Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: which high-end headphones are better?

With headphones, going wireless used to mean inferior sound quality. But as shown by the Apple AirPods Max, Mark Levinson No.5909 and Bowers & Wilkins Px8, wireless cans can deliver superb sonics.

Now there's another pair of headphones to add to that list: the Focal Bathys. The French firm's latest pair (pronounced "Bath-ees") are even more expensive than the Bowers & Wilkins Px8, but are they better? Here we'll compare the two, category by category, and see which pair are more deserving of your hard-earned.

Future

(Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: at a glance

  • Both have high prices, but Focal Bathys are a little pricier
  • Bathys are more comfortable with bigger earpads; Px8 look more luxurious
  • Both have equally excellent noise-cancelling
  • Bathys sound more open and spacious, and are better for long listening sessions

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: price

The B&W Px8 are part of a new breed of wireless over-ear headphones whose sights are firmly set on the high-end. Like the others already mentioned, they're made of premium materials, boast an array of advanced features and give pride of place to sound quality. As such, they cost a bomb. £599 / $699 / AU$1150, in this case.

But just as the Px8 price eclipses that of the AirPods Max, so the Focal Bathys pulls some similar oneupmanship on the Px8. The Bathys' price? £699 / $799 / AU$1199.

That makes both pairs a lot pricier than the more consumer-friendly Sony WH-1000XM5, Bose 700 and Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless. But as we'll see, each pair more than justifies its price.

**Winner: Bowers & Wilkins Px8**

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: design

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: design

(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to design, the B&W Px8 leave no stone unturned. Like plenty of other B&W devices, they're luxurious without being showy, more of a Bentley than a stretch Hummer.

The key ingredient setting the Px8 apart from the cheaper B&W Px7 S2 is the Nappa leather found on the headband, earcups and earpads. This is soft to the touch, adding a real luxurious feel. Combined with the cast aluminium arm structure – with its precision engineering – it makes for a quality pair of headphones.

The Focal Bathys look a bit more serious, if a bit less dapper. But they're still pretty special for a pair wireless cans. They share their wired siblings’ sizeable ovular ear cups, and their 'Swiss cheese' hole details around a central circular Focal badge.

Their colour options are also a bit more conservative – black or silver, compared to the Px8's black or tan.

It's just a shame their buttons feel a bit plasticky and cheap. That's not what you expect from headphones of this calibre. 

For pure build quality, the Px8 edge it. Though it's worth noting that the Bathys are a little more comfortable, thanks to their more generous earpads.

**Winner: Bowers & Wilkins Px8**

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: features

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: features

(Image credit: Future)

So, specs. On the inside, the B&W Px8 are much the same as the Px7 S2, except they use a different cone material for their drivers – this gives them less distortion and more transparency.

Other than that, it's business as usual, with Bluetooth 5.2 with aptX Adaptive compatibility, four microphones for noise-cancelling plus another two for voice pick-up in phone calls and 30 hours of battery life. They charge via USB-C and tip the scales at 320g.

They also play nice with B&W's recently revamped mobile app, which can now channel music streaming services without you having to open their apps separately. Plus it lets you adjust the equaliser settings for your B&W headphones.

Not to be outdone, the Focal Bathys app lets you customise the EQ settings, adjust the noise cancelling and choose which voice assistant to use. It also shows your battery status and which Bluetooth codecs you're using, and you can use it to light up the Focal logo on your cans (and if so, how brightly). But there's no baked-in support for music streaming services. 

Speaking of Bluetooth codecs, the Bathys also support aptX Adaptive, and if you prefer to listen wired, they come with a 3.5mm headphone jack and cable. But like the Px8, the headphones need power to work even in wired mode.

They're heavier than the Px8, at 350g. And battery? A Px8-matching 30 hours, though of course this depends on which Bluetooth codec you use and how loudly you set the volume.

**Winner: Draw**

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: noise-cancelling

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: noise-cancelling

(Image credit: B&W)

On the noise-cancelling front, there's very little to separate the two pairs. Both are excellent.

The Px8 do a good job at nullifying background sound, though the odd sudden noise like a pneumatic drill does impede on your listening. But that will happen with almost all noise-cancelling headphones.

The Bathys' performance is equally accomplished, minimising a plane's engine sound to little more than a murmur. But it's worth noting that both pairs are bettered by cheaper rivals – the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, though these can't match the Px8 and Bathys for sound quality.

Speaking of which...

**Winner: Draw**

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: sound quality

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: sound quality

(Image credit: Future)

It's not only in build quality that you can see where your money's going. These headphones sound superb, too.

The Px8 excel in terms of clarity and insight. Performance is a real step up from cheaper – though still far from 'cheap' – rivals from the likes of Sony, Bose and Sennheiser. They even make the Apple AirPods Max sound a little humdrum, which is no mean feat.

But they do struggle at lower volumes. Dial it down, and the energy and sparkle tend to tailor off. We've noticed a similar problem with B&W's speakers, so it's not exclusive to the Px8.

But their midrange is crisp and clear, with plenty of detail, and they hold their composure even when tracks get more complex and demanding.

The Bathys retain the same warm, full-bodied tonal balance that Focal's wired headphones have perfected so successfully. Their soundstage is spacious, and they boast plenty of dynamic subtlety and rhythmic ability. Their mids and lows in particular have a richness that makes for such a warm, welcoming sound.

The Px8 might be a little tighter in the low end, but they're less insightful, spacious and sprightly. It's close, but the Bathys' easygoing balance makes long listening sessions more enjoyable. Add in a more expressive midrange and greater fluidity in dynamics, and they just pip it.

**Winner: Focal Bathys**

Focal Bathys vs Bowers & Wilkins Px8: verdict

Well. Two excellent pairs of wireless headphones, two absolute treats for the eyes and ears. But which should you go for?

If your budget doesn't quite stretch to the Focal Bathys, you'll be more than satisfied with the B&W Px8. Their design is a class ahead, and they go toe-to-toe with the Bathys in terms of specs and noise-cancelling.

The Bathys are a little comfier though. And if you want a more spacious listen that lends itself to longer listening sessions – and you have the funds available – splash the cash, you won't regret it.

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.

  • jiminhno
    Pretty much what I thought, I already have the Focal Bathys, they are very good, the review is pretty spot on with the build quality the buttons being plastic is a tad bit of a let down, other than that the build is fantastic, the sound is more of a reference focals sound profile, very natural sounding, spacious, detailed.

    I've also Pre-ordered the PX8, I should receive them by end of the week, my wireless headphones journey started with the B&W P7 Wireless, I still have them, I had other B&W PX headphone, also and absolutely hated its sound quality, compared to the P7 Wireless, so I'm hoping these PX8 are a successor to them rather than the later PX versions, in very much looking forward to testing these PX8 out vs the Focal Bathys, and my other favorite the Amiron Wireless.
    Reply
  • jiminhno
    Received the PX8 today been listening all day comparing them to the the Focal Bathys, the PX8s have a more exciting expressive engaging sound, especially with Bass, and those tracks that you expect a hit, in those certain music tracks, the bulld of the PX8 is better overall especially the button's which is a cheap looking on the Focal Bathys, the sound is totally different to that of the Focal Bathys, which are a more reference sound, more natural sounding, and more detailed, but it all will depend on the music your listening to, genres etc, personally the PX8s are more of what the major of folks will want in a wireless headphone, they have fantastic sound quality, especially the expressive bass, and are beautifully built, if you are after a more reference Focal sound get the Focal Bathys, if you want a more exciting engaging listening experience the PX8, why not get both 😂 like me
    Reply
  • Iulian
    Apples and oranges... to my ears, the sound quality of the wired Bathys is similar to what I hear through Sennheiser HD660s via IFI zen dac 2. So close, that I keep one tied to the Macbook Pro in the office and the other for mobile and home. Maybe the localization of the instruments in space is better on the Sennheiser, but the rest of the general feeling is that they are similar. Compared to Sony WH-1000XM5, the Focal Bathys is cleaner to my ears. After using one full month the Sony in the summer, I can say that they made my ears sweat a lot and I felt the contact point of the head band all the times. I had to constantly try to ease and move the headset to stopped being annoyed by the sensation of having something pressing the top of my head. The Focal does not produce this annoyance at all. I also wear glasses all the times and all of the three headsets are perfect for my type of user. I sold the Sony and kept the others. I am using the Bathys with Tidal (Samsung Android , Macbook Pro and Ipad Pro, both wired and wireless) and they sound excelent for EDM and Rock (my type of music). For meetings they are also great, as they are for movies and sports (when you are the only one in your family watching european football... you have to wear the headphones).
    Reply