Bowers & Wilkins PX7 review: Bose-beating noise-cancelling headphones

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

The PX7 are the latest flagship noise-cancelling headphones from upmarket British manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins, which excel on sound while giving Bose a real run for its money.

B&W have long made excellent headphones. Its first noise-cancelling headphones looked and sounded great, but weren’t comfortable. The £350 PX7’s redesigned earcups fix that problem while offering Bose-rivalling noise cancelling and exquisite sound.

Distinctive design

B&W’s headphone design stands out compared to most others with the company’s distinctive mix of single-arm earcup mounts, fabric covers and large brushed-metal trims.

The PX7 are large, over-ear headphones but they manage their 310g weight and bulk well, not feeling too heavy or cumbersome on the head. The earcups are big, with plush cushions that sit firmly but comfortably on the side of your head. The headband is lined with the same soft leatherette as the earcups and sits comfortably on your dome and doesn’t slip around on your hair.

The headband is long and protrudes with the arms wider than the ear cups, making the headphones look big on your head. Wearing them is therefore a bit of a statement compared with something more subtle such as the Bose QC35 II.

The earcups rotate to flat for storage, but not into a more compact alignment with the cups together, which makes them fairly large to put into a bag.

Specifications

  • Weight: 310g

  • Drivers: 43.6mm

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C charging and audio, 3.5mm headphones socket

  • Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive

  • Battery life: 30 hours

Controls and connectivity

The left earcup has a multi-function button that controls noise cancelling. Press it to cycle between automatic, low, high and noise cancelling off. Press and hold it to activate an excellent, customisable ambient mode for listening out for announcements.

The right earcup has a USB-C charging port, a 3.5mm analogue socket, three buttons for controlling playback, track skip and volume, plus a sliding switch for turning the headphones on or off and activating pairing.

The buttons are excellent, with a clear metallic-sounding click when you’ve successfully activated them. The earcups also have presence sensors. Lift one or take off the headphones and the music pauses and resumes when they’re replaced.

The PX7s are some of the most connected and future-proofed headphones money can buy – however you want to connect your device, these headphones will handle it.

For those that prefer the cabled approach, the standard 3.5mm audio socket is there, although you have to have the headphones powered on for it to work. The USB-C socket can also be used for audio with any computer, tablet or smartphone that supports USB-C audio output.

Bluetooth 5.0 caters for those that want to go wireless. They support the standard SBC and AAC audio codecs, plus Qualcomm’s latest aptX Adaptive Audio codecs, which is designed to solve lipsync and interference issues, while providing significantly higher quality audio. They are some of the first headphones to support the new standard, which is also backwards compatible with the older aptX and aptX HD available on practically every modern Android smartphone and Windows computer. Apple’s various devices are limited to AAC as their highest quality standard.

The PX7s can connect to two Bluetooth devices at once, which is handy for watching video on your computer or tablet while still being connected to your phone for calls. Connectivity to an iPhone 11 Pro, a OnePlus 7 Pro 5G or a Microsoft Surface Pro 6 was rock solid while no lipsync issues were visible on any video apps on an iPhone or Android device.

Active noise cancelling

Bose has long been king of active noise-cancelling technology, which uses microphones to detect unwanted sound and cancels it out with the inverse sound waves projected from the headphone’s speakers.

The PX7 rival Bose in being able to all but eliminate the roar of the road or engine, do a very good job of reducing voice and other distractions common in the office or commute, and do so without affecting the the sound quality.

They also have a low and automatic mode. The low is only suitable for listening in a quiet space, or if you want some awareness of your surroundings. I ended up leaving them on maximum.

One area of weakness is in dealing with wind noise, which comes through the headphones loudly. Turning off the noise cancelling helped, but Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are unrivalled here.

Sound

Simply put, the PX7 sound fantastic; they are the sort of multi-talented headphones that have you discovering new elements in well-worn tracks.

Feed them some high-energy electronica and you’re treated to punchy, well controlled bass, energetic mids and sparkling highs. They sound suitably raw for a full-blooded rendition of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, while you’ll practically be able to hear fingers on strings during Hotel California from the Eagles’ remastered Hell Freezes Over. They’re just as at home playing something like Jupiter from Holst’s the Planets suite or Ella Fitzgerald’s classic Summertime too.

My only criticism is that to get the best out of them you have to give them a little bit of volume, but anything above one-third on your phone’s volume scale and you’re rocking.

Call quality was good, with the other end of the line clearly able to hear me even with background noise, which did leak in more than Bose or Sennheiser rivals but was managable.

Battery life

The PX7s last for about 30 hours of wireless playback with noise cancelling active, which is long enough for about three weeks of commuting or more than enough for even the longest of flights. A 15-minute charge also provides up to around five hours of playback, should they need topping up, with a full charge taking around three hours.

The battery is rated for a minimum of 500 full charge cycles, after which capacity is likely to be reduced to 80%, but should still work fine. The battery can be replaced B&W under service. The earpads are user replaceable, costing £22 for a pair, while the headphones are generally repairable rather than disposable.

The PX7s do not contain any recycled material, but B&W does accept old units for recycling.

Observations

  • There is an occasional audible creak from the headphones’ frame when wearing them

  • USB-C audio works with Android smartphones, but not via a USB-C to Lightning cable with an iPhone

Price

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are available in dark grey or silver costing £349.99.

For comparison, the RRP for the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is £349.95, QuietComfort 35 II is £300 (currently £280), Sony’s WH-1000XM3 cost £329, Beats Studio 3 Wireless cost £300, with cheaper models such as Lindy’s BNX-60 starting around £90.

Verdict

The new Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are a fantastic set of big, expensive headphones that are worth every penny.

Very few headphones manage to combine truly effective noise cancellation with exquisite sound, but that’s what we have here. The PX7 are some of the best-sounding headphones I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in a long time.

They’re also comfortable, stay put on your head, last a long time between charges and are future-proofed thanks to support for the very latest Bluetooth standards, codecs and both USB-C audio and a traditional 3.5mm analogue headphones cable. However you want to connect the PX7 to your devices they have you covered.

They aren’t quite perfect; only folding flat not together and being fairly heavy and large. They also struggle with wind noise and when the battery runs flat they won’t work at all, not even via cable.

But if you’re looking for a set of high-end wireless noise-cancelling headphones that also sound like they’re worth the premium you pay for them, the B&W PX7 should be at the top of your list.

Pros: fantastic sound, effective noise cancelling, long battery life, USB-C charging and audio, 3.5mm headphones, Bluetooth 5.0, atpX Adaptive, comfortable, stable

Cons: big, expensive, can’t be used via cable without power, only fold flat, struggle with wind noise

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