Bowers & Wilkins is well known for its renowned, exquisite speakers that have made it the respectable British brand name it is today. When B&W entered the market with its first ever pair of cans, it has made it known to all that is was a force to be reckoned with. The P3 are B&W's latest and second pair of headphones to make a splash at a more affordable price than the company's $300 flagship headphones, the P5. Having reviewed both of B&W's P5 headphones and C5 in-ear headphones, it is only natural to expect a high level of brilliance from the P3. Brace yourselves, our comprehensive review is down below!
If you've always had your eyes set on the P5 and simply couldn't convince yourself to hand over $300 for a pair of headphones, Bowers & Wilkins created the P3 as an almost identical copy, albeit with less hardware and most importantly at a more enticing price point - $200. Keep in mind that these are still considered to be high-end quality headphones with just a tad less creature comforts found on the P5. Those $200 get you one sexy pair of portable headphones. It's fair to say that the P3 are the P5's smaller, portable twin headphones. The two share the same on-ear form factor, but due to the smaller size, the P3 truly have that on-ear feeling with a lighter weight body and small ear pads.
'Suave' is what defines B&W's P3 as a whole.
One simply cannot avoid the elegant beauty of the P3. We've seen our fair share of headphones, but none are quite as good looking as the P3, when strictly looking at high-end offerings that is. Bowers & Wilkins never disappoints in terms of design. The P3 have plenty of style and attention to detail that sets them apart from other headphones. A lot of visual appeal takes place when looking at the P3's well rounded, oval shaped speaker housings. Each seamlessly blend a white smooth matte finish texture with polished chrome metal accents and bead blasted, brushed aluminum driver enclosures that make for an astonishing eye candy.
Bowers & Wilkins thought it would be nice to package these up in a special review edition packaging which features a glossy polycarbonate black box instead of using retail packaging, nonetheless, we like it! The good news is that what's inside is what you actually would be getting with a pair od P3s. Inside you'll find an extra normal 3.5mm audio cable, a white one to match the white P3 color, while a second audio cable designed for use with iOS devices already comes attached to the headphones. Along with that you'll find an excellent matching hardshell carry case, one of the better ones we've seen included with portable headphones that'll actually protect your investment while traveling. And of course, instructions are also included in case you need help with the various features of the P3.
The P3 are available in classic color schemes like black as well as in this pure white and grey tone. A caveat with the white matte color is that it'll show dirt and marks very quickly, and as good as it looks, you may want to consider going with black unless you like an off-white color within a few weeks of heavy use.
You just can't help but admire the beauty that lies in B&W's design. Every product this company makes is a golden masterpiece of unique design. Fortunately, good design ties in with great build quality, which the P3 has despite appearing somewhat fragile and delicate. The quality of materials as well as the construction is absurdly high. Even though the P3 blends metal with plastic, the combination comes together seamlessly. The sculpted aluminum hinges and driver enclosures are what you'd expect from an Apple product. It's as if Apple co-designed and built the P3. The build quality is superb with much attention to detail. The cable is lightweight, perfect for mobile applications obviously. No, not those kind of apps. The 3.5mm plug at the end will fit into any tight space and is gold plated to boot.
Like the P5's, the P3's ear pads are magnetically attached to cover up the speaker and can detach to reveal the detachable cable plug for swapping between the two included audio cables. This has to be the best implementation we've come across for detachable ear pads. It's only a shame Bowers & Wilkins doesn't take advantage of this and offers replaceable ear pads of various sizes and materials for optional customization. Bare in mind that these fabric pads don't isolate background noise well at all.
As good as the design is, the P3 aren't as comfortable as the P5 and don't have side articulating ear pads. In fact, they've quickly gone from being comfortable to being painful in less than an hour of wearing them. On-ear headphones generally tend to be discomfiting for extensive periods of time, but it's difficult to say whether everyone will find them to be uncomfortable. Gone is the supple sheepskin leather that dominated the P5; in favor of fabric covered memory foam padded headband and ear pads. Even though the two are alike in terms of design, the P3 are much smaller, more nimble and take up less space on your head than the P5 do. The P3 have plenty of puffed padding, however, the pads barely large enough to cover the surface of the ear like some on-ear headphones do including the P5. And that creates a more pin-pint pressure that later leads to discomfort. At least in our testing.
The headband smoothly slides for user adjustability instead of clicking into pre-defined levels. We're not big fans of these types of slide adjustments only because you need to eye-ball the two sides for perfect alignment often. The metal joints are also buttery smooth and allow the ear pads to tilt up and down as you would expect.
The P3 has a fully-featured in-line 3-button remote and mic for volume and music playback control as well as letting users use the P3 as a headset for taking calls on iOS devices. The remote lets you skip between tracks, play/pause, adjust the volume and answer/end a call. Our only gripe with it which we've also has with the C5's remote, is that because of its cylindrical shaped body, it's hard to distinguish by feel where to press and more other than not, you'll find yourself pressing the side part of the remote where obviously there isn't a button. But you cannot feel that unfortunately. The only good part of the remote is the middle button which is clearly easy to find being that it's a contoured button.
The microphone can't visually be seen because it's hidden inside the cylinder, and that helps reduce direct wind noise in the background. Overall the audio quality is just as good, but nothing great.
One of the best features about the P3 is their ability to fold up into a portable package that fits into the included hard case neatly without any resistance. The collapsible joints have a solid and assuring metal folding mechanism that reminds you why you've spent so much money on them in the first place. Unlike the P5's ability to twist and lay flat, the P3 headphones folds into itself taking up less space forming a palm-sized, pocketable even (if you dare) package.
As always, we like saving the best for last. Bowers & Wilkins equipped the P3 with smaller 30mm dynamic drivers to fit inside the smaller form factor compared to the 40mm ones found inside the P5. Our first impression from testing the P3 for the first time was that they sounded pretty bad. Highs were somewhat muddy and not up to par with what we've come to expect from B&W, sadly. But that's not all, the entire sound signature sounded held back, recessed and really not at all detailed and clear.
THe P3 sound signature is all over the place, without much balance, detail or clarity to be found. And we tried a bunch of different tracks, all of which are our standard testing tracks we play when conducting audio gear reviews. The bass leaves much to be desired with its rather flat tone, and weak thumpy presence. Although if you like a more natural, less bass intrusive sound, the P3 checks in that regard. And that's exactly what the P3's drivers were tuned for, a natural sound signature, albeit it's on the flat side and underpowered for the most part which requires you to turn up the volume above normal. It's feasible that it has something to do with the smaller drivers compared to other headphones having larger drivers to work with.
We didn't lose hope though, and found out the after only a few hours of burn-in time, the P3 fought back and drastically improved its audio quality. We always recommend spending time with a brand new set of headphones before judging their sound performance as often times dynamic drivers improve with use. With that said, the P3's high tones while having good clarity, did not sound as bright as we expected at this kind of price.
When we directly compared the P3 against a pair of on-ear headphones at half the cost, the Capital by Aiaiai, it's only then when it becomes clear that the P3 aren't worth their asking price audio wise. The P3 sound similar to the Capital except their performance is noticeably far less appealing. The highs, mids and lows sound recessed and held back. The to top it all off, the sound signature isn't as bright and pronounced unfortunately. And that's a big shame when you factor in the expertise that Bowers & Wilkins has and is most known for. The P3 are simply not as good as their bigger sibling, the P5. They definitely look better than they sound, and that's exactly why I thought of Apple's great ability to design yet fall short when good sounding audio comes into play.
For someone who hasn't had the pleasure of listening to B&W's P5 headphones or any other comparable headphones for that matter, it's safe to say that the P3 won't sound too bad to the untrained ear. But that still doesn't mean we are going to recommend these to you, rest assured. With that being said however, we think you should consider taking the P3 for a test drive yourself, as everyone as their personal preference and taste in audio. And who knows, you might end up liking the complete package the P3 have to offer.
If on-ear headphones is what you're after, then we can highly recommend you turn to Aiaiai's Capital for great sound, superior comfort and even more durability for half the price than of the P3. With that said, we think the P3 aren't necessarily a bad pair of headphones, they're even super sexy, but for $200 you're better off with something that'll give you more bang for your buck. However, even though it would be doubtful - we think that the P3 are worth considering as long as you've got the patience of burning them in right out of the box, have deep pockets to spend because their unique design really strikes your fancy, and can't distinguish between great and decent sound.