Countless times, we’ve heard from manufacturers that even when they offer a colourful finish for one or some of their products, the most-sold colour is still often black. New Zealand hi-fi brand Perreaux offers its products in any colour you like… and still, even during the period when all colour options cost the same, the most popular colour was, you guessed it, black.
Well, if Bowers & Wilkins can offer the Px7 S2e in a colour as lovely as the Forest Green (pictured) and the most-sold variant turns out to be Anthracite Black, there’s frankly no hope for colourful hi-fi’s world takeover.
Design & Build
The British brand is no stranger to producing stylish, or indeed colourful, hi-fi, as its ‘Midnight Blue Metallic’ 800 Series Signature loudspeakers, silky, honeycomb-shell Formation Wedge wireless speaker, and even the previous Px7 S2 (no ‘e’) iteration demonstrate. The all-new Px7 S2e in the green finish we acquired (read: begged for) for this review are the latest reminders of Bowers’ debonair design. In fact, they make the current class leaders in the premium wireless noise-cancelling space, the Sony WH-1000XM5, look and feel rather… ordinary.
It can often be difficult for wireless headphones past a certain price level to nail perceived value, but everything about the Px7 S2e’s look and feel points to a premium pair. Not only is the Forest Green colour a breath of fresh air – autumnal, if we had to pick a season – but the earcups’ textured finish, gold accents and cylindrical, proudly ‘Bowers & Wilkins’-stamped, badge also combine to make a very visually desirable product. We’ve also had eyes on the aforementioned black finish and can assure you they’re super smart too, so have no reason to believe the other Ocean Blue and Cloud Grey options aren’t too.
Bluetooth? Yes, 5.2
Codecs SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive
Battery life 30 hours
Finishes x 4
The thickness of the pleather for the earpads and the headband’s underside certainly suggests the Px7 S2e will look after your noggin and lugs, and indeed they are comfortable – soft and cushiony, absorbing much of the headphones’ 307g weight so that they don’t feel like a burden on your head during longer wears.
They might be considered old-fashioned in a technological era where even smart mirrors and fridges sport touch-control surfaces, but we love the reliability and accessibility of the physical buttons on the earcups, too; they’re easy to locate and use haphazardly, whether you’re using the middle button on the right earcup to play/pause a song, or the single button on the left earcup to cycle through ANC modes. No rage-tapping on the bus here.
Our only scribble on the wishlist would be a hinge mechanism allowing the earcups to collapse inwards so they can be easily shoved into a coat pocket, though they do at least fold flat for easier wear around the neck. This is the position they need to be in to fit in the supplied fabric hard-shell carry case, which is bag-, albeit not pocket-, friendly.
- B&W Px7 S2e vs Sony WH-1000XM5: which ANC headphones are for you?
You could argue the Px7 S2e needed to look pricier next to their competition… because they are pricier. They went on sale in September 2023 for £379 / $399 / AU$599, which is a premium of around 10 to 15 per cent, territory dependent, over the Sony WH-1000XM5 at the time of writing.
That makes them more expensive than other popular rivals too, namely the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 4 and Bose QuietComfort 45, although comfortably below the more premium crop of wireless ANC over-ears that has established itself in the past couple of years through the Apple AirPods Max, Focal Bathys and Bowers & Wilkins’ own Px8, all around or over £500 / $500 / AU900.
Just because we’ve chosen to lead this review with, and spend a considerable number of words on, the Px7 S2e’s aesthetic doesn’t mean that is their only talent. Or even their biggest one.
Scan down their spec sheet and several boxes have big satisfying ticks in them. Battery life is a commendable 30 hours, though arguably even more impressive is their ability to offer seven hours of playback from a mere 15-minute charge. There's support for one of the higher-quality Bluetooth codecs around, Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive, as well as both USB-C and 3.5mm cable connections (both cable types are provided in the box).
The accompanying Bowers & Wilkins Music App opens the gateway to off-unit playback and controls, allowing owners to adjust the Px7 S2e's EQ; set the left earcup button to select noise-cancelling or launch their phone’s voice assistant; change the sensitivity of the wearer detection feature for automatic pausing; or select between noise-cancelling modes ‘on’, ‘off’ or ‘passthrough’ (which lets in more of the outside world).
The Music app also offers direct access to music streaming service libraries you’re signed up to (currently Deezer, Qobuz, Tidal and TuneIn are supported, with more due to be "added soon"), though as nice and familiar as the integrated Tidal interface is on the Music app, we can’t see many people preferring it to Tidal’s own.
But none of those things represents the Px7 S2e’s biggest talent either, which narrows down the possibilities – and active noise cancellation, while decent, is not it. The ANC system, comprising six microphones working together to cancel unwanted noise for music listening and voice calling, is perfectly fine and will encase the wearer in quietude in most scenarios, even when only quiet instrumental music or indeed nothing is playing. Pesky bassy sounds from, for example, bus engines are particularly well absorbed – a big plus for those who commute or travel regularly. We do, however, find the aforementioned Sony slightly better blockers, particularly of mid and upper frequencies, while Bose’s premium wireless QuietComfort headphones are in a noise-rejecting league of their own.
As those who save the last bite of steak for their last mouthful will understand, we’ve saved the best thing about the Px7 S2e – their biggest talent – till last: sound quality.
Of their five-star predecessors, we described performers that were predominantly analytical – “sophisticated, neutral and detailed”. The sound had matured since the original Px7, though a little enthusiasm had been sacrificed, ultimately leading us to prefer the spacious, livelier Sony XM5.
Bowers says that its latest efforts here boast "significant advances in overall sound quality" compared to the outgoing Px7 S2, a key contributor to that progression being "extensively upgraded DSP" thanks to the learnings from the flagship Px8. The company says it took our (very minor) criticisms of the Px7 S2 onboard to refine the sonic formula, too, and believes it has opened the sound up a little.
Considering the success of that pair of headphones and the carrying over of the same 40mm custom driver, it isn’t wholly surprising that the Px7 S2e sound familiar to their predecessors in a lot of ways. They remain tremendously detailed for wireless headphones at this level, able to surface finer details and communicate subtle dynamic shifts to an extent that is rare for their price. Play Anohni And The Johnsons' Rest and the Px7 S2e offers a wide window into the cathartic gospel-rock track, providing the transparency to get under Hegarty’s soul-spilling vocal delivery and the dynamism to carry just as much feeling in the barraging intervals of prog-rock.
How the headphones render lower frequencies remains a highlight too, with bass depth and punch in head-bopping supply here. The pulsing beat underpinning Gunship's Empress Of The Damned throbs away beneath the accompanying synths and pop vocals by Canadian singer Lights, which come through with a lushness that laps up the electropop production. Bowers has not only aired out the soundstage slightly here for added openness and coherency but also smoothed the presentation somewhat. It’s sweeter and easier to listen, and none of their predecessor’s clarity and tonal balance has been relinquished either.
Feeding them something more sonically stripped-back, like Gregory Alan Isakov's Watchman, we can just sit back and enjoy the music as the Bowers embrace the richly saturated production; the jangly acoustic textures, mellow piano notes and Isakov’s relaxed vocal the sonic equivalent of a warm hug.
On a sliding scale bookended by ‘analytical’ and ‘energetic’, the Px7 S2e would still edge toward the former, but they’re now, to B&W’s credit, much closer to the Sony’s musicality while setting a benchmark for detail at this level.
Ultimately, Bowers has succeeded in tweaking its five-star formula to squeeze even more performance out of its mid-range wireless headphones. With class-leading insight and a more compelling balance over their forebears, not to mention a fine sense of style, the Px7 S2e are a wonderfully complete package.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read our Sony WH-1000XM5 review
Our pick of the best noise-cancelling headphones