Headphones are a lot like Olympic athletes. There are the bold, fashionable ones that are big on bass (Usain Bolt). There are the sets with a lot of style, but disappointing performance (sorry Philips Odowu), or the good all rounders (Jessica Ennis). And then there are Bowers & Wilkins’ P3s, £170, which I will liken to Mr Mo Farah.
The P3s seemingly have a lot in in common with Mo… sort of. For one, they’ve both drawn knowledge from the experts in their fields. Mo has trained with the Kenyans, and the P3s use the same technologies that feature in the B&W speakers in Abbey Road Studios. And they’re both reliant on natural talents – Mo has his sprint finish, and the P3s claim to bring out the best of the recorded sound without distorting the bass or treble. But do the P3s put in a gold medal-winning performance? Well…
Build quality When you first unpackage them, you’d be forgiven for mistaking your P3s for a snazzy pair of sunglasses. Mine came in a hard case that snapped shut so tight, I nearly had to rename this blog Girl Without Fingers. Well at least my headphones are protected. And they’re handsome too – I’ve been testing a white pair, but they also come in black. The earpads fold inwards to make the set more portable. Think of it, if you will, as a sort of inverted Mo-bot. Ha! It’s just a shame about the rubberised white finish of the headband, which seemed prone to marking, particularly with newspaper print. For a set of headphones marketed at commuters, that’s not such great news.
The cord length is good, cutting some slack when your music player’s hanging out in your handbag. The P3s come with two sets of cords, the first with a control that allows you to receive and end iPhone calls, adjust the volume, and double click to skip a track – a fact I discovered by accident but was thereafter eternally grateful for. That second cord, by the way, is for Non iPhone users that don’t want to be taunted by the extra functions, and is easily fitted by pulling off the magnetic earpads. Clever!
Comfort Even after hours (three and a bit on a train ‘ooop North’) of listening, my ears and I found the P3s to be very comfy indeed. The headband pulled the earpads to my lugholes firmly, but not too tightly, and although it seemed to be a cost-cutting exercise at first, I came to appreciate that they were covered in a smart grey breathable fabric as opposed to sweat inducing leather.
Sound quality Unlike a lot of ‘cool cans’ endorsed by rappers and footballers and what not, these ones don’t place a heavy emphasis on bass or treble. Sure, they’re bass friendly, but what you get is a rich and precise sound, where it’s easy to pick out individual instruments. They work especially well on tracks with a lot of acoustic guitar or piano – I swear I could hear Chris Martin’s fingers move towards the piano keys during Fix You, and they added a whole new dimension to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, with every brush of a tambourine as clear as day.
Noise cancelling Though they did a fine job of muffling out morning commuters, the P3s couldn’t hack it through the last train home crowd. But Boy About Tech didn’t notice any sound leaking out when I was sat next to him with the P3s strapped on.
Girl About Tech’s verdict If you like your music bassy and loud, these are not the headphones for you. Neither are they the best at cancelling the noise, either going in or coming out. But then they aren’t noise-cancelling headphones – instead, they’re comfy, portable and will help you rediscover your music collection. At £170 they’re not cheap, but I reckon they’re well worth the money.