Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature Headphones
AT A GLANCE
Sumptuous build quality
Best Bowers & Wilkins headphone yet
Comes with an Apple Lightning cable
Brown is the only color
With the P9 Signature, Bowers & Wilkins enters the higher echelons of the crowded audiophile headphone market with a real contender.
Unlike nearly every other speaker company that jumped into the headphone market with a complete line, Bowers & Wilkins has released just one (or two) headphones at a time. The P5 on-ear was first out of the gate in 2010; then the C5 in-ear and P3 on-ear; the Series 2 versions of those headphones followed; next came the over-the-ear P7; more recently the wireless P5 and P7; and now the all-new flagship P9 Signature. Thanks to the slow and steady approach, the sound for all of B&W’s headphones has been consistently chocolatey-rich. The P9 Signature is similar, but the sound is more evolved.
Before I started on this review, I assumed the P9 Signature would share some tech with the overthe-ear P7, but the P9 is an all-new, more upscale design. I loved the feel of the P9’s brown Italian Saffiano leathercovered headband and earpads, though I wish Bowers & Wilkins also offered their flagship in black leather. Comfort is good, but it’s a heavy over-the-ear headphone, and I felt the P9’s weight on extended listening sessions.
The 40mm nylon drivers are set into the earcups at an angle, and the cups’ interior shape was tweaked to improve sound quality. The hinged, forged-aluminum headband allows the headphone to fold for compact storage in the P9’s luxurious case. Crafted from suede-like Alcantara, with leather details, it’s definitely one of the best-looking cases I’ve ever seen. The P9 also comes with three cables: a 4-footer with an Apple-compatible mic and remote, a 4-foot “straight” cable, and a 16-footer; each cable is terminated at both ends with 3.5mm plugs. Starting in May, B&W will also include a free Apple Lightning cable with the P9 Signature (customers who register prior to that date will be sent a Lightning cable).
The headphones’ charms really clicked with Approaching the Unknown, a flick about a one-way solo manned mission to Mars. The film’s low budget is evident in its lack of gloss, gizmos, and special effects; it’s more of a psychological study of a man lost in space. As I fell under the film’s spell, the P9 all but disappeared. I was inside the spacecraft with coming-apart-at-the-seams American astronaut William D. Stanaforth (Mark Strong), along with the low whoosh of the air circulation system, humming electronics, and Paul Damian Hogan’s hugely effective score.
The out-of-head sound was so convincing, I had to remove the P9 Signature just to make sure the sound wasn’t also coming from my speakers. It wasn’t. I continued with David Bowie singing his tune “Sound and Vision” accompanied only by piano and background singers. The intimacy of the sound raised the hairs on my arms; the P9 brought Bowie back! A switchover to Bowers & Wilkins’ P7 shrank the soundstage dimensions, midrange was softer, and bass articulation lost some grip.
Then I wondered how the P9 Signature would fare in comparison with Audeze’s EL 8 closed-back planar magnetic headphones, so I popped on David Chesky’s Jazz in the New Harmonic album and gave a listen. I went to the session, and while I liked what the P9 Signature was doing tonally for the sound of the piano, bass, sax, and drums, the EL 8 did a better job capturing the sound of the recording venue’s acoustics and ambience. The P9 and EL 8 represent two very different approaches to what constitutes high-end headphone sound.
The Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature is very much in the tradition of the company’s other headphones and speakers. As good as it is, I’m sure even better Bowers & Wilkins headphones are in the pipeline.