brushed metal, and shiny polished chrome. The fabric ear-pads, which attach magnetically to the rest of the ear-cups, are padded with memory foam.
The fabric is a brown-and-beige, diagonally checked plaid pattern, and it looks fantastic — it’s far more individual and attractive than even the P5’s high-quality silky black ear-pads. It’s this kind of detail that sets the P3 apart from any other headphones we’ve tested.
B&W includes two Y-cables in the packaging for the P3 — one generic 1.2 metre cable with a stereo 3.5mm jack, and one 1.2 metre cable with a multi-purpose control/microphone for the Apple iPhone family. These cables attach to each ear-cup with twin 2.5mm connectors, hidden underneath the ear-pads in a small channel. The channel means that the connection doesn’t move at all even when pulling gently on the headphones’ cord — everything is reassuringly secure.
No airplane adapter is included for the P3, but a compact clam-shell hard case does make the P3 headphones easy to stow away safely. The telescoping headband must be pushed in entirely for the headphones to fit in the case, so you’ll need to re-extend it when you’re taking the P3 out to use again.
B&W P3: Sound quality and performance
Bowers & Wilkins has been designing loudspeakers for a full 46 years, and although the company is only relatively new to the world of headphones the P3 have the weight of decades of experience behind them.
The sound of the P3 is very natural. The headphones excel with live music recordings and acoustic sessions especially, lending them a rich, warm and lively sound. Bass and mid-range control from these small headphones is excellent, and although treble is slightly recessed and not perfectly crisp, the overall sound signature is definitely pleasant.
The simultaneous acoustic guitar and piano in the opening of Johnny Cash’s I Hung My Head sound lifelike, with individual notes easy to hear. Vocals in New Zealand artist Kimbra’s Cameo Lover are appropriately airy and distinguished from the drums and electronic beats, while the following Two Way Street has bass drum kicks that are extremely well controlled and double bass strums which resonate smoothly and cleanly even at maximum volume.
Mid-range detail from the P3 is a particular stand-out. Listening to the piano of James Blake’s Limit To Your Love, it’s possible to hear vibration of individual strings as the notes slowly decay. The sub-bass element of the song is also very well handled, although the closing minute of the song does show up the headphones’ occasional tendency to slightly drown out treble notes (the cymbal crashes) with lower frequencies (the electronic bass).
The B&W P3 headphones have a very open sound — anyone accustomed to listening to earbuds, in-ear headphones or over-the-ear closed (especially noise-cancelling) headphones will be surprised at the wide sound-stage the P3 can present. It’s open enough that when we listened to the echoing vocals of James Blake’s The Wilhelm Scream we initially thought the headphones weren’t fitting correctly and we were hearing outside noise. It takes some getting used to, but the concert-hall effect that the P3 headphones can produce is excellent, and very impressive from such small on-ear ‘phones.
The headphones do have a tendency to leak sound at higher volumes, although they generally seal acceptably well to the wearer’s ears. This might be annoying for anyone nearby if you’re listening to the B&W P3 at higher volume levels.
B&W P3: Conclusion
B&W has continued the success of the P5 in the P3, and in some ways — the beautiful fabric, the excellent bass and wide sound-stage — we think these headphones are even better than their full-sized predecessor.
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