Are the B&W P5 the Best On-Ear Headphones?




I’ve recently had a slew of new headphones come into my hands.  From in-ear monitors to circumaural (over the ear), I love the way this market segment has grown over the years.  I confess, however, that my least-favorite design tends to be on-ear headphones.

Legendary speaker maker, Bowers and Wilkins, may have just changed my opinion on that matter.  I received a pair of their P5 Series 2 wired headphones last week and I’ve been smitten ever since.  I was certainly skeptical. “Alas,” I thought to myself. “If only they had sent me the P7.”  Yet how often can preconceived notions get you into trouble.

Aesthetically, the headphone are just gorgeous.  Fit and finish are top notch, as you’d expect from B&W.  The design and feel of the headphones are likewise stellar.  The leather is soft and supple and it’s fits like a glove around your ears.  A slick feature is the ability to replace the ear pieces and the cable.  The left ear piece is magnetically affixed to the main headphone body. Giving the left ear cup a good tug reveals a slick raceway for the cable that not only provides a good overall look to the headphone but also acts as a way to reduce any stresses on the cable itself.

When I put the headphones on the first time, they hurt.  In fact, they bothered me tremendously.  Save for the metal Bang and Olufsen Form 2i models, they were among the most snug-fitting on-ear headphones I’d tried.  Over several days, I noticed that the headphones started to loosen up.  Like a good pair of leather dress shoes, they need a few days to break in.  If you’re patient with the break-in,  your patience will pay off in spades.

Once they did, they never ceased to impress.  The ability to suppress outside noise is uncanny for an on-ear design.  And the sound?  In a word, glorious.  The midrange is smooth and full.  High notes are delicate and immediate.  The bass contains a balance of dynamism and presence that just elevates the musical experience.  Seriously, how many times have you worn a pair of headphones and been satisfied the way they render the timbre and body of a grand piano?

Though I’ve had these headphones for less than a week, I found myself using them as my go-to-pair of headphones for travel and casual listening.  In fact, I’ve found myself substituting the P5 Series two for many situations where I was previously using my in-ear B&W C5 headphones.

The supplied iPhone-phone compatible cord is smartly designed.  You can do all the typical actions such as play, pause, forward, reverse, and launch Siri.  However, the tactile design of the cord and included microphone makes any of those actions simple and unmistakable because of the say its implemented.

At $299/pair, B&W has put real audiophile sound within reach of mere mortals.  Add to the fact that you have replaceable, magnetic ear cups; crazy sound isolation in an on-ear design; an in-line remote and microphone; and top-notch build quality, then what you get is simple: The B&W P5 Series 2 Headphones stand atop the mountain as the best sub $500 on-ear headphones you can buy and one of the best headphone values around.  Highly, highly recommended.


  1. I have also compared these with a lot of headsets and I can not understand why someone interested in audio like yourself can be positive about these.
    I tested 14 headsets with iPhone / separate dacs like Ressonance labs / chord hugo etc and fi think this P5 headset is among the most overpriced / worst headsets ever

  2. I'm so sorry you haven't had the same experience as I've had with these headphones. Believe me, I was not in the least expecting a positive experience with these headphones. Spending a lot of time with these has changed my tune. I hope you had a chance to take your P5 set home and test them for an extended period of time. I've paired these up with the Sony Hi-Res Walkman for all my critical listening. To be sure, these have a decidedly B&W signature sound associated with them. For my part, I like the B&W signature sound.

  3. I have owned the P5 for 6 months. I have used them for extended periods of time with the Sony NWZX1. Aside from the way they look they are very ordinary. I can think of at least 10 other models that are truer and 'nicer' (I could string a 100 word audio wise explanation instead of 'nice'but it would still mean the same thing) sounding but cheaper. In fact, to my ears the B&W P3's are much better sounding headphones if only they were a bit more comfortable on the ears. Give the P3's a whirl. I have stopped using the P5's and instead use the Philips Fidelio M1 or the P3 headphones for my commutes. Seriously suggest that you listen to a few more headphones, back to back, and reconsider your opinion.

  4. After some comments from people who did some real comparing with different headsets, it should be obvious that praising this headset with regard to its sound is sort of ridiculous.

    I agree Bower & Wilkins deliver an enormous achievement in selling this Headset at this price.

    And this is especially a marketing achievement

  5. Hi! I have the Series 2. And honestly, its not a bad set…its a quantum leap over series1 (I spent all of 15 mins with series 1). However its just overpriced and does not deliver to the B&W brand name. And that's just my opinion. I have obviously read many glowing reviews to the P5 and it just makes me wonder….

  6. I've found that B&W has adjusted a few things with their Series 2 models for the better. For example with the C5s, the bass was a bit exaggerated and this was addressed with the second iteration of the C5s. I never had a chance to listen to the P5 Series 1, so I cannot comment from experience on that particular model. I've continued to listen to the P5 Series 2 all week and I continue to find them very enjoyable, though they do still need more break-in on the tension. They do turn my ears a bit red when I'm wearing them for several hours. While I still much prefer over the ear cans, these P5s have really changed my tune about on-ear models.

  7. I got these as a gift. I found them extremely bass heavy and oddly balanced and wrote EQ settings for my music apps to lessen much of the bloated bass. THEN I removed the foam from the ear pieces and the balance of the phones greatly improved! Apparently, being 6'-4" tall, the added pressure from the phones stretching to reach my ears caused the grossly excessive bass. They are still a touch snug but sound so much more balanced now that the foam is removed.

  8. I find it odd that B&W includes a modular connector with the P5 but doesn't offer longer lengths for home use. Shouldn't you be able to get a 10' or longer cable from them for these phones?

  9. There's no question that these headphones require break in for the headband. I flexed the headband for several days to take away that initial pinch. They fit very tightly when first opened out of the box. I cannot think of a situation where an adult won't have to do something like that and if you're reaching 6' 4" then even more!