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. Even the Queen weighed in. A few years ago, B&W started making headphones, releasing the sensational P5s. The P3s are that product's little brother: $100 cheaper, with an additional trick up their cables.

What Is It?

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

Who's it For?

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

Design

No animals died to make these headphones: Though they look a lot like the P5s, there's soft-touch plastic and speaker cloth in place of leather and brushed aluminum; 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 (ie, it comes out of both earcups) instead of a single cord because engineers had to re-design the driver enclosures to maximize airflow for a small space. Dope.

Bowers & Wilkins P3 Review: The Sound Is There, but the Luxury Is SpareS

Using It

Sound is excellent, which is to be expected from a serious-business company like 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 'phones 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.

Bowers & Wilkins P3 Review: The Sound Is There, but the Luxury Is SpareS

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 a little cheap. And this stuff does not wear well. Once it starts taking on that rubbed-down shine, these beautiful 'phones 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 un-foldable P5s in their quilted slipcase.

Bowers & Wilkins P3 Review: The Sound Is There, but the Luxury Is SpareS

Test Notes

  • Listened to more than 100 hours of high-fidelity, low-quality, music—crap like Styx, Rush, Men at Work, and LOTS of Bluegrass. Oh, and Flo Rida—from a variety or sources: iPhone, iPod, HTC One X, Nokia Lumia 800, digital out to a Topping TP32 DAC.
  • Fucking soft-touch plastic.
  • Fuzzed for 72 hours using a looped brown noise track I made in a sound design class in college.
  • Available in black or white, but the white looks stupid.
  • 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. [Bowers & Wilkins]

Bowers & Wilkins P3 Review: The Sound Is There, but the Luxury Is SpareS

Bowers & Wilkins P3 Specs

Frequency response: 10Hz to 20kHz *cough*
Max. input power: 50mW
Sensitivity: 111dB/V at 1kHz
Cable length: 1.2m
Weight 130g
Impedance 34 ohms
Price: $200
Giz Rank: 3.5 stars