Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 review

Premium on-ear headphones that raise the bar for design and performance

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Our Verdict

Only set back by slight comfort issues and a baffling lack of support for every mobile OS except iOS, the P5 Series 2 are an excellent choice if you're looking for enthusiast sound at an entry-level price.

For

  • Full, balanced sound
  • Superb build quality
  • Tote bag included

Against

  • Pricey for what's on offer
  • Inline control is iOS only

The Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 try their darndest to make the case that less is more. And while it's not the most feature-packed option on the market, the culmination of premium materials and striking design make the P5 Series 2 an undeniably lavish offering for audio lovers and minimalists alike. But at $299 (£249, about AU$382) do the P5 Series 2 bring what other cans cannot, and do they justify their price?

Design

The aluminum-reinforced headband is coated with padding and wrapped with sheep leather. Did I mention that these were fancy? Thankfully, it's not just all looks, though, the P5 Series 2 adjusts to accommodate my big noggin. I should mention that it just about topped out at my head size, so that alone makes trying before buying absolutely recommended.

Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 review

The ear cushions connect to the flexible aluminum sidearms which extend from the headband. The default resting position of the P5 Series 2 puts the brushed metal branding into view. With the ear cushions in hand, giving them a twist as you would to put them on your head yields about 130-degrees of swivel. The hinges fastening them to the sidearms allow a fairly generous rocking motion to find a cozy placement on your ears, too.

Similar to the headband, the cushions are given the deluxe treatment as well, with sheep leather and aluminum in the mix. Flipping the headphones over, the leather pillows covering the speakers are poked with an intricate grille which allows the sound to freely pass through.

Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 review

Each cushion is magnetically attached and can pop off, requiring only a gentle lift at its edges. Not only does it satisfy the curiosity of seeing the speaker up close, it's also useful for swapping out the standard audio cable for the included 3.5mm to 2.5mm one.

Bowers & Wilkins included a chic tote bag to toss the P5 Series 2 into when not in use. As if we needed any more indication that this is a premium package, the bag seals the deal.

Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 review

The deluxe materials and design touches that make up the P5 Series 2 certainly impress, but can it outclass the on-ear competition when it comes to comfort, features and performance?

Performance

The P5 is the smaller on-ear sibling to the over-ear Bowers and Wilkins P7, but with a recent revision, they are now quite similar internally. The P5 I'm reviewing here is the "Series 2" model, which improves on the internals of the original, bringing it more up to spec to that of the P7 while maintaining a smaller form factor and a cheaper price tag.

With the sterling reputation backing the British audio company, I expected great things with the P5 Series 2. Thankfully, it delivered at playing my music with an almost palpable level of fidelity. Whether I was listening to compressed audio on YouTube or enjoying some Hi-Fi masterpieces on Tidal, the P5 Series 2 quickly became my go-to reference to discover how my music is meant to be heard.

Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 review

I had a blast hearing the P5 Series 2 flex its prowess on my music library, but I had a few favorites that I feel allow it to work its sonic charms most effectively. The backbone of "Reckless Serenade" by the Arctic Monkeys is made up of the pulpy bassline that comes through on the P5 distortion-free and with awesome clarity. Another is the beautiful, vocal-driven track by Neko Case called "I'm From Nowhere". Lastly, in honor of Blue Note Records celebrating its 75th birthday - and also because I really like the song - here is Madlib's groovy rendition of "Montara" by Bobby Hutcherson.

Listening to music was consistently fantastic, but I encountered slight discomfort at times while wearing the P5 Series 2. Ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, everything is peachy. But extended use past the one to 2-hour mark requires some adjustments to carry on without annoyances. This type of discomfort is common with on-ear headphones, and my experience with the P5 Series 2 wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I was just a little surprised that the premium materials didn't do more to reduce typical discomfort.

Finally, iPhone users will appreciate the inline controls and microphone. The play/pause button and volume rocker offer gratifying tactility with only a gentle press and they operated without a hitch. Unfortunately, only the play and pause functions work on other mobile operating systems.

We liked

The P5 Series 2 are a fantastic set of on-ear headphones that audio aficionados will cling to for a the remarkable sound. The fashionable leather, aluminum and incredible build quality only work to sweeten the deal further.

We disliked

Quality comes at a price and, unfortunately, $300 is not an amount that everyone will be able to pony up. If it meant shaving $100 or more off the price tag, I could have done without sheep leather, especially since it didn't do much to prevent slight discomfort anyway.

It's baffling that the inline controls aren't compatible with other popular mobile operating systems. Are Android and Windows Phone users still being hung to dry at this point? Unfortunately, yes.

Final verdict

The Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 isn't the most feature-rich option, but in terms of sheer sound and build quality, they easily raise the bar for the competition to follow. These audiophile-grade headphones are a must-buy for anyone serious about hearing music the way it was intended. So long as you have the money, there's not much else in the on-ear market that can match this package at this price point.

If you're looking for a cheaper set of headphones that dolls up your music with balanced (but not as full) sound quality and compatibility across multiple mobile OSes, check out the wireless over-ear Koss BT540i headphones.

Spec breakdown
Frequency range 10Hz to 20kHz
Driver size 40mm
Impedance 22 ohms
Sensitivity 108dB/V at 1kHz
Maximum input power 50mW