It’s incredible to think that the PX are Bowers & Wilkins’ first ever pair of noise-cancelling headphones. It is not by any stretch a new technology, and to enter a market so late in the game you would assume that B&W are already on the back foot.
You would be wrong however. The company’s reluctance to use noise-cancelling has always because of the trade-offs that come with sound quality.
Indeed when we asked a spokesperson for the company it was clear that noise-cancelling was something they actually wanted to actively avoid for a long time, so why now?
Well quite simply, they believe they can now release a pair of headphones that cancel noise to a high-standard while still maintaining the incredible sound quality that defines B&W’s entire portfolio.
To give you some idea of how important that reputation is, B&W’s most expensive headphones the P9s aren’t even wireless, let alone noise-cancelling.
So how do the PX’s stand up to B&W’s almost ludicrous standards, and then also the competition.
Well from a design perspective the PX’s are perhaps the most edgy pair of headphones B&W have ever made. Gone is the all-leather design, instead this is a merging of leather, high-quality fabrics and curved metal.
The result is something that looks still distinctly B&W but with more of a modern twist. They’re also quite large and in our view a little heavy so don’t expect them to blend into the background on the bus or train.
The metal frame and stiff leather ear cups also have another unfortunate side-effect which is that like so many other expensive headphones they have a tendency to push down on the top of your head resulting in a soreness that would kick in after the hour/two hour-long mark.
The PX’s certainly aren’t the only headphones to do this, both the recent Beats headphones suffer from it as do many others but it’s something to absolutely consider if you’re planning to take them on a long-haul flight though.
B&W have sensibly opted for clickable controls here rather than anything touch-sensitive and the headphones charge via USB-C. This last bit deserves a special mention because not only does it allow for faster charging but it also means that if your laptop has a USB-C port you can actually play high-quality audio direct to the headphones from the laptop.
Enough about the design though, the key question here is how do they sound? Well they sound like a pair of high-quality Bowers & Wilkins headphones, which in and of itself should give you some sense of the achievement here.
While the noise-cancelling was good (not excellent), the fact they’ve managed to achieve that and maintain this quality of sound is nothing short of remarkable.
Being able to put the headphones on, block off the outside world and then listen to every minute detail on Ólafur Arnalds’ Eulogy For Evolution 2017 was goosebump-inducing.
We don’t want to say that it’s crisp because that suggests there’s a sharpness to the sound, which there isn’t. Instead it’s more a wide, open soundstage that can pick out even the tiniest details and give them the same breadth of volume that you would want from a thunderous bass.
Now in addition to the sound quality, B&W have opted to pair the PX with an app that allows you to update the headphones and gives you some limited control over the ‘smart’ features that come with them.
Now we use the term ‘smart’ loosely because sadly this was the weakest part of the experience. The app allows you to select a number of different noise-cancelling environments such as an office or a plane but all they really seem to do is just determine how severe the noise-cancelling is.
In addition there are sensors in the headphones that can detect when you’ve taken them off, or have lifted a single ear cup. The headphones will pause the music while one side is raised, and then un-pause it when you place them back on your ears.
It’s a useful idea in theory but in our experience it was a bit hit and miss. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn’t, and sometimes it would just randomly pause the music without us doing anything. It’s not a deal-breaker and it can almost certainly be improved upon with further updates.
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The PX’s reportedly have a 22-hour battery life with noise-cancelling enabled. We’ll be completely honest we didn’t get that, with the battery finally packing in at what must have been at least the 15/18-hour mark. That’s still over a days listening.
Are these the best noice-cancelling headphones we’ve ever used? Honestly, no they’re not. Are they the best-sounding noise-cancelling headphones we’ve ever used? Absolutely.
The PX’s don’t once compromise on sound-quality, so in that respect B&W have remained true to their ideals. As a pair of ‘smart’ headphones there’s definitely room for improvement too, but the addition of a USB-C port shows that the company is already planning for the future.
Who should buy the Bowers & Wilkins PX?
At £329 the PX’s are absolutely at the high-end of headphones which means they go up against the likes of the QC35′s and the PXC 500s. While they might not be able to compete in terms of raw noise-cancelling ability these are by far the best-sounding headphones with noise-cancelling. If sound quality is everything to you, then look no further.
Who shouldn’t buy the Bowers & Wilkins PX?
They’re not what you would call effortlessly portable, certainly not as much as say the Beats Studio3′s or the QC35s. This combined with the soreness they cause after long bouts of listening suggest to us that if you’re a long-distance traveller, we would probably recommend you look at the rivals we mentioned above.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones are available now for £329.
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