Bowers Wilkins PX7 vs Sony WH-1000XM3: Which headphone is best?
B&W PX7 vs Sony WH-1000XM3: Two brands with exceptional pedigree in the audio space go tête-à-tête with their premium headphones. Which out of the Bowers & Wilkins and Sony wireless over-ears is the pair to get?
The Sony WH-1000XM3 have been available for almost two years (and are expected to be usurped by the WH-1000-XM4 soon). The PX7 is newer having arrived in late 2019. Both are excellent – each received five-stars – which makes this battle all the more intriguing. What are there strengths and weaknesses, how do they differ and if there is a pair to get, which gets our vote?
Enough rambling. In the matchup of the B&W PX7 vs the Sony WH-1000XM3, which headphone is best?
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B&W PX7 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 – Price
Around late last year, the Sony dropped in price. We suspect this is due to WH-1000XM4 edging ever closer to release. That drop has seen it available for £260, though if you see a deal they can be had for even less.
The B&W PX7 are newer and command a higher price. B&W are known for their premium products and at £349, they PX7 are £90 more expensive. We’ve seen promotions that have brought them closer to £300, so if the RRP is too steep, look for them in the sales.
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B&W PX7 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 – Design
With the WH-1000XM3, Sony has elected for a more elegant and subtle look. Available in black or ‘Platinum Silver’, they’re slimmer and lighter than the previous 1000X generation.
There have been gains in terms of comfort, with thicker padding than the WH-1000XM2 and the earcups deeper, providing more space for the ears. At 255g, they’re towards the lighter end of the ANC headphones and you can certainly feel it. They can be worn for a couple of hours without incurring much pressure around the ears.
The B&W PX7 take a different approach. Plenty of care has been put into the construction with strong, woven carbon fibre composite used for the frame to ensure they can stand up to some punishment. They’re certainly tougher than the more plastic build of the Sonys pair, but are bigger and weigh more at 310g.
Like the Sonys, the fit is snug and the natural isolation the design provides is effective. Their size means those with smaller heads may feel they’re too big, and they do pinch around the ears after prolonged use. The headband on the Sony offers a bit more give, so they can fit a wider range of heads.
In terms of portability, the PX7 lack the fold-in action of the WH-1000XM3 (they swivel flat). They don’t have touch/swipe controls – unlike the Sony – opting for physical controls instead. Both work well, so this is more of a personal preference.
The Sonys take the win here. The design is more ergonomic; they’re lighter, more comfortable and are better suited to a wider range of heads.
B&W PX7 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 – Features
Both headphones feature active noise cancellation. Both have up to 30 hours battery life, and both offer ambient pass-through.
The PX7 have wear proximity sensors, so playback stops/starts when you take the headphones off/on. The Sony over-ears do not have this feature, nor do they support Bluetooth 5.0 or aptX Adaptive Audio. The PX7 were the first pair of headphones to support Adaptive Audio (and also support SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX-HD). The strength of the wireless connection, however, is not as strong as the WH-1000-XM3.
As they’re older, WH-1000XM3 only have Bluetooth 4.2 for connection to other devices. They also support SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD and LDAC codecs, the latter two for wireless high-res audio playback.
It’s with ANC that Sony begins to stretch its legs. Background noise is zapped away, voices are numbed and busy metropolitan areas are massively reduced. Quick Attention mode – activated by hovering your hand over the right ear-cup – is effective at filtering sounds through to your ear. The ANC performance can also be tweaked via the Sony Headphones app, with the adaptive function adjusting noise cancellation on the fly.
The PX7’s noise cancellation is not as thorough. Office sounds, ambient noises and passing vehicles are impressively diminished, but voices are a plague upon these headphones as conversations aren’t hushed with the same expertise. Wind also proves to be an issue, and while it also affects the Sony, it’s not as distracting.
Like the XM3, the PX7 offers adaptive ANC along with several modes to suit particular environments. The Ambient Pass-Through works excellently, so you can have a conversation without taking the headphones off.
Sony is the victor here with its noise cancelling prowess. While the PX7 have a few more up-to-date features and its pass-through mode is excellent, it can’t beat the Sony’s ANC performance.
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B&W PX7 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 – Sound
So far the Sonys have triumphed both in terms of design and features. Can it complete a clean sweep? Actually, no.
The WH-1000XM3 produce a fantastic sound. It’s clean, powerful with a detailed soundstage and sense of excitement to its sound that most other headphones fail to extract. It’s also capable of being very delicate, and mixed with its sense of energy, dynamics and rhythmic precision, the Sony never fails to impress with whatever music you give it. Treble detail is perhaps not its strongest suit, but bass is malleable, explosive when it needs to be, refined in other cases. Overall, they are hard to beat.
But the PX7 arguably edge it. They are a warm-sounding, rich and textured performer; the emotion that pours out of vocals is a treat to listen to. The sense of space they produce is big, and the organisation of all the various elements makes for a cohesive and engaging performance.
The warm sound opposes Sony’s more neutral presentation and while bass is given plenty of prominence, like the Sony it’s pitched just right. Detail is good, knitted together with a fine sense of timing and an effortless feel for dynamics. They’re not the most attacking pair of headphones, but when they sound this musical, it’s a minor complaint.
The PX7 nabs the win with its rich, warm and melodic performance. Don’t discount the Sony, which also sound great.
B&W PX7 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 – Verdict
This is a tight contest. Both headphones have taken a different approach but end up as excellent choices. The Sony is not as flashy as the B&W, but they’re lighter, more comfortable and better suited for a wider range of heads. The active noise cancelling performance is more comprehensive, even if the PX7 has more up-to-date features such as apt-X Adaptive Audio.
Bowers & Wilkins gets the nod for its audio presentation, but the Sony is the best pick overall, especially at its current price.
You may want to hold off on a purchase though. With the WH-1000XM4 seemingly not far off, we have a feeling we’ll be back here again, judging two headphones from these great brands.