A little over two years ago, hi-fi company B&W launched its first-ever set of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones, the PX. They sounded great and had a lot of nice features, but they weren’t very comfortable.
Now, B&W is back with its top-of-the-line PX7 headphones, which I’m happy to report are a big improvement over the PX.
Carbon fiber, baby
Thanks to the carbon fiber composite material used for the arms and the larger ear cushions, the PX7 are lighter and far more comfortable than the PX. These things are sometimes hard to tell right away; the PX didn’t seem that uncomfortable at first, but over longer sessions I’d inevitably have to take them off. With the PX7, I’ve had no such problems. They’re not the comfiest headphones I’ve had — they’re still fairly heavy and can weigh down your head — but I was able to forget I had them on for an hour or so, which is always a good sign.
The design is different, too. The PX7 are a little bulkier, rounder, with fewer sharp edges; the old model is a little more delicate and perhaps a little fancier. I prefer the PX7’s look, but at $400, they don’t do much to stand out from all the other cans out there.
There are other minor details B&W has fixed, like putting a nice big “R” and “L” on the inside of the earcups. It’s important how you wear these headphones, as they have angled drivers to provide a wider sound stage.
Controls are alright, with dedicated buttons for noise cancellation, play/pause/volume, and power/Bluetooth. I sometimes struggled with reaching the right one, but I’ve yet to find a pair of headphones that nail this perfectly. There’s also a headphone jack and USB-C connector. The PX7 have sensors which automatically play/pause playback when you put them on and remove them.
One thing that B&W did not fix is the foldable earcups, which still only fully fold outwards instead of inwards — a minor quibble but annoying nevertheless.
Connectivity, noise cancellation, and battery life
The B&W PX7 are primarily wireless headphones, and they support a variety of standards, meaning your music will sound great no matter which source you connect them to. The Bluetooth range was good, as I was able to walk around my flat and even leave my phone in another room with no interruptions.
B&W got noise cancellation right on their first try, so I had no doubt the PX7 will perform well in that department. I haven’t tested them on an airplane (the best test in my opinion) but they dialed down the droning of my air conditioner excellently. The PX7 have four settings: off, low, high and auto. I’ve mostly alternated between high and off, depending on whether I was at home or outside. The noise cancellation is adaptive, meaning the cans use four built-in mics to determine the source of the noise and cancel it.
There are two common issues with noise cancellation; one is the hiss that you get when you turn it on, and the other is sound degradation. The PX7 performed admirably in both cases: The hiss is there but it’s barely audible and quite pleasant. The sound does degrade, especially when you dial noise cancellation to high, but the effect is like switching from a hi-res recording to an mp3: You still hear everything, but the soundstage gets narrower and everything sounds a bit flatter.
Advertised battery life was 30 hours. With the rest of my gadgetry only lasting for a day or two, this was plenty for me; I only had to recharge them three times in three weeks.
Call quality was alright; there was sometimes crackling in the background, but I had no problem understanding the person on the other end.
Finally, the PX7 come with a dedicated mobile app, which lets you check battery status, fine-tune the noise cancellation settings, manage connections and update the software, among other features. The app is not something you’ll use daily but it is helpful, and what it does, it does well.
Note that voice assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant aren’t natively supported, which is a somewhat odd omission. Personally, I never use any of them, so it’s not a big loss for me, but if you do, it’s something to consider.
Highly refined sound
The PX7 sound absolutely fantastic. The bass goes deep, the soundstage is wide, the details are astounding. The sound is a little warm and dark, which is a trait of all B&W headphones, but unlike on the PX, vocals were present, loud and clear.
At one point, I was startled by the applause from the people seemingly sitting next to me at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live recording in a small setting. That’s the sort of experience you get from the PX7.
Unfortunately, I was unable to test the PX7 directly against its closest competitors, Sony’s WH-1000XM3 and Bose 700. Compared to the B&W’s own PX, they offered far more detailed and slightly brighter sound. B&W’s top-of-the-range, wired P9 Signature, have a similar sound but offer a wider stage, firmer bass and more details. They cost more than double the price of the PX7, however. For a final comparison, I dusted off my old Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, which have a pretty bright sound, and while they (amazingly) held their own, they couldn’t match the deep bass and the precision of the PX7.
One important detail: The PX7 were noticeably quieter than the PX, no matter which source I connected them to. This was not a problem for me, as they were still plenty loud, but it’s something to have in mind.
All Rights Reserved for Stan Schroeder