Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature Review

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature Review

Bowers and Wilkins’ new P9 Signature headphones are like a luxury bottle of wine you’d purchase for a special occasion.

Budget wine comes in the form of supermarket own-brands at the low end of the spectrum. It’s cheap, and it works, but it’ll do so in an unrefined way, like cheap headphones that play music with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop.

When you invest a little more, you get a lot more quality quite quickly. In the same way, wine loses its harsh edge and gains subtler flavors, and headphones lose their overpowering bass and gain more detail.

After a certain point, both wine and headphones begin to offer diminishing returns. When you get into the realm of luxury, the differences are much more subtle. You’ll notice a huge difference between budget and mid-range versions.

After testing the Bowers and Wilkins P9 Signature headphones for several months, that is the best description we could come up with.

It would be hard to find any other headphones that can match the P9 Signatures for detail and acoustic balance for $899.99 (£699.99/AU$1,400) – but you can save yourself money by getting a cheaper pair of cans without sacrificing much sound quality.

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature: Design

B&W’s P9 Signature headphones were designed to provide a fantastic level of sound quality.

The headphones do not have wireless connectivity or noise-canceling features. As a result, you get a simple pair of headphones that are well-built and should last for quite some time.

The one modern flourish B&W has allowed these headphones is an inline remote for controlling your music, but you can easily remove this by switching out the detachable cable if you’d like to minimize signal noise.

Our favorite feature on the B&W P7 Wireless headphones is the way the cable is attached to the headphone. When you reattach the left magnetic earcup cushion, the cable port is completely hidden by the cushion. I like it a lot.

As well as the two cables included, B&W has also promised that a Lightning jack-equipped cable will be coming in the future for iPhone 7 owners who lament the loss of their 3.5mm jack.

Initially, the magnetic ear cushions were a bit stiff, which caused some trouble for our glasses-wearing reviewer, but they softened up after a couple of weeks.

The B&W P9 Signatures aren’t as stylish as the rest of the B&W line, which features some of the best-looking headphones on the market. Comparatively, the P9s seem bulkier and more plasticky, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In terms of form factor, these headphones are probably on the edge of what we would consider portable. As a result of all the technology inside, these cans are very bulky and moderately heavy.

The headphones were easy to use while out and about, but if you are looking for headphones that are light and portable, then these might not be the pair for you.

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature: Performance

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature Review

These B&W P9 Signatures are refined, subtle, and offer a stunning level of detail.

Maybe it’s because the headband is decoupled from each ear or because the transducer is angled, but they sound great regardless.

During a fairly innocuous listen to Comeback Kid’s track Manifest, we became aware that something special was happening.

There was a lot of separation and detail in what is usually a mess of distorted guitars and frantic drumming. The guitar tracks were layered over one another, but what was most impressive was the way the cymbals were audible.

Only after hearing that detail did we realize how rare it is to notice such subtle acoustic flourishes outside of a live setting.

We found similar details in tracks that we had listened to dozens of times before uncovered by the P9s. Every squeak of a missed note could be heard in Andrew Bird’s Left Handed Kisses as well as Regina Spectre’s Laughing With.

P9s achieve this level of detailing by maintaining an unwavering commitment to accuracy. The headphones won’t cover up poorly recorded music, and they won’t muddy the sound by bringing undue emphasis to certain frequency ranges.

There seems to be no response at all. Mids and highs are equally balanced, with the bass always present but never overwhelming.

P9 Signatures aren’t that helpful for poorly recorded, or heavily compressed music; they’re really useful for listening to higher-quality music that meets CD standards.

Likewise, headphones reveal large differences in recording quality. You won’t get much out of the P9s if the track was recorded and mixed cheaply. Even so, they will still be more than competent, but you will get more out of them with better recordings.

The P9s are the best headphones if you value audio quality and listen to high-resolution tracks containing high-quality recordings.

It is certain that those who listen to standard quality music will see a benefit, but it may not be significant enough to justify the price premium for these headphones.

What we liked

At this price point, it’s difficult to recommend a pair of headphones that sound better. P9 Signature’s sound detail is outstanding, their frequency response feels flat and even, and they reveal new details in tracks you thought you knew just like the back of your hand.

In addition to the inline remote being useful, the detachable cables are well integrated, and the headphones are comfortable to wear for a long time.

The things we disliked

It would be remiss of us not to mention the P9s’ extremely high price, and if you’re considering purchasing these headphones then you should know that almost every penny is going towards sound quality instead of non-essential features.

The features of noise cancellation, wireless functionality, and portability can all be found on much cheaper models. Depending on your listening habits, the sound quality might not be nearly as good, but these features might be more important to your overall enjoyment. When you cannot hear your music on a noisy bus, what good is the amazing sound quality?

Also, you’ll see less of an audio benefit if you stream lower-quality music.

Pros Cons
Clarity across the frequency spectrum Lacking extra features
Comfortable for long periods Very expensive
Exceptional level of detail Bulky

Final verdict

B&W’s P9 Signature headphones are some of the best-sounding we’ve ever used. An almost unsurpassed level of detail can be heard in their tight, refined sound.

Nonetheless, they are a relatively feature-light pair of headphones. For a lower price, you can opt for a pair with more features like noise-cancellation and Bluetooth connectivity, which will make them more suitable for the morning commute or a plane ride.

If, however, you’re looking to buy high-quality headphones to listen to a high-quality collection of music, then there are few that can match the P9s at this price point.