Audio maestro Bowers & Wilkins has made its first foray into the portable-music market with the P5 'mobile hi-fi headphones'. These luxury cans sport a quirky design and noise-isolation technology, as well as an Apple-approved in-cable remote control for iPods and the iPhone 3GS. At £250, they represent a significant investment, though. Are they really good enough to earn pride of place atop your discerning noggin?
A la mode
The P5s boast a striking design. An aluminium and stainless-steel frame is covered in soft black leather, while twisted metal is entwined with a braided cable to connect the arch to the earcups. The earcups themselves are rectangular, relatively small and covered in soft leather, so that they resemble pads rather than traditional headphone cups. While many high-end headphones are comically bulky, and unfit for use in public spaces, the P5s are so small and stylish that you'll be happy to wear them out and about.
That solid metal frame means the P5s have a satisfyingly weighty feel to them, although they're compact enough so that they won't feel too heavy during use. We found they remained comfortable even during prolonged listening sessions.
The P5s sound fantastic. Bowers & Wilkins proudly states that it's implemented absolutely no sonic enhancements, which means you won't find any bass-boosting technology or suchlike here. The result is a natural and clear sound, and an incredibly faithful reproduction of the original recording.
While this level of quality will satisfy most audiophiles, some users might find the low end slightly overpowering. It's certainly not a major issue -- it's something that will come down to personal preference -- but we noticed the low-end frequencies had a slight tendency to dominate. The mid-range, however, is crystal-clear, and the treble positively sparkles. During our testing, we found the P5s produced very little distortion.
The P5's closed-back design does a good job of keeping out unwanted noise, and, while you won't be completely isolated from the outside world, it's enough to keep your attention on the music.
The P5s are aimed squarely at the iPod and iPhone user base. While the 3.5mm jack (a 6.5mm adaptor is included) will work with most MP3 players and computers, the P5s' cable also features an Apple-approved remote control near the top of the cabling.
When using the headphones with an iPod, you'll be able to use the remote's three buttons to skip tracks and pause, which should save you rummaging around in your pockets. Plug the P5s into an iPhone and you'll be able to take calls using the remote, speaking into a discreetly housed microphone. iPhone users will undoubtedly appreciate this feature -- anyone who's attempted to unplug their headphones while retrieving their phone from a pocket will know how annoying it can be to take a call when listening to music.
One complaint is that the included cabling is rather delicate -- it's quite skinny, and liable to tear if you're not careful. You could switch this cable for one of your own (it plugs in via a socket beneath the left earpad), but you'd lose the useful remote control.
The Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones are expensive, but they offer high-grade performance, and you could easily spend about five times as much on a set of high-end cans. We simply can't imagine anyone not liking these headphones -- they offer sturdy build quality, a beautiful design, some really neat features for iPhone users, and sound quality that shines in every respect. This is an impressive first attempt from Bowers & Wilkins, and we can't wait to see what the company does next.
If you want some more advanced noise-cancellation capability for a similar price, take a look at the Bose QuietComfort 15s.
Edited by Charles Kloet