Like a long-awaited sequel to your favourite film, it has taken B&W four years to release a successor to the P3 on-ears.
As the name suggests, the B&W P3 Series 2s are revised editions of the original P3s, which received five stars when we first reviewed them in 2012, but lost one star when faced with competition in the form of the Philips M1s.
B&W is currently marking the brand’s 50th birthday and have released three different products to celebrate the occasion.
The P3 Series 2s – the brand’s most affordable on-ears – now sit alongside the premium P9 Signature and P7 Wireless models introduced earlier this year.
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Build and comfort
So, what’s new? In the name of performance, B&W has produced a small drive unit that uses a unique damping system that's claimed to better control diaphragm movement.
And instead of sticking with the same material that lined the headband and earpads of the P3s, the Series 2s are now elegantly clad in sheep leather like the larger P5 and even larger P7s.
In reality, the P3 Series 2’s size is more for small pockets than small people.
Ultra compact, they keep the petite, foldable frame of the originals, although everything from the aluminium connectors to teabag-sized ear pads seems durable and well made.
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It doesn’t mean they’re not lightweight, though. Weighing just 130g (as much as a small jar of marmite), the B&Ws are as little a burden as you could hope for from on-ears.
When carrying them around, they’re only slightly heavier thanks to the elliptical hard shell case that’s supplied in the box.
Also in the box are two 3.5mm jack-ended cables: one attached with a remote compatible with Apple products, and another with a ‘universal’ remote that claims to work with the rest of the smartphone and tablet world.
In line with other B&W headphones, the cables snake up through each ear cup, so swapping them requires popping out the magnetic ear pads.
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The original P3s were knocked down to four stars when the more insightful Philips M1s came along, and considering even better versions of that model now exist (the two-time Award-winning M1MKIIs), B&W’s claim that the P3 Series 2s are its ‘best sounding affordable headphone’ had better be true if they are to depose the Philips.
There’s no question they offer an improvement over the P3s in some areas, as you’d expect from engineering this far down the pipeline.
They produce a similarly warm, refined and easygoing sound but one that’s more direct, clear, and refined in the higher frequencies.
They make more of a meal out of the slow-burn synthesized saxophone in Bon Iver’s __45__, better capturing its wheezing texture, while putting an even brighter spotlight on Justin Vernon’s suave, gospel-like inflections.
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They reveal more about the timbre of the twanging banjo, and the multiple high-pitched trumpet-sounding harmonies (split, layered and manipulated by audio production software) are that bit more textured.
Down low, we’re struck by familiarity. B&W headphones tend to favour a bass that’s rich and full, so it’s no surprise that the song’s underlying deep hum has a potent presence through the P3 Series 2s, sounding all the more poignant for it.
Despite the Philips M1MKII’s bass leaning towards richness over most rivals, the B&Ws do so even further.
That doesn’t upset their tonal balance, though. We like how its depth adds to the menace in the inexorably droning bass in Brooke and Will Blair’s Pour A Floor from the Green Room OST.
It doesn’t just have fullness either, but also the agility to get behind the melodic bassline in Fleetwood Mac’s Hold Me.
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It’s here in our playlist we notice that in the search for smoothness the Series 2s appear to have traded a bit of get up and go.
There’s a lack of attack to the Mac song, the B&Ws not quite sounding like they’ve given themselves over to its merry melodies. In comparison, the Philips sound more upbeat and willing to push things along.
The Philips deliver more detail across the frequencies and prove more dynamically subtle too, as playing Clint Mansell’s The World Beyond the High-Rise from the High-Rise soundtrack reveals.
The B&Ws afford a lovely sweeping flow to the strings and there’s never a dull moment in the monumental composition. The Philips headphones, meanwhile, have the greater finesse and meticulousness to show that the instruments are always on the move.
Generally, their bigger, wider canvas, which better allows the orchestration to sound as expansive as its title suggests, is filled with the intricacies of the strings and woodwinds that the B&Ws can overlook.
While this round in the Philips vs B&W battle once again is awarded to the former, the P3 Series 2s certainly aren’t bad co-representatives for the brand’s half-century milestone.
If you’re after an easy listening sound from ultra-compact headphones that are of a classier calibre than the Beats of this world, they’re a good on-the-fly option.
We simply feel that the company’s real headphone stars lie higher up its range.
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See all our B&W reviews