There’s no denying the quality of the Bowers & Wilkins PX8, but the PX7 S2 remain the better option for most people
- Sensational sound
- Premium looks
- Comfortable fit
- ANC could be better
- Not very customisable
Most manufacturers would shy away from releasing two pairs of similarly styled headphones within the space of a few months, but not hi-fi heavyweight Bowers & Wilkins.
Following hot on the heels of its five-star rated PX7 S2 are the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 – wireless, over-ear noise-cancelling headphones that deliver superior sound quality to their stablemates wrapped up in an even more luxurious package.
If you want the very best wireless headphones the British audio brand has to offer, they’re the obvious choice. But at £220 more than the PX7 S2, they’re designed for a decidedly exclusive market. Affluent audiophiles may deem them worth the extra expense but, for most people, the PX7 S2 are more than good enough.
Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: What do you get for the money?
The Bowers & Wilkins PX8 will set you back £599, putting them beyond the reach of most casual audio enthusiasts and firmly in premium purchase territory. You can, of course, pay far more for a pair of professional-grade open-back headphones but, as far as wireless noise-cancellers go, the PX8 are right up there with the priciest around. Of the pairs we’ve reviewed, only the Apple AirPods Max and the Master & Dynamic MW75 come close to matching the PX8 in terms of financial outlay.
So, what is it about the PX8 that has led Bowers & Wilkins to slap an extra £220 on the price of the PX7 S2? The answer is twofold. First, and most crucially, the PX8 use new, advanced driver technology. The drive units in both pairs of headphones are of the 40mm dynamic variety, but whereas the PX7 S2’s use bio-cellulose, the PX8’s cones are made from carbon fibre. This adds additional rigidity and, coupled with the use of a revised magnet, voice coil and speaker surround, helps reduce distortion, resulting in cleaner, more accurate sound.
Second, the PX8 are constructed using a more lavish selection of materials. The ballistic nylon and leatherette used to line the ear cushions and headband on the PX7 S2 have been replaced with napa leather, while the arms that connect the headband to the ear cups are fashioned from diecast aluminium rather than plastic.
The exterior surfaces of the earcups have also received a glow-up: bright metal detailing runs around the edge of the oval-shaped housings, while the Bowers & Wilkins logos on the outside of the cups are fashioned from diamond-cut metal. The PX8 are 13g heavier than the PX7 S2 as a result but remain relatively lightweight at 320g. The other aesthetic upgrade sees the fabric strap on the carrying case replaced by a leather one. This serves no practical benefit but, when you’re forking out £600 for headphones, small details like this help sweeten the deal.
There’s a choice of two colours available – the black reviewed here and tan – while Bowers &Wilkins also sells a midnight blue 007-themed version to commemorate 60 years of James Bond, and a McLaren edition created in conjunction with the British automotive brand. If either of those options takes your fancy, they can be yours for the princely sum of £699.
Aforementioned changes aside, the PX8 offer exactly the same lineup of features as the PX7 S2. They operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.2, support multipoint pairing and can make use of the AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive codecs, with the latter two unlocking the ability to stream high-resolution audio.
The layout of the controls is identical, with a power/pairing slider, play/pause button and discrete volume buttons located on the edge of the right earcup, and a “Quick Action” button found on the left. That button can be set to hail your voice assistant or cycle through the three available sound modes (noise cancellation, pass-through or default) within the Bowers & Wilkins Music app.
The app also lets you toggle the auto standby and wear detection features on or off, boost or reduce bass and treble by up to 6dB and access playlists and radio stations via integrated streaming platforms including Qobuz, Tidal and TuneIn.
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Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: What do they do well?
Audio performance was the PX7 S2’s standout quality and here it’s even better. The PX8 surpass the wonderful assurance of the S2 across the frequency spectrum, but I found the improved performance most notable in their handling of upper mid-range and treble frequencies.
The increased stability provided by the use of carbon cones enables them to hit high notes without any hint of distortion and maintain an exceptional level of performance throughout longer listening sessions. Olivia Newton John’s vocals on the 2021 remaster of “Physical” sparkled with crispness and clarity, and the various layers of the track were masterfully knitted together.
Like the PX7 S2, the PX8’s angled drivers create an immediacy that never feels overbearing or artificially inflated. There’s no spatial audio support but deadly accurate stereo separation makes for an immersive experience brimming with detail.
Bowers & Wilkins’ trademark neutral presentation is as well balanced as ever. Where some manufacturers would give in to a commercially popular warmth, here the low-end is handled in a restrained yet satisfying manner. The bassline on “Show Me Love” by Robin S bounded along energetically, never missing a step, but remained composed, deep and taut. It could be argued that the PX8’s bass response lacks visceral impact at lower volumes, but bump up the volume a couple of notches and any concerns quickly disappear.
I was fond of the PX7 S2’s aesthetic, and the PX8 look even better. The reflective metal detailing on the cups immediately draws your gaze and there’s a sleekness to the overall package that’s reflective of the PX8’s hefty price tag. While the use of leather won’t sit well with some, it remains appealing for the luxury-loving crowd and lends a reassuringly expensive feel to the headphones.
The PX8 feel similar to the PX7 S2 when worn, which is a very good thing. Any difference in the clamping force exerted on your head is negligible and this ensures the PX8 remain comfortable however long you wear them. The memory foam cups are extremely soft, the amount of foam lining the headband well judged and the result is a pair of headphones that are as much of a pleasure to wear as they are to look at and listen to.
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Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: What could be improved?
Although the PX8 build on the strengths of the PX7 S2 they do nothing to remedy the (admittedly very minor) grumbles I had about their stablemates.
Audio customisation remains limited to increasing the bass or treble by a few decibels, so those in search of preset EQs or granular control over the frequency curve remain out of luck. This isn’t worth dwelling on, however; to my ears, Bowers has tuned the PX8 superbly for all manner of genres.
You could also bemoan the lack of support for a spatial audio format such as Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, Apple’s Spatial Audio or Dolby Atmos. Bowers consistently states its desire to deliver music as the artist intended, so I could see it adopting the latter as more artists master tracks in the format. For the time being, however, its precise, high-fidelity reproduction serves perfectly well.
Another area in which the PX8 could be improved is their smart functionality. Bowers is yet to incorporate a system akin to the Adaptive Sound Control found on Sony’s WH-1000XM5 or the “Sound Zones” used by the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless. These enable their respective headphones to adjust sound and ANC settings automatically as you move between different locations and environments, which is extremely useful when you’re out and about.
And this brings me to the final area in which the PX8 could be improved: noise cancellation. You only get two modes – noise cancellation and pass-through – and while they work well, more granular control options would be welcome, as would more effective attenuation. We’re talking fine margins here. The PX8’s noise cancellation is impressive but they’ve still got a little way to go to match the industry’s top performers such as the Bose QuietComfort 45 and Sony WF-1000XM5.
Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: Should you buy them?
The Bowers & Wilkins PX8 take an already-excellent pair of headphones, elevate their appearance and improve their sound quality, too. The upgrades made in both areas may not be huge but they’re appreciable and, as such, the PX8 end the PX7 S2’s short-lived reign as Bowers & Wilkins’ best wireless headphones.
For me, however, the PX7 S2 remain the superior value proposition – they’re simply a better choice for most people. Yes, you’ll be missing out on a little bit of sonic detail and clarity, and you won’t look quite as well dressed while wearing them, but those are compromises worth making for all but the most committed of audiophiles – and those for whom the cost of living crisis is just something they hear about on the news.