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Bowers and Wilkins Headphones PX7 Review
If you’re serious about your music and you put a premium on sound quality, then you’ll be familiar with Bowers & Wilkins, the British specialists who have been producing world-class speakers and headphones since 1966. They’ve been the first choice for professional recording engineers for over half a century. That’s not a bad record for a business which started as a hobby and only turned into a business when John Bowers received an unexpected bequest from a woman for whom he’d made a bespoke pair of speakers in his workshop.
Bowers and Wilkins was a pioneering company and it has maintained its commitment to innovation over the decades. Members of the industry as well as hi-fi enthusiasts around the world greet the launch of a new B&W product with high expectations and they are never disappointed. The Bowers Wilkins PX7 wireless headphones are not new, having been introduced in 2017 to replace the PX, but it’s never too late to extol the virtues of true quality. And with its superior sound quality, ANC performance and battery life, the PX7 is certainly that.
Once upon a time the only alternative to speakers was a pair of headphones. Large, comfortable and immersive, they were an ideal way to hear the intricate sonic detail engineered by the great record producers like Tony Visconti, T-Bone Burnett and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The Sony Walkman era introduced mini-headphones and the influential but relatively short-lived iPod brought us the earbud. Today, the market is evenly balanced between headphones and earbuds, both types of device being the subject of significant R&D investment to produce ever more faithful and powerful sound quality.
Overall, the PX7 is hard to beat. It’s nearest rivals such as the Sony WH-1000xm4 may have the advantage on value but for sheer performance, B&W have the edge. Noise cancelling headphones have become hugely popular in recent years and if you’re paying top dollar, then this feature will be one of your priorities. In the early days of this technology, you’d need batteries and your only control was an on/off switch. Today we can enjoy noise-cancelling functions that are adaptable to your environment, whether you’re on a train, a plane, blotting out the TV or stereo in the next room, or sheltering from noisy weather. Battery life is much extended by built-in rechargeable batteries that can last for up to 30 hours.
Most self-respecting music enthusiasts will opt for wireless headphones and the PX7, using Bluetooth 5.0 technology and a lightweight carbon fiber composite, are one of the leading examples. Their predecessor, the PX was Bowers & Wilkins’ first attempt at noise cancelling wireless headphones and they set a decent standard. Two years of development work paid off with the significant refinements we see in the PX7. After you’ve read and digested our review, if you’re persuaded the PX7 is the model for you then don’t forget we’ve made it easy to purchase through links on our site.
The first thing you’ll want to know is whether the sound quality is as good as B&W claim. Well, they incorporate the largest drivers in any pair of headphones the company produces. With that in mind, we were ready to put them to the test against their nearest rivals the Sennheiser Momentum, Apple’s airpods max and the aforementioned Sony WH-1000xm4. We’re happy to report that in our judgment, the PX7 comes out on top. It produces an intricate sound that has extremely good tonal balance and rhythmic precision. The clarity is occasionally breathtaking, revealing previously under-exposed layers of complex mixes. Until you’ve listened to Steely Dan, Radiohead, Kanye West or even Lorde through PX7s, you haven’t really heard them.
You’ll be amazed not only by the power and depth of the sound but also by the sense of space, whether it’s electronic music such as LCD Soundsystem or acoustic work like Sufjan Stevens and everything in between.
B&W and their main competitors are locked in a perpetual contest to get one up on each other in every aspect. The PX set the benchmark which others rapidly matched, therefore B&W pushed further with the PX7 to deliver sound that is more comprehensive than its rivals are currently able to manage. The high frequencies are sharp and crisp, the mid-tones are rich and substantial and the bass is big, bold and yet supple.
Design & Comfort
As you would expect from Bowers & Wilkins, design is a priority. Ultimately headphones, like speakers, will be measured by how well they function, but as with cars and shoes, the way they look makes a big difference to the user. The PX7 benefits from a smart and sophisticated yet minimal design that avoids the slightly fussy detailing of something like the Sennheiser Momentum. They feature the same elliptical ear cups we know from the PX and similar framework with fabric finish. Naturally, they are unmistakably and attractively branded so no one can be in any doubt that you are a serious music consumer. This may not be important to everyone, but sometimes you really want to make a statement.
Where they really score points is in their increased comfort, achieved by replacing the metal structure of the PX with a carbon fiber composite which makes them noticeably lighter. The headband is generously padded and the overall weight is just 310g compared to the 335g of the PXs. Heavier wireless headphones can become a little oppressive after a while, but the PX7 offers a much more pleasant experience.
You needn’t feel you have to handle these headphones with kid gloves or even keep them in their carrying case. They are extremely robust and scratch-resistant, as any functional item should be, however smartly designed. The only slight drawback is that the ear cups don’t fold inwards, so they can be a little bulky in a bag or briefcase.
The controls are fairly extensive, which means there are a number of physical buttons built into the otherwise smooth surface. However, they have been designed and positioned very discreetly so as not to spoil the line of the headphones. Moreover, for practical ease of use, physical buttons tend to be more reliable than touch and swipe.
The cables are concealed inside the headband and the earcups are flush with the new fabric, with large, helpful ‘L’ and ‘R’ symbols on each side. The playback buttons are on the right-hand ear cup, providing play, pause, skip and volume in a strip of three buttons. There is also a power slider which activates the Bluetooth 5.0 pairing mode.
Like their predecessor, the PX7 has an automatic pause function. The built-in proximity sensor can tell whenever you lift one of the ear cups away from your ear and will pause the music. When you replace the ear cup, there’s no need to press play, because the headphones will automatically release the pause and resume playing.
The PX7 is loaded with a whole bunch of cutting-edge technologies. B&W’s PX headphones were one of the first models to use aptx HD Bluetooth technology from Qualcomm. The PX7 goes a step further by supporting aptx Adaptive which is the next generation of Bluetooth codecs to be created by Qualcomm. If you’re wondering what improvement aptx Adaptive offers over aptX HD, you’ll find it in the greater stability and latency it provides between your smartphone or tablet and your headphones. As the Bluetooth codecs grow more refined, the listening experience becomes much smoother. The aptX Adaptive codec minimizes the disruptive effects of competing radio frequencies and adjusts the streaming bitrate to match the content you’re listening to. Audio and video remain perfectly synced, undisturbed by movement and rarely troubled by drop-outs.
The noise-cancellation feature comes in three modes: low, medium and high. It’s easy to move through these with just one button located on the left-hand ear cup. The different modes are ideal for environments where noise intrusion varies. If it’s just other people’s conversation you want to block, then ‘low’ is fine. If you’re in the hubbub of a public place, you’ll probably choose medium, and if you’re surrounded by serious noise then ‘high’ is the perfect escape.
By holding down the same button, you can interrupt the function whenever you need to hear what someone is saying to you, for example, or if you’re listening out for something like a train announcement. The automatic pause function means you can also simply remove the headphones when you need to re-engage with the world around you.
Completing this tour around the controls, we come to the question of battery life. While some competing models struggle to deliver 20 hours, the PX7 is among the top of the class with a very impressive 30 hours of performance. Should the battery run dry, you can recharge it for just 15 minutes using the high-speed USB-C port and this is sufficient to give you 5 hours of playback.
You’re unlikely to find much variation in the price you have to pay but we must say we think they are good value. To make it easy, you can make your purchase through links on our site. A pair of PX7s will cost you roughly double what you’ll pay for Beats, but then, what self-respecting music lover would be seen out and about wearing Beats? Expect to pay $399, although this may vary slightly from dealer to dealer.
As you’ll have worked out by now, we pretty sold on the PX7. It has so much going for it, from its efficient, versatile ANC performance and its exceptional sound to its user-friendly controls and extremely comfortable design. We’d say that it sits in the market very comfortably above the slightly muddy-sounding Sony equivalents and is pretty much on a level with Apple’s airpods max. The PX7 is a little more pricey than the Sony, but you’ll appreciate the difference.
The Sony WH-1000xm3 beat the PX7 for best value in the ‘What Hi-Fi?’ awards but were marked down for their fiddly touch controls and the judges’ decision seems to have been based on a $49 price deferential. In any case, the PX7 is considerably cheaper than the airpods max but you really won’t be settling for anything less. Yes, it’s still a significant investment, but it won’t break the bank and will give you thousands of hours of the very best listening.
What do you want from a pair of headphones? First and foremost, you want the best possible sound for the price. They also need to be comfortable to wear so you aren’t forced by headphone fatigue to take a break before you want to. And, frankly, they need to look good. If you’re paying practically $400 they become more than functional - they’re a fashion accessory. Even if you’re listening in a room all on your own, knowing you look cool surely adds a little something extra to the experience!