Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2: one-minute review
It's 2022 and here comes B&W with a new top-tier, flagship set of cans called the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 ready to kick Sony and its latest WH-1000XM5 proposition to the curb, right? Er, not quite – although these stylish wireless over-ears do replace the company's PX7 offering, there's an even more premium, reference B&W wireless headphone proposition in the pipeline, called the PX8.
So, these new cans are for the discerning listener who wants… almost the best wireless headphones Bowers & Wilkins can offer? Not exactly. The point is that this is the best the British audio specialist can manage when matching Sony's XM5 $399 / £379 price point – because the PX8 is going to cost quite a bit more, at $549 / £499.
Make no mistake though, for the same money as the Sony category leaders, you're getting the classiest Bowers & Wilkins finish yet and more importantly, a talented sound with oodles of textured detail through vocals and mid-range – in isolation. That is thanks in part to the all-new 40mm high-resolution drive units, angled within each ear cup to deliver an incredibly immersive soundstage. And if this sounds like jargon, please note that it isn't – provided you don't listen to grime or bass-heavy tracks.
These headphones sound incredibly detailed and expansive across the midrange and into the lower treble. Does this open, analytical and considered soundscape come at the expense of an exuberant, zealous, bass-thumping experience? No – but therein lies the problem. Unlike some cans that err on the side of caution in a bid to deliver space and neutrality, here, when the bass drops it really does drop, and it begins to muddy and encroach upon the audio performance in its entirety.
Elsewhere, the battery life is still 30 hours (which is the same as the older model), but you'll get two more out of them on a quick, 15-minute juice jolt (seven hours, up from five in the PX7), the comfort level has been stepped up considerably over the PX7, they feel lighter even though there's only 3g in it (although do note that the ear cups are a little smaller here) and – as long as good, rather than exemplary noise cancelling is fine by you – the PX7 S2 represent a fine return form from B&W.
OK, the on-ear physical buttons can be a little hard to locate on the right earpiece, simply because you need to send your hand pretty high up near the top of your right ear, but most of us are flexible enough to perform this. And really, that's a little nitpicky isn't it?
Ultimately though, Sony's competing WH-1000XM5 cans are more versatile across a broad genre of music. In pared back tracks, Bowers & Wilkins has nailed it here, but give them something more challenging across the frequencies and the treble seems to roll off, melting away rather than staying to compete against the rumbling and dominant bass. Mostly listen to Cocteau Twins or Simon and Garfunkel? These could well be the cans for you. Chvrches or Stormzy? You probably need to look elsewhere.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2: price and release date
- $399 / £379 / approx. AU$575
- Released June 29, 2022
The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 are available to buy from June 29, and in the United Kingdom you’ll need to set down £379 to snag a pair. In the United States they are selling for $399, which means that in Australia they will cost around AU$575.
So, definitely not cheap – but not as astronomically priced as some B&W headphones we remember at launch (PI7 earbuds, we're looking at you) and the keen-eyed will note that the price exactly matches that of the excellent Sony WH-1000XM5. It's bold from B&W – and given the considerable talents of the firm's PX7 over-ears, why not? A little confidence has been earned – but still, tough company to keep.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2: design and features
- Premium streamlined materials, beautifully assembled
- Much improved Music app support
- May not suit the larger-eared user
Unbox the PX7 S2 and you know you're holding a B&W product. Much of the design language here is carried over from the PX7 – the cool oval aluminium earcup top-plate, the hook-like accent on the headband which simply glides rather than clicks as you expand it, actual physical buttons – but the ear cups are a fair bit smaller here. Not so small as to be considered on-ear, you understand, but if you're a fan of the all-encompassing feel of Apple's AirPods Max, for example, this is a little smaller than that.
The clamping force, comfort, build quality and on-ear physical buttons are all bang on the money, although the power slider on the right earcup is a little high up on the back edge, meaning you have to flex your wrist at a fairly acute angle flick it. The playback trio of buttons is far easier to find (the central one is textured for easier location, which is a nice touch) and the left earcup is where you'll find a button for scrolling through noise cancellation profiles and for call-handling.
Speaking of noise cancellation, during our testing it is fine – but not exceptional. It should be greatly improved, thanks to the improved two-mic positioning on each earpiece plus a revised algorithm, but at this money (and further up the food chain) it can be beaten. Deploy noise cancelling in the AirPods Max and it's like the bottom of the room fell out. It's almost creepy it's so good. Here, low-level noise is massaged and softened, but it isn't fully nixed. And we have less luck with the pass-through function. On our train commute, engaging it adds some of the train's engine noise to the mix, but nearby conversations and other sounds through the treble and midrange frequencies still aren't really coming through, which is both a little strange and something of a shame – since this is the kind of thing you need an ambient aware function for.
For the first time in a pair of B&W headphones, the PX7 S2 features support for the Bowers & Wilkins Music app. This not only supplies useful information about your headphones and offers scope for tweaking the EQ (bass and treble bands), but also seeks to corral the music you regularly listen to. It's well-designed and easy to use, plus you can actually set the wearer sensor to either 'low', 'normal' or 'high' depending upon how well the headphones seem to respond to the presence of your noggin. It all adds value, and even during long listening sessions, the extra cushioning on the ear pads here feels high-end and proves supremely comfortable.
In terms of wireless resolution, Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive tech is supported, coupled with Bowers & Wilkins' newly-developed DSP to automatically optimize your wireless music transmission from compatible phones, tablets and computers.
- Design and features score: 4/5
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2: audio performance
- Detailed, expansive and emotive – until you bring the bass
- Admirable timing and dynamics across the midrange and treble
- A weighty listen, almost to a fault
Often, a set of over-ear headphones can be described as "fun" rather than "analytical", or "precise and refined" rather than "zealous and exciting". Bowers & Wilkins has aimed to be both here, and almost succeeded. But not quite.
Stream Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas and gentle percussion grazes the back of our left ear as voices come in centrally, brimming with texture and emotion, especially through Elizabeth Frazer's powerful upper registers.
The strings in The Waterboys' Fisherman's Blues soar through a sparkling treble as Mike Scott's weather-beaten vocal comes in. Each musical passage in this classic folk-rock track is given due diligence and held within a cohesive and talented mix, where each sonic article has the space to be impactful.
If you're waiting for a "but", here it is: we need to talk about the bass. Stream Miles Davis' In a Silent Way and every chime, strummed guitar string or ethereal sonic article should be celebrated, but there is an issue here with the underlying bass floor. It is present but encroaching. It is heavy in the mix to the point of muddying parts of the track it shouldn't. While not a huge issue, it is our job to nitpick and in seeking to bring a snappy, exciting bass floor, B&W has overcooked things just a touch.
Stream Stormzy's Vossi Bop and it's a similar story; the bass just feels a tad overstated and we're losing the upper midrange – which includes Stormzy's emotive lyrics. Bloated is too strong a word, but it's just a little too hot and heavy in the mix.
Again, it's a relatively small issue, and if you listen to piano concertos, acoustic remixes or female vocalists you won't find a more detailed listen, but these headphones are not the most versatile we've tested by some margin.
Acoustic design: Closed-back, over-ear
Cables: USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to 3.5mm
- Audio performance score: 4/5
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2: value
- High-end feel and finish
- ANC can be bettered at the level
- Not the most versatile headphones
This is Bowers & Wilkins and, as you'd expect, these over-ears certainly look and feel the part – plus, the USB-C charger can also be used to listen to wired music if your phone sports a USB-C connection (we did this with our Samsung Galaxy S21, no Bluetooth required). You get a USB-C to 3.5mm cable in the box too, in case you want to use them with source devices such as MP3 players, all of which adds value at the level.
If you really want the best ANC this money can buy though, there are better, more personalized options out there, and here we might point you to the Sony XM5 or (likely to be discounted) WH-1000XM4 over-ears.
For sound, certain music-lovers will love the extra clarity and detail through the midrange in pared-back or acoustic tracks. For us, the bass weight is just a little much at times (particularly when listening to grime or hip-hop genres) and this does count as a small mark against the PX7 S2.
- Value score: 4/5
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2: should I buy them?
|Features||Excellent app support; acceptable rather than excellent ANC||4/5|
|Sound quality||Glorious treble detail that fades just slightly in bass-heavy tracks||4/5|
|Design||Classy build, finish and comfort, provided you're fine with slightly smaller ear cups||4/5|
|Value||Premium materials well implemented, but the ANC and versatility can be bettered||4/5|
Buy them if...
You want an analytical and detailed representation of classical music
The PX7 S2 are as surgically precise and insightful as any headphones at this price through keys, strings and vocals.
You have relatively small ears
The ear cup design here is much changed from the PX7 to the point that they're almost (almost) on-ears, unless you have small-ish ears.
You don't have a huge collection of grime
Depending on your musical tastes, the B&W will make your collection shine. Chimes, transient sounds, Spanish guitars, female vocals and orchestral scores are just a few areas in which the PX& S2 are hard to beat
Don't buy them if...
You prioritize excellent noise cancellation
It's standard rather than excellent – and the ambient aware function oddly emphasizes low-level sounds rather than what you want to hear (read: voices)
You want something supremely portable
Like the Sony XM5s, the ear cups swivel but they do not fold up into the headband
You have a bigger ears
A streamlined approach has been taken in this B&W design, but Vincent van Gogh taught us that cutting off bits of your ear should always be the very last resort
Think the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 might not be the audiophile over-ears for you? That's OK, here are three alternative wired high-end options that might offer just the combination of sophisticated style and sound quality you're looking for.
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
Beyerdynamic may not be as well known as its German sibling, Sennheiser, but the audio company has a history of creating some of the best-sounding audio gear on the market – and the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, an open-back version of the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro, sits at the very top of the pile. Quite simply, the DT 1990 Pro are the best over-ear headphones, in our opinion, as long as you're aware that others will also be able to hear your music…
Shure AONIC 50
And now, a premium wireless option. The Shure AONIC 50 sport an active noise-cancelling over-ear design. Bluetooth 5 connectivity means you get a decent 20 hours of battery life, as well as support every worthwhile codec including aptX HD, LDAC and aptX Low Latency. 10 stages of environment mode amplification along with two types of noise cancellation provide some extra options to boot. While you won't find every feature under the sun (there are no touch controls or auto-off feature) the Shure AONIC 50 are laser-focused on delivering the best sound-quality of almost any noise-cancelling headphone.
Sennheiser HD 800
The Sennheiser HD 800 are, hands down, some of the best-sounding pairs of over-ear headphones on the planet, affectionately praised by inner circles of audiophiles the world over – and you'll pay a pretty penny for them. During our testing, we found that when paired with the proper hardware, they sound absolutely excellent and balanced in every way. Offering incredibly detailed sound that will lead you to ignoring your regular speakers, these are some fantastic headphones that also feel great to wear.
First reviewed: June 2022