Review: Bowers & Wilkins P3 Headphones

Two years ago, Bowers & Wilkins debuted its P5 headphones, some of the best-sounding compact headphones we’d ever heard.

B&W’s design for the P5s coupled a minimalist and luxurious aesthetic — complete with supple memory-foam ear pads swathed in black New Zealand sheep leather — with truly stunning audio performance. They earned a very high rating from get-gadget (and from most other reviewers) even though they were priced at $300.

That’s pretty steep for a pair of on-the-ear headphones. B&W has won many fans who are used to paying a premium for the company’s high-end audio products. Other consumers who are less aware of the relatively obscure British manufacturer, not so much.

Now B&W has come out with a more affordable option, the P3 headphones, which sell for only $200. They look a lot like the P5s, though the materials aren’t as swank. The newer P3s are smaller, however, and they fold up, making them even more portable. Although not as opulent as the P5s, the P3s still sound excellent, and they deliver enough pleasure — auditory and otherwise — to justify the $200 price tag.

B&W made some very smart design decisions on the P5 headphones, and many of those choices are repeated here. For one, the spindly metal skeleton that forms the headband — it’s sleek, provides a good clamping force, and is very light. Also, the earpads are held attached using magnets, and you can pop the pads off with a tug, exposing the speaker and the small jack above it where the cable attaches. This layout lets you replace the two bits of the headphone that get worn the most quickly: the cables and the earpads. The P3s ship with a spare cable, and replacement earpads are available online for about $30 each.

Some corners have been cut. Gone is the lavish sheepskin leather that covered the headband and the earpads. Instead, a more traditional cloth is used. It feels rough to the fingers, but it’s actually quite comfortable on the ears (and less sweaty). Also, there’s more plastic in the build. The headphones don’t feel cheap, however, and there’s the nice addition of a hinge just above each ear, which allows the pads to fold inward. The P3s ship with a hard plastic clamshell case.

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