The Sumptuous and Sonorous Bowers & Wilkins P7

Bowers & Wilkins P7 ($399)
I think we're entering a wonderful time: Full-size, sealed headphones are getting better and better! In roughly the past year we've seen the Sennheiser Momentum, NAD VISO HP50, Focal Spirit Classic, and V-Moda M100 (for the bassheads) appear, all of which represent significantly better sound quality than models previously available. In years past, the Denon ADH-D5000 was my benchmark for over-ear, sealed (even though they don't isolate well) headphones. When I now compare them to the above cans, they sound loose in the lows and splashy up top. Yes sir, there's some good over-ear sealed cans coming out these days...and with this review, I'm adding the B&W P7 to the list.

Style and Substance
Drop-dead sexy? Yeah, that about covers it, the B&W P7 is a spectacularly beautiful headphone. Beautifully tanned, soft black leather wraps the headband, ear cushions, and outside of the ear-capsules. Headband sliders, hinge, and the swooping capsule arms are all polished and gleaming stainless steel. Outer capsule cover is brushed and black anodized aluminum with raised and brushed Bowers & Wilkins logo. In writing this paragraph I've twice removed them from my head just to get another little sniff of their warm leathery goodness. These cans radiate a glow of sumptuous quality...I'm certainly smitten.

Ergonomics, Comfort, and Accessories
Overall, I'd characterize the comfort of these headphones as good, but not great. I find the ear-pads a little stiff and the pressure around my ear is a bit more pronounced than I'd like. Most good headphones are using memory foam in their cans these days, which seems to do a very good job of distributing ear-pad pressure a little more broadly. Take a look at the Sony MDR-1R ear-pad (one of the most comfortable I've experienced) and you'll notice the protein leather is very thin and supple, and the memory foam very soft. The NAD HP50 is similar, but a tad stiffer. The P7 does not use memory foam, which means the ear-pads are always trying to return to their original shape, and I find the pressure from the pad around my ears slightly bothersome. So, not uncomfortable, just not the last word in comfort.

Print

Red circle identifies the corner of the ear-pad plate, blue line shows position of ridge around inside of ear-pad, behind leather, that can touch your ear.

Also, the magnetically removable plate to which the pads are attached is about 1/4" thick; this plate creates a shallow well inside the bottom of the ear-cup. I find the tips of my ears sometimes touch the corner of the plate behind the leather inside the ear-cup making for a little sore spot after long listening sessions. On the other hand, the MDR-1R has a little plastic ridge that can similarly be a minor irritant; and the Sennheiser Momentum has other, more significant, fit problems. To try to put this in perspective, while I've commented on these issues I don't think they're much of a problem, most people will find these fairly comfortable headphone.

The other ergonomic issue worthy of note is the size when packed, and ease of transport. The hinged folding mechanism of the B&W P7 does significantly reduce it's overall size, but because the pads don't rotate flat it remains almost 3" thick. Unlike its little brother the B&W P5 that folds flat, the P7 is a little too thick to stow in briefcases and bags conveniently...though it will usually fit. The included artificial leather, firm-sided carry case is half-moon shaped and measures 8" along the flat edge, 5" perpendicular to the edge, and 3" thick; the headphones fit quite snuggly in the case and the cable does not need to be removed for storage. It's a bit of a lump, but far smaller than the Momentum case, and it feels a bit cheap relative to the headphones. None-the-less, it's perfectly adequate to the task.

BowersWilkins_P7_Photo_PadOff

The ear-pads are held on to the ear-capsules with small magnets—a firm tug and they pop off for changing the cable, or when pad replacement is needed. Replacement pads are available. Under the left ear-pad is a small channel into which the cable is guided to a 2.5mm stereo jack that is mounted on a pivot so as to allow easy access and egress for the plug. The cable has a special strain relief molded to the shape of the channel. Replacing the cable with an aftermarket cable will be difficult, if not impossible. The P7 comes with two 48" long cables; one plain and one with Apple compatible remote. The other end of the cable is terminated in a straight and slender 3.5mm plug with metal housing. I prefer 90 degree, or better yet 45 degree, angled plugs to reduce strain on your player's jack.

Technological Innovation
My skeptomometer usually starts blinking pretty hard when I see companies claim new technological innovations improving the sound of their headphones. Sometimes a company puts well-meaning effort into a technology but the result just doesn't seem worthwhile, and sometimes companies are just full of baloney, but either way shouts of innovation often don't seem to pan out in my experience. This, I'm very pleased to say, doesn't seem to be the case with the B&W P7—these headphones seem to be sporting some cool technology that does seem to pay out in sound quality. I spent a little time on the phone with Stuart Nevill, B&W's Head of Engineering, to discuss the technical details of the P7. Check out the P7 technologies blog page here as you read further.

Dual Cavity Ear-Pad
Print

Mechanical illustration showing the P7 ear-pad backing-plate assembly details including second cavity and vent holes to cavity.

Ear-pads have a huge effect on sound quality. Many makers carefully select the ear-pad cushion material and the acoustically permeable fabric around the inside of the ear-cup to carefully tune the ear-pad response. It seems B&W have chosen an alternate method by building into the ear-pad base-plate an acoustically tuned chamber. On B&W's P7 technical info page, they claim this chamber "...maintains a consistent volume of air between the drive unit and the surface of the ear at both sides of the head." I can see how this chamber will maintain it's volume, and therefor tuning, and produce some control on the acoustics of the headphone that won't vary, but I don't see how it would compensate for the differing sizes (volume) of people's ears in the headphones to maintain a "consistent volume of air." I appreciate the fact that they've put some information up (most companies don't do it at all) but wish it would be a little more complete.

In my dialog with Stuart, he said this acoustic filter acted primarily in the 3kHz and 7kHz regions. Headphones will often have a dip in the (compensated) frequency response in this area. It seems to me this is a novel and very smart way to add some acoustic control and deliver a consistant aspect of performance of the ear-pad.

Driver with Surround
BowersWilkins_P7_Photo_DriverSurroundBowers & Wilkins is, of course, a very, very experienced speaker driver maker. Focussing this expertise on headphone drivers this time, B&W has developed in the P7 what amounts to a miniature cone speaker driver with surround. (Surround in blue in illustration at right.) Most headphones use a diaphragm with its outer edge fixed requiring the diaphragm to flex near the edges to accomodate the forward and back movement of the driver. This flexing at the edge of a normal headphone diaphragm at a minimum disrupts the perfect pistoning action of the diaphragm surface, but also causes other problems because the diaphragm has to be thin and flexible enough to accomodate the movement and therefor is also more likely to suffer modal vibrations, and because the fixed edge adds another mechanical input for modal vibrations.

BowersWilkins_P7_Photo_P7DriverB&W have chosen to go with something they know a great deal about, and designed the 40mm Driver of the P7 to have a stiff pressed-polymer fiber cone with a surround. (The B&W P7 driver can be seen in the photo at right.) This is unusual, but not unique—the drivers in the Denon AH-DX000 headphones have a similar pressed polymer microfiber diaphragm with surround. Theoretically, a surround allows the driver diaphragm to be much stiffer and its surface act more piston-like over the audible range (less modal break-up). There are lots of compromises though, for example the stiffer diaphragm might also be heavier and harder for the voice coil to accelerate. Fortunately the truth comes out in the listening (and measurements) with all this technical innovation stuff...and both the listening (and measurements) with the P7 were quite good.

Acoustic Damping in Capsule
PrintFinally! It's about time someone started putting damping materials in the capsule behind the driver. Speaker manufacturers like B&W have been putting acoustic wadding in speakers since forever. DIY headphone geeks do it all the time and just shake their heads as they see headphone after headphone produced without any damping of this type. Okay, the Sennheiser Amperior has a bit of foam damping in it, but as a rule headphone makers seem averse to the practice. In my chat with Stuart I asked if the material was an acoustic foam or wool material. He said they tried many materials, but ended up using the same acoustic wool batting they use in their speakers. He also commented that I shouldn't be too hard on manufacturers as this type of material can migrate and get tangled up in the cables and mechanically moving bits inside the headphones, but as a speaker manufacturer he said it seemed silly not to try to optimally damp the headphone's rear chamber in this way.

Other Technologies
A few other technologies are pointed to on the blog page including: a resistive speaker basket; a braced speaker baffle; and a light-weight aluminum voice coil. I'm sure they've done a good job of designing them or they wouldn't have mentioned it, but these features are fairly common in dynamic headphones.

Flip the page for the good stuff: sound quality and isolation...

COMPANY INFO
Bowers&Wilkins
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA
marketing@bwgroupusa.com
(978) 664 2870
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
MacedonianHero's picture

Great write up Tyll about these fantastic headphones. I actually would put them on the Wall of Fame as I prefer them to pretty much everything on there now.  :)

That said, I agree with many of your issues with them. I suppose my biggest issue is that I wished that the ear cups rotated to make them more portable for carrying on to a plane.

The measurements are pretty close to what I imagined they'd be based after a few months with these headphones. So cool. Thanks for this and Merry Christmas!

RPGWiZaRD's picture

Just curious, did you ever try EQing up the lower-midrange, seems like the P7 would love getting a tiny lower-mid increase. On a more accessible 10-band EQ it would bean a slight ^-shape setting at 250, 500 and 1kHz peaking a bit higher at 500Hz. If any headphone would benefit it, P7 probably does if you're more into a neutral timbre.

Maybe roughly

250Hz: +1.5 dB
500Hz: +2.5~3.0 dB
1kHz: +1.0 dB

Something along those lines. (in practice I've always found not needing to do exactly as much of an adjustment as the FR graph shows to get it sound on the same amplitude, hence the more reserved figures).

Tyll Hertsens's picture

As a product reviewer I kind of have to review the product in stock form--which means no mods or EQ. I have to describe the normal user experience for the broader audience, I think.

ScaryFatKidGT's picture

You can always have a seperate paragraph about Eqing, like if eqing out some midbass makes it nice and tight or if it still sound lose.

RPGWiZaRD's picture

I didn't mean that you had to even include any comments for review, could be useful for other people also to comment if like me are asking about it. Also aren't you curious on a personal level to know how much headroom for further improvement there are with EQing? Obviously it's great if you find a headphone you don't need to EQ at all but there are lot of cases where the frequency response balance may be the biggest issue but it does well for you in other aspects, then EQing is a great option.

 

markus's picture

Can you say something about ringing in upper midrange and treble, Tyll? Or do we have to look for waterfall plots on changstar?

A very resolving and smooth treble response is what I'm looking for in a headphone. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

We'll have to wait for Purrin to do his thing to see the CSD plots, but generally speaking if there's ringing you'll see periodic fluctuations (diminishing sine waves) after the initial spike in the impulse response. With the P7, I don't see that but rather randomish noise subsequent to the impulse. So I'm guessing they'll look pretty good on Marv's plots. But we'll see....

ScaryFatKidGT's picture

I was just looking for this review yesturday as I heard these at the apple store and liked them, but it wasn't here, now it is lol good timming

ScaryFatKidGT's picture

Is the midrange really that resessed? I ask because the reason I didn't like the P5's was the extreme treble roll off, these are much better, I did notice the bass boomyness but otherwise the sounded good in the 5min I have to listen to them I really liked them.

shammer's picture

Hey Tyll, I'm glad to see you got around to reviewing these, I've been waiting to see what you thought of them! My foray in $200+ headphones started with a pair of P5s, which I quickly sold after seeing your glowing review of the Momentums—the P5s were uncomfortable for me for long listeing (as I have medium to large ears), and I was actually pretty dissapointed with how thin the sound seemed. I have really enjoyed the Momentums, but I have never really liked how they fit either (not a fan of the half over, half circumaural design). I'm wondering if you think a person with bigger ears would find the P7 slightly more comfortable. I've been contemplating the move for a while now, and I must say I absolutely love the B&W aesthetic (which prompted me to get the P5 in the first place, despite the many poor reviews I read on sound... what can I say, the beautiful construction drew me in like a siren). I think I might actually enjoy the handle the "fun" sound signature, as apposed to the reletively flat EQ of the Momentums, so would you recommend the switch? How would you compare the quality/quantity of the lower bass response to the Momentum (an area I've sometimes felt could be a bit more pronounced for my taste with the Momentums)? Thanks for the help if you get a chance to reply.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

If you think you'd like the "fun" sound, sure, go ahead.  I'd take the HP50 over both, but I've got no problem recommending the P5.

SoulSyde's picture

Nice review Tyll.  I love the asthetics of the B&W line of headphones and thought of the P7 as a replacement for my M-80s for travel purposes, but I'm inclined to keep my M-80s due to your description of their sound characteristics.  They certainly look gorgeous but I'm not 100% sold on them.

PierPaoloG's picture

Hi Tyll, 

do you really think that NAD VISO HP50 is better than Denon AH-D2000?

If so I quit my search of a used Denon and I buy the NAD. Would you please help me?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I find the D2000 too tizzy and loose in the bass. Love the HP50!

Jazz1's picture

Having owned the P7 for several weeks I can certainly agree with everything you've said about these headphones. I particulary find your comments about comfort right in line with what I've experienced. I find myself readjusting them once in awhile, I do with most headphones I own. They certainly aren't as comfortable as my HD-650's. But so far the P7's comfort level hasn't made me regret the purchase.

I didn't really think I would like headphones that are not generally neutral.  If headphones were wine I've been thinking myself an Oenophile, only to find I like sweet wines ;) The point is that giving headphones a listen yourself is the only way to know for sure. I'm glad I didn't just judge mine out of the box as either I adjusted to them or the mythical burn-in happened.

Reviews, no matter well done are a guide not gospel as many of us already know. Of course I find reviews indespensible as I can't try them all. I need reviews to filter out the headphones that I'd clearly not enjoy.

Of course I'm disappointed that these didn't make the "wall of fame", couldn't you just lean them up against the wall as opposed to hanging them on the wall?  ;)

Thanks again. My next headphone pursuit will be the HP50 based on your reviews.

 

Cami's picture

Been looking for a closed pair of headphones for those moments when listening needs to be silent, and these sure damn look the part. They appear overall more convincing than the Momentums and the VISOs to me.

I am still eagerly awaiting your upcoming review of the new AKG flagship, the K812s. I guess there are many of us that own - or have owned - a K/Q701/2s, and that have waited a lonf time to see something new and significantly better from AKG, and now the moment has finally arrived.

The price I can see at Headroom, pretty much insinuates a direct competition with the flagships of the two German giants: the HD800s and the T1. My hunch is the AKGs will best the T1 but not so easily challenge the merits of the HD800s. Nevertheless, a significant improvement over the rest of the K series is sufficient merit in itself, IMHO.

The K/Q series have been a benchmark for a long time and at their price range (today you can get a new pair of Q701s for $220 at B&H, nearly 7 times less than a K812, and half the price of a pair of HD650s), and it was sure time AKG got back in the game.

Looking very much forward to your thorough coverage of the K812s, since I have been saving some cash, waiting for something to come along and challenge my good old K702s and HD800s, and cover a spot under the X-mas tree.

Cheers!

Arve's picture

From http://www.head-fi.org/t/685339/new-akg-flagship-k812-first-impression/2... :

 don't think I'll be reviewing them...just not good enough, don't want to bash AKG though.

The_Anderman's picture

I'm having a really hard time deciding between the P7 and the NAD HP50.

I've listened to the P7 quite a bit and compared it to the Sennheiser Momentum and I like the P7 a lot more. I can't get a hold of a set of HP50s locally, and I would really like someone's opinion who's heard both.

I'm guessing that the HP50 kills the P7 in treble and mids, but how does the bass compare?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'd say the HP50 bests the P7 in the mids and lows, but the P7 has the superior treble...in broad strokes.

waves1968's picture

I've had the P7s for about three weeks and they have really grown on me. They originally seemed very harsh, but have mellowed. There are still occasional moments of harshness, but for the most part they outshine my DT1350s. The comfort is OK with me, as long as it's not a super extended listening session. I'm also tempted by the HP50s, although I'm given a bit of pause at Tyll's comments about the treble on those. Sometimes I actually enjoy the exaggerated sizzle from the AE2s, but it can be tiring on most tracks. I'm taking advantage of the extended holiday return policy via the Magnolia Room on the P7s, so I'm on the verge of ordering a pair of the NADs to compare. ("Damn you, Khan...I mean Tyll!). ;)

audioops's picture

Tyll, the P7 is the best portable headphone I've heard to date, but I'm not in a position where I can test top-tier customs like the JH13 Pro, and so if I were to buy such a CIEM over the P7s it would have to be on the strength of their reviews and not actual listening. Do you think there is an enormous jump in quality between the P7s and the JH13s, or does the inherent advantages of the over-ear form factor mean that the P7s get you most of the way there at a much lesser cost?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I think the JH13 or Westone ES5 are awesomely good, significantly better than the P7. But as you say the form factors are very different. It's really about your needs and desires with regard to the different styles of headphone, and I can't speak to that.

rbagni's picture

Hello Tyll , im kinda new in the headphone thing , had a pair of radio shack HP FOR MANY YEARS FOR 30 DOLLARS . then purchased a pair of Sennheiser hd 558 , which wasnt bad , then my wife said , i can hear those things from hear , so im researhing headphones , very interesting , i love my music , now im trying to decide between , the BW P7 or the V Moda M 100 , i mean they all sound pretty well as by reading , my first choice was the PSB M4u2 , which i did not see on your review"s , i basiclly listen to rock ,  , and movies , its all mabout sound and comfort , anyway i really like your website and reviews , help me decide thanks

bren12's picture

So I recently purchased a pair of P7 (3 days ago) as I couldn't resist due to their very attractive design. Unfortunately, the center dome of the left driver's diaphragm has been partially pushed in. I believe this was due to what was pressure being exerted onto the diaphragm from the pushing on the earcups while the chamber created by the earpads is sealed. I was having issues with the seal on the right side which resulted in a lot of adjusting to get the seal right and I believe all the pushing and moving caused the damage.

I was wondering if this was a known issue or something because I know there was a similar issue with the Focal headphones. I will be attempting to exchange them at the Apple Store. Ok, I not really sure if there is a difference in sound but there is something very slightly odd about the sound of the right driver even when I swap the channels around.The left side sounds a tiny bit less full, like its missing a hint of low mid/bass frequencies or something.

FLTOWER79's picture

Both B&W P7 and NAD VISO HP50 reviews are amazing.

I am looking to buy my first HIFI cans or I must say my first cans ever (to escape from my Apple earbugs or my Sennheiser CX300). I enjoy every type of music and usually listen everything on my Audiolab system with my Wharfedale Diamond 9.5 or on my B&W A7.

After receiving a pair of Dr. Dre Studio for Xmas (which I didn't ask for and returned within a week!) I narrowed down my selection to these B&W P7 or NAD VISO HP50.

I am using this forum to get some advised on which cans I should buy since both of them seem pretty similar.

Please help me to decide!

Regards.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Personally, I'd take the NAD. It's a bit truer tonally, and a bit more comfortable for me. But the P7 is pretty good as well, though a tad brighter up top.

FLTOWER79's picture

Thanks for your quick answer. I was thinking to go with NAD as well.

shayweiss's picture

Hello Tyll
I own the P7 and wish to know if a tube dac amp usb can get the best performance (if so) out of the p7 and if so, what type (Brand and model up to 500$) you can suggest?
Thank U
Shay

donunus's picture

I actually dig the feel, the smell, and the sound of the p7s. They are much better to me than the momentums IMO. The NAD 50 may be slightly more balanced though but there was a slight hollowness to them that made me feel that they were just okay and couldn't beat these overall especially as a portable headphone.

losomg's picture

Can you help me to choose between the sennheiser momentuma and the b&w p7, i like all genres but i want the best quelity overall, some people said about the momentum's earcups (they said that they are relative small) my ear's size are like: large:4 cm and width: 5.5 cm so i think that this wouldnt be a problem. I want large sessions, very comfortable, very durable, but overall i want the best quality of sound (soundstage,highs, lows,mids,etc,) in other words the best quelity, i will appreciate your answer an the answers of the others, too.

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