Bowers & Wilkins has two new pairs of wireless noise-canceling headphones for 2022 — and they were both released in the last few months. There's the excellent Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 ($399), which are a real revival to Sony's, Apple's, Bose's and Sennheiser's flagship noise-canceling headphones. And then there's the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 ($699), which are essentially more luxurious versions of the Px7 S2.
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The two headphones look almost identical, but the PX8 is made of higher-end materials (like aluminum and real leather) and delivers an even more refined sound. But at just shy of $700, they're also one of the most expensive wireless noise-canceling headphones you can buy.
So the question is: do you really need headphones that feel as good as they sound?
What's Good About the Bowers & Wilkins PX8?
The B&W PX8 sound elite, truly
It shouldn't come as any surprise that the B&W PX8 sound superb. One of the things that I've always loved about B&W's headphones is their super wide soundstage and the B&W PX8 definitely deliver in that department, too. The sound is spacious yet vibrant, and its similar to what you'd get if listening to a nice pair of open-back headphones. But as you might have guessed, B&W's PX7 S2 deliver an excellent — and big — sound as well.
The guts of B&W's PX8 and PX7 S2 are basically identical. Both have 40mm drivers that have been modeled after the company's insanely luxurious (and very pricey) loudspeakers, but the difference is the materials each is made from: The PX8's drivers are made of carbon fiber and resin, while the PX7 S2's drivers are biocellulose and resin. Bowers & Wilkins claims that the PX8's drivers are better at eliminating distortion and deliver an even more refined sound.
I'm not an audiophile — I mostly stream tracks from Apple Music and Spotify from an iPhone — but I could definitely tell that the PX8 are clear upgrades over the PX7 S2 in terms of sound quality. When alternating between the two headphones and listening to the same tracks on each, it was easy to tell the PX8 delivered a slightly cleaner listening experience. The bass was punchier, while the midrange and the highs felt slightly tighter and nuanced. It's a more polished sound.
Real leather and metal feel nice
The other big difference with the B&W PX8 — and probably the main reason why you'd buy them over the PX7 S2 — is that they are made of higher-end materials and definitely have a more luxurious look and feel (and even smell). Instead of the PX7 S2's mostly-plastic design with faux leather, the B&W PX8 are made of the real cowhide: the headband and earcups are each made of matching genuine Nappa leather, while the rest of the headphones are made of cast aluminium.
These material upgrades really do make the PX8 look and feel nicer — they're often cool to the touch and even shimmer when caught in the right light — and the PX7 S2 just don't have the same allure. It seems a little weird to say, but the PX8 kind of feel like they'd come complementary with a really expensive car. (B&W does make the sound systems for car manufacturers like Volvo, Maserati and BMW.)
The premium materials make the PX8 a little heavier than the PX7 S2 (320 versus 307 grams), too, but I actually found them still more comfortable to wear. The clamp-force seems slightly more snug, and the leather earcups (which have memory foam on the inside) gripped my ears just a little nicer. It might only be by the slimmest of margins, but I do believe the PX8 are the more comfy of the two headphones.
Yes, yes, yes — I love me some physical buttons
I said the same thing about the PX7 S2, but it's rare these days for headphones to have physical buttons — many of them have made the switch to capacitive controls (like swiping) — s0 I'm thankful that Bowers & Wilkins continues to buck the trend on the PX8. Just like PX7 S2, the PX8 has physical buttons for volume and playback controls, as well as switching between ANC or transparency modes. And yes, there's a power button (unlike the AirPods Max) so you can easily turn the headphones on or off.
Because the PX8 is made of nicer materials than its siblings, the buttons are nicer, too. The two headphones have the same exact button layout, but the metal (instead of plastic) buttons on the PX8 feel firmer and clicky-er. It's just a nicer button-pressing experience...if there is such a thing.
What's Not Ideal About the Bowers & Wilkins PX8?
Don't expect a wildly difference experience than B&W's PX7 S2
Aside from the materials and the improved (albeit slightly) sound quality, the PX8 are mostly the same as the PX7 S2. They have the same exact noise-canceling and transparency modes and abilities, which are good but not quite on the same level as Apple's AirPods Max, Sony WH-1000XM5. They have the same microphone array and thus the call quality is about the same (good, not great). They have the same fast-charging ability (via USB-C) and battery life (up to 30 hours). They work with the same companion app which allows you to customize settings and EQ. And they have the same smart features, such as wear detection, so they can detect when the headphones are on/off your head and then auto play/pause your music.
Again, that price is steep
Bowers & Wilkins's PX8 are, without a doubt, luxury headphones. At $699, they are one of the most expensive wireless headphones with active noise-canceling headphones and they are competing with other "luxury" options, like the Master & Dynamic MW75 ($599) and Apple's AirPods Max ($549). So you're paying for the materials and added style of the headphones, just as much as the sound quality, noise-cancellation and other features.
Note: There actually are other wireless noise-canceling headphones that are even more expensive than the PX8, such as the Focal Bathys ($799) or the Mark Levinson No. 5909 ($999). So if you're looking to spend the absolute most on wireless noise-canceling headphones — because why wouldn't you, right? — then the rabbit hole actually goes deeper than the PX8.
The Verdict: Bowers & Wilkins PX8
Just because of the price alone, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 won't be for everybody. You can get wireless headphones that sound almost as good and even have (slightly) better noise-cancellation for several hundred dollars less. So for the vast majority of the people, there's better value out there — including B&W's own PX7 S2.
Of course, if you're considering buying the Bowers & Wilkins PX8, you're probably not too worried about the price tag. They're without a doubt one of the best sounding wireless headphones that I've ever tested; and they're a noticeable setup from the more affordable B&W PX7 S2. And they're also incredibly comfy.