The story of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition (website) is one of many welcomed surprises. Not often in life are we gifted with genuine surprises, and the ones most commonly thrust upon us are usually anything but welcomed. The story begins as I am wrapping up the Audeze LCD-1 headphone review, and finding a new appreciation for all things sonically flat in regards to headphones. The requisite act of searching for a balanced sense of color and low-distortion through the careful matching of associated electronics to pair with the LCD-1 becomes in itself an addictive pursuit.
Words and Photos by Eric Franklin Shook
Here I was, finding new levels of transparency and bliss with the LCD-1 and its remarkably even-handed measure of eq and dynamics, when something completely different arrives in the form of “noise-cancelling Bluetooth” headphones. And with that arrival: color, warmth, excitement, sexiness, and a seductive sense of refinement.
I typically think of “noise-cancelling” headphones as something you purchase specifically for air travel, as one of the first implementations of noise-cancelling technology was used to block out flight noise and nothing more. No imparted side-role of setting the stage for music playback, noise-cancelling was purely a tool for bringing about a comfortable silence.
As for anything “Bluetooth,” I have my own biases and opinions. I typically think of Bluetooth headphones (and speakers) as something an audiophile would buy for their child, spouse, girlfriend, or all three. For the off chance that someone close to you also shares the same importance you place on sound quality is unlikely. Further, who can be bothered with physical tethering in the age of nearly everything being wireless?
Time passes, lessons learned; people and things do change
In the case of Bluetooth technology, many iterations of the transmission stream have changed for the better, along with noise-cancellation technology becoming more adapted for practical terrestrial use. Let’s take a look at what the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition headphones are in specie.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition headphones represent a top-of-the-line offering that represents over a decades worth of B&W’s presence in the headphone market. Beginning when B&W unveiled the P5 model in 2009. Since then, only a few more headphone models have come out of the West Sussex design house. Most recently the PX7 and the new Carbon Edition it is based on.
The PX7 Carbon Edition starts with a roomy pair of over-the-ear ear cups which house two class-leading 43.6mm drivers. Also housed are the battery power bank, the amplifier, a Bluetooth signal receiver, and a well laid out collection of tactile controls. On the right ear cup, buttons for power on and pairing, buttons for flanking volume up and down, along with a single (and larger) center button used for handling incoming calls and executing the play, pause, fast forwarding, and rewinding functions via multi-clicking. On the left ear cup, a single button for activating and disabling the adaptive-noise-cancellation, which by default (when powered on) is set to high. Using this single button on the left ear-cup, one can cycle through the adaptive-noise-cancellation modes, starting from high, to low, to auto, and ultimately off, before circling back around to the default highest mode.
There are a few ancillary holes and ports on the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition, many of which are microphones. Four microphones are for the active noise cancellation, and two microphones for capturing the wearers voice of during phone calls. An interesting feature is the addition of noise-cancellation on the vocal microphones, which works well to eliminate environmental noise. Especially with wind noise during my own use. This microphone feature is a much appreciated inclusion for anyone habitually on the go.
Among the physical ports are: one analog input for audio, and one USB port for both battery charging and the sourcing of digital audio data. Both are meant for a tethered music listening experience, though neither of the included USB-C cable or 3.5mm analog cable yielded a substantial upgrade in sound quality over Bluetooth 5.0. So, for the remainder of the review I continue to reflect on using a Bluetooth connection exclusively.
Fit, Finish, and Function – Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition
Before I get right into the sonics, it must be said that the Bowers & Wilkins headphones are stunning, fashionable, comfortable, and surprisingly lightweight (310 grams) for all the technology they contain. The headphone ear-cups swivel and articulate silently. The ear-cups are surprisingly roomy for larger ears and clamp with just the right amount of pressure to ensure a secure fit while unseated. The ear-cups offer passive isolation and a physical seal from outside noises but are still comfortable over long listening sessions. The PX7s are some of the best fitting and most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn.
I guess I can say this is next feature is included, but not really, though it is free to download. It is the Bowers & Wilkins headphone app. And before you recoil into your chair with a defeated sigh, the app is not a mandatory fixture of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition headphones feature set, but it does indeed offer a extra optimizations and features I found uniquely useful. Notably the ability to tailor the amount of ambient noise allowed to enter the headphones while the noise cancellation is active. Another enjoyable feature is the provided set of B&W Soundscapes, which include things like ocean noises, campfires, and rain forest drizzle. Soothing and calming sounds for sure, and a nostalgic reminder of why noise-cancelling headphones originated. For a sense of peace and quiet.
Unique to the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition over the standard PX7 is the all-black look that features a carbon fiber composite build and diamond-cut aluminum dressing. The overall look of the headphones is mature and refined. Which more or less speaks to how they sound as well.
I enlisted the help of my best model friend Carolyn Yuziuk (pictured), who is also a student of Industrial Design & Engineering, for some expert assistance in this review. I picked her powerful brain on the design, build, and sound quality of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition headphones, as I felt they merited the gathering of an aesthetic point-of-view and non-audiophile critique.
Carolyn had this to say about her experience with them:
“In ID terms, Bowers & Wilkins’ choice of color, material, and finish for the PX7 Carbon Edition headphones very softly screams luxury. Musically speaking, the PX7’s are as transporting as they are portable. The noise cancelling capabilities really transported me to a different world while walking around in downtown Raleigh. The sound quality was one of the best I’ve ever heard outside of Eric’s wired [and clunky] headphone systems. Don’t doubt it, these are top tier headphones. My only complaint is to the companion app and its absence of a rock setting. Having that feature in an updated version of the app would be a gneiss addition.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Sound – Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition
At the first listen, I went in strong with absolutely no music at all. Testing outright the ability of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition’s first priority – to render noise eliminated. Picture me, standing next to an open refrigerator, with no audio device paired to the headphones, cycling through the Noise Cancellation settings, taking note of how the hum of my modern day icebox is noticeably absent and the background upon which all music and media will be heard is remarkably silent. Admittedly a geeky moment for me.
Finally firing up the music, I take the headphones off, expecting them to continue playing for the next 24-hrs to break-in, but the music comes to a full stop. The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 feature a wear sensor, that senses when the wearer removes one or two of the ear-cups, thus automatically pausing the music. Once the ear-cup is returned to the listening position, the music resumes without further human input.
Bass on the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 is powerful and prodigious. If there’s anything these headphones do with aplomb, it’s the bass region. Is it a bit overcooked for my taste with new recordings? Possibly. But it sure as hell is fun with older recordings that often need extra reinforcement. Overall, I think the bass presentation is enjoyable and done in a tasteful manner.
The tuning of the PX7 retains a slight dip in the low-mid frequency curve that presents itself as smooth and laid back. The upper mid-range and treble frequencies sparkle and shimmer enough to provide ample detail and gloss, while the true mid-range is just soft enough to allow one to relax a bit when things in the source material get a tad shouty.
Speaking to the treble specifically, the energy and shimmer houses a peak in the frequency response. But done so carefully and in the correct contrast to the bass, that I really can’t find any fault with the sonic tailoring. The end result is full, lush and plush sound without feeling boxed in or in other realms: sounding closed-back. The sense of musical space inside the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 is noteworthy for seeming larger and more well imaged than expected.
Conclusion – Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition
Who are these for? Well, this is a point where I say that the question doesn’t quite work in identifying a specific portion of the populace. For me they are for everyone who doesn’t already own a pair of Bluetooth headphones. The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition are to me the most exhilarating introduction one could find into the world of Bluetooth headphones. They are for anyone who wants class-leading sonic performance and noise cancellation.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are supremely comfortable, and deliver a refined version of musical excitement and dynamics that seems right at home when on the go. At home there are times when you just want a slice of something different and simply decadent, and in that they do deliver. Their rich sound and powerful dynamics can imbue a few tired recordings with enough energy to find them shifting out of the “chill-out” playlist, and taking up shop in the “jam-out” playlist.
At just $399 USD, it is quite amazing what Bowers & Wilkins has packed into the PX7 Carbon Edition in terms of function, sound, and stunning build quality. The years of research and development into high-end headphones have paid off for B&W, as the overall execution of the PX7 feels second to none. Making the PX7 my go to recommendation for a noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphone set, but also for those looking to get their hands on a sample of what the Bower & Wilkins name means when it comes to designing a product with key attributes of refinement and luxury at the forefront.
For Bowers & Wilkins the PX7 Carbon Edition headphones are the best business card that money will buy. They represent so much of the transparent music listening experience that B&W delivers in their upstream two-channel products, that I can see these headphones creating a new sense of fandom around the brand. I now wear the PX7 daily, and thus bring them to you highly recommended.
Bowers & Wilkins the PX7 Carbon Edition
Retail: $399 USD
Weight: 310 grams
Frequency Response: 10Hz–30kHz
Battery: 30 hrs Bluetooth with ANC, 5 hrs with 15 min charge
Drivers: 2 x ø 43.6mm full range
Codecs: aptX™ Adaptive, aptX™ HD, aptX™ Classic, AAC, SBC
Accessories: 1.2m stereo audio cable, 1.2m USB-A to USB-C cable, Storage Case
Bowers & Wilkins: https://www.bowerswilkins.com/