- Impeccable audio reproduction
- aptX HD and AAC codec support
- Luxury materials and build quality
- Incredibly comfortable to wear for long listening sessions
- Good, but not best-in-class active noise cancellation
- No support for Sony’s LDAC codec
- Fewer high-tech features than Sony’s WH-1000XM5
The sumptuous Bowers & Wilkins Px8 noise-cancelling headphone looks and feels every bit as beautiful as it sounds, but its luxury appointments render it a significant step up in price from the also-excellent B&W Px7 S2.
Price When Reviewed
Best Prices Today: Bowers & Wilkins Px8
I characterized the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 noise-cancelling headphone released earlier this year as “less sizzle, more steak” because its audio performance was phenomenal, but competitors such as the Sony WH-1000XM5 delivered more whizbang features. With its step-up Px8 noise-cancelling headphone, B&W delivers an awesome-sounding luxury audio product chockful of high-tech features.
Luxury comes in the form of the Px8’s materials as well as its build quality. Where the Px7 S2 is constructed primarily from plastic, the Px8 features diecast aluminum arms and diamond-cut metal detailing. The earcups, memory-foam earcups, and both sides of the headband are wrapped in exquisitely soft Nappa leather.
This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones.
While those elements add a bit of weight to the headphone—the Px8 weighs 11.3 ounces compared the Px7’s 10.8—I found the Px8 to be even more comfortable to wear for long listening sessions than the 12.6-ounce Focal Bathys. The B&W provides just the right amount of clamping pressure to stay in place, and the earcups provide excellent passive noise isolation even before you bring technology into play (more on that later, of course). The standard-setting—at least in terms of noise-cancellation—Sony WH-1000XM5 tips the scales at just 9 ounces, but sounds relatively inferior to all three of the other models discussed here.
Bowers & Wilkins outfits the Px8 with 40mm carbon-cone drivers, which are angled inside each earcup. B&W says these drivers are lighter and more rigid than the same-sized cellulose drivers in the Px7 S2. The earcups, meanwhile, are removable—and replaceable—should your dog or cat find their scent and/or taste irresistible. More than one headphone has succumbed to that fate in my home.
High-tech features of the Bowers & Wilkins Px8
The Px8 has a USB-C port for charging, but you can also connect it to a computer to stream high-res audio (24-bit resolution, 44.1- or 48kHz sampling rate). B&W also provides a USB-C-to-3.5mm cable, so you can connect the headphone to an analog audio source with a 3.5mm headphone jack, such as a high-res digital audio player or pocket DAC.
The fabric-covered, hardshell case Bowers & Wilkins provides with the Px8 is identical to the one it supplies with its Px7 S2, with one exception: The pull tab on its zipper is a thick slab of leather. There’s a storage compartment inside the case for storing your cables, which has a magnetic lid to prevent them from falling out. But if you want an airline adapter, you’ll need to provide your own.
The Bluetooth audio is Bluetooth 5.2, with support for aptX HD and aptX Adaptive for Android users, and AAC for iOS users. There is no support for Sony’s excellent LDAC Bluetooth codec. The Px8 can be paired with up to two devices at once, such as a smartphone and a computer. It can play audio from only one device at a time, but if you’re listening to music on a computer, an incoming call will automatically pause the music whether it’s streaming from your phone or from the computer. Phone-call sound quality was excellent at both ends.
B&W’s “wear-detection sensor” is intended to automatically pause music playback when you lift either of its earcups. B&W is clearly looking to compete with Sony’s WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5 noise-cancelling headphones with this feature, which also preserves the headphone’s battery by putting it into a low-power mode when the headphone is removed.
Unfortunately, the Px8’s performance on this score was so erratic as to be pretty much useless. It would sometimes pause the music when I lifted an earcup, sometimes not; it would sometimes resume the music when I lowered the earcup back against my head, sometimes not.
There are three levels of sensitivity for this feature—low, medium, and high—that you set in the B&W Music app, but this didn’t help. I eventually disabled the feature altogether, because the headphone would sometimes pause the music even when I hadn’t touched an earcup.
Touch control is one feature I’m happy B&W isn’t trying to ape. The Px8 has three mechanical controls—fabricated from aluminum—not plastic—on the right-hand earcup: There’s a dual-function slider for power on/off and Bluetooth pairing (with support for Google Fast Pairing), a button below that increases the volume, and the last button from the top reduces the volume. A ridged button located between these volume controls toggles between pause and play.
The raised slider makes the three buttons on the right-hand earcup easy to locate by touch, and the ridged play/pause button helps to further orient your fingers. Pressing a “quick-action” button on the left-hand earcup either summons your smartphone’s digital assistant or switches between noise-cancelling modes, which B&W calls “environmental controls.” You program this button in the B&W Music app. Unlike the Focal Bathys, you can’t use the headphone to summon Alexa.
The app has an EQ slider that lets you boost or cut bass and treble by 6dB. An update to the B&W Music app that came after our review of the B&W Px7 S2 added the ability to stream music from the app to B&W’s headphones, with direct connections to popular music-streaming services, including Qobuz and Tidal.
Active noise cancellation on the Bowers & Wilkins Px8
Bowers & Wilkins presents no threat to Sony’s dominance in terms of active noise cancellation, but the good news is that B&W’s ANC doesn’t have a detrimental impact on the Px8’s audio reproduction, either. The headphone can switch between three modes: noise cancellation on; pass-through, in which the headphone’s four microphones pipe ambient sound into the headphone; and noise cancellation off (two separate mics are used for phone calls).
B&W’s noise active cancellation is effective enough, masking but not eliminating the kind of low-pitched drone you’ll experience on airline flights, but it’s less effective at covering up the hiss of fans and HVAC equipment. More importantly for people who care more about audio performance than isolation from the outside world, turning on ANC doesn’t mask frequencies you do want to hear.
The Px8 promises 30 hours of battery life and requires about two hours for a full charge. But if you do let the battery run down, a 15-minute charge yields a full seven hours of listening time.
Listening to the Bowers & Wilkins Px8
The Bowers & Wilkins Px8 is an exciting, natural-sounding headphone with a very wide soundstage. As much as I enjoyed listening to the Px7 S2, the carbon drivers in the Px8 take things to a whole other level. Listening to “Chet Boghassa,” from the Tuareg desert blues/rock group Tinariwen’s 2004 album Amassakoul (Qobuz streams the remastered high-res version released in 2022), was a mesmerizing experience, with the Px8 reproducing the driving bass and electric guitars without trampling on the intricate vocal harmonies, handclaps, and percussion.
The 50th-anniversary edition of the Neil Young album Harvest features fantastic renditions of “Heart of Gold” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” recorded live in concert at the BBC. You can hear every string resonate on Young’s guitar. Listening to tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders’ “Nophizo,” from his 1996 recording Message from Home, showed the Px8 to be as adept with jazz recordings as it is with rock and acoustic folk music, presenting a wide soundstage and revealing every gorgeous detail.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8: More than just luxurious
The materials and build quality of Bowers & Wilkins’ Px8 headphone surely account for a good chunk of its $700 asking price, but these headphones are much more than a luxury item. They look like $700 headphones, but what’s more important is that they sound like $700 headphones. The Px8’s carbon drivers are definitely a step up from the cellulose drivers in Bowers & Wilkin’s also-excellent Px7 S2. As with other high-end noise-cancelling headphones we’ve tested, however, Bowers & Wilkins considers the mission of isolating you from the outside world as of secondary importance to high-fidelity audio reproduction. If noise cancellation is your primary criterion for choosing a headphone, stick with Sony or Bose; those manufacturers still do it better than anyone.