Reviewed in the United States on December 22, 2016
If you are looking for an audiophile-grade wireless headphone: Sorry, the P7 Wireless is *not* it. In terms of sound quality, the P7 Wireless achieves at best an 8/10 among closed headphones. Making things worse is the Bluetooth quirks: (i) small pauses/hiccups are common due to signal interference, and (ii) every Bluetooth headphone I have tried has an audible hiss(*) when the player transmits "silence" to the headphone.
However, as of the end of 2016, I have not heard any wireless headphone that I would agree to label as audiophile-grade anyway. So if you need a wireless headphone in 2017 and if you specifically do not need active noise cancellation (ANC), I recommend the P7 Wireless: to my ears, P7 Wireless confidently blows away the wireless offerings I have tried from Beoplay, Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, Plantronics, and Beats. I think the fact that B&W decided not to touch ANC and instead focused on achieving high audio quality is the trick here. For this achievement, B&W gets my high praise: they give me the hope that maybe, just maybe, one day there will be an audiophile-grade wireless headphone!
And yet if you are looking for ANC, which is much appreciated on airplanes (and to a good extent, buses), I cannot recommend the P7 Wireless. It's passive noise cancellation is not effective. For air travel, go with Beoplay H9 if you absolutely care about hearing the last bit of detail when you are on an airplane; or, if you just want to tune out and relax, pretty much anything that features ANC. Don't let the "Bose has best ANC" claim fool you: airplane engine noise is predictable and in the low frequency range, and even "average" ANC goes a long way. To my ears, the H9 is way more than adequate to cut down on engine noise and yet it preserves most of the audio quality. It's unrealistic to expect much more than H9's ANC and yet the "upgrade" to Bose will yield much less engaging music (will post my H9 review once I am done writing it).
(*) The hiss can be annoying and you can force it to appear as follows: set the phone to vibrate only (zero playback volume) while interacting with the phone. On Android, the OS will transmit "silence" to the headphone and you will hear the hiss.
This is a review for the 2016 *wireless* version of B&W P7, which I bought here after reviewing a unit (see the "verified purchase" badge on this review). Note that the P7 Wireless sounds quite different, and in a good way, when compared to the wired version, which was released quite a while ago.
In this review, if I do not specifically name the connection (wireless vs. wired), you can assume it is wireless on a Nexus 5X ("just" Bluetooth), and in one case I will comment on the minute difference when I use it with aptX on my 2013 MacBook Pro. I believe the wireless connection is what most people who buy the P7 Wireless would be using anyway, but I will also comment on how the P7 Wireless performs slightly better in the wired mode.
- "Almost-great" sound in wireless mode, and great sound in wired mode when used with audio devices that do *not* boost the bass: The treble on the P7 Wireless is rolled off a little bit, but it also means less hearing fatigue in longer sessions. I would say the sound signature on the P7 Wireless is rich and mildly forward. (Search for "describing sound a glossary".) The mid on the P7 Wireless is great for a closed headphone in wireless mode---I have not heard better among all the wireless headphones I have tried. Once wired, it is also very well-done---in the no-external-amp-allowed situation, I find it only beaten by Beoplay H6 2nd gen. (I still need to get an AudioQuest NightOwl, but from my experience with AQ's NightHawk, which has all kinds of cup-induced distortion, I won't hold my breath on the NightOwl.) Overall, as picky as I am on headphones, I really have no complaints in the treble and the mid on the P7 Wireless, especially given this price point.
- Long battery life: In my tests, I often hit 15 hours before the power LED turns red.
- aptX: In my case, I often use the P7 Wireless with my MacBook Pro (MBP) when I am in my office. However, the P7 Wireless sounds "great enough" on my Nexus 5X even with "just Bluetooth" (so-called Subband Coding, or SBC). To tell you the truth, unless in critical listening situations (silence + concentration + A/B testing in close successions), it's hard to appreciate the difference between the two. Yes, the aptX has better resolution afforded by the higher bandwidth and so the instruments can sound more realistic, but I also need to pay a lot of attention to appreciate this, which is not what I do in office. (And here is a real kicker: a 95% realistic voice may sound _less_ engaging than one that is only 90% realistic... many of our ears like exaggeration and we call that "emotion". In my experience, aptX shines most with classical instruments like violin, and only if you have a good idea on how the instruments sound in real life.)
- In wired mode, the P7 Wireless is in my opinion what the original P7 should have been. It features a richer presentation when compared to the Beoplay H6 2nd gen once the difference in volume level has been equalized (the H6 2nd gen is quite a bit less efficient in comparison). However, the P7 Wireless in wired mode is not a good performer at lower volume because, at low volume, a rich-sounding headphone also sounds too recessed to my taste. In wired mode straight from my MBP, I still prefer the BeoPlay H6 2nd gen a bit more due to its apparent clarity at lower volume and its comfort (except for the wire and the microphonics induced by the wire).
- Multi-pairing. When you power up the P7 Wireless, it will connect to the prime device automatically. But if you have paired it with other devices before, you can initiate connection from the devices and the P7 Wireless will play along. For me, the prime is my Nexus 5X and my secondaries are my computers.
- In wireless mode, the bass often bleeds into the mid and feels uncontrolled on bass-heavy songs. It's OK for a consumer-grade headphone, but this *alone* rules the P7 Wireless out for audiophile-grade. In wired mode, it depends on the dac-amp pair of course. To give you an idea, on my MBP, the bass is very good already, but I have heard way better with proper amps. However, I think it is fair to say that most people who buy the P7 Wireless only care about the wireless quality, and for that, again, bass bleed can get heavy, which unfortunately destroys the lower-mid too often for my music choices.
(And if you insist on using the P7 Wireless with higher-end gears, which I really don't think is the point of this headphone: On the Chord Mojo, the base improves from very good on the MBP to great. There is not much difference elsewhere, except for Mojo projecting its musicality as usual when compared with other solid-state dac/amps. But once on the Chord Mojo, I prefer the H6 2nd gen even in sound signature, let alone the additional comfort afforded by the H6. I have also tried the P7 Wireless on an Woo Audio WA8. No, tubes are rarely good for rich-sounding headphones anyway since the tubes "round" the sound and are generally poor matches for the P7 Wireless because it is a rich-sounding headphone to begin with.)
- Heavy: ~320g is substantial weight. You will feel you are wearing it and it will never "disappear". For me, 200g can "disappear" and that's why I love the Beoplay H6... but then it has a wire. :P Plus, the right ear cup on the P7 Wireless is a bit heavier than the left ear cup (probably because of the battery). You will feel it if you happen to, like me, tap (mildly shake) your head when you listen to music. Some other reviewers say this does not bother them and in fact they never noticed this until I pointed it out. (Did I say I am picky?)
- The leather earpads on the P7 Wireless can feel hot. I cannot imagine using this in the summer, even with reasonable (25 C / 77 F) air-conditioning. My face highly prefers cloth when it gets hot, but really summer is IEM season for me anyway. So no big deal.
- Difficult to switch between wireless and wired mode: you will need to take off the magnetically-attached foam padding on the left ear cup and then insert a *custom* cable. Fortunately, other than writing this review, I really don't plan on using the wired mode much on the P7 Wireless.
- No microphone when in the wired mode. The supplied cable is TRS and cannot carry microphone signal anyway.
- Bluetooth quirks. It *hangs* once already due to Bluetooth confusion. (Yes, this headphone has a reboot button. :P Go figure!)
- The on/off button is very small and, in my opinion, too easy to trigger. Basically, it is a spring-loaded slider button. The moment you slide it past about 70% it will toggle on/off.
Overall, the B&W P7 Wireless is what I would recommend for an office worker in late 2016. It blocks keyboard noise really well and offers great audio quality wirelessly. However, if you are contemplating air travel, then please know that the P7 Wireless cuts down the low-frequency noise only passively. I would not recommend it for air / bus travel based on my experience of trying them out in these situations.
P.S. For planes, I stick to my Bose QC20 anyway (it's an earphone, not a headphone and so it does not fit in this review). This is because I don't like any skull pressure on a flight and I found the QC20 the best solution on travel. (I have yet to try the QC30 earphone and so I cannot comment on it yet.)
P.P.S. When I tried the Sony MDR-1000X, I was on my Nexus 5X, which does not feature Sony's own LDAC mode. I look forward getting a LDAC-capable player to hear the full potential of Sony LDAC one day.