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....

Bowers & Wilkins
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA
(978) 664 2870

The Monkey's picture
I tried these briefly at the Apple Store, wanting to laugh at how bad they were. To my surprise, I kind of liked them. Have you had the chance to hear the B&W MM-1 desktop speaker?
kwkarth's picture

Great review. I love your attention to detail. You covered all the bases.

dalethorn's picture

Hopefully my review of the P5 will be at the top of this page. I did it last year and updated it a few days ago. I thought it was OK, but not a good compromise considering the awkward fit.

helluvapixel's picture

I do like the phones, they are comfortable after break in. Keep in mind that initially the headband along with soft earpads allow to feel a bit tight on the fit and will not be comfortable for long periods. I didn't notice so much the sliding the Tyll pointed out.

I find these cans on the bright side and as such are more specifically suited to certain genres of music. I found that most rock is not compatible, and I tried even going to some classic pre-loudness-war type music like "Deep Purple - Machine Head", or even more subdued laid back rock like "Mad Season - Above" and while listenable the focus was too forward and bright.

With respect to the above, I think Tyll hit on a great but subtle point. Low volume. I found that rather than listening at the same volume as say HD598s or DT770 Pro 250Ohm, that relaxing a bit on the volume did make a difference, but I found myself wanting to go a bit higher volume which brought in the fatigue issue.

However, if I switched to more vocal based genres like "Feist - Metals" or "Ruth Moody - The Garden" the P5 really excelled. The idea of course is vocal attention on these types of album and that bright forward flavour of the P5 excelled here. The vocals were strong and clear, and the musical accompaniment was by nature more subdued but clear and full.

Incidentally, if you were to be more progressive with jazz-dub like "Nightmares on Wax - In a Space Outta Sound" or even "Filter - Title of the Record" the P5 was good. With Filter, the brightness was still there but with nature of being strong on bass it helps balance the presentation, because the P5 isn't strongly boosting the bass artificially.

Bottom line I think the P5 are going to be best suited in the vocal, r&b, instrumental area. I think for those of you more rock or metal based are best served looking elsewhere.

Music sampled where P5 excelled:
- Feist (Metals, The Reminder)
- Ruth Moody (The Garden)
- Fleetwood Mac (Rumours)
- Nightmares on Wax (In a Space Outta Sound)
- Beastie Boys (Hot Sauce Committe Pt. 2)
- Brandt Brauer Frick (You Make Me Real)
- Flevans (27 Devils)

Music sampled where P5 didn't represent:
- Mastodon
- Alice in Chains
- Deep Purple (Machine Head)
- Megadeth (Th1rt3en)
- Mushroomhead (XIII)
- The Killing Joke

helluvapixel's picture

Just a follow up. While the isolation is decent for say an office environment, or in your home I did not find that the isolation was adequate enough for the noisy coffee shop.

So for those coffee house patrons and bus commuters you'll be better off with some in-ear phones.

bakkermaarten's picture

So I tried these on for a couple of minutes in my local electronics supplier (compare it to walmart). But ofcourse I couldn't stay there for an hour or so and look like a complete fool. I can acknowledge for one that they do slip easily, I had to support them on an irregularity on my head so they'd stay in place lol.
My question is: when I wore these I could've sworn I could feel a little of the metal in the headband. How comfortable are these exactly in the long run? Do they start to clamp a lot? Note: wearing headphones for 6 hours in a row is no rarity in my life.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
but I do think they're fairly comfortable. Not felt any metal in the headband.
jsulmeyer's picture


Hi Tyll - thanks for the great reviews. I recently bought a pair Klipsch Reference S4i in-ear montors as well as the Reference Ones when they were both on sale, and I wasn't too thrilled with either. I then made the mistake of asking for a recommendation for something better, and $900 later I find myself with several pair - Grado SR325is for an open ear sound; the PSB M4US for closed back cans to use when I'm around other people (I wasn't really looking for noise cancellaion but these were recommeneded based on their sound alone) and a pair of Monster Miles Davis Trumpet in-ear monitors.  While I may keep the Grados and PSBs for home use, I'm on the fence about the Trumpets, and this whole thing started with my wanting something for portable/moble use!  I picked up a pair of Klipsch X10i's on sale, as well as a pair of B&W C5's. Now I'm going nuts rotating between the X10is, the C5s and the Trumpets, not to mention the Reference S4i's I still have.  I also tried both the B&W P3s and P5s, and while I loved the design of both of them, and they fit the bill for mobile use, I found them both too rollled off on the high end for my taste and the P5's put too much pressure on my skull.  I'd be curious to know if you've tried any of the in-ear phones I'm currently considering and what your impressions are. I like the C5s better than either the P3 of the P5 (the bass is a bit intense but I kind of like the tightness of it and highs are better than either of the over-the-head units) but I have a hard time getting a good seal and keeping them in my ears. The Trumepets sound great with certain music (they were designed for jazz) and not so great with other music. The x10i's sound balanced but not particularly exciting.

Anyway, I'd really apprecaite your feedback on any or all of the above.

May thanks! 


FlyhiG's picture

Even after this long after these cans came out, I still feel they cover all or most of the bases in a portable headset. Wish the price would come down a bit. But cannot argue with the quaility. 

Thanks for the review.

Barkos's picture

Great review! How do these compare to the Sony MDR-1R regarding the sound? One of these 2 I'm considering to buy so I would appreciate the response.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'd say the MDR-1R sounds a bit better, and is probably more comfortable, but I love both headphones.

Barkos's picture

Ok thanks!

Pheerix's picture

Hey Tyll, newcomer here. I've read quite a few user reviews on these complaining about the durability of the cables. Some people have had to go through many cables and supposedly B&W customer support isn't the best. What's been your experience? Thanks.