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.
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.
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’.
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.