When I tested the Px7 S2, I had no doubt that this was a new favourite in the all-important premium class around €400. At that level, you’re up against giants like Sony and Bose, and while B&W may not be at the top of the noise reduction league, it has significantly better sound quality. And the noise reduction in any case so good that the sound quality of the music becomes more important.
The buttery smooth midrange combined with the hard hitting, rich bass and overall high fidelity really seduced.
Px8 with improved materials
It has always been communicated that there would be a top model: the Px8, with even more exclusive materials and better drivers.
Inside the ear cups we find specially designed and angled drivers with carbon fibre diaphragms, which should provide lower distortion and even higher sound quality.
More attention has also been paid to detail, for example the B&W logo on the cups is diamond cut, and both the ear pads and headband with memory foam, covered in soft leather.
The noise reduction itself is like that found in the Px7 S2, which has been improved since the 2019 edition of the PX7. Including a brand new digital processor, developed by B&W themselves.
There are a total of six microphones in the headphones, two of which are used for speech, and four for noise reduction.
A microphone inside each cup listens to the headphones. One on the outside of each cup listens to the outside world, and the sum of these is interpreted by the DSP, which produces the counter signal to the noise – and reduces it as best it can.
The speech microphones and external noise-cancelling microphones are positioned differently from the 2019 model to better pick up the voice and eliminate ambient noise during calls.
The noise reduction can also be reversed to let the noise in instead. So called ambient sound or transparency. A separate button for noise processing sits on the left ear cup, and each function can be turned on or off – there’s no intermediate step between zero and maximum noise cancelling.
The Px8 has the same shape as the Px7 S2, and the same comfortable padding and headband. I really like the fit, and especially if you have a small head, these headphones will fit better than many of the competitors. Even my son, who is barely five years old, can wear these – with almost no issues with the fit.
The passive noise cancellation is good, and better than top models from Sony and Bose. But since I tested the Px7 S2, I’ve also become acquainted with the likes of the Focal Bathys and Mark Levinson No.5909, and I have to say they hit the mark even more than B&W when it comes to passive noise reduction.
But B&W is probably a notch more pleasant for spectacle wearers.
The best drivers
Bowers & Wilkins has done a lot of work on their drivers, and the Px8 features the best yet. The size is the same as the Px7 S2, at 40mm. But where the diaphragms are biocellulose (think artificial skin and face masks) and resin in the Px7 S2, the choice has fallen on carbon fibre in the Px8. It’s the same material used in the tweeter of the expensive 700 speaker series, and it makes the diaphragm both rigid and lightweight. The result should be an almost perfect piston shape as the diaphragm is pushed back and forth by the magnetic system.
You get the best possible sound over Bluetooth with the aptX adaptive codec. However, this is only to the benefit of Android users, while Apple users will have to make do with AAC. Which is still better than the default codec for Bluetooth (SBC).
In addition to Bluetooth, the headphones can be connected with an analogue 3.5mm cable to USB-C, and also digitally via PC or Mac with USB. The maximum resolution is then 24-bit/48 kHz.
The Bowers & Wilkins Music app lets you call up the voice assistant and also adjust the sound using the tone control. This is bass and treble only, there is no multi-band equalizer. Better than nothing, but I personally prefer more EQ options.
One new feature that has come since I tested the Px7 S2 is that you can now play music from streaming services through the Music app. This works well enough, but when I play from my favourite Tidal playlist, for example, playback stops after each song and I have to manually start the next one.
The sound of Bowers & Wilkins Px8
If you like the sound of the Px7 S2, you’ll love the Px8! The sound signature is very similar, meaning a creamy and rich midrange, with a warm and massaging bass that conjures up the gold in the music. Whether you’re into Tiësto’s bass beats or get your kicks from classical music, the bass foundation of the Px8 is really awesome!
Vocals are rich without being overdone, and the level of detail up in the tonal range is even slightly better than with the already excellent Px7 S2. The sound signature itself is very similar, but you hear that there is even better tone quality on the Px8. But is the difference big enough?
With the digital cable plugged directly into the PC, the sound gets even better and the difference between the Px7 S2 and Px8 grows a little. You appreciate the better drivers more as the soundstage grows and details emerge more naturally.
You don’t have to go back more than a few years before there were barely any wireless, noise-cancelling headphones in this price range. I’ve long missed proper hi-fi alternatives, and so you can argue all you like that Bluetooth is still compressed sound and will never be proper hi-fi. But it’s all about getting the very best out of it, and so creating the best headphones possible will never go amiss.
Fortunately, there have been some alternatives on the market lately. First the B&O Beoplay H95, then Apple’s AirPods Max. Which in turn has inspired many more. The Px8 is thus not without competition in this price range.
However, the Px8 has better dynamics than the H95 and sounds more inviting than the AirPods Max to my ears.
I previously mentioned the Focal Bathys, which actually cost a bit more than the Px8. These have quite a different sound reproduction. Where the B&W has its rich, creamy sound, the Bathys are instead playfully light-footed, with a lightning-fast transient response. They’re even airier in the midrange, with the potential for even more lifelike treble response (if you tweak the EQ a bit). Many might fall for the warmer sound of the Px8, but the ‘clear starry sky’ performance of the Bathys really stands out. Then again, the Bathys cost quite a bit more.
The voice quality of mobile calls and video conferences is the same with Px8 as with Px7 S2. It works just fine. My voice comes through clearly to the receiver – although the noise cancelling does create some artefacts here and there. The sound of the user’s voice is slightly lower than with a few other headphones, and both the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bose NCH 700 sound better during conversations. In other words, it’s the music reproduction you’re paying for here.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px8 is a set of very well-made headphones. The sound is very good, and especially seductive is the creamy, warm midrange and the lush bass. The music takes on a glow like few others.
Noise reduction is good, although there are others that do the job better. When it comes to comfort, few can threaten them, and the fact that they can also be used by people with smaller heads is a good thing. Even spectacle wearers will be able to stand wearing them for longer periods at a time.
The Px8 has several competitors in its price range, the eldest perhaps its little brother the Px7 S2, which at a 40 percent lower price is just as good at everything but sound quality. And which is close on that score too.