In conversation with the Editor while I was immobilised with a fractured ankle we agreed that about the only things I might be able to handle for review would be headphones, shortly thereafter a pair of Bowers & Wilkins Px8s a few weeks ago. Back in the ‘90s when I was doing a lot of business travel I bought myself a pair of the original Bose noise cancelling headphones to use with a portable CD player and then with an Apple iPod. At home however headphone use was a much more occasional activity, with most listening being done with loudspeakers. I own a pair of Audioquest Nighthawks, which are mostly used to test the headphone output of amplifiers that are being for reviewed.
The Px8 are presented in a sturdy display box, which when opened reveals a rigid carrying case, fastened with a zip. Open the case and we find the headphones themselves, in this instance with the black Nappa leather finish. There is a tan option available if preferred. The first impression is of extremely high build quality and a very functional design, with the leather wrapped padded headband supporting a pair of cast aluminium yolks for the earpieces, with cups also finished in soft black Nappa leather. The cloth-lined interior of each cup sports either a large L or R, so that you are unlikely to put them on the wrong way round.
On the right earpiece we find the on/off control which also pairs the Bluetooth5.2 (with aptX adaptive compatibility) with the source device. In my case this was my Oppo Find X5 Pro mobile handset, running ColorOS 13.0, onto which I downloaded the Music by Bowers and Wilkins app, which I then linked with my Qobuz account. Unless you are a genuine technophobe this is all very straightforward. In addition to Qobuz the app can access Tidal and Deezer, if one of those is your preferred streaming service.
The Px8 has a 40mm carbon fibre cone drive unit for each ear. There are four microphones to enable the noise-cancelling system to work efficiently, with a further two for use in voice calls. The noise-cancelling seems to work extremely well. Owing to my circumstances I was not able to take the Px8s out for a travel test, but it did shut out the sound of my landline telephone ringing, and the front door bell. I was truly cocooned when wearing them.
On the subject of wearing them, the Px8s are by some distance the most comfortable headphones that I have used. I have reasonably large ears but the cups sat around them just fine, and that Nappa leather on the headband and around the ears made me almost forget that I was wearing them. Given that they weigh a mere 320g, these would be ideal companions were I still to be regularly undertaking long haul flights. There quoted battery life is 30 hours, which would be more than sufficient for a trip to California and back again.
I should mention that in the carry case there are two cables: USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to 3.5mm minijack, so it is possible to connect the Px8s to a laptop or an older device. I used them wirelessly throughout the review, so cannot comment on the audio quality of physical connection.
I started out with albums that appear regularly on my review playlist, all of which came from Qobuz. First up was the 2011 remaster of Pink Floyd’s Meddle, recorded and released in 1971, and presented here as a 24bit, 192kHz file. The opening track is One Of These Days, characterised by Roger Waters’ epic bass guitar riff (with David Gilmour playing a second bass) and Nick Mason’s sinister intonation of the line “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces”. I was absolutely immersed in the music from the first bar. It was impossible not to get completely involved; the Px8s communicated the power of the playing incredibly well. The 23 minutes of Echoes seem to pass incredibly quickly. From deep bass to sparkling treble, I never got the sense that these headphones were favouring any part of the frequency spectrum. They seemed extremely even handed, with a fine sense of rhythm that propelled the music along really well.
Switching to jazz, one of my favourite Rudy van Gelder recordings for Blue Note is Bass On Top by the Paul Chambers Quartet, with the leader’s double bass particularly well captured. Whether bowing or plucking, the Px8s really brought his instrument to life, and the whole album, recorded in a single day, communicates the sense of four musicians relishing the opportunity to play together. Although only a CD quality file this was another excellent musical experience.
Doug Macleod’s Break The Chain is a fine collection of his trademark acoustic blues. His wonderful baritone voice filled my head through the Px8s, giving me that wonderful sense of being in the studio with the musicians. This was not just portable sound, this was genuinely high fidelity music reproduction.
Moving away from music I switched to the BBC Sounds app to listen to spoken word and found, unsurprisingly, that the Px8s deliver an incredibly lifelike representation of the human voice. Listening to an afternoon play on Radio 4 was highly enjoyable, with the headphone experience giving a much more intimate involvement with the characters than when listening through loudspeakers.
What I did notice was that to get the best from the Px8s it was better to play them at a reasonably high volume, which is how I prefer to listen in any case. When I turned them down I felt that the music lost some of that dynamic sparkle which I had enjoyed so much, but given that I wouldn’t use headphones for background listing I didn’t feel that this is a shortcoming.
During the time that I had the pleasure of using the Px8s company, I listened to music for hours at a time, spanning an eclectic mix of genres. If I was back on the corporate treadmill and racking up the air miles once again, or just commuting on one of our intermittent rail services, I would be very sorely tempted to added a pair to my travel survival kit.
With a UK retail price of around £600, the Px8s are a premium product at a premium price. They come with a two year warranty but the build quality is such that I would expect to get many years of trouble-free use from them. I would choose them over an ear-bud design, for both their musical qualities and their comfort. They sound wonderful, as one would expect from a company with such an illustrious audio pedigree, the associated app is a real pleasure to use and they are comfortable enough to wear for even the longest of hauls and I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them.