Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review: A lot of upgrades at no extra cost


Bowers & Wilkins might be a name many associate with but the company has been steadily chugging along with . Its latest model, ($399), is a completely overhauled version of . Bowers & Wilkins tweaked the design while enhancing the active noise cancellation (ANC) and re-tuning the audio for new 40mm drivers. At every turn, this new model is a worthy upgrade over its predecessor, and you won’t have to pay more for the improvements either.

Design

For the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins borrowed elements from both the original PX and the Px7 that contribute to the refined look. The company also slimmed down the overall shape and opted for more cushion in the earpads – all while trimming the overall weight. Finer touches like a silver rim where the earcup meets the earpads gives the S2 a more premium look than its predecessor. The textured surface on both the earcups and across the top of the headband enhances the aesthetic as well.

Pro

  • Impressive sound quality
  • Better than advertised battery life
  • Effective noise cancellation
  • Comfy fit
  • Refined design

Cons

  • Call quality
  • Very basic EQ customization
  • Subpar Pass-Through mode audio
  • Automatic pausing needs refining

Physical controls remain, which garners no complaints from me. The truth is buttons are still more reliable than touch controls, even on the headphones that get the swipes and taps nearly perfect. The best touch controls are never 100%, but a button you have to press always is. On the back of the right earcup, there’s a power slider that doubles as the Bluetooth pairing control. Just below, a multi-function button is flanked by the volume controls. This center button accepts single, double and triple presses for play/pause, playing the next track and playing the previous track respectively. When you’re receiving a call, one press accepts while a press-and-hold for two seconds will reject it. Pressing this center button once will end a call as well.

Gallery: Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review | 7 Photos


On the left side, there’s a single Quick Action button. By default, it cycles between noise cancellation, Pass-Through (ambient sound) and off. However, if you don’t mind using the company’s app to make that change, you can reassign this button to activate your voice assistant of choice. Unlike a lot of headphones, holding the multi-function button won’t trigger Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant.

When it comes to fit, the Px7 S2 are among some of the more comfortable headphones I’ve tested recently. I have a big head: I take my New Era caps in 7 ⅝. So, it can be tough for a set of cans to remain comfy after an hour or two of wear. The S2 fit tightly on me, which is essential for effective noise cancellation, but it never became too much. Not once did I feel like the rim of the earcup was leaving a mark around my ears, thanks to the updated cushion on the earpads. This isn’t always the case.

Software

Billy Steele/Engadget

The Px7 S2 are Bowers & Wilkins first set of headphones to work with its Music app. Previous models are compatible with its Headphones app, but that software only offers access to basic settings, displayed battery life and provided a collection of soundscapes for relaxing. The Music app has much more to offer as it supports B&W’s speakers: the Formation line, the Panorama 3 soundbar and the Zeppelin.

First and foremost, the software allows you to tweak the EQ settings on the Px7 S2. Unfortunately, the options here are very limited. There are sliders for treble and bass, but nothing for mids or any further fine-tuning. Like the Headphones app, this one still displays a battery percentage and gives you the option of using the software to select ANC, ambient sound or to turn both of those off. You can also manage the priority of the two devices Px7 S2’s multipoint connectivity allows to sync with. As I mentioned, there’s the option to make the “Quick Action” button on the left earcup summon your voice assistant rather than switch between noise settings.

Then there are a couple of handy power and audio management options. First, there’s an automatic standby control that puts the headphones in a “low power state” after 15 minutes of inactivity. Next, there’s automatic pausing powered by the Px7 S2’s built-in wear sensor. The company says you can activate this simply by lifting one earcup, and it gives you the ability to tweak the sensitivity with three settings (Low, Normal and High). During my tests, I actually had to rotate the earcup down towards my neck to trigger this. Completely removing the headphones worked just fine, but the other method could use some fine-tuning. Both the automatic pausing and the standby feature can be turned off if you don’t want to employ them, so there’s no pressure to use either one.

Bowers & Wilkins is already planning an update to the software that will add an in-app music player. This is already a thing for the company’s speakers that are compatible with the Music app, but soon you’ll be able to link a number of streaming services to spin your audio from the same app that organizes your headphones settings. Currently, the app supports Tidal, Deezer, Last.fm, TuneIn Radio, Qobuz, Soundcloud, NTS Radio and Dash Radio.

Sound quality

Billy Steele/Engadget

Among the big improvements on the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins says it built an “all-new acoustic platform” powered by fresh 40mm drivers. The company says these custom-designed units offer low distortion and more accurate reproduction, positioned at an angle in the earcups to keep things sounding as natural as possible. Indeed, Bowers & Wilkins has constructed a truly immersive soundstage that envelopes your ears. The bass is nice and punchy while highs provide depth and vocals cut through even the most chaotic genres.

The Px7 S2 excels with hard rock like Gojira’s Magma and Deftones Ohms. When either band is going all out, you still get finer details like texture in the distorted guitars and the subtle nuances of the drum kit. And it remains a wall of sound throughout, never seeming compressed down to a mess of noise. Softer genres meet a similar fate as Chris Stapleton’s combo of southern rock growl and bluesy guitar picking are nice and thick on top of his backing band. Even 1999’s emo classic Clarity from Jimmy Eat World sounds atmospheric and full. Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers showcases the S2’s bass response well, providing some low-end punch while vocals remain crisp and clear among synths, piano, snare and other sounds. Kick drum and deep synthesizer tones get equal room to operate on songs like “N95.” It will be interesting to see if Bowers & Wilkins further refines its sound profile on the upcoming Px8 because what’s here is already impressive.

When it comes to ANC performance, the Px7 S2 is quite good there as well. We’re not talking Bose or Sony levels, but Bowers & Wilkins isn’t far off. The company made big changes to noise cancellation on the S2, using its in-house tech to do the heavy lifting without affecting overall sound quality. It also upgraded the microphones that monitor both the output of the drivers and any environmental noise. The result is some impressive blocking ability, even with things like human voices, which some headphones struggle to counter. I had no problem tuning out the clamor of two kids at home for the summer when it came time to work. Ditto for constant noise like a sound machine or the dishwasher.

Pass-Through, the company’s moniker for ambient sound or transparency mode, gets the job done, but it could use some refinement. Compared to the best natural sound for this feature, , the Px7 S2 allows you to hear some of the outside world, but there’s no mistaking that you still have headphones on. Environmental noise is muffled and even when there’s no audio playing it’s not the best for trying to have a conversation.

Call quality



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