The P5 Wireless are British audio manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins’s first Bluetooth headphones with excellent sound but half-baked wireless and controls.
They look nearly identical to the company’s wired P5 on-ear headphones and with vaguely retro styling including chromed rods and black leather ear pads.
The on-ear design means they sit on the ear rather than over it with the solid ear pad pressing the whole of your ear into the side of your head. For short listening sessions they are quite comfortable – light on the head and stay put – but longer listening sessions become painful as they pinch the ears and make them sweaty.
It’s worth noting that on-ear headphone comfort varies person to person and by the size of ears and whether you wear glasses.
The P5 Wireless sound top notch. They have a decent, rounded sound with punchy but not overpowering bass and good detail and separation between instruments. They are some of the best sounding on-ear headphones I have ever listened to.
Their sound isolation is not quite so impressive. Ambient noise is dulled, but voices and sharper sounds are clearly audible through the headphone ear cups meaning I was consistently forced to turn up the volume to drown out my daily commute.
What, no wires?
So far everything is the same as the wired variant of the P5, but its when Bluetooth and playback controls come in that Bowers & Wilkins starts to falter.
There is no near-field communications (NFC) built into the headphones, so they have to be manually paired via Bluetooth to a smartphone. Once paired they work fine for the most part, but they will not automatically reconnect as almost all other Bluetooth audio device do when turned on.
That means you have to manually dig into Bluetooth settings on the phone and reconnect – an unnecessary few steps which are simple but get frustrating fast.
The pause, play and volume buttons also feel cheap, and the lack of dedicated track-skip buttons is disappointing. Double and triple pressing the play button to skip forward and back does not always work well.
Battery life is pretty good, lasting around 16 hours in my testing streaming music from a variety of smartphones and tablets. Charging takes a couple of hours via micro USB.
The P5 Wireless can also be used with a cable, which is inserted inside the headphones behind the left ear cup. The pad is held on by magnets, which hold it in position quite strongly. It’s a bit fiddly, but once inserted it looks like the wire should always be there.
The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless cost £330 – £80 more than wired P5 Series 2 costing £250, and £80 more than wireless rivals such as the excellent Philips Fidelio M1BT.
The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless sound great, look decent and are comfortable for short listening sessions. They last long enough to not have to worry about charging them and are relatively compact for traveling.
But they have annoying niggles to do with Bluetooth and control, which aren’t acceptable on a pair of headphones costing £330. The auto reconnection issues might be fixable with a software update, but the lack of dedicated skip track buttons or NFC is just irritating.
Pros: good detail, bass and punch, long lasting, comfortable for short periods, stay put on the head, look good
Cons: playback control buttons are irritating, no NFC, no Bluetooth reconnect, expensive, don’t fold down
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