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Sequels can suck. This isn’t news if you’ve seen pretty much any movie with 2, II, Too, and even 2000 in the title. But, just in case selective amnesia is helping you cope with the life you lost to a Transformers film, I’ll say it again: Sequels can suck, but that doesn’t mean they do suck. Sometimes a bigger budget isn’t squandered on a follow-up. Sometimes, more does get you more. In the personal audio world, the Bowers & Wilkins Px8 is a flagship Bluetooth active noise cancellation over-ear headphone that shows how refocusing energy can be done right—a Mad Max: Fury Road for the headphones sector.
Practical effects versus CGI. The choice of one over the other is why some action movies feel timeless while others don’t. The decision to center the action around purpose-built set pieces, using evocative locations to immerse you in deliberate world-building. Similarly, the best audio gear proves itself adept at executing highly technical maneuvers without challenging you to a race through the uncanny valley. And, with the Px8, Bowers & Wilkins has achieved its refined road warrior.
Released in June 2022, the highly celebrated Px7 S2 headphones ($399) established the visual language for the current generation of B&W Bluetooth ANC headphones. The Px7 S2 and its sequel—the Px8 ($699), released in September 2022—arrive in a fold-flat hardshell carrying case embossed with a matte rubberized “Bowers & Wilkins” across it—the subtle difference being the zipper pull of the Px8 is leather versus fabric. Both are accompanied by a 1.2mm USB-C to USB-C cable and a 1.2m USB-C to 3.5mm stereo jack audio cable.
Carrying hallmarks of the British speaker designer’s decades of high-end industrial design, the Px7 S2—and, subsequently, the Px8—feature gently elliptical ear cups suspended on a C-shaped yoke with friction-fit adjustment tubes. Like the carry case that echoes the ear cups’ oval shape, “Bowers & Wilkins” is emblazoned on the exterior in textured printing. As you might expect, this uneven surface means no touch controls. An ON/OFF/Bluetooth pairing toggle—as well as physical volume +/- and multifunction buttons—populate the rear right ear cup, as does a USB-C port. A Quick Action button sits on the left.
And this tactile approach becomes more and more of a focus once you take a closer look at the Px8’s elevated build. Whereas the Px7 S2 is clad in woven fabric, the Px8’s precision-cut brushed aluminum ear cups and adjustable headband are trimmed in buttery Nappa leather (available in black or tan). The cast-aluminum arms of the Px8 have a patina that stands out from the Px7’s matte black. And the branding has evolved from the metallic ink on the Px7 to raised, reflective lettering on the Px8 that, combined with a beveled ring around the logo plate, gives the illusion of greater depth when catching the light. Surprisingly, these material upgrades only add up to a 13g difference between the Px8 (320g) and the Px7 S2 (307g). But they make a huge difference in presenting the Px8 as a more luxurious product that promises, and delivers, a palpable experience both physically and audibly.
Internally, the Px8 again has some similarities to the Px7. Using the same core circuitry, Bluetooth 5.2 supports the SBC, AAC, and aptX Adaptive (with aptX HD) codecs for maximum iOS/Android compatibility. There’s no LDAC support, so folks with a high-end digital audio player won’t be able to take advantage of Sony’s niche, though noticeably high-resolution, protocol. The internal digital audio converter can handle up to 24-bit audio, and aptX claims to fold up to 24-bit/48 kHz audio in. While aptX is the superior wireless option, the Px8 will only consistently achieve its highest specs potential when connected to a computer (or handset/iPad, etc.) via USB-C cable and fed appropriate files or streaming Apple Music Hi-Res Lossless or TIDAL Masters tracks.
Pairing is as simple as you’d expect: Push the ON/OFF/Bluetooth toggle to the top and briefly hold till you hear a pinging. The Px8 will then be discoverable on your device. With the Bowers & Wilkins Music app (iOS/Android), you can switch between Noise Cancellation/Pass-Through/Off modes to take advantage of the built-in four-mic ANC array—again, the same proven platform as the Px7, which also includes two additional vocal mics for phone calls. Additionally, you can assign the Quick Action button to either cycle through those “Environment Control” modes or have it trigger a Voice Assistant. You can also toggle on/off Auto Standby (power down after 15 minutes of inactivity) and Wear Sensor (automatic off-head pause/on-head restart playback).
When used primarily in wireless mode, the Px8’s battery life is rated at 30 hours (fully charged in 3 hours), though actual hours achieved usually dipped a bit below that (averaging 27 hours). Still, that keeps the Px8 competitive with the Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399), Master & Dynamic MW75 ($599), and the competitively indulgent Focal Bathys ($799), though not the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 ($349) and its 60-hour battery.
While far from the largest ear cups (definitely more compact than the aforementioned, larger ear-friendly Focal Bathys), the Px8’s plush memory cushion pads lock into place with a confident, gasket-tight embrace and clamping force that’s tight but not tyrannical. Even with glasses, there was no discomfort, nor a swampy feel, after hours of use. And it’s within this slim silhouette that an enhanced audio engine purrs.
Whereas the Px7 uses 40mm bio-cellulose drivers to achieve a dynamic listen, the Px8 swaps in bespoke 40mm carbon cones—derived from the B&W 700 Series loudspeakers domes—that are coupled with an optimized basket/motor system. This tilts the sound signature from body blows to landing right on the button. Separation and control are heightened, which at times makes the Px7 S2 seem the brighter headphone of the two. But this is just because the Px8 are tighter, tempering unruly transients that can come across as excitement but threaten to trip up accuracy. Angled to attain a uniform alignment between every point of the ear and driver surface, these light-yet-rigid carbon cones are intended for low-distortion (THD+N <0.1%), high-engagement listening.
While more and more headphones integrate algorithm-driven spatial audio to manufacture excitement, the Px8 impresses with precision-engineered spacious audio. You can tell there is a speaker manufacturer’s mentality in the Px8’s stereo field, as it truly opens up with some volume. That’s not to say you need to sacrifice your hearing to fully experience the Px8’s best, as you will still get a cohesive listen at lower levels, but applying some pressure helped maximum timbre and timing when putting the Px8 through an assault of Massive Attack, Bloc Party, black metal, and IDM songs, to name a smattering of splatterings.
In terms of imaging and layering, the Px8 does deeper than it goes wide but is far from myopic. An ample, articulate midrange establishes the footing, with precisely shaped mid-bass and airy highs setting the pace. “Presence” is a good summation of what’s achieved. Vocals, especially, benefit from a slightly intimate expression, coming across as mildly warm but capable of conveying every inflection. Lows reach when called upon, but clarity is prioritized over a more colored response. The Px8 doesn’t introduce a point-of-view character to translate the narrative; songs present themselves in their native language, free from exaggerated frequencies.
As is common with almost every ANC headphone, there’s some thickening in the bass with the solidly effective, but not standard-setting, noise cancellation turned on. So the native DSP is one way to get more thump. In addition, the B&W Music app does offer +/- 6dB Treble & Bass sliders for some rudimentary EQing, but the stock tuning has a natural, endearing agility. Touching on the practical effects vs. CGI conversation again, it’s sacrificing infinite flexibility for a more tangible world, and I prefer the latter.
There are increasing options in the premium wireless headphones sector, which means there’s a tuning option for everyone. Want a more sub-bass-focused response? I’d lean toward the M&D MW75. Want a more analytical, shimmery session? Go for the Focal Bathys. Care more about top-tier noise cancellation and sensor customization? The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are the undisputed software heavyweight. However, if it’s a high-octane but not overblown sound you’ve been searching for in an audio war rig, the Bowers & Wilkins Px8 is fueled by assertive expression. Pure guzzolene.