What is the Bowers & Wilkins PX7?
The only notable part of this is that the PX7 replaces the PX which, give or take a few days, was reviewed by me on this very site almost exactly two years ago. This is a fast-moving category but even so, given that the PX was the definable state of the art when it launched and nothing I’ve really tested since then has moved the game on significantly, it is still quite a surprise to find it being replaced.
Still, this is an important category and one that places some significant demands on the products that contest it. Bowers & Wilkins isn’t suggesting that there is one single area where the PX-7 is drastically better - or even significantly different - to what has gone before but they are suggesting that it is a carefully worked improvement to a headphone that was at or near the top of the class in most ways that mattered right up until the day it ceased production. With that in mind, let’s see how that pans out.
Specification and Design
One feature that has been retained from the PX and other Bowers headphones is that these drivers aren’t flat to the back of the enclosure but are instead angled. The thinking goes that this is to provide a more realistic perception of a stereo image than would otherwise be the case. Interestingly, while this was A Big Deal in previous Bowers & Wilkins headphones, here it goes unmentioned (although, this is in keeping with a webpage and general presentation that seems to be very deliberately moving away from the ‘battering with science’ approach so beloved of many Hi-Fi companies).
All of this hardware can be accessed in the manner of a normal headphone via a 3.5mm connection on the right hand enclosure of the PX7 but everything about how it is marketed makes it clear that this is very much a fitment of last resort. The principal means by which Bowers & Wilkins sees you using them is via Bluetooth and the implementation can reasonably be described to be state of the art. The basic implementation is version 5.0 with the commensurate gains to battery life (more of which in a bit). As well as the default SBC codec, it has AAC support for iOS devices, partnered with aptX and aptX HD for Android. The big news is that this aptX HD support is now burnished by an Adaptive mode that is designed to improve the latency between the transmitting device and the receiver. There’s no LDAC but aptX HD is sufficiently close to that notional capability of LDAC and much more widely supported as for this to not be too important.
This is coupled to an active noise cancellation system that seems little changed from the system we saw in the PX. This is not a criticism though because it remains an absolutely superb piece of equipment. Built around four microphones that monitor noise in and out of the enclosure, they combine with a two stage noise reduction. Ambient will keep a handle on an office or train while Flight - as the name suggests is the full fat Airbus/Soft Play Centre style of noise reduction. Like the original PX, there is also a voice passthrough system. A little while ago, an engineer tried to explain to me how this works but my eyes began to glaze over after the fourth minute so I’m sticking with ‘magic.’
This is combined with a series of actions that are intended to make for a more convenient listening experience and improve battery life. If you lift an enclosure up or lift the PX7 off your head, it will stop playing before restarting when you put them back on. This sort of thing might be best seen as ‘high risk’ because if it doesn’t work properly, the only other attribute the PX7 would need is to be able to withstand being thrown at a wall. The good news is that it works flawlessly and becomes so second nature to how the headphone operates that you forget about it.
This helps the PX7 to achieve its deeply impressive battery life of 30 hours. Like all these claims, this isn’t the easiest thing to prove but I will say that a friend of mine once took a pair of PXs to New Zealand, including stopovers in the Middle East and Australia. The total elapsed journey time was over 25 hours and they were in use for almost all of it and still had charge at the end. If this figure still seems a little lacking, a 15 minute charge to the USB-C input on the enclosure will give you another five hours. In short, unless you’re eying up a mission to Mars, there isn’t too much the PX7 won’t handle.
The design of the PX7 will be completely familiar to anyone who has spent any time with PX but there are some interesting detail differences. Bowers & Wilkins has set out to reduce the all up weight of the PX-7 in response to customer feedback (not from me, I stress, I’ve spent enough time with some of the high end heavyweights to find designs like this of no consequence). The metal headband insert and mount of the PX has been replaced by a carbon fibre composite one. As well as being lighter, this also keeps the wiring completely internal and protected. There are some other detail tweaks too. The buttons on the right hand enclosure are more logically arranged and there is a new lighter finish. The fit and finish and overall industrial design remain excellent though.
There are two other changes, one very welcome and one that is slightly mystifying. The good one is the carry case. Gone is the, frankly crap, quilted bag of the PX and in its place comes a solid shell carry case that has enough room for the headphones and supporting cabling while not taking up much more room than the PX bag. It’s an excellent addition. Perhaps because of this, the PX7, like its immediate predecessor doesn’t fold but it would be a stretch to call it bulky.
The more confusing change is that the ‘B&W PX’ app - that works perfectly and would handle all the functionality present on the PX7 (except for the slightly odd ‘Soundscapes’ feature that plays soothing noises at you and, in the case of the waterfall option especially, has some brilliant potential practical joke applications) - has been replaced by one called ‘Headphones’ that, subjectively, doesn’t feel as nice to look at. It’s perfectly stable and helped by voice prompts (although the lady Bowers & Wilkins has selected for this doesn’t sound as clear or happy as the lady that Sennheiser found). It feels a little like change for change’s sake.
How was the PX7 Tested?
At first, this might seem peculiar but when you consider how the PX7 is likely to be used, it makes much more sense. Let’s make a - completely unprovable but I suspect not inaccurate - guess that 50% of PXs will be connected to iOS devices. Using the AAC codec, there is sufficient stable bandwidth to ensure that a 320kpbs file is being transmitted without further compression. If you’re an Android owner reading this and smugly thinking “Well, I’ve got aptX HD”, this means that you’ve got the available bandwidth to listen to FLAC at the highest possible compression setting that software like DbPoweramp will allow. In short, the presentation of the PX-7 is dictated by the characteristics of the material it is likely to receive.
And once this shapes your understanding of the thinking behind the PX7, it is a very good listen. The most important aspect of the performance is that, thanks to the decent levels of isolation that that PX7 generates naturally, you don’t have to drive the bolts out of them to achieve decent listening levels with a realistic sense of immersion. Briefly tinkering with Pink Floyd’s Later Years boxset on Tidal (principally but not exclusively to marvel at the amount of money that Steve Withers paid for it), the live performance of Welcome to the Machine ticks the boxes that any headphone needs to do with live music. The band is in front and the audience is, if not behind, pushed to the peripherals. Those angled drivers really help here. It’s physically impossible for music to be in front of you when listening to headphones but the PX7 suspends disbelief very well.
With this immaculately recorded Dad Rock, the PX7 feels very evenly balanced from top to bottom but there are provisos to this that spring up when you move away from this (admittedly vast) genre. The bass extension of the PX7 is extremely good. It has effortless heft that ensures that everything has a pleasing weight to it but when you listen to material that has plenty of bass to it like Nocturnal Sunshine’s Full Circle and the PX7 feels a little leaden and dominating in the lower registers.
The reason for this is down to how the noise cancelling works. With all noise cancelling headphones I’ve ever tested (with the possible exception of the much missed Sennheiser PXC-550 which seemed to have been designed to different criteria), the bass extension of a headphone is affected when the noise cancelling software is engaged. With the PX-7, switch noise cancelling on, even at the lowest setting, and the tonal balance becomes much more even and I swiftly got into the habit of using them this way even when the most challenging sound they had to deal with was the cat. It’s a further reflection that Bowers & Wilkins has truly optimised the PX-7 to be used with the bells and whistles engaged.
The good news is that those bells and whistles remain seriously accomplished. I’d have been annoyed if, in changing from the PX, any of this ability had been lost but I’m pleased to say that it hasn’t. Compared to the PSB M4U8, the absolute levels of noise isolation are down slightly but this is still a tremendously capable device to have to hand at the soft play centre. And you can sit there, children dialled out to merely the sort of level that you’d associate with a riot and still get the groove, emotion and rhythmic flow of Colors by The Black Pumas. The idea that I could sit there for thirty hours before needing to recharge them - while mildly alarming contextually - is no less impressive.
- Superb sound with noise cancelling running
- Excellent battery life
- Comfy and well made
- App isn't as nice as the old one
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphone Review
The answer to why the PX-7 has come along so swiftly to replace the PX is rendered easier to answer when you have spent a little time with them. It might be more appropriate to consider the PX7 a ‘PX version 2’ than a completely new headphone. It has gained the numeric in the name as much to ensure that the arrival of the PX5 makes more sense than to denote a complete clean sheet design. If that sounds underwhelming it shouldn’t. This is a PX that is incrementally better in every regard. It takes a comfortable, well made and seriously capable headphone and improves on it across the board. If you already own the PX, there is no reason at all to change but if you’re looking for a seriously capable partner for commuting and international travel work, the PX7 is an unquestionable Best Buy.
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