Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 Over-Ear Noise Cancelling Headphones Review
Same price, but with upgrades – surely this new pair of headphones is too good to be true? Matthew Jens investigates…
Bowers & Wilkins
Px7 S2 Over-Ear Noise Cancelling Headphones
While the flagship end of the noise-cancelling headphone market has been slimming down, cutting weight and becoming more flexible, Bowers & Wilkins has seemingly doubled down on the mantra of “all luxury, always”. This was inherently obvious with the original PX. Its gold styling, stitching, exposed cabling ports and all-around classy styling were a stark contrast to offerings from competition like Bose, which traded aesthetics for folding ability, and weight.
Still, for the price of the new Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2, there are some others on offer that you could be considering. Similar money will buy you the venerable Sony XM5, the babyfaced Sennheiser Momentum 4 or the tried-and-true Bose NC700. So why on earth would you spend money on these?
Instead of going for the slim, thin and travel-friendly attitude of the Sennheiser Momentum 4, the PX7 S2 continues the tradition of being built from fine materials, with classy details such as the cross-stitch pattern on the cups and the chrome strip around the outside. Sennheiser has since moved away from these luxuries, but it would feel wrong if Bowers & Wilkins did the same. It's a similar story when comparing these to the Bose NC700; while weighing just shy of 50 grams more, the PX7 S2 has somehow shaved 3g from its predecessor. It also favours a more classy aesthetic, with soft-touch points, contoured edges and broader, softer padding than the Bose.
Don't be fooled into thinking that this pair of headphones is heavy – 308 grams is more than a stone's throw away from the 386 grams of the Apple Airpods Max. The offering here isn't intended to be the slimmest, sleekest or lightest. Instead, as is tradition, Bowers & Wilkins puts forward something that feels like a touch of luxury. Its competition may be more lightweight, but it's not as sturdy in hand or classy to gaze upon.
The headband has a thick, soft padding that reaches down to the slider, connecting to a single arm yolk with a step-less adjustment mechanism. This mechanism requires a solid (but not too firm) pull to adjust and will stay put once adjusted. The thick, juicy memory foam pads are now replaceable, a considerable upgrade. Easily removed with a confident tug, this makes life very easy for the regular traveller who may need to clean (or replace) these down the track without needing to send them back to the factory. This new replacement mechanism, thankfully, hasn't lost favour in the comfort department. Weight distribution is spot on, and I'm happy to report that I slept on a long-haul overnight flight wearing these without any issues.
Bluetooth or the included USB to 3.5mm connector is the connectivity package of the PX7 S2. The latter worked just fine for inflight entertainment, and with aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, and the usual AAC and SBC suspects handling the codec department, no punches are being pulled here.
I'm confident that the whopping 30-hour claimed battery life that Bowers lists for this headphone is true. Wearing these on and off for 28 hours of travel, I didn't need to top them up once, even with my heavy ANC usage. If I did need to charge these hypothetically, a simple 15-minute top-up would yield 7 hours of playback time (assuming they are plugged into a charger with sufficient wattage).
Six microphones are dotted around the headphone, four for ANC and two for phone calls. My test phone calls received zero complaints from either end of the line, and the wear sensor makes these an easy office companion. When your phone starts ringing, throw these on your ears, hit “answer”, and you're good to go. Although the automatic head sensor is a welcome upgrade, it doesn't always hit the mark and occasionally gets confused; It's probably nothing that a software update can't fix.
The software experience has been firmly bolstered, too. Imagine my surprise to discover that Bowers & Wilkins, of all brands, has now introduced a 2-band EQ into the ecosystem! From a branding perspective, this perplexes me, as I'm being told that B&W tuning is worthy of Abbey Road Studios – but that I can also give it my little tweaks if I feel like it.
Don't get me wrong, this is a massive upgrade, and I'm not complaining. This introduction of an EQ is a big step and a welcome one. Let's not stop here; if two bands are possible, why not push that to three? Or maybe even five? Perhaps I'm being a little greedy, but while a simple bass/treble adjustment is a big change, I would love to see this pushed further.
The software offerings are now found in the Bowers & Wilkins Music app, the same place where you, the loyal brand fan, would find support for your Zeppelin or Formation speaker packages. One app to rule them all, instead of several apps for different hardware departments. Are you listening to this part, Bose? Or are you yet to figure out which app to open to hear me better?
Once you're done listening to your PX7, you won't be able to fold these at all; instead, you'll swivel the cups inward, slap them into the case and pack them away. The case has a neat magnetic latch for storing the charging and listening cables and does a beautiful job of protecting the headphones. This size comes at a price, as the case will spend most of its flight in your bag, as it rarely fits in seat pockets. This is notably smaller than the case from the last PX7 release, and having the ability to store the cables inside is a big win for the convenience-seeker in all of us.
The same 40mm drivers are here from the previous PX7 release, but with some extra tweaking and fine-tuning. The positioning of the driver angle and distance has been updated. The pads still envelop the ears thoroughly enough not to allow any leakage or spillage from your tunes. Not just adjusting the position, the driver's internal magnets and motor systems have been upgraded to reduce distortion, too. One would assume these changes have allowed people with no sense of taste to emphatically push the limits of what these drivers can do with the built-in EQ without rattling the driver too violently inside the basket.
Perhaps the least surprising aspect of the sound is the powerful, thick wall of sound that will punch these things into your head. Bowers, true to its pedigree and speaker lineup, would rather the listener sit in a lounge chair with a drink in hand rather than hunched over a studio all night. Take Eyes Don't Lie by Tones And I, for example. Details and presence for days, impressive soundstage and superb vocal tonality, are immediately apparent and let you enjoy Toni Watson's booming, passionate and commanding vocal presence to the fullest. After a minute has elapsed and the full bassline kicks in, you'll struggle to miss it…
Bowers & Wilkins, please never change! Let's talk about the bass – I love it. I'm an unashamed basshead and adore the tuning of this design. Sure, I love an analytical, bright or crisp listen every once in a while, but I also want to get my face ripped off for my daily drivers. And while these won't exactly do that, the tuning certainly is what many would confidently describe as warm – or even heavy.
After the rumble piqued my interest, I investigated this bass-heavy rabbit hole with I Hate Everything by Alchemist and Action Bronson. I quickly confirmed that the frequency response has a very rich bassline and can be somewhat calmed with the 2-band EQ in the app. After adjusting to the bass, my ears also picked up some rolling off in the top end, which helps calm down any painful sibilance or bright ringing. Again, more evidence to the lounge chair listening scenario, rather than these being a flat response studio engineer's work tool.
Then to tie it all together, James Blake and Dave tried to swoon me with their collaborative effort, Both Sides of a Smile, which brought together the relentless bass, some soft piano melodies and pronounced vocals. I'm happy to report the PX7 S2 responded admirably. Especially on a flight, I find the bass is the first thing to disappear when the noise floor is higher outside the headphones. So it's nice to have the powerful low-end supporting an effortless, sweet-sounding midrange.
The PX7 S2 costs the same as its outgoing predecessor, but with added extra tech and less weight. This is a beautiful and rare thing to see in this market segment. That thundering bass might be a bit much for some, but not for me. The new-found EQ features will quickly tame this if it's an issue for you. So then, why on earth would you spend money on these? The answer is simple. If you are the type to be found in leather, high-backed lounge chairs or enjoy riding in business class everywhere, you'll need a pair of headphones that not only performs the part, but also looks and feels it.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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