Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 review

Bowers & Wilkins is one of the most stylish brands in the audio world and is back with a new pair of headphones, an update to its flagship on-ear cans. Here's our review of the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2. See also Group test: What are the best headphones?

On the surface, not much has changed with these updated headphones. The P5 Series 2 look exactly the same as the previous model – which is no bad thing- so the real upgrades are on the inside and relate to the audio performance.

What's great is that, in Apple style, they still cost the same price at £249. That's still quite expensive for a pair of headphone for some consumers but you could easily spend a lot more, too. See all audio reviews.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 review: Design and build

For those not familiar with the P5, we'll start with design, but if you're an existing owner wondering whether to upgrade then you might want to skip this section as there's effectively no difference (bar some minor changes like the ear pads being interchangeable).

The P5 Series 2 look great in the stylish and sleek combination of black and silver. Once again the cups are leather-clad on the front and back with the headband also making use of the material with almost invisible black stitching.

The back of the cups and the remaining construction is crafted from aluminium and you can tell just from looking at these headphones that a lot of thought has gone into the design. We particularly like the way the wire-like arms coming from the cups curve and twist almost intertwining with the rope-like cord running in between and the smooth piston-like action of the headband extending.

B&W P5 Series 2 review design and build

What's really impressive is how small and lightweight (195g) these headphones are, the cups don't stick out a mile which makes a change.

Comfort is a big factor with any pair of headphones and especially on-ear. We found the cushions a little hard out-of-the box but they soon soften with some use and become really snug. These are cleverly held on with magnets (two small grommets hold them in place) so you can buy replacements if you happen to wear them out rather than needing to buy a new pair of cans. The other reason is so you can change the cable. One with an in-line control and mic (Apple certified while Android users will just get pause/play control) is connected but a regular cable is also supplied. A soft travel pouch with hidden magnetic fasteners is found in the box, too.

While the P5 Series 2 are pretty comfortable we did find the headband a little tight, pushing the cups inward with slightly too much pressure. This means during long listening periods we had to keep repositioning the pads. The most comfortable on-ear headphones we've tested are the Kef M500.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 review: Speakers and sound

With design remaining the same as the original P5 headphones, all the work has been put into the improving the audio performance. The headphones use 40mm drivers – the same size as found in the firm's over-ear P7 model which cost £329 – and have a suspended diaphragm like a regular speaker.

"The drivers in P5 Series 2 are designed to work like those in a Hi-Fi speaker, with a more precise, controlled movement," says B&W on its website adding that the tuning has been carried out by the same team responsible for the flagship 800 Series speakers.

Whatever B&W has done, it's worked – to an extent anyway. Although the P5 Series 2 are closed back headphones, they sound nicely open but still do a good job of noise isolation whether you're in the office and don't want to be distracted or trying to relax on the commute. You don't need to pump the volume up to uncomfortable levels to compensate.

B&W P5 Series 2 review speakers and sound

By far the biggest improvement in the sound is at the top end which now has much more sparkle – without getting to the point of irritation. Cymbals sound particularly alive and crisp thanks to this change. Like the original P5 headphones, the Series 2 still sound warm, smooth and balanced.

With a nice boost to the top-end, B&W hasn't forgotten about the rest of the frequency range. The bass sounds great most of the time, with impressive power for small headphones, but can get a little out of control occasionally allowing other elements to get somewhat swallowed up.

Mid-range is almost as impressive as the top-end with bags of detail combined with warmth and balance which make these headphones versatile and great for long sessions.

Despite an impressive amount of audio quality, we're not sure we can quite hear the 'giant leap forward' which Bowers & Wilkins touts. They are certainly better than the original P5s but an upgrade for existing owners isn't a necessity. Upgrading and comparison with the older model aside, the P5 Series 2 are one of the best pairs of on-ear headphones we've tested.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2: Specs

  • On-Ear Headphone
  • Nylon damped diaphragm
  • CCAW coil
  • Changeable ear cushions
  • Detachable cable
  • 3.5mm stereo mini jack (CTIA 4-pole)
  • 2x ø40mm (1.6in) full range drivers
  • 10Hz to 20kHz frequency range
  • 22 ohms impedance
  • <0.4% (1KHz/10mW) distortion
  • 108dB/V at 1kHz sensitivity
  • 50mW max input
  • 1.2m cable
  • 195g
  • On-Ear Headphone
  • Nylon damped diaphragm
  • CCAW coil
  • Changeable ear cushions
  • Detachable cable
  • 3.5mm stereo mini jack (CTIA 4-pole)
  • 2x ø40mm (1.6in) full range drivers
  • 10Hz to 20kHz frequency range
  • 22 ohms impedance
  • <0.4% (1KHz/10mW) distortion
  • 108dB/V at 1kHz sensitivity
  • 50mW max input
  • 1.2m cable
  • 195g

OUR VERDICT

While original P5 owners don't need to jump at this upgrade, the P5 Series 2 are one of the best pairs of on-ear headphones we've tested. The price tag might be a little high for some but Bowers & Wilkins has done a sterling job once again of combining design and build with decent comfort, noise isolation and excellent sound quality.

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