Today we have a rare treat for a review product. I've been using the Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones for some time now. These headphones aren't the type you use for unrealistically high bass but rather for natural pure sound. Let me explain:
Although we interpret sound as merely what we hear there are many factors that go into the creation of that sound. First you need a source. This can be an electric instrument, a microphone, a stereo system, or most likely these days, an MP3 player or iPod. Ideally the source unit will produce the cleanest production without accenting one frequency range to the detriment to another. Its all a give and take - if you accent certain frequency ranges you usually have a loss of others to do so. Why? The speakers themselves have to move their fabric cones in order to broadcast the sound into the air. If bass heavy music is being played with the bass turned really far up the cones are moving drastically which can damage the production of high pitched or medium pitched sounds which require far less cone movement for sound reproduction. This is why home stereo systems and high end car audio systems have multiple speakers (drivers) each dedicated for the production of certain sound frequencies. Since most of us don't want a helmet sized headset this limits us to one driver per ear. Its very hard to produce a small package driver able to produce such broad requirements. This is where the P3 excels.
Usually I speak about my first impressions with a product at this point but I've been using these for some time now so I'd rather discuss the design of the headphones. The headphones themselves are extremely comfortable for extended wear. I suffer from a neurological condition that causes pain in my face if too much pressure is applied on the sides of my head. Headsets at work as well as many headphones can illicit this pain so I found myself sticking to ear buds for a long time. With such a tiny driver most ear buds really accent certain frequency ranges to the loss of others. That's OK if I'm using Beats to listen to rap but what if I feel like listening to jazz or classical? This is where the P3 headphones really come in. They are light, comfortable, and thankfully, don't illicit that pain I dread with other headphones. Rather than using the industry standard rigid foam the P3 unit features memory foam. The foam conforms to your ears and that wonderful cloth covering the speakers lets air flow through nicely. No sweaty ears after listening to an album.
I remember being in a Best Buy store when the Dr Dre Beats headphones first came out. Everyone listening to them were raving so when it was my turn I noticed that all the music choices to try the headphones were hip hop or rap. They sounded incredible but it made me wonder. I opted for the Beats ear buds and yes they were very pleasing with those genres. But my disappointment came quickly when I tried other genres of music. Basically these units have chambers that accent lower frequencies with huge impact on the mid and high tones. The drivers in the P3 are excellent. If you choose a flat EQ setting in your source device you'll see that what you are hearing is very close to neutral. Close I mention because most music these days feature very high output levels which are EQed (actually mixed) for maximum sound impact. This sounds like a great idea but Google 'volume wars' and watch the video about this process for a Metallica album. If your lucky enough to find albums where this type of EQing isnt being done you'll be rewarded with fantastic sound with the P3. Even with those albums where this mixing style is used you'll still notice a tremendous improvement over other headphones. The drivers in the P3 are just fantastic. I can't find a genre of music I don't like to listen to with these. Even with bass heavy music the bass response is smooth and natural. At times it can have a thump but its never what I consider boomy. I can really hear the difference as I adjust the EQ on my source. That's how music reproduction should work - if your headphones have already over delivered in one area its going to be really hard to find an EQ setting that works well with different music genres.
The P3 headphones have fantastic drivers, are super comfortable, and don't alter the sound of your music like so many other supposed high end headphones. Your music should sound like its taking place in your room - not like its exploding off your ears. I want my bass to rumble, not pop or boom. Its obvious that both comfort and performance were important with these headphones. At close to $300 they aren't cheap but what did you pay for your high end stereo?