Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) P7 Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Oct 27, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: http://youtu.be/_L2naYeonHQ

    Sources: iPhone5 alone, iPhone5 with FiiO E07k using LOD, iPhone5 with v-moda Verza DAC/amp, various computers using the v-moda Verza DAC/amp.

    First impressions of the B&W P7: Average soundstage for a closed headphone, which is actually good since the recording makes a much bigger difference than the headphone.The overall signature is what I would describe as slightly dark, influenced mainly by the midrange. The B&O H6 for example has a lighter than average sound, so the P7 is a perfect alternative to the H6. The P7 has an excellent treble - lots of detail and harmonic extension, but no tendency for harshness or sibilants. The bass of the P7 is strong low down, up through the mid-bass, but the upper bass is not inflated, so the wide variety of music genres that I play have a decent amount of warmth and impact without getting muddy or overly boomy. I'm aware that burn-in with headphones is a controversial subject, but I would strongly recommend giving the P7 at least 12 hours of burn-in with fairly loud music before making a final judgement of the sound.

    Most headphones that I've tested and used sound better with real headphone amps and DACs than with just an iPod or iPhone, but other than an obvious improvement in soundstage and a better sense of "air" around the voices and instruments, the signature doesn't change that much with most headphones when switching from the i-device alone to the various amps. The P7 is one of those headphones where it makes a big difference. With the i-device alone, the sound is darker and the bass is looser or more boomy. With a computer running the HRT Microstreamer DAC plus headphone amp, the bass becomes much tighter and the upper range smoother. I can't be sure why there's such a difference, or that my experience will carry over to anyone else's gear, but there it is.

    After a few days with the P7, I'm enjoying the sound immensely, and I even ran several test tone sweeps - not to evaluate the results in a vaccuum, but to compare the results with other top-quality headphones I'm familiar with. The bass is smooth from the bottom (~20 hz) to top, on up through the mids into the lower treble. I found the area around 1.5 to 2 khz slightly elevated (~2 db or less), 3 khz slightly recessed (2 db possibly), 4 to 8 khz fairly even, and 9 khz slightly elevated (~2 db). The amplitudes are just guesses, but the relative deviations from theoretical flatness should hold up unless the design were to change down the road. Comparing to the v-moda M100, if I take the M100 and use iTunes Bass Reducer EQ with it (but no EQ with the P7), the M100 then would sound very similar to the P7 except that the M100's mids are more forward. The P7's mids are ideal in my judgement.

    Isolation with the P7 is average or better for a good closed-back headphone and leakage is very low. The leakage is so low in my tests that users should be able to play the P7 at medium-loud volumes in quiet offices without bothering other workers who are close by. The P7's physical design is one of the most perfect that I've ever encountered. The black colors over brushed aluminum are elegant, and the "headphone bulge" while wearing the P7 oudoors is inoffensive - it doesn't make me look like an astronaut or robo-cop. Instead of designing the earcups to fold flat like some headphones, the P7 is designed so that the cups fold in on top of each other into the headband area. The P7 is an ideal portable headphone in my view, since the earcups can be pulled down and the headphone worn around the neck all day when not being used, with perfect comfort. The P7 earcups completely enclose my ears without pinching, making it very comfortable for hours of listening.

    The P7 that I bought from the Apple Store comes with two 4-foot cables - one with a generic plug and no controls, and one with the Apple-style miniplug and standard Apple controls (volume up/down and start/stop). The literature says that the P7 cable has a microphone, but I don't see where it's located. The cables are single-sided and much thicker than the P5's cables, thankfully. The earpads are the standard B&W removable type with magnetic fasteners. The carry case is neither the hard type nor the useless cloth bag that some manufacturers issue - it looks usable in luggage or backpacks since the headphone is folded inward on itself, providing additional protection. A 3.5 mm to 6.5 mm adapter plug is also provided.

    The music tracks below were listed in only one prior review (B&O H6 Green), and are a random sample selected from the 400 most recent tracks I've acquired. Since these tracks cover a wide range of genres, and were selected when I was using several different headphones, there won't be a bias toward the P7 headphone with this music. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to the prior (H6) review and other reviews as they get posted, and see how the P7 compares with each individual track.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2013
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    B&W P7 review part 2 - music samples.

    Ana Victoria - Roxanne (Pop Vocal): Spacious sound, good bass tone and impact, and the vocal sounds very natural. Excellent reproduction by the P7.

    Ben Goldberg - Root and Branch (Jazz): Realistic you-are-there sound with great instrumental reproduction. The P7 plays this extremely well.

    Benedictines Of Mary - O Come Emmanuel (Medieval/Female Choral/Acapella): Very spacious sound and natural reverb for a large recording venue (cathedral). The P7 makes the voices come alive.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Excellent instrumental detail - 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.

    Candy Dulfer - Lily Was Here (Jazz): Narrow soundstage, but excellent detailed instrumental tone. The P7 gives this a reasonable sense of space, but in spite of being a modern recording, the net effect is only slightly better than enhanced mono.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The P7 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The P7 plays this high treble energy recording with perfection - the voice and instruments are highly detailed but very smooth.

    Daft Punk - Lose Yourself to Dance (Electronic/Disco): Less than hi-fi quality recording, but the voices are very good. There's a decent amount of bass impact, but the bass doesn't have much detail.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The P7 reproduces the instruments perfectly with a you-are-there ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    David Lynch-Lykke Li - I'm Waiting Here (Soundtrack/Vocal): Dark, moody song - Lykke's voice is very detailed, the strong bass impacts are very good, but most of the instrumentation is soft and kept in the background. The P7 plays this music very well given the sonic limitations.

    Dream Theater - Take The Time (Metal): The sound quality here is limited, but the P7 is smooth enough to bring out the details in this very busy music without verging on harshness.

    Genesis - Follow You Follow Me (Pop/Rock):The P7 plays this old and less-than-ideal recording well enough to enjoy, but the soundstage is fairly narrow.

    Giant Drag - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): Annie Hardy's version of the Chris Isaak hit has a lot of energy, but the quality is limited - still the P7 pulls out enough detail to be a pleasant listen.

    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 makes this an outstanding listen.

    Hubert Kah - The Picture (New Wave): This track has great bass detail and weight at the same time, which I find unusual for this type of 1980's pop music. The P7 plays this music very well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The strong 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.

    Korn - Another Brick In the Wall (Rock): Aggressive rock that's very satisfying for hard-rock fans. The P7 plays this perfectly, which is to say, with proper edginess and bass impact, yet without unintended sonic harshness.

    Kunika Kato - Fur Alina (Vibraphone): A very unusual instrumental - the tone quality is unlike anything I've heard before. Recording close-up is part of the magic here, but the P7 does the rest in reproducing the full harmonics of this amazing instrument.

    Michael Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Easy Listening/Jazz): This is the only track I bought by Michael Buble, but it's a great recording and vocal performance. The sound of the backing band here is rendered extremely well by the P7, and the voice isn't pumped up for Loudness Wars thankfully.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone, brought to life by the P7. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and those impacts have a very impressive weight with the P7.

    Muse - Madness (Rock): The bass in this track has great impact and detail with the P7, but the voice is so forward that I have to keep the volume lower than what's ideal to appreciate the bass line here.

    Phaeleh - Afterglow (feat. Soundmouse) (Electronic/Vocal): The instrumental sounds that begin this track are played very nicely by the P7, but the voice tends to overwhelm those background sounds - until the heavy bass impacts kick in. If there is any doubt about whether the P7 will play heavy impactful bass with good detail (if such sounds are really in the recording), this track is the proof. If you were to begin your P7 listening with this track, you might think you were listening to a headphone that has a very boosted but tight and detailed bass. Simply amazing.

    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 headphones. The tympani also have excellent impact here.

    Sargis Aslamazian - The Sky is Cloudy (Classical/Armenian): The National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia has a great classical program, and the P7 plays this music with good separation, tone, and big-orchestra precision.

    Satri-Tomoko Sonoda - All The Things You Are (Jazz): This track came from Bakoon Products, who make high-quality audio amplifiers. There's a lot of upright bass plucking in this track, and the P7 plays it well, although it's recorded pretty close-up and may sound somewhat boomy at times.

    Tommy Smith - Johnny Come Lately (Jazz): Small-combo jazz - sax, piano and drums. The sound is fairly close-up but well-recorded, and sounds very nice with the P7, although the wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are not as extended as on the David Hazeltine track above.
     
  3. phrehdd

    phrehdd New Member

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    Dale first - thanks much for the posting on the P7.

    How does these compare to the over the ear Senn Momentums in terms of comfort and fidelity?

    I have posted elsewhere that I was looking for a good match for my iPhone for on ear or over ear that would be both comfortable for say 2-4 hr at a time play and also that would handle lossless music from my iPhone. (CD converted and HDTracks 96/24 converted).

    My challenge is that one of my ears gets bothered/sore after a while with less comfortable on ears. Usually its the combo of vice grip and not too accommodating ear pads. At home I have a 12 year old (maybe older) higher end Senn over the ears, and 5 years ago someone gifted me with a set of Bose. Candidly I was not impressed by the "Bose sound" as it was a bit distant, hallow and not very accurate. However, I was surprised that they were relatively comfortable and thus used them until now as the pads are worn out and the audio has changed for the worse (if that is possible).

    Would the P7 or Momentums fill the bill?

    Music examples - Beatles, film scores like LOTR, Diana Krall, contemporary pop rock, remastered classic rock, and items like Wicked Games which you referenced already. Once in a while I may play something a bit more aggressive such as the Pretenders on up to Led Zepp. Incidentally, if you want some interesting testing of vocals, consider some of the selections from Brother Where Art Thou movie sound tracks. - Extremely well crafted recordings.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you can give.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Interestingly, the music genres you listed call for the Momentum more than the P7. The P7 being a bit on the 'dark side' as I call it, plus being more of an electronic/urban orientation with its bass response, makes it not ideal for classical, folk, jazz, acoustic, and things like classic rock. Now whereas the Momentum is not fully circumaural for most people, I'm able to have it surround the top parts of my ears and its lower portions of the earpads sit on my lower ear parts that are nearly flush with my head, so it's very comfy and I can use it for hours at a time. But I have heard from a few people who are not comfortable with the momentum, for whatever reason, so there's something to be aware of.
     
  5. Rstn

    Rstn New Member

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    B&W P7 and DAC / amp

    Dale, thank you for this review. From your experience, do you think a B&W P7, played from an iPhone 4s or 5, would benefit of using a portable DAC? Or is the P7 already optimized for the i-devices. It has 22 ohm and from a power point of view drive the P7 very well. I am interested however in getting the best sound quality.
    I recently bought the P7 and want to use it at it's best, however I don't find a place to try out a Portable DAC and have no prior experience with portable DACs/amps.
    Thanks in advance for a reply!
    Rob.
     
  6. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Yes, a portable DAC would make a difference with the P7. I've had three - the Oppo HA-2, Beyer A200p, and v-moda Verza. Avoid the Beyer, and its original version (AK10 I think) - not the best sound. The other two were more comparable, but the Oppo is better quality - especially noticeable in the bass - and half the price. From what I've seen so far, which DAC/amp you choose really makes a difference. Note that the iPhone6 and latest iPod Touch have been upgraded so that the difference with a DAC is usually very subtle, but the DAC helps more with the older devices.

    Edit: BTW, I got another P7 a few months ago, and the quality is the same as the original - highly recommended.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2015
  7. Rstn

    Rstn New Member

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    Thanks

    Dale, thanks again for your advice, after many searches I started to put my mind on the Oppo HA-2. Happy to hear this now confirmed!

    Rob.
     
  8. john-hifi

    john-hifi Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I'll second that on the OPPO HA-2 - the best portable amp/DAC solution I have come across with amazing value! :)
     
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