The Bowers & Wilkins PX are impressive over-ear headphones that offer premium sound quality, innovative technology, and adaptive noise cancellation. Unfortunately, this set of headphones also has a number of comfort issues when worn for an extended period of time. In this review, we’ll take a deep dive and explore the pros and cons of B&W’s flagship noise cancelling headphones.
Bowers & Wilkins PX Review
- Adaptive and customizable noise cancellation
- Built-in sensors to start and stop playback
- Sufficient battery life
- Premium sound quality
- Finicky wear sensor
- Not enough padding on the headband
The Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones are gorgeous. The premium materials B&W used in the design — such as genuine British leather — make this pair of high-end headphones stand out from the crowd. The only other headphones that come close to the premium look of the PX are (maybe) the Sennheiser HD1s. All the other headphones I have recently tested, even the ones in the same price range as the PX, look and feel cheaper.
Audio and Sound Quality
As part of my review of the best noise-canceling headphones on the market, I tested numerous premium brands. From an audio quality perspective, the Bowers & Wilkins PX were among the best and provided a top-notch listening experience. I felt fully-immersed while listening to music from a variety of genres, and was impressed by the combination of clear vocals and noticeable bass. In short, they sound great.
However, while this pair of headphones may sound great with my particular taste in music, Bowers & Wilkins doesn’t provide the ability to customize sound output via the associated mobile app (which is available for both iOS and Android). That’s a bummer, because by allowing end-users to tweak the sound settings via a software equalizer, manufacturers can appeal to the tastes of a broader audience.
By the way, one of my favorite songs for testing headphones is Simon & Garfunkel’s – “The Boxer,” because it’s a sophisticated track that sounds incredible on high-quality headphones.
|Battery life (Wireless playback, ANC on)||22 hours|
|Battery life (Wired playback, ANC on)||33 hours|
|Battery life (Wireless, only ANC on)||22 hours|
|Battery life (Wireless playback, ANC off)||29 hours|
|Charging time||3 hours|
|Audio||aptX, AAC, SBC|
|Microphone||Four (ANC), Two (Calls)|
|Playback controls||Buttons, Wear Sensor|
|Material of earpieces||British Leather|
ANC: Green = Excellent (25db+) | Yellow = Good (21 – 24db) | Red = OK (20db)
MIC: Green = Good | Yellow = OK | Red = Poor
Adaptive Noise Cancellation
The adaptive noise cancellation (which uses built-in mics to listen to ambient sound and adjust the noise cancellation accordingly) in the Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones worked incredibly well during my tests — but it wasn’t better than what I experienced with the Bose QuietComfort 35* or the Sony WH-1000XM2.
What I like about the PX is the ability to customize how the noise cancellation works using the accompanying mobile app. It allows you to change how the so-called “environment filter” works by selecting one of three modes:
Noise cancellation operates at a relatively low level, and voice pass-through is set to allow only nearby conversation to be heard. The voice pass-through level can be adjusted to suit your preferences. Office-mode is also useful for home environments, where it’s sometimes essential to be able to hear family members.
City mode offers more aggressive noise canceling measures, with the aim of reducing street noise. Voice pass-through is slightly amplified, allowing you to hear sounds in your immediate surroundings (so you can stay aware of what’s happening around you). As with office mode, the voice pass-through level can be adjusted to suit your preferences. City mode also works well in other intermittently-noisy environments, such as subways or even noisy cafés.
Flight mode provides the strongest noise canceling measures of the three options as it strives to dramatically reduce engine noise. In this mode, voice pass-through is off by default, thereby minimizing all aircraft cabin noise. You do have the option to switch it on and increase VPT if you want to hear some sound from the cabin during flight, however. Flight mode is also good for other sustained high-noise environments, such as train and car journeys.
Additionally, the B&W mobile app allows you to customize voice pass-through so that you can hear the voices of people around you. You can fine-tune VPT by selecting one of the following three options:
The only weakness of the Bowers & Wilkins PX is their comfort (or lack thereof). It may just be the shape of my head, but I found the PX to be painful to wear. That was primarily because of the lack of padding on the inside of the headband, which caused pressure points on my skull after less than an hour of listening. Additionally, the coated stainless steel headband clamps down so hard that the ear cups pressed against the side of my head with significantly more force than was necessary to keep the headphones securely in place.
When I picked up the PX, I had every intention of keeping them after completing the review. But their lack of comfort made me change my mind. I use noise canceling headphones primarily for air travel (and occasionally in my office when the kids are being too loud). Unfortunately, I can’t imagine wearing the B&W PX for 10-hours straight while crossing the Atlantic. In fact, it’s painful to even think about that.
The battery in the Bowers & Wilkins PX is reasonably good, but not outstanding (at least when compared to some of the other brands I have recently reviewed). Fully charged, the PX battery lasts for up to 22 hours with active noise-cancelling (ANC) turned on and while streaming music over a wireless connection. If you turn ANC off, you can get up to 29 hours out of the headphones.
To further extend the headphone’s battery life, you can use them with the included audio cable, which gives you up to 33 hours of battery life with ANC turned on. Even better, if you plug the B&W PX headphones into a powered USB port (on your computer, for example), the battery of the PX will charge while you listen to music.
Once you run out of battery, it takes approximately three hours to recharge the headphones completely — and it doesn’t appear that B&W offers a quick-charge feature with the PX.
Quality of Microphone
Bowers & Wilkins has built numerous microphones into the PX headset to help with active noise cancellation (and for making phone calls). To support ANC, the Bowers & Wilkins PX features a total of four microphones, while two microphones are reserved for making phone calls sound good in different environments.
In my tests, the microphones in the PX produced reasonably good audio quality in quiet as well as noisy environments. You can check out the embedded recording below to hear for yourself how the PX performed during tests in my office.
If you can’t play the embedded audio file in your browser, you can download the M4A file directly from here.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones feature five buttons on the right earcup for playback control and other things, including:
- Pause and play
- Volume control
- Skip a track
- Turn the environment filter (noise cancellation) on or off
- Power button
The physical playback controls on the PX are solid and crisp, and the buttons provide sufficient feedback when you push them. B&W also included a button to turn the headphone’s environment filter on and off. Unfortunately, there is no convenient way to enable voice pass-through without opening up the mobile app. So, if I’m aboard an airplane and someone wants to talk to me, I have to take these headphones off.
Both Sony and Plantronics have solved this issue by temporarily amplifying ambient speech noise by pressing a button on the headphones (Plantronics) or via a hand-gesture (Sony).
Bowers & Wilkin’s less-elegant solution is a configurable proximity sensor that automatically stops and resumes playback when you take the headphones off or put them back on. While you can influence the sensibility of the sensor through the mobile app (or even turn it off entirely), I feel like B&W didn’t design that feature very well.
For example, every time I put on the headset, it automatically started playing music — regardless of whether or not I wanted that.
In other words, if you turn on the headset and put it on your head while it’s paired to your iPhone, music starts playing automatically… even if music wasn’t playing before you took the headphones off. I would expect playback to resume automatically only if I was playing music before I took the headphones off (which automatically stops playback).
What if I want to wear the headphones to suppress ambient noise, without playing music? Bowers & Wilkins doesn’t seem to take such a use case into consideration.
The good news is that an issue like that should be fixable via a firmware or software update.
Bowers & Wilkins “Headphones” app features an extensive help section to get you started with your headphones, and it allows you to fine-tune the environment filter (a.k.a. noise cancellation), the voice pass-through settings, and the sensitivity of the wear sensor. You can also use the app to update the firmware of your noise canceling headphones.
The only thing I don’t like about B&W’s mobile app is that every time it launches, there’s a few seconds’ delay as the app searches for and connects to the headphones. That happens even if you just change apps for a split-second, or if you go to the home screen and then right back to the B&W app. Honestly, I find that behavior to be annoying at best.
Unlike most other on-ear headphones I have reviewed, the Bowers & Wilkins PX features a USB type c instead of a micro-USB port. Considering the industry’s move towards USB-C, that’s a step in the right direction to make the headphones future-proof. I own a MacBook Pro that uses USB-C, and thus I carry a USB-C cable when I travel. The only reason I also carry a micro-USB cable is to charge my noise-canceling headphones. B&W would undoubtedly help me to declutter my travel backpack by eliminating the need to pack a micro-USB cable.
Related article: Best Travel Accessories and Cool Gadgets for Techies
Another feature that differentiates the PX from other headphones are the magnetic ear cups that you can quickly take off just by pulling on them. The benefit of those removable ear cups is that you can easily replace them should they get damaged or worn out.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX’s manufacturer suggested retail price is $399.00, and you won’t find them much cheaper on Amazon or at other retailers. As a result, the PX are among the most expensive headphones I have reviewed. Except for their comfort, they’re worth the money.
What’s in the Box?
In addition to the wireless noise-cancelling headphones themselves, you get an elegant (albeit soft) storage pouch, an audio cable with a gold-plated 3.5mm jack, a USB type-c charging cable, and an instruction manual with a warranty card. (B&W offers a two-year limited warranty on headphones.)
Bowers & Wilkins Review
There is no doubt that the Bowers & Wilkins PX are outstanding wireless headphones that produce high-quality sound that most users will love. I wanted to like them too, but couldn’t get over the comfort issues. Of course, those issues could just be related to the shape of my head. Frankly, most of the over-the-ear headphones I have tested cause pressure points on my skull after a while. So, don’t let my findings discourage you from giving the Bowers & Wilkins PX a try.
If you enjoyed my review (and even if you didn’t) let me know by leaving a comment below!