Launched is September 2019, the Bowers & Wilkins PX5 and designed to deliver both performance and portability. There's adaptive noise cancellation onboard these on-ears, which offer a more lightweight design compared to the brand's flagship PX7s. They're not cheap, but they are pretty. Here's our full review.
- Superb build quality
- Low latency Hi-Res Audio
- Great battery life
- Noise cancellation could be better
- Some discomfort if worn for long periods
- Quite expensive
Bowers & Wilkins PX5 release date and price
Bowers & Wilkins is a British brand name that, for most consumers, will signal high quality. As a result, the PX5 headphones are not what you would call affordable. Priced at $299.99, these on-ears are almost competing with the top ANC headphones from Bose, Sony, and Sennheiser. You can already find them for $250 at some retailers, so keep your eyes peeled for deals on these.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX5 come in two colors: Space Grey and Blue. Only the fabric on the headband and around the earcups changes color. I tested the Space Grey version, which is the color variant I would go for if I was dropping 300 bucks on a pair.
Premium B&W design
Compared to the PX7 headphones, the PX5s have been designed with portability in mind. They're essentially commuter headphones and are less bulky than the flagship ANC superstars we see on the market today. That's not to say that these are flimsy or lightweight, quite the opposite. The on-ear design means that rather than envelope your ears completely, the earcups are designed to sit on top of your ears, whilst still providing some natural sound insulation.
The result is a successful one. The PX5s are a happy medium between big over-ear headphones and the more commuter-friendly earbuds. They're also comfortable to wear, at least for commuting distances. I also wore the PX5s constantly during two five-hour flights during my review period and did start to feel the headband giving me a little irritation on the top of my head. It wasn't a major issue, but you can feel it. At 241 grams, the PX5 headphones are reassuringly weighty, but there are advantages to this too.
The build quality is, as you might expect from B&W, first class. Everything about the headphones feels premium. The fabric-covered housing allows you to easily navigate to the buttons with your fingers when you are wearing them, and the sliding arms for adjusting the headband are rock solid. At no point did I worry that they were going to move after I had adjusted them to my head.
On the right earcup, you have a slider switch that acts as both a power button and a trigger for launching Bluetooth pairing mode, as well as a multi-function button sandwiched between the volume up and down switches. On the left earcup, you have a single button for adjusting the level of noise cancellation. There's also a USB-C port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can use the PX5s when the battery is dead. There are six mics in these headphones, four for noise cancellation and two for making phone calls.
The headphones come in a soft carry case with pockets for your 3.5mm and USB-C cables. It's not the most protective of carry cases, but it is very lightweight.
Disappointing noise cancellation
The Bowers & Wilkins PX5 are packed with audio technology for playback and adaptive noise cancellation. It's the latter, however, that is the biggest disappointment of the headphones. You can choose between several modes (off, low, high, and auto) but to be honest, anything other than high is ineffective. Even on the highest mode, the noise cancelation is weak compared to the competition. It's enough to filter out a lot of what you encounter on a busy subway or bus, but compared to the best in this field, it's weak. Even my Soundcore Life 2 headphones, which retail at about $89.99, have better ANC than the PX5s.
There's also an Ambient Pass-Through feature which, when ANC is turned off, can eliminate the natural noise-canceling provided by the padded earcups and allows you to hear the world around you as if you weren't wearing headphones. This feature works very well. A Wear-Detection Sensor automatically stops playback when you take the headphones off and then resumes when you pop them on. During my tests, it worked fine. I like this feature. Anytime a manufacturer can remove the need for a button press is a win for me.
Sound that's good enough for Abbey Road
The Bowers & Wilkins feature Bluetooth 5.0 with Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive technology. The aptX stuff means you get very low latency Hi-Res audio from the PX5s, and the Bluetooth standard means the connection to your playback device remains stable.
Sound is delivered by custom-designed 35.6mm drivers which the manufacturers says have been designed and tuned by the same team behind its 800 Diamond Series speakers used in Abbey Road Studios. The sound quality of the PX5s is excellent. Expect a very balanced sound profile, that's particularly good at picking out the detail in audio tracks.
Leonard Cohen's new record, Thanks for the Dance, sounded particularly natural and hi-fi. The soft finger-picked guitar and Cohen's low, tortured voice were reproduced with superb accuracy. The PX5s can also handle a more high octane sound, such as John Dwyer's crashing guitar entrance a minute into Oh See's Nite Expo. Bass reproduction is also very accurate. Drum and Bass or Dubstep fans might want to go for something with a bit more oomph in the low end though.
For making phone calls, Clear Voice Communication v2 technology keeps everything nice and clean. The quality of the audio for calls was absolutely fine during my tests. My gut tells me that people don't really spend $300 on headphones for making phone calls in 2019 though. Correct me if I am wrong.
Great battery life
Bowers & Wilkins say that the PX5s can provide up to 25 hours of audio playback on a single charge. I was expecting the noise cancellation to have a big impact on this, but it didn't during my testing period. Given that I had the ANC on the highest setting permanently - as I imagine anyone interested in drowning out ambient noise will be forced to do when wearing these - I was pleasantly surprised to find that after around 20 hours of listening to music and podcasts I still had 25 percent of battery left. Even if you use them every day on your way to and from work, you'll only have to charge them once every two weeks if you make a one-hour journey each way. There's also quick charging support, with the ability to gain five hours of playback from just 15 minutes of charging.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX5s are an excellent pair of headphones for someone who just wants to listen to music and podcast on their commute without the noisy hustle and bustle. The weak noise cancellation prevents you from achieving something close to full tranquility and emersion in the audio, but there are practical features that negate some of the downsides, such as the clever Wear-Detection Sensor that makes pausing audio for quick interactions completely painless.
Ultimately, it's the price that might put people off buying a pair of these, but don't underestimate the audio quality you are paying for. With headphones and sound quality, in particular, it's always very subjective when choosing which sound best, but the B&W PX5s are beautifully balanced in this audio department.
Would I recommend the PX5s? If you've got the cash and practicality and sound quality is more important to you than complete noise cancelation, then yes. If you are looking to really escape from the hectic world around you, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are available for around the same money if you shop around and do a much better job with ANC.