Bowers & Wilkins P3 Review: The Sound Is There, But The Luxury Is Spare

Bowers & Wilkins P3 Review: The Sound Is There, But The Luxury Is Spare

The fact that Bowers & Wilkins makes excellent audio products is not up for discussion. The company’s product history speaks for itself, ranging from outstanding iProduct docks to speakers made from diamonds. A few years ago, B&W released the sensational P5s, and it now has a little brother in the new P3s.

What Is It?

High-class, high-buck headphones that fold up for easy travelling.

Who’s it For?

Frequent bizclass flyers, urban warriors not afraid of getting jacked, rich students, animal lovers.


No animals died for these headphones. Although they look a lot like the P5s, which costs $100 more, there is soft-touch plastic and speaker cloth in place of leather and brushed aluminium; this makes them feel like the lower-end product they are. The engineering, however, is still top-notch: B&W gave the P3 a double cord (it comes out of both earcups) instead of a single cord, because engineers had to redesign the driver enclosures to maximise airflow for a small space.

Using It

Sound is excellent, which is to be expected from B&W — balanced and full, a little less bassy than the P5s, but nothing to whine about. They’re quick firing off rapid sound salvos with equal oomph on every shot. The speaker cloth-covered earpads take some getting used to, but they keep your ears from getting swampy during long sessions.

The Best Part

Build quality is exceptional, a bounty of positive onomatopoeias: the headphones fold up with a positive click; magnetic earpads catch hold of their cups with a satisfying thunk; the black, taco-shaped hard case snaps shut like it’s trying to bite off your finger.

Tragic Flaw

Soft-touch plastic. Everywhere. This is not a luxury material — it’s a goddamn travesty. It belongs on the backs of phones and tablets where you need a grip, not on an otherwise wonderful piece of gear. It’s in such abundance — around the earcups, on top of the headband — that it just makes the whole product feel cheap. And this stuff does not wear well; once it starts taking on that rubbed-down shine, these beautiful headphones are gonna look like crap.

This Is Weird…

Folded up, in the case, it feels like the P3s take up more room in your bag than the non-folding P5s in their quilted slipcase.

Test Notes

  • Listened to more than 100 hours of high-fidelity, low-quality, music crap (Styx, Rush, Men at Work, Flo Rida and LOTS of Bluegrass) from a variety or sources: iPhone, iPod, HTC One X, Nokia Lumia 800, digital out to a Topping TP32 DAC.
  • Crappy soft-touch plastic.
  • Fuzzed for 72 hours using a looped brown noise track I once made in a sound design class.
  • Available in black or white, but the black looks better.
  • Comes with a standard cord and one sporting an inline remote that’s Made for iPhone. Circle-R.

Should You Buy It?

Sure. Go for it. But only if you don’t mind all the soft-touch plastic. [Bowers & Wilkins]

Bowers & Wilkins P3

Frequency response: 10Hz to 20kHz *cough*
Max input power: 50mW
Sensitivity: 111dB/V at 1kHz
Cable length: 1.2m
Weight 130g
Price: $269.95 RRP in Australia (also available at Apple’s online store)