There was a time when brand loyalty meant something — especially in the early days of audio consumer electronics. You heard from friends how well a piece of audio equipment worked or went and checked it out yourself at a local audio store — to bad there’s few places for that these days.

But the end result of all this was that you were attracted to a brand, not to the product itself, because you trusted what the brand would do for that product. Which is the case, even today, with Bowers & Wilkins. I’m just now opening the box holding their P3 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones, but am expecting great things (especially at a $199 retail). We’ll see.

The first thing I notice is that the semi-hard case is a bit smaller than that needed to hold a full-sized headphones. Probably that’s because the P3 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones fold up inside it, but also because they are are a bit smaller than full sized. Though I’m expecting full-sized sound from them.

Taking the P3 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones out of the case and unfolding them, I can see that the hinged headband design is extremely well made. These hinges aren’t going to fail after you folded/unfolded these a few times for sure. But even more intriguing are the ear-cups. They seem a tad loose.

So I try giving one a soft tug and it pops off in my hand — turns out that it’s held on by magnetism. The ear-cup is nicely shaped but bland inside — looks like all the tech is inside the cavity which it covers up. While the inside looks smooth, the minor venting visible bespeaks the ultra-linear neodymium magnets inside. Not that you can see the damping or air flow techniques employed for the speaker diaphragms to ensure acoustically realistic sound. But we’ll get around to listening in a bit, which is a lot more fun that talking about them.

Continuing to look inside the ear-cup’s cavity, I can see that one of the two lengths of the audio cord (which terminates in a 3.5mm jack) is routed inside and plugged into a socket. This tells me that should the audio cord fail, I can replace it with a similar one and so not have to junk the P3. It also means that I can replace the audio cord with one that has a larger plug, should I not want to use the included adapter on the existing one (there are those who feel that adapters “dirty” the signal transmission).  But from Bowers & Wilkins point of view, this might be because they include another audio cable — one that has a remote control and mike built in. That makes them more useful for on-the-go use; wearing these outdoors might elicit a few stares in the era of the earbud, but so what.

I tease the ear-cup back over the cavity and it locks on. Now I’ll play with the headband a bit so that I have a good fit. This takes a few minutes and I’ll have to remember what I’ve done, since you have to compress the headband prior to folding the P3 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones, should you want to return it to the case.

I plug the headphone jack into my computer and bring up some B52’s through iTunes — mostly because I want to see how the electronic drums register. I can’t find any fault in the smoothness of the midrange, the intensity of the bass or in how the vocals are coming through. Good stuff. Switching between some audio books and tunes, overall I’m finding that the P3 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones provide a smooth response. Plus they make favorites seem “new” again because you can discern nuances that were being buried when wearing inferior headphones. I also played some Boston to see how the shrill electric guitar riffs would hold up. Pretty darn well, is how.

Since these headphones are deemed “mobile,” I guess I should try them outside as well. But since there’s no active sound dampening, I do expect some surface noise to “bleed” through. Surprisingly, it doesn’t, so guess the combo of ear-cup fit and fabric is working well here. I do notice that you have to increase the volume of the audio source when outside to compensate for surface noise at times — this can plays havoc with classical music passages when wearing crappy ear-cups — not the case here. It’s smooth sailing all the way.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★★½

Excellent

Bottom Line:

Overall, the P3 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones makes wearing a pair of earbuds as desirable as being poked in the eye with a stick.  Bowers & Wilkins say the PS is for “mobile” use, but they’re an additional part of my home theater and computer audio sections now. If the Brits had attacked the colonies with headphones like the P3 instead of guns, we’d all be happily drinking tea right now.

Pros

  • Specially designed ear pad fabric
  • Available in black or white


Cons

  • Some might find the cost prohibitive for mobile use

 



Marshal Rosenthal

 
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.