Bowers & Wilkins Px8 review: the pure luxury of headphones
“The Bowers & Wilkins Px8 offers fantastic sound and unbeatable comfort in a set of meticulously crafted cans.”
Beautifully designed and built
Great sound quality
Decent noise cancellation
Not ideal for calls in noisy places
Listen, I agree with you. $699 – oh come on, who am I kidding, $700 – that’s a lot to pay for a set of wireless headphones, even though they’re the Px8, the new flagship of the Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) personal audio range. The truth is that once you start heading north of $400 the improvements in sound quality start to fade and it becomes more about design, materials and in a sense the whole thing. the “bonus” of experience.
But if that’s what you’re looking for – a set of wireless headphones that epitomize sophistication, performance and class – the B&W Px8 will wrap you in luxury.
Table of Contents
The Px8 was originally slated to sell for $549. It’s still pricey by most standards, but only $150 more than the $399 B&W Px7 S2, a set of wireless headphones that shares a ton of DNA with the Px8. This would have put them on par with the Apple AirPods Max, within reach of the $599 Master & Dynamic MW75, and made them considerably more affordable than the $800 Focal Bathys and $899 Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95.
But as bad luck (or economy) would have it, B&W says it got its original price wrong, and here we are. Although they tease us with that lower price, the fact is that when you take the Px8 out of its protective case, it looks and feels like a truly premium product. The cut and finish are sublime. From the supple leather of the headband and ear pads to the perfectly smooth polish of the aluminum sliders and pivots, the Px8 is a feast for the senses.
They manage to be both light and substantial – an incredibly difficult balancing act when it comes to headphones. They weigh just 10 grams more than the Px7 S2, but it’s worth it: when you put the Px8 on your head, it’s like coming home. I know from experience with the PX7 and Px7 S2 that B&W’s cans are fine for my noggin, but neither of these headphones feel quite as good as the Px8. I hate to say it, but real leather makes a real difference.
They snug just enough to stay firmly in place, while the pads dissipate pressure effortlessly. Even with glasses, they are incredibly comfortable. For really long sessions, I think the Sony WH-1000XM5 is still a better choice. But the XM5’s all-plastic construction just isn’t in the same league as the Px8.
Accessories and controls
I don’t mean to sound petty, but given the price B&W charged for the Px8, it could have been a bit more generous in the accessories department. The competition usually comes with both analog and digital cables, plus a variety of adapters, like USB-A to USB-C, 3.5mm to ¼-inch, and even an airplane adapter. But B&W only includes the two cables.
Control-wise, the Px8 is identical to the Px7 S2, meaning the gist is there. In addition to automatic play/pause thanks to the integrated wear sensors, the physical buttons give you play, volume, track skip and call management. They could still use some further refinement: the main multi-function button can be a bit hard to identify from its two companion volume buttons (despite its textured finish), and the convenience button on the other earbud lets you choose between switching active noise cancellation (ANC) and being able to summon your phone’s voice assistant. If you choose ANC, you’re forced to switch between ANC, transparency and off modes, instead of being able to choose from just two modes.
ANC is another area where there’s no benefit to spending the extra $300 over the Px7 S2. It will certainly dampen a wide variety of sounds, from traffic to loud restaurant chatter, but don’t expect the impressive degree of damping offered by the Sony XM5, Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 or Apple AirPods Max. Transparency mode fares better, with a truly clear audio window to the outside world.
The best way to experience the Px8 Wireless is to pair it with an aptX Adaptive or aptX HD compatible phone. Unfortunately, the iPhone isn’t on this list of devices, nor can it take advantage of the Px8’s direct digital USB-C connection for truly lossless 24-bit audio. The Apple folks will have to buy a DAC/amp dongle and use the included 3.5mm to USB cable to get an equivalent level of quality.
Wherever you go, you’ll enjoy superb sound – the Px8 sounds great. Clarity, with precision, is the overriding theme, and these cans deliver that across all frequencies while placing you in the middle of an open, immersive soundstage. Out of the box, I found myself wanting a bit more punch in the highs and lows. But a few tweaks to the B&W Music app’s bass and treble sliders were all I needed to find my favorite signature.
You might be wondering if the Px8 outperforms the more affordable Px7 S2 – after all, they look very similar. That’s a good question, especially considering the effort B&W says it put into the Px8 through the inclusion of newly developed full-range angled 40mm carbon drivers mated to magnets and dual-drive motors. moving coil designed specifically for these headphones.
The verdict? I have good news and bad news. The Good: The Px8s are, without a doubt, the best B&W cans you can buy. The bad (or maybe the good too?): improvements over the The Px7 S2 are subtle. I had to spend a lot of time with each set of cans, paying close attention to how they play back a variety of tracks, to figure out where those improvements lie.
After setting the Px7 S2 and Px8 to the same 60% volume and bass and treble settings, I switched between them over my favorite test tracks and a playlist provided by B&W in the Bowers & Wilkins Music app. . The Px8s are a bit brighter in the upper registers, their soundstage is a bit more defined and there is a small improvement in their sonic openness. I guess most people will notice the bass from the Px8 – it’s punchier and more resonant.
But don’t jump into a one-on-one listening session and expect these improvements to leap out at you. In fact, it wasn’t until I used the USB-C digital audio connection to a PC that I really started to appreciate what the Px8 brings to the table. If you’re listening casually (and wirelessly) – say, during commutes – chances are you won’t be able to hear these improvements at all.
Those carbon drivers are supposed to be notable for their ultra-low distortion, but I pushed both headphones to downright painful volume levels, and I can’t recommend anyone for more than a few seconds. I’d be damned if I could hear more distortion from the Px7 S2 than the Px8, even as Wolf Alice played The last man on eartha track that features a combination of soaring female vocals and powerful instrumentation – and would normally reveal those nuances.
For one, it’s not what you’d expect from a headset that costs 75 per cent more than its siblings. But then again, the Px7 S2 are some of the best wireless cans you can buy, so at the very least the same is a little more true for the Px8. Px8s are superior. But 75% higher? Absolutely not.
Call quality and battery life
You won’t find any significant improvement in call quality. In fact, after listening to my test recordings of the Px7 S2 and Px8, it’s remarkable how similar the voice quality is. Both introduce the same kind of compression and distortion when trying to compensate for loud competing sounds like traffic, and both deliver excellent quality when you’re in a quiet environment. In other words, the Px8 will be at its best when on Teams or Zoom, or on phone calls indoors, where things aren’t too loud around you. They will be much less effective when walking on busy streets with lots of traffic.
Battery life on the Px8 is good at a claimed 30 hours, which ends up being closer to 28, depending on how loud you listen and how much ANC you use. If you’re worried about endurance, the The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless might not be as luxurious as the Px8, but with an astonishing 60 hours of battery life, it’ll last almost anything else. Still, if the Px8 starts to flounder, bringing it back to life only takes minutes – you’ll score up to seven hours of extra play time after just 15 minutes of online time.
I still think $699 is a lot to pay for a set of wireless headphones, even ones that sound as good as the Px8. But B&W manages to justify that price by delivering a set of cans that will also delight your senses of sight and touch. And for some people, it will be worth every penny.