Bower & Wilkins P5 Headphones (Playback 39)

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Bowers & Wilkins P5
Bower & Wilkins P5 Headphones (Playback 39)

Bowers and Wilkins (B&W for short) is a long established English manufacturer of audio products, most famously its Nautilus and 800 series loudspeakers. B&W speakers have a history of usage in the making of recordings. As well, they have often been highly reviewed in the audiophile press.

In recent years, B&W has expanded into iPod and iPhone related products and desktop audio with its Zeppelin one-box iPod systems and MM-1 computer speakers (to be reviewed in an upcoming issue of Playback). But now the company has introduced a full-size, on-ear headphone called the P5—the very first headphone the British company has ever produced. Naturally, we were curious to learn what this venerable brand could do with a new product category that falls far outside the firm’s traditional comfort zone.

PRODUCT CONCEPT

The P5 is designed for musical accuracy in a mobile environment. As such, B&W has employed high-strength neodymium magnets and a carefully shaped Mylar diaphragm in the P5. These features, however, do little to differentiate the P5 from any number of other similarly configured headphones, though I would note that the devil (and the angels) is in the details here.

B&W has made real efforts to give the P5 some noise isolation, though this is not an active noise-cancelling headphone. Note particularly the use of sheep’s leather from New Zealand and memory foam in the P5’s supple ear pads, which serve to create a user-specific seal to the outer ear.

The P5 is a 26-Ohm headphone, with rated sensitivity of 115-db/1V (or 100-dB/1mW). As such, it should be work well driven directly from a portable device.

The P5 is priced at $299. That places it a little above some very fine headphones (the Shure SRH 840 and several Grado models, for example). Can B&W justify that extra expense?

EASE OF USE

The P5 has several attractive attributes in actual use. First, it is a close-backed headphone, so fewer external noises get to your ears and less of your music leaks out to disturb those around you. Second, even though this is an on-ear rather than circumaural design, the compliance of the ear pads’ leather and memory foam provides a bit of a seal and again reduces noise transfer. On my test flight on an MD-80, I immediately sensed a decrease in noise when putting the P5 on. This isn’t as dramatic as one would hear with active noise cancellation, but it helped a lot. In an office, this level of noise reduction would be nearly ideal.

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