If analytical audio and sophisticated design are what you’re after, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 are the ANC headphones to buy
- High-quality sound
- Delightful design
- Extremely comfortable
- Limited audio customisation
- Slightly short on smart features
The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 are the highly anticipated follow-up to 2019’s B&W PX7 and the precursor to the manufacturer’s new top-of-the-range PX8, which launch later this year.
They’re by no means a half-baked update riding on the coat-tails of their predecessor’s success, however, nor a warm-up act for the main event. Indeed, they’re superb over-ear headphones that impress across all the key areas. Audio is expertly tuned, noise cancellation effective, the fit extremely comfortable, and they look suitably swanky, too.
Sony may still have the edge on noise cancelling and smart features but the PX7 S2 provide real competition for the class-leading WH-1000XM5 and have a debonair appeal their rivals simply can’t match.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 review: What you need to know
The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 are the first of two new pairs of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones from Bowers & Wilkins in 2022. The company says they’re the best wireless headphones it has ever produced, which is difficult to argue with, but that will likely only remain the case until the release of the significantly more expensive PX8.
Available in three colours – blue, black and grey – the PX7 S2 make meaningful changes to the formula that served the PX7 so well a few years ago. Like their predecessors, the S2 pair premium build quality with audio designed to faithfully express artistic intention, but the incorporation of new drive units and canny design tweaks mean the S2 look, feel and sound better than ever.
Bluetooth connectivity comes courtesy of version 5.2, multipoint pairing is present and correct, and codec support is extensive, with SBC and AAC complemented by aptX, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive. Noticeable strides have been made in terms of their noise-cancelling performance, too, while the S2 charge faster, are more comfortable to wear and have better companion app support than the PX7.
In fact, battery life is about the only area in which the PX7 S2 haven’t received a boost, with the headphones still delivering up to 30 hours of audio playback. Sadly, they won’t work when charging but only take two hours to charge from empty compared to the three hours taken by the PX7, while a mere 15 minutes hooked up to the mains will net you up to seven hours of audio, which is fantastic.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 review: Price and competition
The PX7 S2 have a list price of £379, £30 more than the first-generation model at launch, although those can be bought for under £300 today. Sony increased the price of its flagship WH-1000XM series by the same amount when it released the XM5 earlier this year, and it’s those exceptional noise cancellers that are the S2’s biggest competition.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 cost the same as the S2 and offer a similar suite of features, along with support for Sony’s LDAC codec, super-smart adaptive sound control and compatibility with one of the best audio apps around.
Other alternatives include the Bose QuietComfort 45, which attenuate sound extremely effectively and are among the most comfortable over-ear headphones we’ve reviewed. They’ve also benefited from a post-launch firmware update that added some very welcome in-app audio customisation options. With a list price of £320, they’re a fair bit cheaper than the PX7 S2 and can often be found discounted to around £270.
Technics entered the over-ear noise-cancelling headphones arena with the EAH-A800 earlier this year and they proved an impressive debut for the Panasonic-owned brand. Comfortable, stylish and with bumper battery life, the A800 typically cost £300 but were available for a lower £250 at the time of writing this review.
If you really want to push the boat out, there are a number of alternatives costing even more than the PX7 S2. Apple’s AirPods Max are the most mainstream option and have plenty going for them, including support for Spatial Audio, although their fit and design isn’t for everyone. The Master & Dynamic MW75 are the most luxurious ANC headphones we’ve tested and have a £549 price tag to match their premium aesthetic. They sound great, too, but active noise cancellation isn’t quite up to the standard you’d expect of headphones costing quite so much. Montblanc’s MB01 are another opulent choice fashioned for discerning travellers with £520 going spare for headphones.
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Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 review: Design, controls and features
They may not use quite as expensive materials as the Master & Dynamic and Montblanc options above, but the PX7 S2 are certainly not lacking in the style department. The design is similar to that of the original PX7, although it’s been slimmed down ever so slightly to hit an overall weight of 307g. This ensures they feel unobtrusive on your head and the memory foam lining the ear cushions is malleable enough to prevent any discomfort during long listening sessions. The ballistic nylon and leatherette pads can also be removed and replaced if damaged or worn down, which is handy.
B&W has reduced the clamping force generated by the second-gen PX7, and I found it just right for my head. The S2 never felt loose but equally never pinched on my ears or created undue pressure on my skull.
Bowers has also added some extra detailing around the earcups to give the S2 a more attractive finish. This detailing is in gold on the blue model reviewed here and silver on the black and grey models. The Bowers & Wilkins logo is inscribed in the same colour on the outside of each earcup and, while I’m not overly fond of such conspicuous branding, I can understand it from a marketing perspective.
In terms of physical controls, you have a sliding power button that’s also used to put the S2 into pairing mode, a play/pause button and discrete volume buttons located on the right earcup. The latter three buttons are better spaced out than they were on the original PX7, and the play/pause button is textured for easier identification. On the left cup, you’ll find a “Quick Action” button that can be customised in the B&W Music app. You have two choices: the button can be set to either cycle between the noise cancellation, pass-through and default modes or hail your smartphone’s native voice assistant.
A little surprisingly, Bowers has ditched the 3.5mm port found on the original PX7, so the S2 is left with just a single USB-C port for charging and creating a wired connection. USB-C to 3.5mm and USB-C to USB-C cables are included in the box and can be neatly stored in a compartment under a flap in the hard-shell carrying case that is supplied in the box.
The compartment is intentionally shaped in such a way that it can also accommodate Bowers’ PI5 or PI7 true wireless earbuds. If you’re lucky enough to own the PI7, you’ll want them in there if you’re flying somewhere or plan to listen to music from non-Bluetooth sources, as you can then use the case as a Bluetooth transmitter for the PX7 S2.
Plug the case into your chosen output – the in-flight entertainment system on an aeroplane, for instance – pair with the PX7 S2 and you’ll then be able to enjoy audio from the entertainment system through your S2. While not a headline feature, it’s welcome functionality for those loyal to the B&W brand.
That aside, the PX7 S2 are relatively pared back in terms of attention-grabbing features. There are the noise cancelling and pass-through modes, which I’ll discuss in a separate section below, along with wear detection and auto standby options available in the B&W Music app.
Wear detection sensors are built into both earcups, so you can pause music by lifting either cup and it will resume again when the cup is back over your ear. There’s a bit of a delay between lifting and audio being paused, but I soon got used to this and found pausing worked consistently. I did, however, find that the S2 occasionally paused unintentionally when I moved my head vigorously or was chewing. Fortunately, you can choose to lower the sensitivity of the sensor in the companion app or turn it off entirely.
The app also lets you manage the various devices the S2 are paired with and view the headphones’ battery life. However, at present, you can’t use the app to stream audio from linked services such as Tidal, Qobuz or TuneIn as you can with the B&W Zeppelin wireless speaker.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 review: Sound quality
While elegant design and premium looks are a big part of Bowers & Wilkins’ appeal, sound quality is the UK manufacturer’s lifeblood. Its intention is not to blow your mind with ear-shattering bass or hyperbolic hi-hats but to instead reflect the artist’s original creative vision as faithfully as possible. This is something that’s been reinforced whenever I’ve met with Bowers employees and is undoubtedly one of the key factors behind its loyal following.
True to form, the PX7 S2 deliver audio that’s rich in detail, engaging and pleasingly neutral. Housed inside the cups are 40mm bio cellulose drive units angled towards your eardrums. It’s tricky to say just how much of an impact this angulation has, but the overall listening experience is a superb one.
There’s an immediacy to the way sound makes its way into your ears, and the breadth of the soundstage is highly impressive. This gives the PX7 S2 ample room to articulate the finer points of complex arrangements and treble reproduction is particularly sparkling. Certain parts of the female vocals on DJ Kaos’ “Autumn Again” distort painfully on less capable pairs of headphones, but the S2 kept them perfectly in check, while keeping up with dynamic and tempo shifts from frantic pounding basslines to unapologetically euphoric piano sections.
Despite their desire for balance and neutrality, the PX7 S2 don’t want for low-end impact. The bass in the opening of Ghetts’ “Squeeze” has enough weight behind it to convincingly convey the oppressive backdrop of an existence where murder is a daily reality. As the track continues, each bass note hits home hard, greatly enhancing the visceral nature of the song.
Instrument separation and stereo imaging are hard to fault and, regardless of genre, I always felt like the S2 were doing justice to their subject material. You’ll want to use the aptX HD or aptX Adaptive codec with Hi-Res files to fully unlock everything they have to offer musically, but iPhone owners and those that don’t have memberships to premium streaming services can rest easy – the S2 sound great no matter the source.
One area in which the PX7 S2 don’t score quite as highly is audio customisation. You can increase and decrease bass and treble by up to 6dB but there are no EQ presets or manual equaliser. This isn’t an issue given how good the S2 sound, but those wanting to move away from fidelity into the realms of self-sculpted audio will be a bit put out.
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Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 review: Noise cancellation
In his review of the original PX7, my colleague Jonathan Bray described the noise cancellation on offer as “class-leading, five-star ANC”. The sound attenuation delivered by the high, low and auto settings may have proved very impressive at the time, but the PX7’s ability to cancel out environmental distractions has since been bettered by both the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bose QuietComfort 45.
So how does the S2’s noise cancellation stack up against those illustrious rivals? In terms of how effectively they cancel out external sound, really rather well. There’s just one setting this time around but it did an excellent job of reducing on-board distractions over the course of four summer holiday flights. The egregious low hum of the aircraft was lowered to a faint whisper and only the piercing screams of babies hindered my enjoyment of the in-flight entertainment.
They also impressed during day-to-day usage in and around London. Save for the occasional high-pitched noise screeching its way through, the PX7 S2 created quiet listening conditions, allowing me to enjoy podcasts, audiobooks, playlists and handheld gaming in peace. There’s no audible hiss when noise cancellation is active, which is always a bonus, and audio quality is unaffected when it’s enabled – another big plus.
The aforementioned options from Bose and Sony still have the slight edge in terms of overall attenuation, but the gap is small enough not to matter unless you have your heart set on the closest to silence you can possibly get. It’s a different story in the smart noise cancellation department, however, with the WH-1000XM5’s Adaptive Sound Control, which is capable of switching noise-cancelling levels based on your actions and location, leaving its rivals in the dust.
The PX7 S2 possess no such smart functionality, although there is a passthrough mode that works well. It’s not quite as effective as that on the XM5 but pipes in plenty of external sound and successfully allowed me to listen out for knocks at the door, aeroplane announcements and avoid errant moped drivers while wandering the streets of Barcelona.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 review: Verdict
The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 live up to the company’s claim that they’re its best-ever wireless headphones by delivering a killer combination of sound quality, style and comfort. Noise cancellation is impressive, too, although they’re not as good when it comes to smart features, and the B&W Music app isn’t as fleshed out as some of Bowers’ competitors.
This means the Sony WH-1000XM5 remain the do-it-all noise-cancelling headphones to beat, but the PX7 S2 push them closer than any other alternatives I’ve tested to date. Moreover, if analytical audio and sophisticated design are your primary concerns, then these are the headphones to choose.