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Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition Headphones (Gear Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Performance
Design/Ergonomics
Value
Overall

 

I have listened to a series of Bowers & Wilkins headphones and earphones and, during the past five years, I have regularly used the B&W P5 Series 2 headphones for some of my private-listening sessions. The P5 Series 2 were comfortable to wear for extended periods of time and my only quibble was that, as on-ears headphones, they did not keep out environmental noises when I went out for my daily run.

2020 marked the tenth anniversary of B&W’s entry into the headphone market with its P5 model, and their top-of-the-line PX7 wireless circumaural ‘phones were introduced in 2019. This year’s anniversary model, the PX7 Carbon Edition are black beauties with cool black “ID” plates exuding class. After freeing them from their fashionable grey carrying case, I was definitely anxious to check out these new headphones.

Becoming acquainted with the PX7 Carbon Edition

The PX7 Carbon Edition has the same specifications as the current PX7 model, offering True Sound with its proprietary 43.6 mm drivers. The headband and earcup-supporting arms are made from a carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer that is light and nonresonant. The Carbon Edition supports most Bluetooth codecs as well as aptX Adaptive technology that can transfer music at 48kHz/24-bit resolution. Wired listening is also possible using the 1.2-meter 3.5 mini-plug cable and USB cables included with the PX7 Carbon Edition.

The ear pads employ memory foam for passive noise isolation. Active noise cancellation (ANC) can be adjusted via a button on the left ear cup for high, low, auto and off modes depending on the external environment (a pleasant voice informs you when you switch mode). It should be noted that the “R” and “L” ear cups are labeled on the inside rather than the outside but it is easy to tell which is which by the array of buttons and ports. The right ear cup has the USB-C charging port, a power on/off-Bluetooth connection button and three buttons for volume, pause, and phone connection. I did find these buttons a bit awkward to navigate at first while wearing the ‘phones. A smartphone app makes their use a bit easier with several optional sound environments, enables the ‘phones’ quick setup and engages an ambient-pass-through mode, a safety feature that selectively allows some external sounds to be heard while still wearing the headset. Proximity sensors are located in each ear cup that pause the music when either one is lifted. There is push-button access to Voice Assistant Support via Siri or Google Assistant. With ANC activated, the battery is good for up to 30 hours on a single charge using the supplied 1.2 meter USB-A to USB-C cable. Once the battery is completely drained, a 15-minute quick charge will give you five more hours of listening.

Checking out the Carbon

While the PX7 Carbon Edition sounded pretty darn good right out of the box, I know that dynamic transducers need some break-in time, so I exposed them to about 50 hours of music before diving into this review. This resulted in better tonal balance and a deeper soundstage in virtually all of the selections in my playlist. Sound sources were an Apple iPhone 10X and a MacBook Pro 16-inch (the latter equipped with the Audirvana app version 3.5.42); both sources were auditioned in wireless and wired modes. The wired-only source was an Astell & Kern AK240 portable digital player as it was not compatible with the PX7’s newer Bluetooth profile version. All critical listening sessions were performed indoors with noise-cancellation turned off.

I started with my iPhone and one of my reliable go-to cuts from Esmeralda Spalding’s breakthrough album, Chamber Music Society a 44.1kHz/16-bit FLAC download of “Inutil Paisagem” where Lady E and Gretchen Parlato, exchange English and Portuguese lyrics with absolute clarity over an ample acoustic bass. Another 44.1kHz/16-bit FLAC file from If Dreams Come True, features Ann Savoy’s bouncy take on “The Very Thought of You” and had me tapping my toes in time with the drummer. Not surprisingly, listening to these two selections in hardwired mode provided virtually identical sound.

Most smartphone users will want to pack their little players with as many files as possible in highly compressed mp3 files at 128-kbps sampling rates. Many such listeners will probably be satisfied with the sound issuing from the plastic earbuds that came with these devices.  Hooking up the PX7 CE readily exposes the shortcomings of this format (although these ‘phones did make them at least listenable). Moving up to a 320-kbps download of Robbie Robertson’s “Somewhere Down a Crazy River” revealed a rather remarkable soundstage, great drums, and RR’s characteristic husky vocals.

Next, I went to my MacBook Pro 16 and to a bunch of higher resolution files like Diana Krall’s rendition of a Dylan classic “This Dream of You” (44.1kHz/24-bit). Her smoky voice was perfectly projected, and the sense of space was immersive while accompanying instruments were located with pinpoint precision. Jan Gunnar Hoff’s solo piano version of The Beach Boys’ hit “God Only Knows” (352.8kHz/24-bit) was an audio triumph in its clear presentation of chords, overtones, harmonics and studio echoes belying the fact that the Bluetooth aptX limits the resolution to 48kHz/24-bit. Wired listening made the higher resolution files sound even better, as would be expected, but I never felt shortchanged in the wireless mode.

Concluding with the Astell&Kern AK240, granted in a wired mode, allowed me to check out some fine .dsf files like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Jacintha and Jeremy Monteiro’s rendition of “A Song for You,” and Pink Floyd’s “Money.” My reaction to these cuts as rendered by the PX7 Carbon Edition headphones was simply—WOW!—details abounded and bass was potent but very well-articulated.

I compared these new headphones to my trusty P5 Series 2. While the latter headphones are no slouch, they were clearly outpointed in all aspects of sound reproduction. The most obvious differences between the two headphones were apparent in soundstage breadth and depth, clarity of deep bass, and flawless balance across the acoustic spectrum. All of these properties were slightly degraded when noise cancellation was in the “high” mode but to a lesser degree in “low” or “auto” modes. This is due to the signal processing that involves small microphones in each ear cup and the digital reconstruction of the musical impulses. Even at the high ANC setting, noise abatement is not absolute, but it will surely make an airplane cabin quiet enough to enjoy my music if I ever decide to take another flight after the pandemic is over.

Final Impression

Every Bowers & Wilkins headphones that I have reviewed–the Carbon Edition being the fourth–showed fuller and better balanced sound with each successive generation. While my reference Audeze headphones cost three times the price of the Carbon Edition, they are hardly portable, not as comfortable for extended listening and have no noise cancellation. Priced at $100 more than the P5 Series 2, I can state that at $399.99, the PX7 Carbon Edition are an excellent return on investment. Highly recommended.

Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition will be available for an MSRP of $399.99

More information: https://www.bowerswilkins.com


Specifications 

Features

  • Adaptive Noise Cancellation
  • Ambient Pass-Through
  • Wear-Detection Sensor
  • Bluetooth® audio – Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX™ Adaptive
  • USB-C charging & audio interface
  • 3.5mm auxiliary audio interface

Drive units

  • 2 x ø 43.6mm full range

Microphones

  • 4x mics for ANC
  • 2x mics for telephony (CVC2 – Clear Voice Communication v2)

Frequency range

  • 10Hz to 30kHz

Harmonic distortion

  • <0.3% (1kHz/10mW)

Input impedance

  • 20 kOhms

Battery type

  • Rechargeable Lithium Polymer

Battery life

  • 30 hrs Bluetooth with ANC
  • 5hrs with 15min charge

Inputs

  • Bluetooth
  • 3.5mm stereo jack
  • USB-C audio

Accessories

  • 1.2m stereo audio cable
  • 1.2m USB-A to USB-C cable
  • Storage Case

Bluetooth codecs

  • aptX™ Adaptive
  • aptX™ HD
  • aptX™ Classic
  • AAC
  • SBC

Bluetooth profiles

  • A2DP v1.3.1
  • AVRCP v1.6.1
  • HFP v1.7.1
  • HSP v1.2
  • BLE GATT (Generic Attribute Profile)

Weight

  • 310g (0.7lb)

Finishes

  • Carbon Edition

Pros:

• Comfortable
• Incredible presentation of deep bass
• Wide dynamic range
• Good detail recovery
• Superior build quality

Cons:

• Exposes the deficiencies of mp3 files
• Control buttons on the right ear cup are a little awkward to navigate
• Noise-cancellation modes can affect the sound


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