BOWERS & WILKINS GETS SERIOUS ABOUT WIRELESS DIGITAL HEADPHONES
Bowers & Wilkins continues its journey into head-fi with the launch of four new wireless headphones, which together cover all the bases – in-ear, on-ear and over-ear, in noise-cancelling and passive versions.
What sets them apart from the crowd is their use of the brand new aptX Adaptive audio codec, which delivers better sound than earlier aptX Bluetooth wireless transmission systems – as well as having low latency. This means that the sound arrives at the listener practically in real-time, making it ideal for movie watching or gaming, as well as music listening.
The announcement of Bowers & Wilkins new headphones is the first application of this new technology – only possible because Qualcomm, its creator, decided to partner up with the Steyning-based company to hone it for personal and portable use.
Qualcomm’s new QCC5100 series Bluetooth audio devices give 24bit/48kHz streaming with low latency, as well as having robust transmission quality and low power consumption.
The new range starts with the PI3 (£169) wireless in-ear model, which has a flexible silicon neckband and bespoke hybrid dual drivers powered by individual amplifiers. It has a claimed 8 hours of uninterrupted play on a single charge or 2 hours from a 15-minute quick charge via the USB-C port.
The PI4 (£269) wireless earbuds add active noise cancellation to the mix, and 10 hours of uninterrupted play on a single charge according to B&W, despite the extra digital signal processing involved. A 15-minute quick charge gives 3 hours of playing time. The noise-cancelling DSP runs at 16 times the sampling rate, for optimal sound.
A nice touch is magnetic earpiece clips that snap together when you take them off, automatically pausing the music; when you unclip them, it starts playing again. Both feel like high-quality items, and initial auditioning revealed that they sound way above par for the course.
The PX5 (£269) wireless on-ear phone has active noise cancellation in a small and light package that’s ideal for long-haul flights, or coach and train trips. It has the look and feel of a small conventional hi-fi headphone, but with wireless operation and effective noise cancelling thanks to six integrated microphones that constantly monitor ambient noise and then digitally process it out. Battery life is put at up to 25 hours of uninterrupted play on a single charge, or 3 hours from a 15-minute quickie.
The flagship PX7 (£349) is an over-ear design with active noise cancellation, effectively a traditional hi-fi-style headphone with a twist. The larger ear cups physically seal out much of the noise, working alongside the digital signal processing for a quiet life. This has a claimed 30 hours of uninterrupted play from a single charge or 5 hours from 15 minutes. Proximity sensors built into both ear cups automatically pause the music when you take it off.
A quick audition showed the PX5 and PX7 to be highly capable, with a crisp, clean and detailed sound that’s surprisingly involving. The large 43mm drivers really help here, aided and abetted by the aptX Adaptive functionality. These are seriously strong performers but have to be, given how fierce the competition from Sony and Sennheiser already is.
Watch out for in-depth reviews on StereoNET soon.
For more information, visit Bowers & Wilkins.
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