Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review: Incredible sounding headphones, but the price is high
Buy the B&W P9 Signature now from John Lewis
Every decade, British audio firm Bowers & Wilkins celebrates the milestone by producing a “signature” product – something special; a limited edition. In 2008, that product was an £11,000 pair of tweeters built from marble; the most audiophile of audiophile products imaginable. This year, to mark its 50th, the firm is taking a different tack, setting its sights ever so slightly lower with a pair of headphones: the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature.
It’s a very different product, not only in shape and form but also price. A price of £700, it’s not exactly cheap, but at least this is a product something people can both aspire to own and realistically afford, a far cry from previous Bowers & Wilkins Signature products.
So, is the P9 Signature the ultimate headphone for your new iPhone 7? Not quite. Disappointingly there’s no Lightning cable provided in the box, at least not yet. Once you’ve bought a pair, you’ll have to register on the Bowers & Wilkins website and the company will then send one free of charge when they’re available.
However, despite that small disappointment, Bowers & Wilkins has certainly lavished plenty of care and attention on its new high-end headphones. With chestnut-brown saffiano leather covering the headband and exterior of the earcups, and soft-to-the-touch, memory-foam-cushioned leather cups surrounding your ears, they look the part and feel every inch the high-end headphone.
Much of the structure and technical ability of the headphones is derived from the design of the firm’s wired P7 headphones but refined and a little beefed up. The P9’s 40mm drivers have been stiffened, and benefit from a new suspension system. The drivers are now angled slightly, so they face your ears, a change that’s intended to produce a stereo image slightly forward of your head, instead of inside it.
The composite earcup bodies have also been strengthened and reinforced with an aluminium plate to reduce resonances, and the decoupling system – the bit that holds the earcups to the headband – has been redesigned and gimbal-mounted to isolate the transference of noise from the headband.
It all sounds suitably impressive, and donning such a beautiful piece of personal hi-fi furniture certainly makes you feel pampered.
The question is, what do they sound like? In short, they’re really quite good.
Scratch that. These headphones are magnificent. Whether you connect them directly to your phone or splash out on a headphone amp and separate DAC like the Chord Mojo, the P9 Signature pumps out a sound so powerful controlled that nothing seems beyond the limit of its capabilities.
Bass is thunderous yet perfectly in control, and as far from flabby as Alistair Brownlee after an Olympic triathlon. Vocals and mid-range tones are as rich and textured as an Axminster carpet. Treble has incredible poise and detail, yet there’s a lightness of touch that ensures music is never tiring to listen to; never harsh. As these are closed back headphones, the tonality verges on the over-rich, and if you’re a fan of airy, open-back or planar-magnetic headphones they might not be for you.
If, however, you like your music with a bit of muscle, they’re nigh-on perfect. In fact, when you start listening to these headphones you might just find it difficult to take them off. Since receiving my review sample, I’ve spent several evenings listening to the tracks of my youth, discovering new details and nuances, staying awake well into the wee hours of the morning, because I just can’t bear to drag these things off my ears. They’re brilliant, plain and simple.
Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review: Verdict
The P9 Signature is destined to be a classic. You’ll probably not see too many out and about on your daily commute, purely because of the price, but I’m of a mind that £700 isn’t actually all that much to ask, especially when the sound quality is this good.
No matter the material, the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature sound utterly wonderful. They’re powerful, agile, detailed and comfortable to wear. And unlike many other expensive headphones, you can use them out and about, connected to your phone.
In short, if you love your music, you’ll love the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature. Now all you need to do is save up.
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