Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) P7 Stereo Headphone review (new)

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Mar 19, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with v-moda Verza/Portaphile Micro/Decware Zen Head amps, various computers using HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/Beyer A200p DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the B&W P7 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 P7 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    I reviewed the previous P7 that I purchased in October of 2013, but I purchased this headphone again (after trading off the previous P7) because I now use the Apple i-device Audioforge Equalizer app to make a more precise determination of where the weaknesses are in each headphone, and I wanted to make a curve for the P7 as part of my reevaluation. Although the maximum resolution I get from the i-devices is 44 khz (CD quality) using Apple-compatible DACs such as the v-moda Verza, that resolution is more than sufficient to determine a headphone's signature, which is its basic sound quality. I rarely need to go beyond basic sound quality unless the headphone is criticized elsewhere for tonality problems or unusual distortions, etc. In the P7's case, I don't find anything that I see a need to report, for example why the deep bass may have less detail than a few other headphones in this general price range. I find it acceptable, so I'll just report the common issues and then go on to the physical description.

    The P7's deep bass (see 'Kellogg Auditorium' below) isn't quite as detailed as I heard with the FAD Pandora VI or the MrSpeakers Alpha Dog, or even to a lesser extent with the B&W P5 Series 2, but it sounds good - i.e. there's good weight and impact for any music genres I listen to including EDM, and enough detail when the bass has good detail to appreciate it. The most common problems I have with headphone bass are weakness, muddiness, bloat, narrow humps - none of which are a problem with the P7 in my tests. I can't say how perfectly the bass blends into the midrange, but it sounds pretty good. The mids between approximately 300 and 400 hz are recessed somewhat, making voices seem a little distant. The mid treble between approximately 3500 and 6000 hz is also recessed a bit, but the fooler for a lot of users who try the P7 for the first time is the emphasis around 9000 hz, which provides extra brightness in that area to offset the perceptions of reduced 'presence' in the mid treble.

    If I could offer a visual analogy of the P7's overall sound, it would be like looking out of a normal house window that's clear and unobstructed with the equalizer ON, and looking out of a window that's the same width but only a couple of inches high with the equalizer OFF. That's an exaggeration of course, but the recesses I mentioned constrict the audio image to some extent - it's a dramatic difference when listening in a very quiet environment and making that direct comparison, but not so obvious when just listening to music and not making comparisons. In spite of the fact that I rated the P5 slightly better for detail in the deep bass example above, I find the P7 to have a more hi-fi sound overall, because it's smoother, and more extended on each end. In my opinion the P7 is not one of those headphones that has to be EQ'd or modified in some way for hi-fi listening - it's a full-fidelity headphone with only the minor flaws that I noted here for the record.

    The P7's isolation is much better than average for a passive-isolating closed headphone, and the leakage is very low, so the P7 should be good for use in offices, libraries, or on public transit, even at audiophile volume levels. The P7's weight feels light for a full-size circumaural (around-ear) headphone, and thanks to the relatively light weight and how it's distributed by the headband and earpads, it feels comfortable enough for extended use. The underside of the headband isn't exactly soft and squishy, so for users who are bothered by even moderate headband pressure, I'd suggest moving the earcups down an extra 1/4 inch to carry more of that weight/pressure with the earpads. There are a few headphones I've purchased recently that have very soft and squishy earpads - the Beyer T51p, the Sennheiser HD26 Pro, a few others..., but the P7 earpads are a little stiffer than those, and the clamping force is fairly strong. In spite of that I don't experience any discomfort with this headphone.

    Headphones with a stronger clamping force and/or earpads that aren't comfortable include the Sennheiser HD280 Pro and the Marshall Major. Other headphones with less clamping force and softer earpads are the Beyer T51p and the Bose QC25 (especially the QC25), but the design of the P7 must certainly be necessary to maintain its bass response, and I don't know but what Bose might be using some type of electronic DSP to produce its bass response. The P7 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. This is important to me since even though the P7 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 - 1.375 inches on each side, where my average size head fits in the middle of that range. The cable is single-entry and detachable internally, and has a center button** for stop/start and previous/next, and buttons for volume up/down, for Apple i-devices at least.

    **The P7 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 P7 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    B&W P7 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 P7 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 perfectly by the P7.

    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 really feel the weight they carry with the P7.

    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 P7 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 fairly well by the P7.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The P7 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 P7 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 P7 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The P7 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 as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The P7 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 P7 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 solid deep-bass response. Overall, the P7 plays this music extremely 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 P7 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 P7. 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 P7 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 P7 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 P7 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel some of 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 P7 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 subtle but appreciable with the P7.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the P7 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 P7 reproduces the 'clop' portion of that sound a bit lighter than ideal.

    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 P7 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a mid-priced dynamic 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 while the P7 renders the tones and transients clearly, it's a little crispy on the top end.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The P7'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 P7 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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