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Bowers & Wilkins PX8: two-minute review

Sonically, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are now the wireless over-ear headphones to beat. There, we said it. If that’s all you need to hear, we wish you well. But if you want to know why we said “sonically” rather than “across the board”, and why this is a four-and-a-half star review rather than the full five, read on. 

The B&W PX8 are a shiny new addition to our best over-ear headphones guide, no doubt. But let’s get it right: the PX8 are expensive. There are good, tangible, understandable reasons for this – a new carbon cone 40mm drive unit replaces the bio-cellulose driver in the more affordable Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 and the die-cast aluminum arms, diamond-cut bright metal detailing and Nappa leather trim elevates the build to high-end territory – but for some, anything priced hotter than the AirPods Max is too rich for the blood given the current financial climate. We hear you. 

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But we have also heard the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 headphones and, cost of living crisis or no, they’re exceptional.

Bowers & Wilkins admits the brief was simple: achieve the best possible wireless over-ears and hang the cost. The UK-based audio specialist has fulfilled the brief beautifully. To put these headphones on is to experience a pride of ownership rarely felt, even at this level – I didn’t feel it with the slightly odd-looking AirPods Max, for instance. And despite the outlay, the sound quality for the money here is sublime.

Any issues? A few. None of them pertains to sound – that is where these cans truly shine; know that now – but these are why we knocked half a star off the rating in this otherwise glowing review. The cheaper Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless (launched in August 2022) boast a whopping 60-hour battery life even with ANC deployed, and you only get 30 hours here – although, that’s the same as you’ll get from the Sony WH-1000XM5 (which launched in May 2022 – we like to save you the hassle of checking). Also, the ANC cannot be customized, the EQ tweaks are limited to treble and bass, and there are no big extra features. 

But that’s where the negatives end. Elsewhere, the Bowers & Wilkins Music app now corrals your streaming services into one place (provided these are Tidal, Deezer, SoundCloud or Qobuz, although B&W hopes to work with Apple Music in the future) and because this one app now rules the roost, it creates a B&W ecosystem whereby whatever’s coming through your cans could simply transfer to your Zeppelin, Formation Wedge or other supported B&W speakers when you walk through the door. 

As regular TechRadar readers know, in this house, sound is king. And the sonic performance here is detailed, agile, spacious, musical and nothing short of delightful. If you can afford them and you want the best-sounding wireless cans on the market, you will not be disappointed in the PX8.

Hang it all, the PX8 are a good-looking set of cans.  (Image credit: Future)

Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: price and release date

  • Released on September 28, 2022
  • $699 / £599 / AU$1150

The Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are available now, for £599 / $699 / AU$1,150 / €699.

Expensive, we know, but this is top-tier B&W territory…

OK, so there’s no escaping the fact that this makes the PX8 more expensive than the Apple AirPods Max, Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 Wireless (at $349 / £300 / AU$549) and the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM5, which retail for $399 / £380 / AU$550. 

And considering the Sennheiser over-ears boast double the stamina of the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 (and the XM5, while we’re on the subject) that pricing starts to look a little ambitious…

Only, it’s not. Why? Because the sound quality makes them an exceptional buy, that’s why. 

The case also feels premium, with a compartment for the two cables included (Image credit: Future)

Bowers & Wilkins review: features

  • Excellent Music app support for full, multi-room ecosystems
  • Simple, dependable physical on-ear controls
  • ANC and transparency profiles cannot be customized

While the Bowers & Wilkins PX8’s spec sheet is good rather than excellent (the ANC profiles comprise on, off, or pass-through, while the EQ tabs involve bass and treble tabs only, so anyone hoping for full five-band EQ settings is out of luck) what the PX8 do, they do very well indeed. 

There’s wearer detection and auto-standby (which sends them into low power state after 15 minutes of inactivity) both of which can be turned on or off, and the left quick action button can be customized depending on whether you want to scroll through ANC profiles or access your voice assistant of choice.

A nice touch here is the ability to set the streaming quality (using your mobile data or Wi-Fi) and also the wearer sensor, the latter at low, normal, or high. If the PX8 fail to pause when you lift an ear cup to talk to a colleague, switch it to high. Find them pausing unexpectedly during use? Switch it to low. 

Perhaps we might have hoped for more than the ‘standard’ 30-hour battery life, although this is better than both the Bose QuietComfort 45 and Bose Noise Cancelling 700, which offer between 24 and 30 hours. Also, a quick 15 minute charge gets you seven hours playback – a claim we tested and found to be true. 

There’s a traditional approach here when it comes to on-ear controls, but they work beautifully, with volume, playback and power buttons on the right ear cup and a ‘quick action’ button on the left, which we use to quickly switch ANC. On this, the ANC here is good, nixing all but the noisiest of buses and aeroplanes overhead as we walk into the office. 

The transparency mode is a more subtle affair entirely and seems a little reticent to actively filter in ambient sounds quite so eagerly as the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, say. That said, there is a marked difference in sound pass-through – you will hear the outside world – but we would have dialled it up a tad, if it were possible.

The big ace up B&W’s sleeve is its Music app, which now greets you with “spaces” and can group your Bowers & Wilkins products accordingly for multi-room audio when you get home, similar to that offered by Apple Home or Amazon’s Alexa app. 

The B&W PX8 come toting Bluetooth 5.2 plus support for aptX Adaptive (one of the best Bluetooth codecs available today) as well as aptX and aptX HD, and the six mics in total (four for ANC, two for call-handling) make for clear phone calls during our testing. 

These are over-ears you’ll want to be seen in – ideally, on a yacht in the Maldives (Image credit: Future)

Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: design

  • Beautiful metal accents (especially on the tan colorway)
  • Drivers are angled to the wearer’s ear
  • Clamping force is perfect 

For flair and beauty, Bowers & Wilkins has hit a home run with the PX8. These are cans to be seen in – as we said in our hands-on review, the PX8 would look right at home around the neck of a bright young thing on a business-class flight to Milan. Adjusting the headband is a smooth, silent experience, and the soft ample ear cups rotate to lie flat around our neck on the rare occasion they’re not being worn over your ears. 

Yes, the PX8 echo the current inclination towards designs with cups that rotate to lie flat but do not fold up, including the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 (over the older, foldable Sony WH-1000XM4, say). 

And also as you’d expect, these cans come with a hard-shell, fabric covered carry case, but this one is particularly nice since the supplied cables (USB-C to USB-C for charging, USB-C to 3.5mm if your device has such a port) have their own little compartment with a magnetized lid, situated in the dead space beneath the arc of the headband. 

The comfort levels are fantastic across the course of our listening too, with ample padding on the underside of the headband and a clamping force that’s as perfect as we’ve ever felt; not too tight but reassuringly secure. 

All in all (and at the risk of overstating ourselves) we really really like the premium look and feel of these headphones.

The earcups are fairly chunky, but inside the drivers are at an angle, so that they’re parallel to your ears, not to the outside of the earcups. This is designed to help with timing and precision in the sound.

The metallic physical buttons on the right ear cup are cool to the touch and they work beautifully.  (Image credit: Future)

Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: sound quality

  • Supreme agility and musical clarity
  • Beautifully expansive and detailed
  • Weighty but lithe bass

Switching all ANC profiles off, we stream Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ on Tidal and the gentle, pensive guitars sound as three-dimensional and energetic as we’ve heard in a wireless design. Petty’s vocal is central and detailed through an agile and expansive midrange. Backing vocals that come in on “Ventura Boulevard” are distinctive, layered, and given extra room to be impactful. 

Plucked strings in Sukhwinder Singh’s Haule Haule and snaking percussives have us tapping our feet and are just two of the expertly handled musical strands within the PX8’s cohesive, vibrant mix. Our playlist continues to Bol Na Halke Halke by Mahalakshmi Iyer and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and if you get a chance, we urge you to listen to it. Hear how the intro snakes from behind your left ear to over near your right, scraping your cerebellum and occipital lobes en route. Note also the dynamic build from near-silence to a cacophony of flutes, drums, strings and Iyer’s bell-like vocal through the sparkling treble.

They’re just as expressive and weighty through the low end, too. Stream Stormzy’s Mel Made Me Do It and the unusual backing track comes alive. Yelps, drum snaps, statements about “not flying economy” and jangled rhythmic sonic articles spring forth from the juicy grime riff, but it’s all underpinned by a regimented, crisp performance through the bass.

How do they compare to the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless? Well, given the price gap ($350 / £300 / AU$550 versus$699 / £599 / AU$1150) it’s hardly fair – the PX8 are double the price. But we do it anyway, purely because the Momentum 4 Wireless are a five-star proposition at the level. 

The extra energy, depth, emotional oomph and overall immersion in excellent-quality music place the PX8 in a different league – which is understandable and this statement is not intended to put the Sennheiser headphones down. What we’re saying is, if your budget stretches to this level, the sonic gains are worth it in the sound-per-pound stakes. The sound here is exceptional – but you do have to pay for it. 

The PX8 on the right, PX7 S2 on the left… for both sound and looks, the PX8 is better.  (Image credit: Future)

Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: value

  • High-end sound and build at a high-end fee
  • ANC could be better for the level though 
  • Standard rather than excellent battery life

Look, this is not budget-friendly territory (remember, the PX8’s sibling, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 will set you back a more palatable $399 / £379 – aka $300 / £220 cheaper) and the minor omissions from the PX8’s spec-sheet do impact the value here given their high-end pricing. 

Which omissions are we referring to? The lack of five-band EQ tab (you only get to customize the bass and treble), the fact that the three ANC profiles are limited to on, off and pass-through (and are not tweakable), the good rather than excellent battery life… at this level, it is our job to nitpick. 

The PX8’s two strongest suits are glorious looks and exemplary sound quality. If these two features are of paramount importance to you, the PX8 represent some of the best noise cancelling headphones you can buy – but you do have to pay top dollar for the privilege of ownership. 

Should you buy the Bowers & Wilkins PX8?

Bowers & Wilkins PX8

Attributes Notes Rating
Features Good battery, standard rather than excellent ANC and EQ optimization 4/5
Design They’re quite simply stunning 5/5
Sound quality Zealous yet expansive and emotional; a sonic treat 5/5
Value Forgive the standard battery life and ANC profiles and the PX8 still represent excellent for sound 4/5

Buy them if…

Don’t buy them if…

Also consider…

If our Bowers & Wilkins review has you considering whether to buy them or to scope out other wireless over-ear headphones, take a glance at these three competing cans at the level.

Prices – Bowers & Wilkins PX8:▼