B&W P3 headphones review

Are the Bowers and Wilkins P3 headphones as good as the P5s?

T3 Platinum Award
Reasons to buy
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    Sound reproduction

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Reasons to avoid
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    Tight across the head

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The B&W P3 headphones follow on from the popular P5s and, like their predecessor, need to be heard to be believed

If there's one area in tech that divides opinion so fervently, it's audio quality. And with compressed music continuing its ingestive crusade, finding ways to get the best sound from MP3s, streaming sites and apps is essential for musicheads.

Now, you'd think the world's top-notch audio manufacturers would be on the case, but no sir (a recent jaunt to the High-End Show in Munich demonstrated that) only a handful of respected audio purveyors are designing products to address the change in world order.

British-based Bowers and Wilkins is one of them. In early 2010 it turned its seasoned knowledge of frequencies, acoustics and speaker design to headphones with the launch of the critically acclaimed B&W P5s.

Two years later and B&W has tweaked the design, making them smaller, lighter, cheaper and with a foldable quality. B&W also reckons the sound quality is better. The new look also bears a new name – the B&W P3s – and we've just spent a fortnight with them wrapped around our head.

Can they beat the likes of the Beats By Dre Pro Beats and the Philips Fidelio L1, both of which rank highly in our list of the best headphones to buy?

B&W P3: Design

The first thing P5 owners will spot is the lack of ear pad leather (B&W has seemingly sacked its New Zealand sheep farmer for this commission), in favour of a lightweight fabric that's just as comfortable and more breathable for hot lugholes.

The P3s are noticeably smaller, too. And not just because the gorgeously designed retractable arms ingeniously fold inward to create a pocketable footprint no bigger than a pair of Ray-Bans.

Funnily enough, the P3s' protective hard case looks like they should house sunglasses not headphones. Watch your digits, though, snapping it shut is like a cayman snagging a fish. Regardless, they're a lot more manageable on the commute and a lot neater when packing hand luggage.

B&W P3: Audio quality

In the sound stakes, we'd put them on a level par with the P5s, if not a touch more rounded. Decent-quality downloads or streams are reproduced well across the board, containing definition, clarity and punch where appropriate. Fellow passenger-annoying leakage is pretty good, while the small-ear-sized pads block out a good whack of background noise.

They're no match for noise-cancellers, though. The engine roar of recent flights to Sicily and Inverness proved that.

B&W P3: Durability

Cord length is decent, allowing enough slack when your device is dwelling in trouser or bag, and there's an in-line remote for receiving and cutting calls, volume adjustment, and the eternally handy double-click-to-skip-track feature.

B&W P3: Comfort

If we have one moan, it's how tight the P3's feel across the top of the head. With each listening occasion we found ourselves loosening the grip after about 20 minutes since the top band felt like it was becoming infused with our skull.

B&W P3: Verdict

As with all B&W products, the finish is superb. Well crafted, engineered and a joy to use. Even the price (£170) isn't that excruciating, considering the laughable wedge that can be paid for some premium cans.

For us, they're a better buy than the P5s but we hope that the quality design will last the test of time. We've seen plenty of headphones (cheapo and expensivo) break within a few months and we'd like to keep listening to these, thanks.

B&W P3 availability: June 2012

B&W P3 price: £170