Bowers & Wilkins P3 Headphones: Compromise without Compromise
As much as we love our Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones, I realized 2 things after doing my original review:
1. Though at $299 we felt that the P5 was a bargain, that price point may still be a bit high for folks on a budget who still want to experience Bowers & Wilkins audio.
2. While the P5 headphones are quite compact, many consumers are still looking for headphones that are more portable.
Now on the surface, B&W’s C5 in-ear headphones seem like the perfect solution–featuring a lower price ($179.95) as well as a much smaller in-ear form-factor; but the simple truth is that while the C5’s are a fantastic in-ear audio solution, some folks simply prefer on-ear or over-the-ear models. So what did Bowers & Wilkins do? What they always do–they outdid themselves. Read on to learn why the P3 headphones are the perfect compromise…without having to compromise.
Bowers & Wilkins had an interesting task on its hands when creating the P3–not only did they have to make a new headphone that was more portable and less expensive, they also had to do so without sacrificing its legendary design ethic and audio quality. Let’s start with the design first.
The first thing you’ll notice about the P3s is what you’ll always notice when picking up a pair of B&W headphones–they’re gorgeous. Using their trademark aluminum design, B&W also adds soft-to-the-touch rubber as well as a new fabric for the ear pads (specially designed to enhance acoustic performance) to create a headphone that is lightweight, yet extremely solid. The rubber accents can be found on the outside of the ear pads, as well as the top portion of the headphones, and the acoustic fabric can also be found on the padding that rests atop your head. The Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones also utilize the familiar slide-to-expand system that the P5s employ, with the headphones smoothly gliding on elegant aluminum rails; however, unlike the slightly more robust P5 headphones, the P3s have the added trick of being able to fold inward right above the base of the ear pads, effectively cutting their travel size in half. Add to this the fact that they’re already compact in size, and you definitely can see how the P3 headphones would be more portable than the P5s.
Another familiar touch you’ll notice is that the P3, like many other Bowers & Wilkins products, is made to work seamlessly with iDevices, as it includes an inline mic and remote; but far be it from B&W to discriminate–so they also include a traditional audio cable in the box that will work with almost any device that has an audio out. Now speaking of audio out…
As far as sound goes, suffice it to say that we’ve yet to sample a Bowers & Wilkins audio product that has sounded anything less than brilliant–and the P3 headphones didn’t disappoint. The B&W engineers went back to the drawing board for this new model, completely redesigning the drivers to optimize audio for this new form factor; and while I could go into great detail as to how they even obsessed over proper airflow to create the perfect audio experience, the proof is always in the listening. Putting on the P3s for the first time, you’ll genuinely be shocked by how light they are…and then shock turns to concern, as something this light couldn’t possible produce enough sound to satisfy one’s listening needs. Yet they do. Do they sound as full and rich as P5s? Almost…and that’s a huge compliment, especially when you consider that these headphones are a third less expensive and smaller. The sound is a bit more neutral than you’ll find in the P5 headphones, but still incredibly rich and clear. I also found that you can wear these headphones for hours at a time and forget you even had them on–without the dreaded headphone headache so many lesser headphones leave you with. Part of this can be attributed to the on-ear design, while the rest must be chalked up to Bowers & Wilkins magic.
The Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones are incredibly easy to recommend–they’re beautiful, portable, and at that perfect “not-too-expensive-but-just-expensive-enough-to-know-you’re-getting-something-of-quality” price point of $199. So if you’re in the market for a pair of sub-$200 headphones that look and sound like they should cost twice that, look no further than the Bowers & Wilkins P3 Headphones – your ears will thank you.