Bowers & Wilkins P5 Portable Headphone/Headset
The Bowers & Wilkins P5 ($299.99) is a sealed, ear-pad headphone/headset designed for listening and phone use out and about in the city. It’s also designed for people who like quality kit. Paradoxically oozing and understating luxury simultaneously, the P5 is both a comfortable companion and a stylish adornment as it brings you music and phone conversation.
Styling and Build
While I’m not an upscale urbanite, I am an old school geek that appreciates the smell of an MGB GT or the heft of a tactical flashlight. Man, I think B&W nailed it with the look and feel of these cans. The New Zealand sheep’s leather, stainless steel, and aluminum materials are blended together in a particularly simple and elegant design that reminds me more of fine kitchen tools or a craftsman made guitar case than most headphones I’ve seen. I think most men who like fine cars, cigars, and single-malt, would love these cans in hand.
The build quality appears superb. The fit and finish of the parts is extraordinary. The stainless steel arms, swivel, and gimble mechanism that positions the ear-pads moves smoothly and fits tightly with little free play and very little noise. A cloth covered cable traverses the headband between earpieces through a tidy cable management mechanism that keeps it nicely dressed at the earpieces, and seems to be well thought out with regards to preventing wear as earpieces are adjusted. Soft foam cushions within the headband are held in place with adhesives, and are not easily replaceable. The main support for the headband is a sturdy strap of spring steel making the headband both resilient to significant manhandling, and somewhat adjustable for head size by bending it to conform better to your head.
The underpinnings of the earpieces are a cast metal frame into which the driver, stainless mesh driver cover, headband gimble, and various bits are solidly assembled. The top and bottom of each earpiece have magnets under the fabric cover that snap to a mating magnets in the ear cushions, and provides a comfortable force to hold the ear cushions securely in place but also allow them to be easily removed. There are two small indexing pins on each earpiece that mate with holes on the pads to ensure stable orientation.
The left earpiece has a clever swiveling connector under the ear-pad that allows you to change between the normal headphone cable and the iDevice compatible headset cable. Both are included. The headphones are serialized and the number plate can be found under the ear-pad on the right earpiece.
The ear cushions are a simple leather pad supported by a plastic sub-frame and a pliant memory foam pad, and have an array of various sized holes in the leather to allow sound out to reach your ears.
Ergonomics and Comfort
The earpieces on the B&W P5 swivel flat for transport and storage inside the included quilted satchel, which has a nice soft interior cloth and a convenient magnetic snap. The carry case is a very nice touch, far better than most included with headphones. Both included cables are four feet long, which is about right for portable use; and the mike/remote body is nine inches down the cable placing it well for clear voice, and ease of reach without interfering on clothes collars. Standard 3.5mm ends plug into your player or phone, and have narrow bodies to allow insertion through deep entry holes in protective cases.
I’m of two minds concerning the comfort of these headphones. On one hand, I found them very comfortable and easy to use, but they also didn’t seem to remain very securely in place. The buttery smooth leather of the headband and featureless flat ear-pads would slide around on my head and ears with relative ease, and I would have to readjust them regularly. In bed, I would have to poof up my pillow behind my ears to rest them on or they would too easily slide back out of position. The thing is, it’s this same buttery smoothness that made them so darn comfortable and pleasurable to don and doff that I couldn’t resist reaching for them at every opportunity. The New Zealand leather ear-pads are naturally breathable and very supple, and I could easily watch two movies back to back without discomfort.
Let's move on to how they sound....