A wor­thy pair of head­phones to com­mem­o­rate B&W’s 50th birth­day

Fifty years is a mile­stone that de­serves cel­e­brat­ing. A time to re­flect on what has been, and what’s yet to come.

SmartHouse - - REVIEW - Writ­ten by What Hi-Fi

While most do that with cake and a glass or two, Bow­ers & Wilkins has done it with a brand new pair of head­phones. And a pretty spe­cial pair at that.

The B&W P9 Sig­na­ture head­phones are B&W’s new flag­ship over-ears, and they mark the com­pany’s 50th an­niver­sary by don­ning the Sig­na­ture brand­ing, like the Sig­na­ture Di­a­mond and the Sig­na­ture 30 speak­ers be­fore them.

They also take on board ev­ery­thing the com­pany has learnt about head­phones in the past seven years, since the launch of the first B&W P5s, with ev­ery part of the P9’s cus­tom made and built from scratch.

That’s not to say they haven’t been in­spired by else­where in B&W’s long his­tory though.

In fact, en­gi­neered by the same team re­spon­si­ble for the high-end 800 Series D3 loud­speaker, they are a pretty strong nod to their her­itage.

Be­fore we get to that though, let’s start with their colour.

To make them stand out from the more mod­ern black and chrome of the P range past and present, B&W has opted for a rather retro brown for the P9s. Very 1970s hi-fi.

The leather is slightly dif­fer­ent too. There’s stur­dier Saf­fi­ano leather on the outer earcups and head­band, along­side softer leather on the earpads and head­band cush­ion. The head­band sits on top of mem­ory foam, much like the P7 Wire­less.

They’re fairly com­fort­able, though those with smaller heads may find the ear cups don’t have the range of move­ment to al­low the earpads to seal prop­erly.

Also, they do have a ten­dency to make your ears a lit­tle warm over long pe­ri­ods of lis­ten­ing. The chrome ac­cents on the arms and head­band have also been re­placed with thicker, stur­dier brushed alu­minium, de­cou­pled from the earcups to pre­vent un­wanted vi­bra­tions af­fect­ing the sound – think­ing the P9s bor­rowed from B&W’s speak­ers.

In­side, the brand new 40mm drive units have been an­gled in­wards slightly to cre­ate a more di­rect and nat­u­ral lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The driver sus­pen­sion is also more like that in a tra­di­tional speaker than a pair of head­phones, al­low­ing for freer driver move­ment in an ef­fort to de­liver bet­ter fre­quency re­sponse.

Despite their more premium price tag usu­ally be­ing associated with at home head­phones, the P9 Sig­na­tures feel like they’ve been built with out-and-about in mind.

For a start, the arms fold in for a more por­ta­ble shape, and their closed back de­sign means they won’t leak sound to nearby com­muters or col­leagues.

Sim­i­larly, their mem­ory foam earpads do a great job of muf­fling out­side noise as well, with­out the need for noise can­celling, and they’re sen­si­tive enough that you don’t need to have your phone vol­ume at full whack in or­der to hear them.

More of a hint is the ca­bles they come with. The one that comes fit­ted is the in­line re­mote and mi­cro­phone cable for use with phones. But you’ll also find a plain cable and a 5m op­tion for us­ing at home with the in­cluded 6.3mm adapter.

Lacking a head­phone jack on your de­vice? Ap­ple iPhone 7 users will be able to re­quest a Light­ning cable for free from early next year, with later batches in­clud­ing a Light­ning cable in the box.

A pretty flex­i­ble pair of head­phones then, but it’s in the per­for­mance that you’ll re­ally hear where your money has been spent.

You’ll want to give these a good run in to get the best from them. Ours were still im­prov­ing 50 hours in – be­fore that you cer­tainly won’t be hear­ing what they’re re­ally ca­pa­ble of dy­nam­i­cally and rhyth­mi­cally.

Give them time to stretch their legs, and the wait is worth it. They’re head and shoulders above what B&W has pro­duced from its head­phone range to date. And that’s from a range we’ve given five stars to across the board.

Of course, their price tag is more than dou­ble that of the pre­vi­ous flag­ship cans, so it’s to be ex­pected that these de­liver the im­prove­ments that they do.

There’s a real sense of space here, with vo­cals and in­stru­ments lay­ered on top of one another with room to breathe.

They don’t place sounds quite as ac­cu­rately as some­thing like the open back Bey­er­dy­namic T1s, but it’s a re­ally airy per­for­mance for closed back cans.

They don’t mess around when served a com­pli­cated track ei­ther. Play Bergschrund by DJ Shadow, and the P9 Sig­na­tures show just how ca­pa­ble they are at grab­bing onto a rhythm and hold­ing on tightly, no matter what’s go­ing on around it. The track’s choppy beat is de­liv­ered with pre­ci­sion and punch while the var­i­ous el­e­ments of the busy track build around it, mak­ing sense of ev­ery elec­tronic in­ter­lude and off­beat note that DJ Shadow can throw at the mix.

Pre­cise then, but not so much that they’re up­tight – these head­phones know how to let loose.

Feed them Chance the Rap­per’s jovial An­gels, and they’ll jump be­hind the steel drum melody with bounce and en­thu­si­asm, their tal­ent with dy­nam­ics mov­ing the song along with a good balance of pace and at­tack.

Like other B&W head­phones, the P9 Sig­na­ture’s balance leans to­wards a slightly richer, more promi­nent bass, but as weighty as it is, it’s also full of de­tail and im­pres­sively ag­ile.

It lends so­lid­ity and author­ity to the over­all char­ac­ter, and man­ages to un­der­pin the whole sound rather than im­press it­self upon any other part of the fre­quency range.

This en­sures there’s real trans­parency through the midrange, de­liv­er­ing huge in­sight into vo­cals and telling the whole story of ev­ery strum, pluck and plonk of an in­stru­men­tal.

The tre­ble is never an is­sue ei­ther, of­fer­ing an open and nat­u­ral sound in the top end that’s never squeezed or lim­ited. Never is this clearer than with a piece of or­ches­tral mu­sic, like Mozart’s Don Gio­vanni

Suite KV 527 – Madamina (Le­porello). Vi­olins are crisp and tex­tured, with depth in ev­ery bow, while flutes flut­ter and soar with­out con­straint.

There’s never any harsh­ness or hard­ness that you might hear on lesser head­phones, and ev­ery­thing sounds as it should, as if it were be­ing played right in front of you. Not al­ways easy with sounds like this.

Dy­nam­ics are put to good test here too, and to great suc­cess.

The quieter sec­tions are de­liv­ered with an ef­fec­tive calm and con­sid­er­a­tion, but the P9s are equally happy to pick up the pace at the drop of a hat, build­ing to a big crescendo with all the drama and showi­ness that a big or­ches­tral finish re­quires.

Ver­dict

There’s no doubt that the P9 Sig­na­tures are a very tal­ented pair of head­phones. No matter what you feed them, they find them­selves right at home, de­liv­er­ing a sound that’s not just ac­cu­rate, but that’s en­joy­able too.

Their price tag won’t be easy to swal­low for many, but the de­tail, dy­namic and or­gan­i­sa­tional im­prove­ments these of­fer over the rest of the B&W head­phones range, makes them wor­thy of their price, not to men­tion their flag­ship sta­tus.

And hey, if you can’t go all out on your birth­day, then when can you? The Bow­ers & Wilkins P9 Sig­na­ture is avail­able now for RRP $1,399.95.

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