If you've bought yourself a shiny new iPhone and want to enjoy the best of Spotify then you're going to need to upgrade from those awful bundled earbuds.
If you fancy a pair of headphones with some class -- and you don't mind paying for them -- then Bowers & Wilkins is a good company to turn to.
The P3s are a new addition to its range, set below the existing P5s, giving you the chance to wrap high-quality B&W goodness around your head for a slightly more affordable price. They're available for £169.
Design and build quality
Bowers & Wilkins is well known for the stylish design of its products. You won't find bright red flashes of paint or angular rough steel on the P3s -- after all, such things would be considered vulgar and would never be permitted within the walls of London's better gentleman's clubs.
Instead, the P3s sport a much more mature design. They're not dissimilar to the P5s -- you can certainly spot the family resemblance anyway. Both models use earpads that sit on the ear, as opposed to around it, and both sport a brushed metal disc set into a black oblong shape. I'm very keen on the look and I felt particularly stylish walking into bars with them on. Before having to take them off to talk to my friends, of course.
The headband is somewhat slimmer on the P3s though. It's mostly made from a rubberised plastic, as opposed to the chunkier leather found on the P5s. On the underside is a soft, padded material that sits nicely against your hair. Unlike the P5s, the earpads fold inwards to make them easier to store away in your bag if you don't want them hanging around your neck like an expensive necklace.
As they sit on the ear, they don't form quite as tight a seal, resulting in less passive sound isolation than you'd find on headphones like the Sony MDR-ZX600. I found that they were able to block out quiet traffic in London's leafy suburbs, but I had to ramp the volume up quite high in order to properly hear my music when riding the underground into CNET Towers.
The P3s are quite comfortable. The material on the pads don't make your ears all hot and sweaty like some leather models can and the headband is easily flexible so it doesn't feel like it's trying to squeeze your skull. I found I was able to wear them for several hours at a time before needing to give my ears a rest.
They're also as well built as you'd expect a Bowers & Wilkins product to be. I gave them a good beating with my aggressive tech-destroying hands and was left very satisfied that they could put up with some punishment.
I was less satisfied with the cable though. It's particularly thin and I found it to easily become knotted after a short stint in a bag. I wouldn't expect it to come off too rosy if you got it caught on a door handle.
There's a microphone in the cable for taking calls, which also has buttons for controlling your device. It's a handy addition if you often skip through a shuffle playlist. It only works with Apple products though so you Android chaps won't get much use from it.
Design certainly isn't everything. With a heritage like Bowers & Wilkins, you'd be well justified in expecting good audio from your fashionable 'phones.
In general, I wasn't disappointed. The P3s deliver a very balanced sound with an even overall tone. The bass is punchy and quite warm -- it isn't overpowering. For many, that will be a positive thing, but fans of deep, bass-heavy tracks and sub-sonic pounding synth hooks will be better suited to the Monster Beats line.
I popped on the Knife Party remix of Unison by Porter Robinson and found a pleasing punch to the kick drum, although the brutal bass-drop lacked the skull-rattling power that I'd normally like to hear. I found similar results in the high-end spectrum too. The P3s didn't offer a lot in the way of shine and sparkle, although it would be unfair to call them dull.
Neither the top nor bottom ends have been given particular prominence in the P3s, so they really are designed for a balanced overall tone, which will likely suit fans of folk music. I found the drums and bass to be very warm on the Editors' track Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors, while still having enough room in the highs to make the cymbals, vocals and lead guitar cut through without being muddied in the mix.
Sigur Rós' track Glósóli was equally well reproduced, with a warm bass line and the ethereal vocals showing up well in the high end, without sounding overpowering. Although they're designed to work with your iPhone, that doesn't mean you can get away with low-quality MP3 files. To get the best from them, I recommend using at least 320KBps audio files or using the 'extreme' syncing quality on Spotify.
The P3s look every bit as stylish and premium as you'd expect from a company like Bowers & Wilkins. They provide a pleasing, balanced sound, which will appeal to fans of folk music. Hardcore bass addicts would be advised to shop elsewhere. At £169, they're not exactly cheap, but with their combination of style and good sound, they're arguably worth the money. Just keep an eye on that flimsy cable.