STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ ambience and spaciousness top-notch
+ multi-faceted, transparent timbre
+ excellent long-term suitability
+ very valuable, excellent workmanship
- App on Android not always stable
- Mids could sound a bit more direct
Sound: Tonal balance / transparency9.0
Sound: Bass / Dynamics9.4
Ease-of-use / Connectivity9.5
Price / Performance8.6
Offering at least one model of expensive passive headphones is considered to define a high end audio brand. Bowers & Wilkins, best known for their high end speakers, do not have to prove anything to anyone. Following their successful PX7 S2, which we already had in review, the new top-of-the-line model Bowers & Wilkins Px8 comes in again as an active one offering Bluetooth and active noise-cancelling (ANC).
Please not that we highlight – active – as with Bluetooth alone, you would not be able to fully get the full sonic potential of the Px8. Connecting it via USB-C wire is the more promising option as it allows to process lossless hires streams of up to 24 bit/48 kHz. That might make some highenders consider if these gadgety fashion-item-like over-ears might be an alternative to a combination of an external DAC plus passive headphones. Coming at a retail price of 700 bucks (in standard colors black or beige) this appears to be a bargain. If you want to go more exclusive, you might want to upgrade to either the McLaren edition for a premium of 100 bucks in reference to the cooperation with the sports car manufacturer and opt for the 007 edition with corresponding labels and a Bond-like colourscheme.
A gem from the outside and inside
But that’s enough of appealing to the lifestyle zeitgeist. The choice of materials makes clear this is the work of serious high end audio developers: The transducer itself offers a 1.75″ (40 mm) diaphragm made of carbon fiber, which is installed in a housing with a decent aluminum insert. It is positioned slightly beveled towards the listener´s ears from the front to get closer to the direction natural sound is coming as to avoid tonal imbalances depending on the actual distance between the diaphragm and the eardrum.
A combination of nappa leather applications on the capsules and memory foam in the cushion rings and headband padding provides a refined impression and at the same time a clear distinction from the much more affordable Px7 S2, which from afar looks quite similar. This does not simply add a posh feeling, which is unparalleled among NC headphones, but offers an impressive isolation passively without increased pressure on the head. However, it also takes a bit after putting it on for the Px8 to really adopt to the shape of your head, and sometimes still needs a slight correction for the perfect fit.
In addition, active noise cancelling can be activated, which is only really needed in annoying ambient noise like on an airplane or next to loud roads due to the very good passive attenuation. It analyzes the noise with the help of four microphones, and calculates corresponding counter-sound for cancellation. The mics work separately from the two microphones for speech, which is supposed to improve quality of phone calls.
Lots of features, few gimmicks
Most music lovers will probably use the Bowers wirelessly. The PX8 lasts up to 30 hours with one battery charge and NC activated. With Bluetooth 5.2 and the most important codecs AAC and aptX HD, there are no concerns about its sound quality. Of course, USB-C is better in theory, as uncompressed streams of up to 24 bit/48 kHz can be reproduced thanks to the headphone’s built-in DAC. An adapter cable to analog jack connectors (3.5 mm) is also included, so that you do not have to do without the Px8 on the plane or with more exotic sources.
Operation and feedback from the headset remain at a very intuitive level despite this variety: A multicoloured LED marks Bluetooth operation, battery and charging status. The same applies to the exemplary placement of the on/off slider as well as the volume control buttons.
Things get a bit more complicated when trying to call or controlling music playback as a single multifunction button on the right capsule covers it all. The double, triple and long clicks take some time getting used to this scheme. The assignable button on the other side controls active noise cancelling by default. This ANC can be switched between Off, On and Transparency mode for announcements.
Control it via app or listen to web radio
Customization and access to additional features is handled by the familiar Bowers & Wilkins Music App. It grants access to web radio stations and offers a three-month free trial subscription to the online service Qobuz. Furthermore, it holds few additional features, but all of them are very useful. In addition to assigning the left button with the quick call of the voice assistant, it is also possible to define which action the over-ear headphones should perform when removing a capsule or the whole earpiece. However, pausing the music only works in Bluetooth mode.
The EQ menu item contains just a classic tone control with treble and bass dosing. A small but handy feature in the app allows toggling between two connected devices, for example if you want to use the Px8 alternately on the computer and smartphone. We particularly appreciated this function when fine-tuning the sound control on the smartphone while the music is played from the computer.
App can sometimes be a bit resisting in practice
Otherwise, the app caused some anxious moments at first. Connecting it to an Android phone did succeed only after several attempts and the Px8 was repeatedly not recognized by the app when it was playing music via Bluetooth. An update of the Android system provided relief, but did not solve all problems. On the iPhone, on the other hand, it ran completely smoothly.
Noise-canceling and sound quality: NC is an outdoor thing
The ANC left an ambivalent impression in quiet surroundings at home. It suppressed sound pretty effectively and audibly adapted to different acoustic environments. In return, a clearly audible noisefloor was noticeable. The tonal balance of bass and treble also seemed to shift towards a slight loudness when noise cancelling was turned on. While we would rate the ANC top-notch for outdoor use, it should better stay deactivated at home.
Does the Bowers & Wilkins Px8 really sound so much better than the Px7 S2?
The crucial question of whether the Px8 leaves its “little brother” Px7 S2 so far behind in terms of sound that the additional price is justified, quickly brought us to a comparison test. And it is not so easy to answer after a short standard run-through. Where the Px7 S2 seemed to be trimmed for maximum dynamics, detail resolution and a kind of effect-laden audiophile show, the Px8 acted a bit more smooth and focused more on wide, natural ambience as well as a long-term listening pleaser. Yes, the “Bowers sound” with transparent-as-bright-daylight treble and a quite pounding upper bass remained, but appeared here a bit more restrained in terms of dynamic.
As far as bass was concerned, the Bowers & Wilkins Px8 with active ANC went one better. However, this pushed the rather restrained, distinguished mids even more into the background with music offering strong beats and therefore had a rather counterproductive effect with some recordings. In contrast, its precision and resolution in the mid/high range was absolutely top of the notch. And the bass was also on the clean side. For an over-ear-phone, transparency and the sense of spaciousness earned a lot of praise on top of that. The very decent dynamic reserves were also convincing.
We made an interesting discovery quite unexpectedly while browsing the Internet radio stations integrated into the Bowers & Wilkins Music App. Thus, the Bluetooth over-ear sounded extremely coherent and inspired with a seamless playful flow. In addition, this conveniently accessible program source gave the Bowers & Wilkins Px8 something that outweighed the lower resolution compared to Bluetooth streaming: The touch of warmth, especially with vocals, suited the British earphones, which are characterized by noble paleness, quite excellently. In combination with the pleasant wearing comfort, a great basis for relaxed long-term listening.
Conclusion, alternatives and market environment for the B&W Px8
The segment of really high-priced Bluetooth onears is not yet as strong as the mid-price range. Whether you choose a Bowers & Wilkins Px8, Apple AirPods Max or a Focal Bathys is ultimately a matter of style and taste. In comparison, the Bowers scores especially with its very spatial reproduction and unbeatable long-term suitability. Those who value maximum functionality will probably prefer the Apple – unless they use an Android smartphone.
But in the end, its toughest competitor comes from the same maison: The Px8 is slightly superior to the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 despite its different sound character. However, the hefty surcharge with identical connectivity and quality impression mainly upgraded by the nappa leather applications leads to an identical overall rating due to a lower score in the price/performance ratio. It is admittedly the better pair of over-ear headphones. But whether it is the better buy in the end depends very much on one’s own budget and the will to shell out almost 300 Euros more for subtle differences in sound and finish.
Specifications Bowers & Wilkins Px8
- Retail price: 700 dollars/pounds/euros
- Type: Over Ear
- Transducer: Dynamic
- Weight: 314 g
- Special features: Noise-canceling, app control, carbon fiber diaphragm
- More at: bowerswilkins.com.