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British brand Bowers & Wilkins is known for its dedication to sound wrapped in elegant-looking designs, providing its headphones wearers with not only one of the best looking but one of the best sounding sets of headphones around. The brand’s latest and greatest launch, the PX7 S2, is B&W’s continued foray into the active noise-cancellation space and a meaty upgrade over their PX7 headphones. We covered the initial news of their launch but were keen to test out a pair. So how do the PX7 compare to other noise-canceling headphones we’ve reviewed, like Sony’s XM5 (the current top dog for ANC cans)? Read on to find out.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 ANC Headphones
- Sturdy and comfortable build
- Fantastic sound
- Strong battery life
- Microphones for calls could be better
- ANC is good but not great
Bowers Wilkins PX7 S2 Review: Setup
Like most Bluetooth headphones and earbuds, the PX7 S2 is pretty easy to pair. I turned on the headphones by toggling the power button on the back side of the right earcup, which immediately kicked the unit into Bluetooth pairing mode. From there, I selected the device from my Bluetooth menu and was paired and ready to listen to my favorite audio. One interesting tidbit is that (at least on iPhones) you’ll get an on-screen prompt to download the Bowers & Wilkins mobile app for different settings. Upon opening the app, I was presented with a few additional options, including the ability to adjust the noise cancellation functionality, adjust the treble and bass settings or add another device for multipoint connectivity. For that last tidbit alone, downloading the app will be essential.
Bowers Wilkins PX7 S2 Review: Premium, Lightweight Design
While some headphones I’ve reviewed are minimal regarding branding, that’s not the case with the PX7 S2. The Bowers & Wilkins logo is printed on the left and right earcups. That’s not a dealbreaker by any stretch, but it does feel like somewhat of a departure from the headphones I like and enjoy. Nevertheless, the rest of the construction feels not unlike most noise-canceling headphones we’ve looked at before, albeit with some elevated flourishes. I like the feel of the textured earcups and headband, which reminds me of a pebbled leather you may find on a more high-end pair of loafers. The headphones feel pretty sturdy overall, but they don’t feel heavy. B&W reworked the drivers down to 40mm from the last version’s 43mm drivers.
The foam used in the earpads and headband construction is excellent and feels better than the materials used in Sony’s XM5. That’s not to say the foam in the XM5 is bad, but I immediately noticed how much more cushy and comfy the PX7 S2 felt on my ears for extended periods. Instead of touch controls, the headphones opt for button-based functionality; the button on the left cup controls noise-cancellation, while the ones on the right are for controlling volume, power and pause/play. While the ear cups fully swivel, the headband doesn’t collapse, which makes the headphones slightly big to fit in a bag, which I could see being a minor annoyance when I (inevitably) overpack my carry-on bag.
The PX7 S2’s Best Features
In terms of features, the PX7 S2 is in-line with similar headphones in the space, offering active noise cancellation, pass-through, long battery life and multipoint connectivity. The active noise-cancellation is going to be the primary selling point for most users, but the multipoint feature is really what makes these stand out, as a lot of premium headphones don’t include it. Pairing a second device to the headphones is essential and a welcome addition.
The PX7 S2 Offer Better Audio Quality than Sony
If everything about the PX7 S2 sounds standard, that may be the case — right up to the point where it’s time to evaluate the actual sound of the headphones. It’s here where Bowers & Wilkins’ headphones excel. As blown away by the sound on the new Sony XM5 headphones as I was, the PX7 S2 is a step up compared to those. The tone is well-balanced, providing a real sense of clarity to the songs. To wit: Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen” really shined in how I could distinctively hear the separate lines of the bass, drums, synth and even Kevin Parker’s vocals without sounding messy or distorted. It’s always a pleasant surprise when you can find a new depth and layer to a song you feel like you’ve heard a thousand times, and that was certainly the case with the PX7 S2.
Since I had such a revelatory experience with “Immigrant Song” on the XM5s, I also spent a lot of time listening to that song and found my listening improved on the PX7 S2. The thunderous roar was even more rapturous this go-round. Much like anyone who watched Season 4 of Stranger Things, I’ve spent a lot of time revisiting Metallica; running “Master of Puppets” through the PX7 S2, simply put, rocked my ears and the guitars especially felt kinetic and pulse-pounding.
But it’s not just songs I’ve listened to previously, but new tracks as well. The 1975’s “Part of the Band” felt dense, while the string section popped with a propulsiveness I appreciated. Even on podcasts, speaking tones felt more pronounced and layered.
However, while these headphones offer a step up on audio quality compared to Sony’s XM5s, the active noise-cancellation on the headphones is a slight step down. Don’t misunderstand: these headphones do perform well in terms of ANC, but they’re not the best we’ve tested. I noticed some slight bleedthrough from outside noises in really loud spaces. It’s not enough to entirely discount the headphones but having gotten used to how superlative Sony’s headphones are, I did notice a difference. I need to take them on a flight to fully evaluate the difference between the two, but there’s more than enough oomph here to cut out the majority of noise you’ll find at a coffee shop or on a crowded subway.
It’s also taken me a little while to get used to not having touch controls on the earcups, but I eventually got used to it. The nice thing about having physical buttons is that they’re buttons with individual uses. That means I didn’t have to worry about a swipe to skip tracks being confused as a tap to pause. The pause/play button stands out because it has a bit of a textured edge to it, making it easier to recognize what it is amongst the volume control buttons above and below. Once I got a feel for the buttons, I came to appreciate them more than I initially did, but I certainly spent the first few days swiping the earcups to no avail.
However, the microphones on the PX7 S2 leave a lot to be desired, sounding echo-y and not ideal for long conversations. I wouldn’t recommend taking important work calls with them, but the headphones will work in a pinch if you have to take a personal call. Battery life clocks in around 30 hours, with several hours of battery life restored from a 15-minute charge.
The Verdict: Should You Buy the PX7 S2?
The PX7 S2 makes for a worthy challenger to the XM5’s throne, especially for those who prioritize the sound over tech-based features like active noise-cancellation. The ANC on the PX7 S2 is undoubtedly good enough to tackle most daily noises.
If you’re looking to get one of the best-sounding headphones on the market, the PX7 S2 should be a top consideration. Those looking for better overall noise-canceling should stick with Sony’s new XM5s. But I’m impressed with what I’ve heard from these Bower & Wilkins headphones and may make them my default home-office headphones for listening to music.
What Are Some Alternatives?
Looking for other great noise-canceling headphones? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with these suggestions.
1. Sony WH-1000XM5 Bluetooth ANC Headphones
For our money, Sony’s XM5 headphones are still the top dog and the one to beat when it comes to a pure ANC experience.
2. Apple AirPods Max ANC Headphones
Apple’s flagship ANC headphones both look and sound impressive, but you’ll have to pay a pretty price to get your hands on them.
3. Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700
The Bose 700 is the flagship product in Bose’s noise-canceling range of products and still well-worth considering among these other options.