Saturday, 20 August 2022 12:30

REVIEW: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 - impressive wireless headphones Featured

Written by

Speaker veteran Bowers & Wilkins has previously surprised with the sound from the totally wireless ANC models PI7. This time, there are brand new top models in regular over ear headphones without cables to be examined. And the Expectations are high.

On June 8, Bowers & Wilkins held a digital press conference, where we learned in advance that new wireless headphones were on the menu. It would turn out that there are actually two models, but it was only one of them that we got significant concrete information about, and also allowed to write about. The PX7 S2 is the model that replaces what until now has been B&W's top model of wireless ANC headphones, and which we have now had in for a review. We only got the name and European price of the second model, and this suggests that the PX8 will be new flagship models that exceed the price of Bang & Olufsen's Premium models.

A bit of B&W history

Before we fully immerse ourselves in the B&W PX7 S2, it's nice  to have a look at where they come from. When  Sound United bought Bowers & Wilkins  two years ago, it was 54 years since John Bowers started the English company on the south coast of England, which has been in the top echelon of loudspeaker production in everything from budget models to restige HighEnd constrictions. And in 2009, Bowers & Wilkins launched their very first headphones, the P5, a model adapted to Apple's iPod.

The more expensive model P7 came in 2013, and at about the same time that Apple announced that they would skip analogue 3.5mm outputs from their iPhone models, the P7 came in a wireless version. Five years ago, B&W introduced its first wireless bluetooth model in the PX series, and has since been replaced by two new models. And now also the PX7 S2.

2019 seemed to be the year when Bowers & Wilkins really took seriously the fact that wireless audio is an important part of the future, and had a major breakthrough in the wireless sector. In addition to the fresh investment in B&W's brand new Formation series, offering HighEnd wireless multiroom audio components that could scare the crap out of any of the competitors, they launched both the two new wireless head phones PX5 and PX7. But also the wireless In-ear models PI3 and PI4, which are of the concept with a hoop at the back. The latter were last year replaced by the PI5 and the top model PI7, which we tested with such good results that it went straight to the top tier in the wireless earpods.

B&W PX7 S2

And now it is the former top model of wireless Over-Ear headphones that has received an heir. It has so many similarities with the first generation PX7 that it is quite possible to see where they come from. But even if the apple didn't fall very far from the trunk, there is no question of a vertical movement either. Had Isaac Newton sat under that tree, there would hardly have been any discovery of gravity that day. For the design approach that makes this really a completely different product from its predecessor. And then there is a wide range of technical improvements that i makes Bowers and Wilkins express high expectations for the performance and the response in the market.

The terrain

With a price tag of NOK 4,190, there is no doubt that we are in the premium segment of ANC headphones, but at the same time no further than that we have still maintained a competitive price in what gradually appears to be a somewhat tight market. Manufacturers such as Bose, Sony, Sennheiser and Bang & Olufsen have all lmarked territory in this segment. And eventually Apple also launched their AirPods Max, which established itself in its own price segment.

And so it is tempting to divide this segment into two main categories. We have those who are obviously trying to be world champions in noise cancellation, and at the same time have good sound. And then we have those who pretend to try to be the world champion in good sound among wireless headphones while at the same time trying to get ever better noise cancellation.

Hardly anyone doubts where Sony belongs with their WH-1000XM5. Or Bose, with their NC 700, and with the QC45 which we have in for a review at the same time as the PX7 S2. AirPods Max may be trying to obtain bothm tasks, and there are some who brag uninhibitedly about both the noise cancellation and the sound, while others are a little more dubious about the latter exercise. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 is also a candidate that is sailing up these days, and which for the time being has to settle for having a somewhat unclear status.

Bang & Olufsen, on the other hand, is a manufacturer that has received a high star in the sound and design exercises, although they have not been close to noise cancellation. The same applies to the Huawei FreeBuds Studio, which have a very good sound and a nice design, even if the material quality is very far from B&O level. And also far below the B&W PX7 S2

Design and finish

B&W stands out very clearly from the crowd with their PX7 S2. They have an elegance that both Sony, Bose and Sennheiser miss. The PX7 S2 oozes quality and a premium feel. They are also a very clear advance compared to the design of the predecessor PX7, even if some of the design elements are recognizable. There are also some features here that can be recognized from B&O's design philosophy. I am thinking primarily of the hoops that form the swiveling transition to the ear cups.

The use of materials is also distinctly premium, and helps to lift the impression of the PX7 S2. What nevertheless distinguishes the B&W model from Bang & Olufsen's Premium models is that there is more use of natural materials on the Beoplay models, while Bowers & Wilkins mostly uses high-quality synthetic materials. The braces, which can look like they are made of lacquered aluminium, are produced in a composite material, while the underside of the brace and the memory foam in the cushions are covered with synthetic leather. These are good balances, and take care of function, comfort and elegance in a very good way. Overall, the PX7 S2 outperforms the vast majority of competitors by a very wide margin in this exercise. The only ones who can threaten them at the top of the podium in the design and finish exercise are Bang & Olufsen. And in a way Apple, if you like this slightly special design.

The PX7 S2 comes in three different colours, and the review sample is in light grey. This is perhaps the most elegant colour, and at the same time a color that makes slightly greater demands on care in treatment so that they do not deteriorate over time. Incidentally, this color gave me extra strong associations with Beoplay Portal , which also had a similar premium feel and almost the same color. The black ones are probably the safest in relation to a robust color for boys, but at the same time it is difficult to avoid being fascinated by the blue models, which differ from most, and which have an extra indefinable elegance at the same time they are not as vulnerable as the light gray ones.

Hard-Case

The PX7 S2 comes with a very robust hard case with an external surface in the same color and fabric as the top of the headband and parts of the ear cups. It helps to reinforce the premium feeling in addition to providing good and robust protection. And that feeling does not diminish when you open the lid, because here all surfaces are covered with a silky soft fabric that gives a very exclusive feeling. Inside the area that sits on the inside of the headband is a storage compartment with a lid with a magnetic lock. Here there is room for the two cables that are also located here from the start. We will return to these cables in the section of connections.

Since the headphones are not foldable, the case must necessarily be quite large. I prefer this to a foldable solution for the headphones, which I feel weakens the premium feel.

Comfort

I haven't tried the previous generation PX7 myself, but they received some criticism for having too high clamping force. B&W has taken an active approach to this, and the PX7 S2 is experienced as perfectly reasonable in that respect. True, they are firm, but not too much. The first two days I experienced a bit more clamping force, but it seems that they loosened up the grip a bit over time, and eventually became quite comfortable.

The fit is also very good for my ears, and they are large enough so that the ear does not come into conflict with the edges of the ear cushion. This memory foam in combination with synthetic leather feels very soft and comfortable, contributes to good wearing comfort.

The weight is just over 300 grams. This is around 50 grams more than the very lightest, but does not reduce comfort. Bowers & Wilkins states that they have had a conscious relationship with the fact that they did not want low weight to come at the expense of strength and a sense of quality, which can easily happen if you are hunting for the last few grams.

Menu and handling

One of the first things that happened after I put the PX7 S2 in pairing mode was that B&W's Music app popped up on my iPhone. Installation was extremely easy and painless, and I was immediately introduced to the fact that this is the first time the Music App is being used for wireless headphones. This is an app I got to know well in my review of B&W Zeppelin, and now it is also available for the first wireless headphones.

This also provides better setting options than what is offered in B&W's Headphone app, including adjustment of treble and bass +- 6dB. You also get a connection control over the devices that are connected, because the TX7 S2 fortunately has Multipoint Connection

You may also choose whether you want the headphones to automatically turn off when they no longer receive a signal, and I chose to keep that enabled. There is also a Wear Detection which can be switched on or off, and which has three different sensitivities. I found that they came off a little too easily without being taken off, and chose to have it disabled. This is a known challenge from the past, and will hopefully be changed in the next software update.

Daily management takes place via four buttons on the right earcup, and one button on the left. The layout of these is quite classic, and you have volume up and down with a multifunction button in the middle which, among other things, starts and stops the music. Here, there is a good distance between each button, in addition to the fact that the one in the middle has a tactile marking with a grooved surface. The top button is an on/off button, which also activates pairing mode when you stretch it spring-loaded upwards.

The button on the left ear cup switches between ANC off / on / presence. You may also reprogram it to control the voice assistant, but I consider that less relevant for my use. On the other hand, I would have liked an option to define a certain value that ANC enters as default when the headphones are switched on.

Drivers

The drivers in the PX7 S2 are completely newly developed compared to the drivers in 1. gen PX7. They are slightly smaller, with a diameter reduced from 43 to 40mm. But B&W promises that they are significantly improved. The membrane consists of biocellulose and resin to provide improved stiffness. The manufacturer says this is a speaker material, with a maximized radiation range to provide maximum sound pressure with little distortion.

The drivers are angled 15.4 degrees backwards to provide an improved stereo image. This is a very positive move, and probably contributes significantly to the listening experience, which we will return to later. This principle was also used in the first generation of the PX7, but the design of the housing on that model gave great limitations, and the angle was therefore much slacker. On the S2, this is greatly optimized.

Connections

We start with Bluetooth, which is the latest version – Bluetooth 5.2. There is a lot of conflicting information about this online, because while the manufacturer states 5.2, there are a number of other sources that state 5.0. Therefore, I received confirmation from the manufacturer that it is 5.2 that is correct.

Supported codecs are SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive.

USB connection for audio

As I mentioned in the section about the case, it comes with two cables. And here we have a not insignificant surprise, because the one cable which is a USB C to USB C cable cannot only be used for charging. It may also be used for wired transmission of sound from PC/MAC. Or perhaps at least as relevant from an Android mobile. Playback from a Windows laptop was painless, while I initially had challenges with a stable connection from a Samsung S10. The solution was to deny that the sound should go through USB Audio Player PRO, which usually handles sound out via USB on my Samsung - it is clearly the one causing the challenges. As long as I did not activate USB Audio Player PRO, it worked perfectly with playback of audio via USB-C also from the Samsung S10.

The other cable is a rather special cable – a 3.5mm analogue mini-Jack to digital USB-C at the other end. And which contains an AD converter somewhere along the way, probably in the USB-C connector. Or " a normal cable ", as some also call it... (sorry - I couldn't resist). This is a solution that is somewhat similar to what is found in Apple's AirPods Max. The PX7 S2 and AirPods Max have in common that they do not have an 3.5mm analog input. Where these two headphones differ is that with the PX7 S2 you get a special cable for transmission from analogue sources included in the purchase, while with Apple you have to buy it separately. And so there is reason to remember that all sound that passes through this cable is converted to digital signals.

Dolby Atmos for Headphones

This USB connection also opens the way to using Dolby Atmos for Headphones. This requires an additional license for a very affordable sum. I launched this program on the PC, and with the PX7 S2 connected, this app found the headphone and configured the connection with Dolby Atmos for Headphones. In this Windows App you get a number of demo videos, and it is quite effective with Atmos for Headphones, although it can never be the same as the real thing . I was unsuccessful in getting an Atmos track played from the Windows Netflix app. It may have something to do with the Windows app for Netflix supports Dolby Atmos or not.

Audio Retransmission

And then we have come to one of the real treats, and which it seems that B&W in marketing has completely forgotten. Because when I reviewed the great B&W PI7 earbuds , a dark horse was the ability to use the charging case as a blue tooth transmitter from any source for the PI7, only this source is connected to the charging case. And the exotic part of this is that it can also be used in conjunction with another B&W headphone in the PX series, alone or simultanously with the PI7.

Of course, this also includes the PX7 S2, and listening to the PX7 via bluetooth from the PI7 charging case was a blast. It was tested with both a USB-C to USB-C cable from the source to the charging case, and with a 3.5mm analogue to USB-C. This provides an easy way to listen to any sound source with the PX7 S2 via bluetooth.

Battery life

The battery life of the PX7 S2 is stated at 30 hours with ANC. This is clearly above average, although there are models out there with even better battery life, like the new Sennheiser Momentum 4. And if you use the headphones without ANC, the battery life is significantly increased. I took a measurement over 12 hours by playing music on repeat. This resulted in a reduction in battery life that corresponds to more than 40 hours of battery life in total.

Charging time from flat to full battery is two hours, and with 15 minutes of charging, according to the manufacturer, it should provide 7 hours of use time.

ANC

Observant readers may have noticed that this noise cancellation thing is a topic I don't have the same enthusiasm for as other aspects of headphones. In practice, I may be just as concerned with a good and effective Awareness mode, but since the topic is important to many of the readers, I have decided to go a little deeper into the issue.

I have come up with a measurement method that may provide a reasonable comparison of different headphones for different noise environments. Relevant Youtube videos with playback of these noise environments provide the opportunity to register the difference in playback level on an AV receiver where the volume display is given in -dB.

The method was used for the first time on this review of the PX7 S2, but I want to gather a little more experience before publishing the numbers.

What I can still say is that the measurements show significantly more attenuation of aircraft cabin noise and office noise than of cafe noise.

What is perhaps less interesting is that this is a good result, witout being outstanding. And this is confirmed by practical use in the traffic to and from work in the center of Oslo. And the manufacturer states that the noise cancellation is clearly improved from predecessors. We still don't come up to the level of Sony and Bose here. And then Bowers & Wilkins is probably a manufacturer that is more concerned with music reproduction at a high level than with reducing noise.

Test track


The test track is played via Bluetooth with the codec AAC from an iPhone, without ANC (noise cancellation) and with flat tone controls. This is my usual test track, with a bunch of new entries towards the end of the track.

  1. Odin Staveland. Parade – Sillajass  16/44.1
    An intense rendition, which is not as brutal as it can often be. Slightly cautious treble, but still sufficiently forward

  2. Erik Friedlander. Bohemia After Dark – Oscalypso  16/44.1
    An emphasis on the deeper octaves in an otherwise great rendition. Good warmth in this particular recording with very precise room information.

  3. Nigel Kennedy. Vivaldi: The New Four Seasons: Summer: 8 Fear – Vivldi: The New Four Seasons. 16/44.1
    Nice warmth in the lyrical Vivaldi passages. And the Kennedy passages are not as unpleasant as they can be in many other contexts. But definitely something careful in the treble.

  4. Arild Andersen. Patch of Light – Hyperborean  16/44.1
    Warm and beautiful, but not as much detail in the brighter frequencies as some other setups.

  5. Arild Andersen. Hyperborean – Hyperborean  16/44.1
    Arild Andersen's bass is distinct. Paolo nicely reproduced, although others may reproduce a little more air.

  6. Frank Zappa. Rubber Shirt – Sheik Yerbouti  24/192
    Deep bass, and good dynamics.

  7. Frank Zappa. Debra Kadabra – Bongo Fury  24/192
    This track suits the PX7 S2 perfectly. What is often a slightly bothersome hardness is gone. And Beefheart's vocals are beautifully rendered.

  8. Frank Zappa. The Purple Lagoon – Zappa In New York  24/96
    This is also a very good rendition, with, among other things, good punch in the bass.

  9. Helene Grimaud. Silvestrov: Bagatelles I – XIII: Bagatelle I – Memory  24/96
    Strikingly good ending, and otherwise good piano sound with good warmth. Others reproduce even more sound, while the PX7 S2 focuses more on the music and the piano sound.

  10. Jan Garbarek. Mission: To Be Where I Am – It's OK To Listen To The Gray Voice  16/44.1
    Very nice sound in Garbarek's saxophone, in a melodic rendering.

  11. Jethro Tull. My God – Nothing is Easy  16/44.1
    Great rendition of Ian Anderson's vocals and acoustic guitar in the first two minutes. A bit harsh when the rock comp kicks in, but it's usually to an even greater extent on other setups as well.

  12. Jimi Hendrix. Red House – Hendrix In The West  16/44.1
    Rendering with nerve of this incredibly good interpretation of Red House. 

  13. John Abercrombie. Red And Orange – Timeless  24/192
    Distinct synth bass until the control is lost a bit, and it sounds a bit harsh. Abercrombie's guitar is great

  14. Joni Mitchell. Overture / Cotton Avenue – Don Juan`s Reckless Daughter  24/192
    Not as sharp sounding in the intro as often on this track. Jaco's bass excels. Cotton Avenue very good balance with warmth, which is very unusual on this track

  15. Kari Bremnes. Kanskje - Det Vi Har  24/48
    The bass in a bit of free dressage but still sufficiently distinct behind a magnificent rendering of Kari's vocals

  16. Kari Bremnes. Like før dagen går ned - Og så kom rexsten av livet.  24/48
    The bass is heavy, and that suits the song. Kari's vocals are often a challenge on this song, but here it is exquisite.

  17. Keith Jarrett. For Miles – Bye Bye Blackbird  16/44.1
    Surprisingly great rendition by both Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock. Keith Jarrett's piano well reproduced with a nice sound.

  18. Ketil Bjørnstad. Moren – Sunrise  24/96
    There is something extra heartfelt about the clarinet in the opening. Kari's vocals are good, with extra warmth.

  19. Ketil Bjørnstad. Sylvelines Hus – Berget Det Blå  16/44.1
    This is a real home track for PX7 S2. The usually sharp, thin timbre of this recording is well tamed.

  20. Leonard Cohen. Happens To The Heart – Thanks For The Dance  24/44.1
    Great and raspy vocals. And the content of the song is given extra emphasis by the PX7 S2.

  21. Leonard Cohen. The Story Of Isac – Songs From A Room  24/44.1
    Slightly overfocused bass with moderate control. Very good vocals.

  22. Lynni Tree cream. Sjalu type – Storm  16/44.1
    Raw, and very deep bass, which is well and precisely reproduced. Close-up of Lynni's vocals and vocal cords.

  23. Mary Boyne. Chasing Myself Into Reality – See The Woman  16/44.1
    Surprisingly good control in the bass. Good vocals.

  24. Beyonce. DONT HURT YOURSELF – LEMONADE  24/44.1
    Heavy hitting and a bit harsh. But not uncomfortable, as it can easily become on this track.

  25. Radka Toneff. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Fairytailes (Remaster 2022)  24/192
    Good reproduction on the PX7 S2, which surprisingly outperforms some wired competitors in playback of this track from my test of the Cayin RU6. But this time the test track has changed to the 2022 version, released 19.8.22

  26. SAH. Angermanlandsmorgon – Past Present Future  16/44.1
    The deepest bass notes are a bit demanding, but the PX7 S2 handles them well. Otherwise, great reproduction with nice reproduction up in the register

  27. Maria Joao – Mario laginha. Horn Please – Cor. 16/44.1
    Great traffic atmosphere!

  28. Wako. Piano - Live in Oslo. 24/96
    Very nice rendering, and the applause at the opening gives a spooky presence

  29. Billie Eilish. TV-Guitar Songs  24/88.2
    This is a very demanding track in the bass, and the PX7 S2 performes moderately well.

  30. Irmin Schmidt. Klavierstuck I – 5 Klavierstucke  24/44.1
    Nice sound, and good control and a lot of air in the deep piano strokes

  31. Chiaroscuro Quartet. String Quartet No. 1 - Allegro – Beethoven: String  Quartets  24/96
    Distinctly warm rendering. Melody-focused rendering of the quartet, not four individual strings. This track was originally included in the test playlist because of its precise reproduction, but here it is the whole and other qualities that dominate

  32. Melt Motif. Everything Will Disappear – A White Horse Will Take You Home  16/44.1
    Fascinating rendition of an equally fascinating track. Very nice contrast between Rakel Greve's vocals and the raw and bass-heavy Dance-characterized comp with a twist.

  33. Dominique Fils AIme. Birds - Nameless  24/88.2
    Impressive and distinct.

  34. Johannes Moser. Fratres - Alone Together  16/44.1
    Heartfelt and beautiful. Nice weight in the characteristic bass layers.

  35. Jennifer Warnes. Ballad of the Runaway Horse - Famous Bleu Raincoat  16/44.1
    Gorgeous and heartfelt rendition of Jennifer Warnes' vocals on this Cohen cover

  36. Rene Marie Bolero/Susanne - Live at Jazz Standard  16/44.1
    Splendidly warm and close rendition of this magical fusion of Maurice Ravel and Leonard Cohen

  37. Bob Dylan. Man in the Long Black Coat - Oh Mercy. 24/96
    Great rendition of one of Dylan's highlights. Powerful bass with good control.

  38. Finch. Trouble`s What You`re In - Wheels Turn Beneath My Feet  16/44.1
    Incredible micro dynamics

Summary of listening impressions

At the outset, I would like to mention that I experienced an atypically large change in the sound from the PX7 S2 during the first few days. That is to say, in my opinion, the PX7 S2 needs a good break-in period before it performs at its very best.

After I had been through the test track I discovered that the ANC had been set to Pass Through instead of Off , and although I immensely appreciate Pass Through as a practical mode out in traffic, it is not a mode I want to implement a test track in. And the result was that I had to play through the test track again, and on some of the tracks there were some critical remarks that had to be corrected with ANC set to Off. This is a useful illustration of turning off ANC completely when attempting critical listening with the PX7 S2, and on the vast majority of other ANC headphones.

We start in the bass, and here I experience a bass which is both very deep and which has an extra emphasize. I don't experience it as pure neutral - to achieve that the bass can be lowered 2-3 dB, or even more in the EQ-setting. But at the same time, you lose some of the fun of these headphones if you do so. The fact is that in addition to the test track in Qobuz that is presented here, I made a playlist in TIDAL with 55 tracks, which were handpicked for playback on the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2, precisely because of the bass characteristics.

The midrange is perhaps the real highlight of the PX7. Because in addition to the fact that these headphones have an engaging bass that makes it extra fun to listen to a lot of music with them, the PX7 S2 has an extra warmth in the midrange that makes it a great body in the reproduction of both male and female vocals. String instruments also benefit from the mid tones of these headphones from B&W, which is easily recognized in the comments on many of the tracks on the test track.

The treble is a little cautious, but no more than that it stands out with fine detail on most of the tracks in the test track, and on the countless listening sessions I've been through otherwise with the PX7 S2. Some might prefere to lift the treble a dB or two, but I don`t. I enjoy the total sound personality of the PX7 S2 as it is, with not EQ adjustments.

But perhaps it is the perspective properties that are the real winning element in these headphones. And here it is reasonable to suspect that it is the relatively strong angling of the drivers that should take credit for it.

Looking back at the section on Terrain, there is no doubt to which category the PX7 S2 belongs. This is a headphone where the sound and music comes first, and I don't know of any models that surpass these headphones in terms of soundreproduction, without being significantly more expensive at the same time. In contrast, there are models with even better noise cancellation.

Conclusion

With the PX7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins have produced a winning set of headphones. It's not ANC headphones that can enter a competition to be the very best noise canceling headphones out there, because Sony and Bose are hard to beat in that exercise. But B&W has every reason to have a straight back in most other exercises. Comfort, design and premium feel are very strong cards for the PX7 S2, as is battery life, which is more than 40 hours if you turn off ANC. On one of the competitors, you can't even turn off ANC.

But the most important winning feature of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 is the sound quality. It surpasses the Bose QC45 by a huge margin, and is also in excess of what Bang & Olufsen's Premium models at just over a thousand pounds more can perform. The PX7 S2 has proven to be one of the very best wireless headphones with ANC on the market!

 

Recommended price for Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 is NOK NOK 4,198

Read more about the PX7 S2 at the Norwegian retailer HiFi Klubben

Read more about the PX7 S2 at Bowers & Wilkins

You may read this review in Norwegian here

Read 995 times Last modified on Sunday, 21 August 2022 09:12
Karl Erik Sylthe

Redaktør i Audiophile.no

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.