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Bowers & Wilkins P5 Headphones - Bowers & Wilkins P5 Headphones

By Hugo Jobling


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Best of all, because the P5's are so very comfortable, you tend to forget you're wearing them and find yourself not listening to music through a pair of headphones, but instead listening just to your music. I should add here, too, that the closed-back design gives a reasonable level of noise isolation. These factors, as anyone with a modicum of knowledge will tell you, is exactly what you want from a good pair of headphones.

I've had plenty of time to establish that neither my iPhone nor my iPod touch is a particularly good source device for music. Apple may well provide a lossless codec, but even when using high quality IEMs such as the Grado GR8 I'd be kidding myself if I could say for certain that the difference between ALAC and a well-encoded 320kbps MP3 is always discernible. And yet, somehow, the B&W P5s make my iPod touch sound far better than it has any right to.

The low end is prominent, but without becoming overwhelming, which lends these headphones well to the likes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 or Mozart's Requiem. Woodwinds and strings in particular have excellent, reverberating warmth of tone. You might argue that the bass is too strong, but at best that would be finicky verging on just plain wrong.

There's superb mid-range clarity as well, with vocals ringing out particularly clearly and an impressive sense of separation between instruments. Topping this off is a crisp, refined high end and a spatial soundstage that never feels crowded. Furthermore, even at high listening volumes the P5's aren't fatiguing on the ears and there's no trace of distortion.

What the high quality of the P5s mostly did, as do so many other high end IEMs and headphones, is remind you just how awful a source device an iPod touch or iPhone actually is. But make no mistake, if I had £250 to spend on a pair of headphones for my iPhone, it would be these I'd buy.


There's no escaping the old maxim of garbage in garbage out, but the Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones make an iPod sound better than you have any right to expect, and for that they have to be applauded. However, they can only do so much with a substandard input and I can only hope that a set of proper audiophile grade headphones - or even IEMs - will find their way out of Bowers & Wilkins' labs soon enough.

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Hamish Campbell

April 26, 2010, 1:03 pm

Arrrgh, curse my cheap Scottish roots, I will never allow myself to buy these.

Lovely, just lovely.


April 26, 2010, 2:13 pm

Have you guys ever reviewed the Alessandro MS-1 ? I can't find one! :-o


April 26, 2010, 2:49 pm

since when did leather come from sheep?

Dan 13

April 26, 2010, 3:18 pm

I have some Grado SR60I which I brought for £80.

Are these £170 better than the Grado's?


April 26, 2010, 3:39 pm

Since someone decided to use a Sheep instead of a Cow as the raw material for producing Leather, which is a generic term. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L...


April 26, 2010, 3:42 pm

Surprisingly the US price of $299.99 which is without sales tax, translates to £194 at current exchange rates. So the UK markup is a very reasonable 9.5% (when compared to over 40% for the Grado SR325i headphones). Then again B&W are British.


April 26, 2010, 4:07 pm

I was just about to head out to the Apple Store to pick up a pair of these as they been more or less universally praised on the review sites, however checking out head-fi forums they have been almost universally panned. I was after a more portable less fragile version of my fantastic Denon D2000s. I guess an extended listening test is needed.....


April 26, 2010, 4:14 pm

Quite simply - I want. Now to decide whether or not my 13 month old son can do without nappies to pay for them...


April 26, 2010, 9:22 pm

Dan - I'd say not on a pure sound quality basis, but I'd never wear Grados outside of a house so they're not really comparable.

smellster - I would definitely recommend trying for yourself. I've yet to find anyone who didn't like the P5s.

Jones - do it! :)


April 26, 2010, 11:13 pm

Nice review as always but i would like to know how do they compare sonically with SE530 and also with other headphones like the denons and even the senheisers hd600 or hd595 for instance.


April 26, 2010, 11:54 pm

A serious suggestion to TR:

For all subjective reviews like testing audio quality, I would really like TR to start comparing products that are available in the same price range. Like Kostas said, we don't know at the end of the review if its better/worse/same as other products in its price range.

On its own the TR's ratings don't mean much for products like headphones or speakers.


April 27, 2010, 4:12 am

Well after my previous comment I headed out to the Apple Store and have been listening to the P5s for the past few hours.

My initial reaction is of some disappointment. I understand these are meant to be used direct from the ipod and thought they had been tuned that way, and this was my reason for purchase. I don't have my Denon D2000s with me to compare, but unfortunately for the B&Ws I have my Shure se530 IEMs and on lossless and well encoded MP3s straight from the ipod, a side by side comparison shows the se530s as notably better 'in my opinion'. This means the D2000s will also be better, and that's before I bring the iBasso D3 headamp into the equation. The P5s sound muddier in comparison, less dynamic, less detail, lacking in open wideness if that makes sense. I really was hoping that the P5s would be sonically as good as they look, but for £250 no way not even close, not when you can pick up the Shure se530 or the D2000 for just over £200. Certainly they are comfortable and anyone stepping up from a £50-100 headphone will be impressed with the sound quality, but they are sonically not worth £250, no way. I would suggest that anyone interested in these purchase from an Apple store and take advantage of the 14 day money back guarantee if needed.

As I said before I was looking for a more portable less fragile version of the D2000, I guess I'll be sticking with the se530s for a bit longer which although sounding amazing can get a tad uncomfortable after a long listen. If anyone has any suggestions?

Hope this helps and it's only my opinion...

Tony Walker

April 27, 2010, 4:13 am


On the surface of it that's a good idea. However, when it comes to higher end audio kit like this, tastes can be very personal, so what comes out top in the comparison might not be the best for you.

Tony Walker

April 27, 2010, 4:29 am


Repeat your iPhone/iPod Touch test with 320KBps AAC files. For some reason Apples lossless codec doesn't seem to result in decent quality output. Using the AACs results in very good quality output.

And my iPad's the best of the (Apple) lot IMHO. Not tried that with ALAC yet.

My provenence:

Sony MDR-E888LP earbuds - the best earbuds ever made

UE Triple-Fi 10

Sony Near Field Monitors

iRiver iHP-120 (renamed the H120)

iRiver H340 - has to be heard playing FLACs to be believed

iPods - Nano (1st to 4th Gen), 5G, Touch



April 27, 2010, 1:23 pm

@Tony Walker: Wow, someone actually bought the Sony Near Field Monitors. Never would've thought. What did you make of them?

BTW, I just shot a video review of these so hopefully that will be edited and uploaded in the next day or so.


April 27, 2010, 1:34 pm

I varied between ALAC and 320kbps MP3 - although I agree, on an iPod the difference is nigh-on unnoticeable.

FWIW the SE530's aren't going to be comparable for long. Remember, they cost over £400 when they came out and are soon to be replaced by the SE535s. I'd expect those to cost a lot more than £250.

Plus, there's more to the earphone vs headphone argument than just outright quality. Sometimes I just don't want bits of plastic rammed into my ear canals making music sound like its coming from inside my head.


April 27, 2010, 4:26 pm

@ Tony Walker

I agree. Music is very personal but the point is if the reviewer compares parameters like the treble, mid range, bass, sensitivity as well as other subjective parameters like detail, smoothness, soundstage, instrument seperation with other products then people will have a better idea of what to expect.

BTW all audio based reviews are coloured to some extent by the reviewers personal taste.


April 28, 2010, 6:13 pm

From the reviews.. i take it that the P5s are comfortable to wear. However wearing it for long periods of time, does it ever bother anyone that the headphones are pressed to your ears rather than over them? Personally, I've never had good experiences with headphones that sits on top of your ears...but i do like the P5s a lot and still contemplating on weather or not to get it.


April 28, 2010, 7:23 pm

I left a first impression comment on the product presentation article a couple of months ago, just before I got a pair of these.

I have to say that I take nothing back. These are headphones to be appreciated on the longer term, and the price is just right to avoid impulse buy that leads to flaming comments afterwards.

It did not take long before I chose to setup the equaliser to the "reduced bass" setting in my iPhone, because as the headphone started to run in, I thought it was a bit too much paste in the lower frequencies for my taste.

I have to accept I am an "airy medium" gourmet, and I feel satisfied by the P5s.

However, some will find them either to bassy or too lean, or god knows what else...

They are nevertheless incredibly comfortable for long listening sessions, either aurally or physically.

I have tried them on my HiFi system (not just a stereo one, before you ask) and I can hear a good difference between ALAC and AAC or MP3 encoded files, which seems to suggest their definition is quite good.


April 28, 2010, 7:31 pm

Oh by the way, the article makes no mention of the very interesting free 3 month membership to Bowers & Wilkins' Society of Sound that brings access to free download of various Master quality (FLAC 24/96) music.

The last Peter Gabriel is available, as well as other non charts artists of great interest.

Tony Walker

April 29, 2010, 4:20 pm


Love 'em. As you might imagine, they need a quality source. Day to day, that comes from a Squeezebox boom outputting FLAC, but I have an iRiver H340 that I've put Rockbox on and the FLAC playback from that with them is just sublime.

Tony Walker

April 29, 2010, 4:23 pm


IMvHO 320KBps AAC is better than an MP3 at the same bitrate, and in theory Apple will ensure it sounds better given they sell songs in that format.


April 30, 2010, 12:28 am

Based on TR reviews i picked up the P5s yesterday...I think they sound amazing. Better than my SHE950s. Sounds great without an amp, and doesn't leak sound like my Dr.Dre Beats or Sennheiser555.. I love that they have an iphone/ipod control. Im hoping they are comfy over a long period of wearing. $299 is very worth the price for me.

Ala Miah

August 27, 2010, 2:39 am

Having bought the UE 700 in ear headphones about 8 months, one of the ear piece suddenly dies on me :( Got them replaced but having heard the P5's in an Apple store, I was blown away. They were by far the best headphones I have ever listened to. They were so comfortable I felt I could wear them for hours without my ears hurting or getting really hot. Something which I could not say about the BOSE or Dr Dre's Beats.

I don't like in-ear headphones anymore because of the wax build up on the tips so i am looking to get some over the ear headphones. I can't decide between these and the Sony PFR!!!


May 30, 2012, 4:39 pm

Great sounding headphones. Because of their rectangular shape you can fine-tune the sound according to what you are playing. For instance, twist them slightly away from the front of your ears, and then you have a little less bass and a wider, open sound-stage, more like an open design headphone, and it still sounds brilliant!

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