BOW­ERS & WILKINS PX NOISE CAN­CELLING HEAD­PHONES

Au­dio spe­cial­ists Bow­ers & Wilkins (B&W) has re­leased a new set of noise-can­celling, wire­less head­phones – the PX – a first for the com­pany.

SoundMag - - Contents - By Ced Yuen

Wire­less NC head­phones are more pop­u­lar than they’ve ever been, but B&W faces tough com­pe­ti­tion from the Bose Qui­etCom­fort 35 and the Sony MDR-1000X.

To dif­fer­en­ti­ate it­self, B&W fo­cuses on its core strengths of lux­ury and au­dio­phile sound qual­ity – but it has some im­pres­sive tricks up its sleeve too. It’s a win­ning com­bi­na­tion: The B&W PX are the finest wire­less, noise-can­celling head­phones on the mar­ket.

In Aus­tralia they go for $549.

De­sign

The B&W’s de­sign doesn’t stray too far from pre­vi­ous models. That is, you get am­ple leather-lined pad­ding and sculpted metal el­e­ments – the head­phone equiv­a­lent of an ex­ec­u­tive arm­chair. There are some fresh, con­tem­po­rary fea­tures, but the over­all aes­thetic is un­mis­tak­ably B&W.

The ear cups are el­lip­ti­cal in shape, cre­at­ing a bet­ter seal around your ears than those that are round. A wiry metal frame and ex­posed ca­bles con­nect the ear cups to the head­band.

In the past, B&W head­phones have been over­whelm­ingly clad in leather. Here, how­ever, it’s been lim­ited to the re­place­able ear cups and the un­der­side of the head­band. On the out­side, the PX is lined with bal­lis­tic ny­lon. The metal el­e­ments are still made of alu­minium, only now much of it is an­odised in­stead of highly pol­ished. The over­all ef­fect is more As­ton Mar­tin; less Bent­ley.

As noise-can­celling head­phones go, these are some of the nicest I’ve tested. The PX are beau­ti­ful head­phones. They’re far more lux­u­ri­ous than the plas­tic – and, ad­mit­tedly lighter – Bose QC35, and more in­ter­est­ing than the Sony MDR-1000X.

The B&W PX are avail­able in two colour com­bi­na­tions: black with ‘space grey’ alu­minium or dark blue with ‘soft gold’.

Fea­tures

Good-looks alone can’t cut it, so thank­fully the B&W PX sport a long list of fea­tures. These are no or­di­nary wire­less noise-can­celling head­phones.

I’ll start with the wire­less. The PX use Blue­tooth, but not your gar­den va­ri­ety Blue­tooth – they’re com­pat­i­ble with aptX HD. That’s an up­graded ver­sion of the al­ready-su­pe­rior aptX codec, and it can trans­mit hi-res au­dio up to 24bit/48kHz. AptX HD can be found on many of the top por­ta­ble de­vices, such as the LG V30 smart­phone.

The drive units are de­rived from B&W’s flag­ship P9 Sig­na­ture head­phones, so you know the PX mean busi­ness. The 40mm driv­ers are slightly an­gled to cre­ate a more con­vinc­ing sound­stage.

As for noise can­cel­la­tion, you get a choice of NC modes with dif­fer­ent lev­els of am­bi­ent au­dio passthrough. The ‘City’ set­ting lets in traf­fic noise, so you don’t risk be­ing run over when wear­ing the head­phones out and about. The ‘Of­fice’ set­ting lets in voices, so you’ll know if you’re needed. ‘Flight’ has max­i­mum noise can­cel­la­tion to block out en­gine noise. It’s con­trolled by the An­droid/iOS app.

Most im­pres­sive about these head­phones are B&W’s smart sen­sors, de­signed to min­imise the faff that tends to ac­com­pany Blue­tooth head­phones: power and pair­ing. Af­ter your ini­tial setup, the PX can au­to­mat­i­cally power up, con­nect and re­sume play­ing mu­sic – you just need to put them on your head. Take them off, lift up an ear, or put them around your neck, and they’ll au­to­mat­i­cally pause. Leave them unat­tended and they’ll go into standby, wait­ing for the next time you put them on again.

There are on­board con­trols to over­ride the smart sen­sors – they aren’t flaw­less – but, gen­er­ally, I find my­self just us­ing the but­tons to skip or change vol­ume. I rarely hit pause/play, and I’ve man­aged days of use with­out once touch­ing the power but­ton. This is hugely im­pres­sive. More im­pres­sive is the fact that this wiz­ardry doesn’t ap­pear to come at the cost of bat­tery life.

B&W claims a rat­ing of 22 hours with both Blue­tooth and noise can­cel­la­tion switched on, and this seems about right to me. You get 29 hours with BT on and NC off. Turn ev­ery­thing off and re­vert to us­ing ca­bles, and you’ll achieve 50 hours.

When you’re out of juice, the B&W PX recharges via USB-C ca­ble, which is un­usual; most ri­vals use mi­cro-USB. USB-C can also be used to play mu­sic dig­i­tally from USB con­nec­tions, in case you don’t have your (ana­logue) 3.5mm ca­ble handy.

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