Bowers & Wilkins P3 Portable Headphone/Headset

Standard Setting Design
I'm simply in love with the design of the new B&W P3 ($199), it's what a Koss Porta Pro wished it could look like. Simple stainless wire becomes a brilliant sweeping pair of stays acting as sliders at the headband and the single gimbal point at the earpiece. Rubberized earpieces and headband exteriors feel soft and sturdy simultaneously, and a handsomely patterned medium gray with hint of brown fabric covers the headband and earpads. The oval metal outer earpiece serves as a focal point for the Bowers & Wilkins logo, and it's gleaming beveled edge sets off a marvelous design resonance with the stainless sliders and chrome trim on the earpiece. Soft rectangles, ovals, and an arch become a breathtakingly elegant headphone design. Yes, I think they're that good looking.

The build quality is also stupendously good. The synthetic parts are soft and well placed as bumpers for protection when setting the P3 down on a surface. The only thing close to a rattle is the free movement of the earpiece on the gimbal, which is needed for comfort, otherwise the P3 feel both extremely solid and remarkably light weight. This is no easy task, and comes with the added benefit of great wearability.

The extremely light weight and precise ability to hold its shape, coupled with just the right amount of friction from the pad material, makes these cans a joy to wear for me. Because they're so light and small they take a little effort to carefully place on your ears, but once positioned they stay put quite well even during moderate activity like sweeping and picking-up. The earpieces don't swivel at all and I was initially concerned they might not align well with my ears, but this didn't seem to be a problem for me, I found the fit to be properly aligned and comfortable. The nicely breathable fabric pads also remain fairly cool relative to most other on-ear headphones.

BowersWilkins_P3_Photo_earpiecesThe earpads are magnetically attached to the earpieces, and when removed reveal a very trick connector and cable guide that permits easy cable swapping and dandy cable strain relief. Two cables are included, one plain and one with Apple remote and mike. Both cables are four feet long and terminated with a straight bodied 1/8 inch mini-plug.

I hear quite a few complaints among headphone enthusiasts about thin cables on headphones these days and feel this sentiment is misguided. Thin cable generally has less mechanical noise to interfere with the microphone during calls. Many of the thin cables on headphones these days are designed to prevent tangling, and slender cables pack away in less space. Simply because a cable is thin does not mean it's of poor quality or durability.

Unlike the B&W P5, the P3 doesn't isolate very well from outside noise and would make for pretty poor listening in a busy urban landscape. They will slightly quiet home and office environments, and the modest isolation may work to your advantage in suburbia where remaining aware of your surroundings may keep you safer as you walk around.

The B&W P3 earpieces fold inward for storage, and a hard plastic clam-shell case is included with purchase.

So far, so far.

Bowers & Wilkins
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA
(978) 664 2870

Phos's picture

A tighter seal usually results in more low frequency response, so I don't think that's the cause, so I suppose it'd either be the foam or the greater distance. I can't help but wonder about somehow coating or covering the operational part of the foam to reduce its absorption.

AaronJAnderson's picture

I heard these for the first time last night. I think this review is pretty spot-on. I LOVED the way they looked and there are supremely built.... But they kind of sound like beats by dre. :(

Username's picture

happy to see this review sad to read it :(

dalethorn's picture

Here's hoping that the increasing number of exclusives the Apple store has on these models is purely coincidental to the muffled sound.

stereopaul511's picture

I considered purchasing these. I wanted to wait for your review of the BlueAnt Embrace. Found them at Amazon for $99. Boy am I glad I purchased the Embrace! To my novice ears they sound great!

ultrabike's picture

While I think the P5 is very comfortable, I did not like it's sound that much. I found it too warm (specially at it's price point). From your review and measurements I can get an idea of how the P3s would sound, and more than likely would not be my cup of tea.

However, I found very interesting contrasting your review to Steve Guttenberg's one. Regarding the P5 I bluntly agree with your P5 impressions, but I cannot say I agree with Steve at all. When I heard the P5s I did not think their "soundstage depth brings out the best in the music..." among other things. To each it's own I guess.

I also noted your PortaPro comment. They are indeed not at the level of the P5 in looks and comfort... but that's where the buck stops in that comparison. Incredible sound for the price in my experience.

dalethorn's picture

Using the P3 on a laptop with the Audioengine D1 DAC/headphone amp, with Foobar2000 and a treble boost equivalent to the iTunes setting, it can actually sound very detailed, warm, and satisfying. But used on a ipod or iphone by itself (which apparently it was intended for) the treble boost doesn't help enough - it's still a bit murky.

Beagle's picture

I find it odd that there seems to be a trend among headphone manufacturers where they design and release headphones backwards. That is, for example, instead of issuing the P3 and P5 simultaneously (or the P3 first), they issue the better sounding can first, then follow up with something inferior (albeit cheaper). Witness also the HD700 after the HD800.

I (circa 1990) recall getting the Yamaha YHD-3 at $59, yet the YHD-2 and YHD-1 were also available for $79 and $99 respectively. I got the YHD-3 'cause it was what I could afford, but I had the option of waiting and saving up for the others, which I eventually did.

friedduck's picture

I actually preferred the design of these to the P5 and felt that they were more comfortable. Back-to-back, though, the sound wasn't close to the P5. Funny that I felt that the low end was muddy, or kind of one-dimensional, next to the P5s. 

Christo's picture

Have been looking for a set of travel 'phones to complement my old Sennheiser HD580s at home. Was leaning towards the original Momentum on-ears that are currently on run-out but ended up getting a good price on the P3s (P5s and original Momentum over-ears sounded great but don't fold and were out of my price-range).

OK, so first impressions were similar - not promising. Direct from an iPhone 5 the treble seemed muffled, the bass over-blown and not that well controlled. Normally avoid using any EQ but, as noted elsewhere, they do sound fine with the Treble Boost EQ setting and I was prepared to live with that given the design and price met my requirements.

BUT after only a few hours of burn-in with pink noise (17 so far) I can report that the bass is now way tighter and better quality, the highs more natural sounding and sweet and better balanced relative to the rest of the spectrum. Overall very noticeable improvement in SQ, and no EQ required.

Sure they're not 'high end' headphones but for their intended purpose they're fantastic and can really swing. Can't wait to hear whether another 30-odd hours of burn-in improves the experience.

Makes me wonder - was the review sample was burned-in?