At first sight
Flawless audio reproduction aptX HD and AAC codec support Luxurious 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-canceling headphones look and feel every bit as good as they sound, but its luxury appointments make them a significant price bump over the excellent B&W Px7 S2.
Price at time of review
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Bowers & Wilkins $699.00
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I characterized the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 Noise Canceling Headphones released earlier this year as “less sizzle, more steak” because its audio performance was phenomenal, but competitors like the Sony WH-1000XM5 provided more whizbang functionality. With its Px8 Enhanced Noise Canceling Headphones, B&W offers a great-sounding luxury audio product packed with high-tech features.
The luxury comes in the form of the Px8’s materials and its build quality. Where the Px7 S2 is constructed primarily of plastic, the Px8 features die-cast aluminum arms and diamond-cut metal detailing. The ear cups, memory foam earpads and both sides of the headband are wrapped in soft nappa leather.
This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage best noise canceling headphones.
While these elements add some weight to the headphones (the Px8 weighs 11.3 ounces compared to the Px7’s 10.8), I found the Px8 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 put, and the earcups provide excellent passive noise isolation even before you bring the tech into play (more on that later, of course). The standard setting, at least in terms of noise cancellation, the Sony WH-1000XM5 tips the scales at just 9 ounces, but it falls short relatively to all three of the other models discussed here.
Bowers & Wilkins equips the Px8 with 40mm carbon cone drivers, which are angled within each ear cup. B&W claims these drivers are lighter and stiffer than the same-sized pulp drivers in the Px7 S2. The earcups, meanwhile, are removable and replaceable, should your dog or cat find its scent and/or taste of him irresistible. More than one headset has succumbed to that fate in my house.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8 high-tech features
The Px8 has a USB-C port for charging, but you can also connect it to a computer to stream high-resolution audio (24-bit resolution, 44.1 or 48kHz sample rate). B&W also supplies a USB-C to 3.5mm cable, so you can connect the headphones to an analog audio source with a 3.5mm headphone jack, such as a high-resolution digital audio player or pocket DAC .
The fabric-covered hard case that Bowers & Wilkins ships with the Px8 is identical to the one that ships with its Px7 S2, with one exception: the tab on the zipper is a thick slab of leather. There is a storage compartment inside the case for storing cables, which has a magnetic lid to prevent them from falling out. But if you want an airline adapter, you’ll need to supply your own.
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 simultaneously, such as a smartphone and a computer. It can only play audio from 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 computer. The sound quality of phone calls was excellent on both ends.
B&W’s “wear detection sensor” is meant to automatically pause music playback when you lift one of its earcups. B&W is clearly trying to compete with Sony’s WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5 headphones with this feature, which also conserves the headphones’ battery by putting them into a low-power mode when the headphones are removed.
Unfortunately, the Px8’s performance on this score was so erratic as to be practically useless. Sometimes it paused the music when I lifted an ear cup, sometimes it didn’t; sometimes it would pick up the music when I lowered the earcup against my head, sometimes it wouldn’t.
There are three sensitivity levels for this feature: low, medium and high, which you set in the B&W Music app, but that didn’t help. I ended up disabling the feature altogether, because the headphones would sometimes pause music even when I hadn’t touched an ear cup.
Touch control is a feature I am happy with at B&W it is not trying to mimic. The Px8 has three mechanical controls, made of aluminum, not plastic, on the right earcup: there’s a dual-purpose slider for 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 decreases the volume. A dimpled button located between these volume controls toggles between pause and play.
The raised cursor makes the three buttons on the right earcup easy to locate by touch, and the dimpled play/pause button helps further orient your fingers. Pressing a “quick action” button on the left earcup invokes your smartphone’s digital assistant or switches between noise-canceling modes, which B&W calls “environmental controls.” You can program this button in the B&W Music app. Unlike the Focal Bathys, you can’t use the headphones to call Alexa.
The app has an EQ slider that lets you boost or cut the 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 headphones, with direct connections to popular music streaming services including Qobuz and Tidal.
Active noise cancellation on Bowers & Wilkins Px8
Bowers & Wilkins poses no threat to Sony’s dominance in terms of active noise cancellation, but the good news is that B&W’s ANC doesn’t negatively impact the Px8’s audio reproduction either. The headphones can switch between modes: active noise cancellation; pass-through, where the four headset microphones pass ambient sound into the headset; and noise cancellation off (two separate microphones are used for phone calls).
B&W’s active noise cancellation is quite effective at masking but not eliminating the kind of high-pitched drone you’ll experience on airline flights, but it’s less effective at drowning out the hiss from 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 Do want to hear.
The Px8 promises 30 hours of battery life and takes about two hours to fully recharge. But if you let the battery run down, a 15-minute charge yields a whopping seven hours of listening.
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 Px8’s carbon drivers take things to another level. Listening to “Chet Boghassa”, from the 2004 album by desert blues/rock group Tuareg Tinariwen Amassakoul (Qobuz streams the hi-res remastered version released in 2022), it was a mesmerizing experience, with the Px8 playing the driving bass and electric guitars without stomping over the intricate vocal harmonies, handclaps and percussion.
The 50th anniversary edition of the Neil Young album Collected features fantastic renditions of ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, recorded live in concert on 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 homeproved 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 luxurious
The materials and build quality of Bowers & Wilkins’ Px8 headphones certainly represent a good portion of its $700 asking price, but these headphones are more than just a luxury item. They look like $700 headphones, but more importantly, they are sound like the $700 headphones. The Px8’s carbon drivers are a definite step up from the pulp drivers in Bowers & Wilkin’s excellent Px7 S2. As with other high-end noise-canceling headphones we’ve tested, however, Bowers & Wilkins considers the mission to isolate you from the outside world of secondary importance to high-fidelity audio reproduction. If noise cancellation is your main criterion for choosing a headphone, stick with Sony or Bose; those producers still do it better than anyone else.