Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review

Anniversaries are worth celebrating, and for its 50th, Bowers & Wilkins has launched a special pair of headphones. In many ways, the audio maven has gone all out on these luxury over-ear headphones aimed at the connoisseur. Without further ado, here's our Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review. See also: Best headphones 2016/2017.

"Designed with music lovers in mind, P9 Signature delivers a unique and superior audio experience; bespoke technologies provide precision at high frequencies and astonishing bass for the ultimate audio experience," said Bowers & Wilkins.

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review: Price

While it's understandable that a special edition product fetches a higher price (just look at the whisky market), whether you can stomach the asking price of £699 for the P9 Signature headphones is another matter. They are certainly one of the most expensive pairs of cans we've ever reviewed.

A big issue here is that in September, with the introduction of the P7 Wireless, Bowers & Wilkins reduced the prices of its existing range of headphones. With the P7 over-ear headphones dropping from £329 down to £279, you could buy two pairs with change leftover in comparison to the new P9.

Buy the P9 Signature from Bowers & Wilkins, Amazon and John Lewis.

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature headphones

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review: Design and build quality

They say 'you get what you pay for', and this phrase certainly rings true with the P9 Signature headphones. While Bowers & Wilkins' headphones typically come in black, and some other colours, the P9 Signature is brought to you in a unique brown colour.

Although we like the winding curves of other headphones from the company, the chunky aluminium frame of the P9 Signature gives the set robustness and a more mature look. This is elegantly paired with Italian Safiano leather and the usual memory foam.

The ear cup centre has a glossy black finish adorned with the logo all surrounded by a pattern reminiscent of a jet engine. That pattern is actually a sort of membrane and allows each ear cup to rotate smoothly so they fit your head perfectly.

If you like the look of the P9 but they're a bit pricey, check out B&W's new PX wireless headphones with noise cancelling.

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature design

The P9 Signature headphones are fairly heavy at 413g but we haven't found them too uncomfortable during long listening sessions.This is unlike the similarly weighted Final Audio Design Sonorous III and is, we suspect, down to the wide and adequately padded headband.

Typically over-ear headphones aren't suited to travelling and while these cans are best when you're sat in a comfortable chair, they do fold up so can be taken with you. They also come with the nicest carry case we've seen made from Alcantara, which is similar to suede, and leather.

We'll talk about some design elements below that affect the sound quality but to round off, the P9 Signature headphones do have an in-line control and mic. However, it's designed for iOS devices, so only the play/pause button works with Android.

It might look like the headphones have a fixed cable, but like Bowers & Wilkins' other headphones, the foam pads come off easily via magnets so you can get to the connector (and also fit replacements with minimal effort). It also comes with a much longer basic cable and the firm will also send out free Lightning cables early in 2017 for use with devices like the iPhone 7 since it doesn't have a headphone jack.

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature case

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review: Sound quality and specs

There's no faffing about with various bits of tech here such as NFC, Bluetooth, touch controls or things of that ilk. It's far from it with the P9 Signature headphones which are all about good old fashioned acoustic engineering.

As you'd expect from large over-ear headphones, the P9 Signature are powered by two 40mm drivers engineered by the same team behind the well-known and respected 800 D3 loudspeaker. They have a frequency range much larger than most at 3-30,000Hz and a maximum input power of 50mW. An impedance of 22 ohms means you'll be able to drive them nicely from most devices, even smartphones, although this won't show of the P9 Signatures at their best.

What's interesting is that the drivers are angled towards the back of your head rather than facing straight. Just 15 degrees doesn't sound like much but you can pop off the padding and see for yourself how much that really is. The result is that the stereo field appears more forward, almost in front of your head like your listening to a pair of speakers.

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature sound quality

The over-ear design and memory foam naturally create good isolation but there are other elements here which have a bigger effect on the sound quality. A combination of the acoustic cabinets inside the ear cups, de-coupled headband for minimal vibration and a new suspension system result in a more pure and spacious sound quality.

To sum up the P9 Signature sound quality, the best word is clarity. The careful craftsmanship and engineering Bowers & Wilkins has put into these headphones comes together to form an exceptional listening experience.

A comfortable fit and noise isolation combined with those angles 40mm drives and fine tuning creates truly immersive sound – who needs VR when you can close your eyes feel like you’re sitting at Ronnie Scott's listening to the soothing tones of Gregory Porter?

One thing that's impressive is that the P9 Signature cans are expertly and finely balanced. You really can hear every pluck of a string, hit of a drum skin and the nuance characters in a vocal on another level. The headphones sound great with all styles of music with the tightly controlled bass, rich mids and bright high-end all working in perfect harmony. You'll hear tracks you know like the back of your hand in new light.

This is precision sound inside luxurious design that's very hard to find fault with.

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature: Specs

  • Over-Ear Headphone
  • Changeable ear cushions
  • Detachable cable
  • 3.5mm stereo mini jack
  • 40mm (1.6in) full range drivers
  • 3Hz-30kHz frequency range
  • 22 ohms impedance
  • <0.2% (1KHz/10mW) distortion
  • 111dB/V at 1kHz sensitivity
  • 50mW max input
  • 413g
  • Over-Ear Headphone
  • Changeable ear cushions
  • Detachable cable
  • 3.5mm stereo mini jack
  • 40mm (1.6in) full range drivers
  • 3Hz-30kHz frequency range
  • 22 ohms impedance
  • <0.2% (1KHz/10mW) distortion
  • 111dB/V at 1kHz sensitivity
  • 50mW max input
  • 413g

SHOULD I BUY BOWERS & WILKINS P9 SIGNATURE?

If you can stomach the price, the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature are an outstanding pair of over-ear headphones. They look great, sounds incredible and are even fairly portable. They are a fitting 50th anniversary product but we wouldn't blame you if the P7 headphones are a more suitable and sensible purchase.