B&W P5 Series 2 On-ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 8, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review: http://youtu.be/U8HWLDOBP_E


    Sources: iPhone6+ with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the B&W P5 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the P5 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Since I review a lot of headphones, people often ask why I like nearly all of the headphones I review, instead of panning some of them as most reviewers do. The answer is, because I buy nearly everything I review (everything from $200 and up anyway), and I choose only the headphones I think I'm going to like. But I have made a few purchases that I wish I hadn't - Beyer DTX300p, Beyer T51p**, FAD Pandora IV(4), Marshall Monitor, MrSpeakers Alpha Dog, Philips Fidelio M1, Pioneer SE-MJ591, and Sennheiser HD8DJ. I really like the new P5 Series 2,and partly because it EQ's to a beautiful sound. Many critics think that EQ doesn't help to make a good sound, but since I hear beautiful sound with the EQ'd P5, for those critics then it should sound just as good or better without the EQ.

    **The one saving grace of the T51p was the earpads. Once I realized that those earpads would fit onto the DT1350, I upgraded my DT1350's and saved them from being traded off.

    I bought the first P5 in 2010, but felt the sound was meh and traded it off. I bought a second P5 in 2011 for family use around the house, but that headphone was replaced after a year by the ATH ESW9a. When I saw that B&W released the new P5 'Series 2', I put that on my list to purchase, and now here it is. As of this date, I haven't found an independent or reliable critical review of the P5 elsewhere, so all I know is that the 'house' reviewers say that the sound is improved over the original P5, and a few forum users have said that the sound is the same or worse. I can say that my impression of the new P5's bass is that it's better - slightly stronger in the lower bass, with reasonable detail. What I can't say is whether the main problem I found in the treble is new, or whether it existed in the original P5. Since I didn't have the Audioforge equalizer until 2014, I can't be precise about the size of any peaks and recesses in the original P5's sound.

    What I found with the new P5 is a large and narrow recess in the area of 8 khz, and since Audioforge is a Parametric Equalizer, I was able to restore most of that recess without boosting the adjacent frequencies. How that recess might sound to other users I can't predict, but being as narrow as it is and in the high treble, probably only very critical listeners will be bothered by it. The overall sound or signature is typical for on-ear closed-back headphones in the $200** and under range, i.e. a coloration much like you would hear if speaking into cupped hands in front of your mouth.

    **Since the P5 has a luxury build, it's only fair that I compare the sound to headphones that lack the luxury build and sell for less money.

    The EQ shown in the above graph (or on my dalethorn site) is the correction applied to the P5's sound, and that EQ reduces the colorations and restores the soundstage to a very satisfactory degree. That correction is based on direct comparisons to other headphones, to eliminate bias as much as possible. The amount of isolation is above average for an on-ear closed headphone, and the leakage is low, so the P5 should be OK in offices, libraries, or on public transit, even at louder volume levels.

    The P5's weight is light and the earpads are soft and comfortable, but the clamping force might surprise users who aren't accustomed to audiophile headphones. The P5 is an ideal portable headphone in that it can be pulled off the head when not in use and worn around the neck with no discomfort, with the earcups folded flat. This is important to me since even though the P5 does come with a carry case, I don't like to have to carry the case with me outdoors. The range of adjustment is good - 1.5 inches on each side, where my average size head fits in the middle of that range. The cable is single-entry and it's detachable internally, although it's skinny and lacks a visible strain relief into the earcup. The cable** control has a center button for stop/start and previous/next, and buttons for volume up/down, for Apple i-devices at least.

    **The P5 Series 2 includes a second generic cable without controls.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the P5 Series 2 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    B&W P5s2 review part 2 - music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The P5 plays this very well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled fairly well by the P5.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry with the P5.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The P5 plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the P5.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The P5 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The P5 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the P5 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The P5 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, but the tambourine sound is off.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The P5 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The P5 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and while the bass tones beginning around 0:45 should have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a solid deep-bass response, the impact here is fairly light. Overall, the P5 plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The P5 plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the P5. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The P5 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the P5 does those near-perfectly.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The P5 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the P5 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is fairly subtle with the P5.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the P5 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The P5 does not reproduce the 'clop' portion of that sound effect correctly.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The P5 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a lightweight on-ear headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the P5 renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The P5's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The P5 delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
  3. AnnaReviewer

    AnnaReviewer Casual Listener

    Apr 13, 2015

    Thank for review.

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