Bowers & Wilkins P5 review

Prior to getting the Bowers & Wilkins P5 earphones in for review, we had a running argument in the office as to which was the best set of earphones: both contenders were in-ear canal buds.

Well now we're adding a third contender, and for the first time they're not in-ear buds but externals cans. The Bowers & Wilkins P5 earphones may even be taking the winning crown, because they have the breadth and clarity that we've only heard before from in-ear canal buds, they have the noise isolation of in-ear buds, and none of the discomfort. These are truly something special.

The earphones themselves consist of a large leather pad with an oval made up of perforated holes. The leather pad covers the whole ear and forms an audio seal, so the despite being external the earphones act like canal buds, blocking out external noise and enabling you to focus on the audio being played.

As with canal phones, noise-isolating earphones turn out to be better for your hearing than regular earphones. The P5s block out extraneous noise, which enables you to turn down the volume and still hear with the same clarity. They also prevent you from cranking up the audio in busy environments (such as on planes and subways).

We'll get to the audio in a minute, but first we really should appreciate at the design: because these earphones look amazing. Hold the P5's in your hand and you can tell that they're a cut above. The headband and earpads are crafted from New Zealand sheep leather, and the chrome plating creates a suitably swish look. We particularly like the way the pads rotate on circular chrome hinges. There are also nice design touches, such as the leather pads that are magnetically held in place, for easy removal. The cans also include iPhone-controls and a built-in microphone.

The audio quality is - as previously mentioned - pretty special. The larger casing that external headphones provide has enabled Bowers & Wilkins to fit more technology inside than rival canal bud makers. Bowers & Wilkins has created an audio system it calls True Sound, which aims to create sound that is - in its words: "completely natural - as close to the sound of the original recording as we can possibly take you".

According to the Bowers & Wilkins the P5's contain "ultra-linear neodymium magnets and highly optimised Mylar diaphragms" which although impressively scientific sounding; are actually fairly standard components in earphones. It might simply be that Bowers & Wilkins have such amazing experience in creating high-end loudspeakers (such as the Nautilus) and runs its own audio research lab, and that this research trickles into making its consumer systems brilliant. It may simply be a case of using quality components. Following the Zeppelin and Zeppelin Mini with these certainly means Bowers & Wilkins is on a winning streak.

OUR VERDICT

The Bowers & Wilkins P5 earphones are some of the most impressive cans we've ever heard. They offer the features and clarity that we've only heard from in-ear canal buds before, but are much more comfortable. The only real question mark is the price, which is no higher than some high-level in-ear canal buds, but at £250 is still enough to give you pause for thought. A fantastic set of earphones that will make any owner proud.

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