Bower & Wilkins P5 Headphones (Playback 39)

Bowers & Wilkins P5

harmonics that differentiate instruments. While you might not care about those things in an analytical sense, but you need them in order for music to sound natural. Finally, the midrange and treble of the P5 sounds dynamic without being harsh, edgy or hard.

One example of this treble purity comes on Jack Johnson’s “Wasting Time” [On and On, UMVD]. The electric guitar/amp in the intro can have a painfully hard sound on many components—especially on those that have a small peak in the upper midrange or lower treble. The P5, however, passes this test brilliantly: the guitar is dynamic but it doesn’t “shout” or distract.

This natural clarity and balance extends across almost all of the frequency range from upper treble down to upper bass (roughly 100hz to 15khz). The P5 simply sounds well defined, relaxed and open. Overall bass/midrange/treble macro balance is quite natural.

Upper bass is within the P5’s broad area of strength. On “Happy House” from Old and New Dreams’ A Tribute to Blackwell [Black Saint], the tom-tom drums are clear and tight. Similarly, Ginger Baker’s drum kit on “Toad” from Cream’s Wheels of Fire [Polydor] is amazingly well defined and dynamic. The long drum solo section makes heavy use of snare and tom-tom and the skin definition (in a 42 year old recording of one of the all time great drum solos) is impressive and the dynamics really engaging.

Once you get below 100 Hz, the P5 has some weaknesses, though they aren’t severe. First, bass rolls off slowly as the frequency goes down. That means that to some ears the P5 will sound slightly lightly balanced down low. It also means the P5 isn’t ideal for power rock that depends on strong midbass for its dynamic flow. Before taking that too literally, however, note that my newfound appreciation for the ‘60s power trio Cream happened courtesy of the P5.

The Jack Johnson track mentioned above demonstrates the slight midbass limitations of the P5. When the string bass enters during the intro the level is good, but the definition is somewhat blurred. The somewhat lower pitched bass on the Jack Johnson track “Dreams Be Dreams” fares a little better, again showing good—though certainly not over-rich—balance

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