Bowers & Wilkins have the very portable and compact P3 S2 headphones that are interesting for commuters and travelers. In this review we look at the Bowers & Wilkins P3 S2.
Introducing Bowers & Wilkins P3 S2 headphones
At Bowers & Wilkins the P3 is the entry-level model under the headphones, a compact thing with small cushions that fit on the ears. Audiences are people who want to listen to music in a better quality from a mobile device, perhaps during a commute. At the end of 2016, the legendary British brand presented an update of these headphones, labeled ‘S2’. It is this version that we view here and which is for sale for a suggested retail price of 150 euros. To release an S2-generation they do more often at Bowers, both their headphones and speakers, to indicate that there is some technical tinkering but that the product itself remains largely the same. Owners of an old P3 do not have to immediately put on their running shoes to run to the store.
Light and very transportable
You might not think it when you get the package, but the P3 S2 is an extremely light and small headphone. It is an on-ear or supra-aural headphone. This means that it is equipped with relatively small ear cushions that lie flat on your ears and therefore do not fit over the entire ear shell. Where an over-ear headset usually has large cushions with an outer ring of leather or textile that protrudes, the P3 S2 has flat pads made of leather. One advantage is that you clean these pillows very quickly. With a cloth over it and it’s all right.
This headphones weighs barely 130 grams, which is very little. Because you can fold it, you take it with you smoothly when you are shuttling. Bowers & Wilkins provides a hard case, which is really useful if you want to transport the Bowers & Wilkins P3 S2 in the backpack or handbag. And yes, it is compact enough to fit in a smaller bag. The hard case may seem like a detail. But with a lot of competitors you get a soft bag or a soft pouch, and they will protect your headphones a lot less well. Shoulder patting for Bowers & Wilkins.
The ear cushions are only 4.8 cm wide and 6 cm high. That is really very small, so you can move the cushions quite a bit on your ear. You experiment with that, because the right placement is important for a good sound. Move them, you will notice a big difference in the way you view them.
With such a small size you can not expect that gigantic drivers or loudspeakers are hidden behind those ear cushions. 30 mm diagonally they are, a lot smaller than in a typical over-ears headphones. But do not stare blindly at that figure: ‘larger’ does not mean ‘higher quality’ for drivers. There are other factors that play such as damping and breakup frequencies. A problem with smaller drivers is that they are more difficult to display low frequencies. Bowers & Wilkins claims that the lower limit is 10 Hz, which are unlikely deep bass. The figure will be correct, but as always with headphone manufacturers, it is not said how loud this lower limit plays in relation to the higher frequencies.
Easy to listen to
So when we set up the P3 S2, we expect only modest basses. Which would be a shame, because if you want to enjoy music with an on-ear mobile you need more energy in the low frequencies. Bases are the fastest in the ambient noise. Do you have too many basses, then the fine details of stringed instruments disappear and vocals sound less compelling. Bowers & Wilkins is afraid of that pitfall and has done something pretty clever. The P3 S2 delivers an extra portion of bass, but by a good damping of the loudspeaker (the driver does not vibrate too much) these basses are not only relatively deep but also just a bit woolly.
For example, at ‘Contact’ by Daft Punk, a deep bass drum starts playing around minute 2:50 that can challenge even very good speakers. The P3 S2 does not let that bass drum sound like a speaker, but it does have a lot of impact. Moments later, this DF track breaks loose – also with synthesizer sounds that reach higher and higher – and it is noticeable that these headphones play quite dynamically. If you come from the ears that were on your phone, you are now looking up. If we take the new Flaming Lips album with it, ‘Oczy Mlody’, then there are times when we think: “There should be a little more sparkle here, a bit more life in the details”. But that is mainly because we just tested the six times more expensive P9, barely a fair comparison. Actually, the P3 S2 does not do bad at all, which is noticeable when there is plenty of experimenting in the tracks of the Flaming Lips with samples and instruments that are positioned everywhere in the room.
It is also important to realize that the P3 S2 is tuned for outdoor use. That is why he sounds a little heavier in terms of bass at home or in the store than how you will experience it on the train. As far as we are concerned, Bowers & Wilkins is just as good in terms of sound.
We already dropped it: we find the P3 S2 excellent for mobile use. He is also technically suitable for this. With an impedance of 34 ohms and a sensitivity of 111 dB/V (at 1 kHz) you can simply plug these headphones directly into your smartphone or music player and get an optimal sound immediately. Provided your phone has a decent headphone output, of course, which can be disappointing with very cheap models. But on a Samsung S7 Edge, Huawei Mate 9 and iPhone 7, the P3 S2 sounds great in any case.
On the cable there is a microphone and remote with three buttons, so that you can take calls on the way and control the volume without taking your smartphone out of your pocket. The remote is designed for the iPhone, but on a newer Android he also works. The box also contains a spare cable for devices that do not like the iOS cable.
Stylish and sturdy
Usually headphone reviews from Bowers & Wilkins start with a long description of the design. We deliberately did not do this, because the Bowers & Wilkins P3 S2 has its own style you see immediately when you look at the photos in this review. It is typically Bowers & Wilkins, an English brand that holds tradition and the style of a gentleman of paramount importance. The black sheep leather and that sophisticated double metal wire clip give these headphones a very elegant look. These aluminum cover plates with Bowers & Wilkins logo on the driver housings also look very chic. In short, you do feel that you have received something valuable for your 150 euros.
Sophisticated luxury often goes hand in hand with a certain vulnerability, but the P3 S2 is not fragile. The hinges for folding them look durable and that light brace is firmer than you might think. Also unusual at this price point is that you can replace the ear cushions and cable. If that plug then develops a bad contact, you are not lost without hope. Quickly replace the cable and you can continue.
For those who come from supplied earphones or a supermarket headset, the P3 S2 is already a first big upgrade. But for those 150 euros you get well-built and elegant headphones that are suitable for listening to music on the go because of their low weight and small shape. If you like ear cushions that fit your ears, you will discover very comfortable headphones in this Bowers & Wilkins. And sound you will immediately notice the difference, because the slightly fatter basses of the P3 S2 coupled with the relatively good detail display bring pop, rock and electronic music to life. At this price point, the Bowers & Wilkins P3 S2 is one of the best choices currently in store. You pay a small extra for the beautiful design, but the supplied hard case is a plus that often lacks the competition.