Most people associate Bowers and Wilkins with high-quality audio performance. A precious few may have even experienced B&W’s legendary 800 Series Diamond speakers used in Abbey Roads Studios. Now, the Bowers and Wilkins PX7 BT/ANC headphones – tuned by the 800 Series engineers – offer a taste of this legendary sound quality.
The Bowers and Wilkins PX7 is an over-the-ear headphone with Bluetooth 5.0, Adaptive Noise Cancellation, Ambient Pass-Through and enhanced Wear Sensing technologies. According to Bowers and Wilkins, the the PX7’s are “…designed to deliver the highest quality personal mobile audio experience, with the convenience of wireless operation and the serenity of noise cancellation.”
We’ll reveal our thoughts on this later in the review, however, some of the standout features of the Bowers and Wilkins PX7s include its largest-ever 43.6mm drivers; a 30-hour BT/ANC battery life; carbon fibre materials; and a Wear Detection mode that pauses/resumes playback when you take them off/on.
Design and comfort
Visually, PX7 makes a great impression. There’s an attractive combination of cloth and premium metallics on the earcups, both adorned by the B&W logo in polished silver.
The memory-foam lined headband joins the two arms made from an unusual woven carbon fibre composite. This material was chosen instead of metal to cut down on weight while ensuring strength and durability – plus it adds a nice visual point of difference. We reviewed the Space Grey model, and there’s an attractive Silver for those who want a lighter impression.
The PX7 weighs 310 grams, which is a little on the heavier side compared to the 255 and 275 grams of the Bose Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM3. The added weight is likely due to the large 43.6mm drivers. Still, when wearing for four hours straight, they didn’t feel weighty or uncomfortable.
The earcups can be rotated both vertically and horizontally to ensure a good seal. The headband applies perhaps a little too much squeeze on my head, however, this tension will loosen off over time.
One minor gripe is that the PX7 does not fold down completely flat – they protrude slightly outwards. This necessitates a bulker travel case. This might be a little more difficult to slide into the outer pocket of a bag while in transit. Still, it’s good to see that the semi-soft carry case is durable and should provide ample protection.
No aeroplane dual-pin adaptor plug is included, and this is unfortunate, especially if you’re travelling on Qantas that still need the double-pronged attachment on their entertainment systems. It would be very frustrating to be on a 14-hour flight and find that you can’t use your headphones to watch movies.
While there’s a standard 3.5mm jack, the Bowers and Wilkins PX7 is designed predominantly for wireless use. It supports the latest Bluetooth 5.0 standard.
It is the first headphone to use Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive codec. This is essentially a way to deliver the high audio performance of a cable connection over a wireless signal.
Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive bitrate scales between 279kbps and 420kbps for CD and Hi-Res quality music. These bitrates are lower than the 352/576kbps of aptX and aptXLL/HD. It has low latency (80ms), which is good for watching movies or playing games.
To use aptX, you need a recent Qualcomm-based Android phone/tablet. iPhone/MacBook uses the in-built AAC codec, and for the rest, it is the SBC codec. However, most of us tend to listen to compressed MP3 ‘lossy’ music so even with BT 5.0 we are not getting close to using its full potential.
For those that would like to learn more about Qualcomm’s new aptX Adaptive, check out the following link.
The PX7s can pair and remember up to eight different devices, and connect to two simultaneously. This comes in handy, for example, when connected to your computer and phone at the same time, so you can listen to music via your PC’s library but take a call from your phone without disconnecting from one device and swapping to another.
The Bowers and Wilkins PX7s make a great travel companion – a class-leading 30-hour battery for BT/ANC. Like the Sony WH-1000XM3, this is 30 hours with adaptive noise cancellation over Bluetooth, so you can use them on your flight from Sydney to San Francisco and back, all on the same charge. 30 hours is also considerably more than the Bose 700’s and Sennheiser PXC 550 II’s 20 hours charge with ANC and Bluetooth enabled.
If you do get stuck with a low battery, there’s a handy fast charge feature that will give you 5 hours from just 15 minutes of charge time. However, you’ll need to grab a smartphone charger as there’s none in the box.
Also, it’s good to see that Bowers and Wilkins use the omni-directional USB-C type connector on the cups rather than the horrible one-sided micro USB. And, if your PC doesn’t have a 3.5mm audio jack, you can use the USB cable to connect and listen to music and charge at the same time.
As you might expect, there’s a Bowers and Wilkins PX7 companion app for iOS and Android phones. It controls noise cancellation levels, stored device connections and a variety of settings.
However, one thing that’s missing is any ability to adjust sound profiles or create custom EQ settings. While the PX7 is tuned for optimal sound performance, it would be nice to have some personalisation. Perhaps this will come in a future software update.
Adaptive Noise Cancellation
Adaptive noise cancellation (ANC) is a standout feature of the PX7s. We tested in a variety of conditions including on a busy street, in an office with the AC blowing overhead, with a television blaring and on a commuter train.
In all conditions, the ANC performed very well. You can cycle between low, high and ‘Auto’ (adaptive) settings from a dedicated button on the left earcup or via the app.
For the most part, we left ANC on either high or Auto with impressive results. Also, some headphones tend to compromise the quality of audio when noise cancellation is enabled. We didn’t experience any noticeable degradation in sound reproduction even in the high ANC mode, which is saying quite a bit about how good this system is.
The Ambient Pass-Through feature brings outside noise into your earcups. This is ideal for when you want to tune into a conversation or be aware of, say, airline departure announcements while listening to your music. This mode can be enabled via a 2-second press of the Adaptive Noise Cancellation button or via the app. The app also allows you to configure how much external noise to let in.
How the PX7s sound
The 43.7mm drivers, combined with expert tuning really elevate the PX7s. There is an incredible amount of detail thanks to clearly defined mids and high frequencies, and a heavy bass kick that can wake your senses to elements of music that you hadn’t noticed before. This was my experience while listening to the familiar shapes of Maggie Rogers’ velvety Alaska, along with the fierce, angry punch of A$AP Rocky’s Wild for the Night and Drake’s distractingly eclectic Nice for What.
The acoustics provide a broad soundstage with excellent left/right separation, and I was lifted by the bright and energetically expressed High and Low by Empire of the Sun, and taken to deep, soulful places via the gravelly textures and the earnest voice of Charles Bradley in Changes and Victim of Love.
Listening tests were conducted using the BT 5.0 Qualcomm aptX codec in factory default mode.
The PX7’s maximum volume is 80dB, which is quite loud. We witnessed a slight harmonic distortion in the high-treble area but backing off to 75dB brings this nicely under control.
Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – none
Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – building
High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – flat (that means good)
Low-mid: 200-400Hz – flat
Mid: 400-1000Hz – building to a new flat
High-mid: 1-2kHz – flat
Low-treble: 2-4kHz – slight decline
Treble:4-6kHz – flat
High Treble: 6-10kHz – flat (hence some harshness at full volume)
Dog whistle: 10-20 – peak and decline after 15kHz
One of our favourite features of the PX7s is its clever Wear Detection. A couple of proximity sensors in the earcups can determine when you pull one or both away from your head or remove the headphones completely. Once detected, it will pause your music, video or movie, and resume it the moment you put your headphones back on.
You can also set via the app how long the headphones will wait in pause mode before they enter standby. This is a great way to conserve battery life for times when you forget to switch them off.
The Wear Detection feature is very handy when someone speaks to you while you’re immersed in your music – just pull off an earcup to hear what they’re saying and your content stops to wait for you and resumes when you snap the ear cup back to your head.
The $599 PX7 is part of an impressive crowd of contenders in the premium ANC Bluetooth headphones space. This includes:
Jabra 85h (an interesting take on adaptive noise-cancelling $379)
While it has a good selection of features, there are few areas missing. First is call quality, where some other headphones come with more microphones and offer greater beamforming clarity, such as the 2 + 2 mic config of the Bose 700.
Also, many of the above have EQ and other customisation settings via their apps.
Lastly, the PX7s do not offer a direct button for commanding your Siri or Google smart assistant. You can still speak to him/her via your headphones, however.
Despite this, the PX7s are laser-focused on delivering outstanding audio performance – and it certainly achieves this aim. This is made possible with the help of impressive adaptive noise cancellation, high-bandwidth / low latency communications (aptX Adaptive), premium components, solid ergonomics and expert tuning.
At the end of the day, musical tastes are subjective, however, we found the PX7s to be a joy to listen to and filled with dynamism, detail, impact and warmth.
The 30-hour battery life, along with clever Wear Detection feature (also on Sennheiser Momentum 3 and PXC 550 II) are excellent ‘quality of life’ inclusions.
Are they the king of the ANC/Bluetooth headphones? They’re certainly deserving, however, which crown depends on your musical tastes and the features you value the most.
Bowers and Wilkins PX7 – Technical Specifications:
Bowers and Wilkins Global Website here and manual here.