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Bowers and Wilkins make some of the best audio products on the market. In fact, we included their P9 signature headphones on our favorite headphones of 2020. They’ve been manufacturing and designing audio products since 1965, being used in places like Abbey Road Studios and inside of Jaguar cars.
While known for their speakers and the intricate internal structure, they make some awesome headphones too. The P5s are a value-oriented pair that boasts the same build quality and comfort as the more expensive models and sound great (all things considered).
The sound suffers a bit in dense arrangements, but the headphones are great performers, all for under $200.
|Frequency response||10Hz – 20kHz|
|Sensitivity||108dB/V at 1kHz|
|Total harmonic distortion||<0.4%|
Design and Construction
As mentioned earlier, the P5s feature the same design and build quality as Bowers and Wilkins’ more expensive headphones. The overall look is a throwback and should get lifelong audiophiles wrapped up in nostalgia.
The on-ear design does not actually have earcups. The headphones simply sit on your ears, and that’s it. I first anticipated that this would mean that they are uncomfortable, but that’s not the case. The memory foam padding that makes up the inside of the ear cup is really comfortable and I was able to listen for hours with little fuss.
Now, they do squeeze down pretty tight. This is to create some simulation of a seal so you can actually hear the low-end. Because of that, they don’t “float” on your head. However, they don’t really pose any issues in terms of their comfort at the same time.
In terms of build quality, it’s a bit shocking what Bowers and Wilkins have achieved with the P5s. They’re made entirely out of metal and real leather, making them look beautiful and built to last.
The supple sheep leather will give plenty of comforts, but also gather a nice patina over time. This gives the headphones a character-specific to your pair and where they’ve been. If you’re the sentimental type like I am, then that’s pure awesome.
The rest of the build is aluminum, with thing runs, giving the headphones a sleek look overall. The earcups are held by magnets too, meaning you can easily collapse the headphones for travel. They’re super portable, so if that’s important to you, the P5s win massive brownie points.
Like the build quality, I’m floored with how good these sound at the price. Bowers and Wilkins prove that they can create headphones (and speakers) that are fantastic performers, at any price point.
Out of the box, you wouldn’t know that with the P5s. The sound is horribly offensive when first opened up. These headphones need to be broken in, so either bear with them or just run some audio or pink noise through them overnight. Any quality piece of audio equipment generally holds this hurdle.
Once they’re broken in, they sound great. The P5s are clear and great a wide soundstage. There’s space between everything. You can hear the pluck of the pick of a guitar string, the air on a vocal, and the stick noise of a drummer.
However, there are issues when arrangements start getting complex. That separation is lost in audio that holds a lot of instruments, like a full orchestra. With that being said, it’s not really surprising at the price point and I wouldn’t consider it a negative.
The low bass is surprisingly present. They aren’t overbearing, but I was shocked at how much low-end was present considering the on-ear design. In context, it makes the tighter seal make a lot more sense and I’m more than willing to make the trade-off for nicer sounding low-end.
Not all headphones have extra features, and I wouldn’t say that the P5s do either, but there are a few things that set them aside from other headphones that I’d like to elaborate on.
First off, this review is the wired version of the headphones. That being said, Bowers and Wilkins offer a wireless variant. They are near twice the price, which is a bummer, but boast 17 hours of battery life and Bluetooth apt-X technology. In addition, you get a 3.5mm stereo input in case you want to wire them up.
Next is something that I was really surprised about. Despite the on-ear design, these headphones block out a lot of noise. They are actively noise canceled, so don’t expect Bose QC35 levels of performance, but they fare decently well considering the price.
Now, they aren’t great at canceling noise, so please don’t misunderstand. They work to block out noise on trains or planes, but they aren’t ideal. They’ll just get the job done.
Best Feature of the Bowers and Wilkins P5
There’s a lot to love about the P5s and I could have easily put any of the features in this spot. However, for me, the best thing about them is the build quality and construction.
For this price, you simply cannot get headphones that are made completely of metal and leather. They hold up over time, tell the story of where you’ve been via the patina on the leather, and are comfortable at the same time.
Plus, the ability to collapse the headphones via the detachable ear pads makes the headphones super convenient for traveling.
Worst Feature of the Bowers and Wilkins P5
I really can’t pick many bones with the P5s, especially at this price. However, if I had to, I would pick them with the lack of separation in dense arrangements.
To clarify, the separation is still great, but it’s not on the same level as it is in more simplistic arrangements. That’s not and shouldn’t be surprising considering how inexpensive the headphones are.
The audio doesn’t become messy in more dense arrangements, it just doesn’t hold up as it does in
Alternatives to Consider
Beyerdynamic DT 880
Maybe you don’t want an on-ear design. Maybe you don’t care about leather and want some awesome velour earpads. If that’s the case, the Beyerdynamic DT 880s are a great alternative.
They are different, though. The sound is much more precise than the P5s. Beyerdynamic even calls them “analytical”. These are meant to be used as reference headphones in audio production. Because of that, the quality of the sound is largely based on what you put through them.
They’re much bulkier, but they feel great on your head and sound good, so long as your source is good.
These headphones are a little more expensive, largely due to the engineering behind them. They aren’t dynamic like the P5s. They have a planar magnetic design.
This means that they use very thin diaphragms as a voice coil. What that leads to is tighter low-end and enhanced transient response.
In short, they sound great and only for a little more.
These headphones sit at the same price as the P5s and feature the same level of build quality and aesthetics. They have faux leather and metal design, making them look great and being able to stand up to a beating.
Where they venture out is in the over-ear design. They wrap around your ears and are super comfortable to lug around. Additionally, they block out a good amount of noise, making them ideal for traveling.
The Bowers and Wilkins P5s are some of the best bangs for your buck headphones out there. Everything from the metal and leather construction to the surprising amount of bass makes these headphones look, sound, and feel like they should be double the price.
The leather gives the headphones a luxurious feel, and the ability to detach the earpads makes them one of the better choices for traveling.
They’ll hold up, too. The completely metal framework gives the headphones some welcome rigidity.
Overall, I was shocked by how great these headphones were. If you’re looking for a pair of headphones that are great for travel, luxuriously built, and give some awesome level of audio quality all for a low price, then the Bowers and Wilkins P5s may be for you.