With the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins presents an update to the popular PX7 headphones. It was one of the few successful challengers to the very best that Sony could present at the time. Now that the Japanese brand has also launched its WH-1000XM5, can this update continue to run with better autonomy and a tweaked design at the top level?
There are a lot of me-too products that want to ride in on the success of the high-end noise-cancelling headphones from Bose and Sony. It is simply a popular product segment. Bowers & Wilkins was one of the few manufacturers to come up with a wireless noise canceling headphone a few years ago. The British iconic brand is now releasing a second generation of those PX7 headphones, available in black, gray and blue. But what can the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 offer that is new and better?
Specifications Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2
|codecs||SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive|
|Extras||Noise canceling, pass-through function, hard case|
|Autonomy||30 hours (with NC)|
When we take the PX7 S2 out of the box, we don’t get the impression that Bowers & Wilkins wanted to revolutionize design. What we see immediately looks familiar. But not because the PX7 S2 closely resembles its predecessor. That is only partly true. Some things have stayed the same. The gracefully hinged bracket that connects the speaker housing to the headband, for example, is one such design element that has been retained. However, the designers also took a lot of inspiration from Bowers & Wilkins’ first-ever NC headphones. So the PX, not the PX7. Are you still with us? The housing in two levels, through which the part with the logo seems to stand out, refers to a design aspect of that older generation. Incidentally, it is interesting to know that the PX7 S2 of 420 euros will not be the highest model from Bowers & Wilkins.
Most importantly, the PX7 S2, just like its predecessors, boasts a modern and slim design. We see materials typical of the luxury-loving Bowers & Wilkins. Like a black leather for the ear pads and the inside of the headband, the parts that touch your ears. That material is married to a more luxurious plastic with a crosshatch or cross pattern on the outside of the driver housings. Also the outside of the headband shows it off. Although it is a harder and apparently durable plastic, it almost looks like a textile from afar. This gives the PX7 S2 a sophisticated appearance, while it will probably continue to look neater in the long term. At 309 grams, the Bowers & Wilkins headphones are a bit heavier than what Bose or Sony has to offer, but you hardly notice that in practice. Or we don’t. That is surprising, because if you take the Sony in one hand and the Bowers & Wilkins in the other, you feel that the Japanese is much lighter with its 250 grams.
Speaking of durability, the ear pads are replaceable, provided Bowers & Wilkins offers appropriate spares. The PX7 S2 also withstands our attempts to bend and twist the headband well. This strengthens our suspicion that these headphones will survive the rigors of daily commuting, despite their more chic appearance.
The PX7 S2 comes with a hard case that is as beautiful as the headphones themselves. Will the light fabric used inside last longer? Good question. The device is well protected in this case. There’s also a secret compartment where you’ll find two cables: a USB-C to USB-C cord and a cable that plugs into the USB port on the PX7 S2 and ends in a jack on the other side. You can also use the headphones wired, although that still requires a charged battery.
Handy physical buttons
Unlike Sony, Bowers & Wilkins opts for physical buttons, not touch controls. We think that’s positive. Although the WH-1000XM5 has very good touch controls, we often find it easy to accidentally activate touch controls with other headphones. The physical keys on the PX7 S2 are also more convenient in winter when you’re wearing gloves.
Most buttons can be found on the right side. This mainly concerns media control. There is only one button on the left. You use this to activate the noise cancellation or the pass-through function. Where noise reduction envelops you in silence so that you can concentrate, the pass-through will allow only (selective) sound to pass through so that you can hear, for example, an announcement in the station. The choice for a single key on the left is also well seen. Sometimes the NC button is in between other keys, and then it is very easy to make a mistake. If you wish, you can choose to assign this button to a voice assistant via the accompanying app.
When you take off the PX7 S2, the music will stop automatically. In the past we have often tested headphones with a sensor that reacted incorrectly too often with a quick head movement or moving the headphones. However, with the PX7 S2, it works well. If you do not find the function very useful, you can adjust the sensitivity in three levels in the app or simply switch it off. The function does help to save the battery.
Speaking of the battery, it would last 30 hours with NC on. Not only is that a very nice achievement, the Bowers & Wilkins equals the Sony WH-1000XM5. Charging is also very fast. In fifteen minutes you can refuel up to 7 hours of music via a USB-C charger.
nice app for Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2
With the PX7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins continues the trend to bring everything together in one app. Where you used to have a separate Headphones app from the British brand, you now do everything in the Music app. We already know the app at FWD, including tests of Formation multi-room products, the new Zeppelin speaker and recent sound bars from Bowers & Wilkins.
The Music app tries to be something other than a pure smartphone remote control. You can set a number of things on the PX7 S2 – but a lot less than with Sony – discovering and playing music is more central, however. That also makes the Music app more useful than typical headphone apps, which you may rarely open. You may want to dive a little more often in the Music app, for example to discover some new music at Tidal or Qobuz here. In addition to your own music collection with those services, you will also find playlists in the app that Bowers & Wilkins compiles themselves. But of course you can also just use your own favorite streaming apps for music or send the audio from an app such as Netflix to the PX7 S2. Even more, The above is just a bit of theory for now and initially you will have to work with your trusted apps. You can currently send the music in the Music app to a connected soundbar or speaker, but not yet to the PX7 S2. That opportunity will come “later in the year,” Bowers & Wilkins says.
High level noise cancellation
We can quickly test how effective the noise canceling is. Next to the garden is a square on which the municipal services are working. There is pruning and clearing, a job that requires all kinds of machines, as we discover when we enter the garden. The noise canceling of the PX7 makes short work of it. This is quite a lot of noise, but we harvest a very convincing silence. Even without music playing. Bowers & Wilkins is not really far from class leader Sony with its WH-1000XM5, we can determine that when we try both headphones side by side. Whether that difference is significant? In practice, perhaps not. The noise canceling of the PX7 S2 is really good, so that we can follow a podcast even in the noisy garden.
Even in our regular test, in which we play a video of a train ride through a snowstorm as loudly as possible via the iMac speakers, the Bowers & Wilkins headphones withstand without flinching. We hear very little of the storm or the rolling noise of the train. Of the various NC headphones that we subjected to this test, only the recent WH-1000XM5 gave a slightly better result.
With the PX7 S2 on the head, we tap the new release of Regina Spektor in the Qobuz app. ‘Home, before and after’ is exactly what you would expect from the slightly eccentric singer. Although you can be forgiven if Spektor has disappeared from your personal radar, because it has been six years since her last album was released. We love how the Bowers & Wilkins puts her voice very tangible and close to ‘One Man’s Prayer’, while still having a solid bass layer running through it. That bass foundation is present but mainly presents deeply. With test tones we effortlessly get through 30 Hz and slightly lower tones. That gives music an underlay that really gives music body. The same goes for the songs on this album. Without Spektor’s voice being affected, we get the low tones almost physically played through. Nevertheless, we think it was successful. With ‘Lipstick on Glass’ or ‘Smile’ by festival hypes Wolf Alice, however, it’s verging on too much. The woolly, sluggish bass is really part of the original recording, but personally we would have liked to have been able to EQ here. That was not yet possible when we were fully testing a beta app, but in the final app a bass and treble setting appeared that allows for some fine-tuning. That really gives a slightly better result with some music. It’s nice that Bowers & Wilkins finally offers tone controls, which was a recurring criticism of the previous headphones. However, there is still no comprehensive equalizer that allows for even more fine-grained adjustments. Admittedly, not everyone will miss that, just like sound modes that other manufacturers are happy to offer. It is clear that Bowers & Wilkins wants to preserve and propagate its own sound signature.
Bowers & Wilkins has tilted the drivers in the PS7 S2 – a proven technique to increase the space between speaker and ear. It creates a coherent, larger soundstage in the first record, which helps to present music more openly. You never quite get the spaciousness of a real open headphone; but that’s a type you can’t use in a noisy environment.
Bowers has succeeded well in making the sound image larger with the PX7 S2. Something like ‘Chevaliers de Sangreal’ from Hans Zimmer’s ‘Live in Prague’ therefore really retains its epic character. The orchestra swells nicely, with the choir in the distant background, yet with a fair amount of definition. Also in the wonderful ‘Live’ by the Swedish pop hype Daniel Norgren we get a nice, er, live experience with a guitar that resounds in a larger space and a clapping audience that is further away.
Many NC headphones sound compressed, there seems to be little dynamics. And that sometimes takes the tension out of music. The PX7 S2 seems to escape that phenomenon quite well. With Norgren’s live recordings and especially with symphonic classical works – think of John Williams – you get some really catchy jumps, like the tight strings or the timpani in the ‘Imperial March’. Very nice. But it is mainly the sense for finer detail that sets the PX7 S2 apart from many rivals and also makes it a bit more universal. Bowers & Wilkins also likes to put on treble detail with its speakers, and that’s exactly what you get to hear here. When you listen to music via the PX7 S2, you will quickly get the impression that you are being served a very detailed sound image.
Conclusion Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2
With the PX7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins presents wireless headphones that can be counted among the best in the segment. Like other top models, like Sony’s WH-1000XM5, it’s not cheap. Fortunately, for that amount you get excellent noise cancellation at the highest level, very good autonomy and excellent sound quality. Not many rivals come close. At the same time, the PX7 S2 really does its own thing, which means that this Bowers & Wilkins offers you something different from those competitors in an authentic way.
Pros of Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2
- Excellent wearing comfort
- aptX Adaptive
- Very good battery life
- Detailed, great imaging
- Top-notch noise cancellation
Negatives of Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2
- No full EQ in app
- Higher price range