B&W PX ANC/Bluetooth Around-Ear Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jun 9, 2019.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone XsMax with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red/DAC-amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the B&W PX headphone ('B&W_PX' hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (around-ear, closed-back, Bluetooth or wired**), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the B&W_PX (i.e., my objectives and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

    **The B&W_PX must be charged up and turned on to play in wired mode with a cable. Since there is no true passive mode, I can't determine whether the sound in Bluetooth mode or wired mode is equalized, since the electronics containing whatever DSP's are utilized here are always active. One thing I was able to verify is that the Bluetooth sound, wired sound, and ANC sound are very similar, although the ANC introduces artefacts which may be noticeable in some situations.

    The B&W_PX is a headphone I passed over when it first came out last year, due to my low expectations having owned previous B&W's like the P5 and P7 - both first and second editions. The B&W_PX treble is smoother than the Marshall Major III that I recently reviewed, but whereas the Major3 has a large peak around 4 khz and an equally large recess around 8 khz, the B&W_PX has a large broad emphasis around 350 hz, which gives it a somewhat hollow sound. My Beyerdynamic DT770 88th anniversary edition had a similar hollow quality, but slightly lower in frequency. The B&W_PX, like many headphones I've owned, has a boosted upper treble (~8 to 10 khz or so), but for many users that emphasis will be masked by the large emphasis in the lower midrange that I just noted.

    There are different ways to EQ a headphone to get a more-or-less neutral result, where the corrections lie mostly above the zero line, or below, or somewhere in between. Whatever the case, once I addressed the treble and the large low-mids emphasis, the bass seemed too strong, so I pushed that down a bit. I can't be sure that significant sample-to-sample variations don't exist in this product, but based on my sample I'd say that the large low-mids emphasis is a big detractor from hi-fi sound for the B&W_PX. In any case, after applying my simple EQ, not only is the sound fairly smooth and hi-fi with a good soundstage, but I don't detect any unpleasant after-effects with the exception of ANC mode artefacts as previously noted.

    I won't waste space on the physical details that a thousand other reviews have listed, so I'll just give my impressions from using the B&W_PX. I rarely use Bluetooth, but it works well, was easy to pair with my iPhone XS-Max, and I didn't experience any interference indoors. Outdoors, particularly in industrial areas or near some power lines and cell towers, you might not be so lucky. For corded portable listening, I use the v-moda Speakeasy Lightning DAC cable instead of the cable included with the headphone, because it connects directly to my iPhone without a separate Lightning dongle. When using a DAC like the DragonFly Red, I switch to a standard cable such as B&W supplies with the PX.

    When I picked up the B&W_PX at the UPS store, the small box felt fairly heavy for its size. When I removed the headphone, it still felt heavy for its size, although it is an around-ear headphone which accounts for some of the weight. The amount of metal in the earcups and headband is obviously the major contributor. The clamping force of this headphone is such that the earcups sustain most of the weight, and so I feel little to no pressure from the headband in actual use - when sitting down anyway.

    The headband is quite thick but has very little apparent padding. The earpads are not among the softest I've experienced, but they're not stiff either. Since the earpad rims are fairly narrow (apparently to keep the earcup size down), the pressure is more noticeable, being concentrated over a smaller area where they contact the head. I'd say that the B&W_PX will be comfortable to users who are experienced with on-ear headphones or around-ear headphones that have a significant clamping force, but inexperienced users might feel some discomfort. The earcups have a range of adjustment to fit heads small to large, and they pull down far enough and rotate flat so the headphone can be worn around the neck all day with no discomfort.

    Isolation is good for an around-the-ear closed-back headphone, and the ANC is inoffensive enough that use on public transport may be satisfactory. The leakage is low but audible at an audiophile-loud volume level, so using the headphone in a quiet office or library might be OK, as long as the volume is kept below that level. Charging is pretty fast - a couple of hours via USB-C.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples 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 B&W_PX compares with each individual track. These tracks were evaluated using EQ settings as I noted above. Note that this EQ is not to "personal taste", but rather to approximate the headphone sound to the sound of live acoustic music.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has great detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The B&W_PX plays this extremely 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 very well by the B&W_PX.

    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 strong and you can really feel the weight they carry with the B&W_PX.

    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 B&W_PX plays this music very 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 very well by the B&W_PX.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The B&W_PX 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 bright, crisp, and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The B&W_PX 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 B&W_PX renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The B&W_PX 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, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The B&W_PX 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 B&W_PX plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion(Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a very good deep-bass response. Overall, the B&W_PX 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 B&W_PX plays this track extremely well.

    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 B&W_PX. 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 B&W_PX 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 B&W_PX plays those very well.

    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 B&W_PX 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 2019, 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 B&W_PX is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    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 not heavy, but nonetheless impressive with the B&W_PX.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the B&W_PX 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 B&W_PX's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is not accurate.

    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 B&W_PX conveys as much of that drama as I could hope for in a small 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 B&W_PX renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The B&W_PX's reproduction is excellent, 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 B&W_PX delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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