Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review: scaling new heights
Hands down the best Bowers and Wilkins wireless headphones – but the PX8 carries a considerable premium over the already excellent PX7 S2, for fairly minor gains.
- Sublime build quality and materials
- Nuanced sound with exceptional detail
- Long-lasting battery and quick charging
- Not a huge step up from the PX7 S2
- Can’t listen with a flat battery
- Carries a hefty price premium
B&W knows a thing or two about top-tier headphones. So when I heard it was working on a “no holds barred, reference level” pair, you can bet my ears started to twitch. The Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are exactly that: properly luxurious active noise cancelling cans, built using premium materials and promising stellar sound quality.
Taking tech inspiration from the firm’s uncompromising 700 Series loudspeakers, they originally took pride of place above the PX7 S2 – hardly a middle-of-the-road pair of ‘phones, given the full five-star score – and now sit above the new PX7 S2e in the line-up.
Carbon dome drivers and cast aluminium are unquestionably high-end, but the design might look a little familiar. Is there more to the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 than a luxury finish and an equally luxurious price?
Originally published October 2022, last update November 2023: Royal Burgundy model brings DSP improvements
How we test headphones
Every pair of earphones and headphones reviewed on Stuff is used for a minimum of a week’s worth of daily listening. We use a playlist of test tracks made up of multiple genres to assess sound, and use our years of experience to compare to other models. Manufacturers have no visibility on reviews before they appear online, and we never accept payment to feature products.
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Design & build: no compromise
The PX7 S2 was already something of a stunner in the looks department, so it’s no surprise B&W has kept things familiar for the PX8. It has the same general shape, only the materials have been upgraded across the board. Fabric has been replaced with Nappa leather pretty much everywhere (even on the carry case’s zip puller), the logo plates on each ear cup are now diamond-cut, and the arms holding them in place are cast aluminium.
The ear cushions and headband are stuffed with memory foam, which makes for a comfortable fit. That’s a necessity, given the PX8 isn’t especially light at 320g – a full 70g more than Sony’s WH-1000XM5. While the ear cups have plenty of swivel, they apply quite a bit of pressure on your head. This creates a good seal for passive noise isolation but can lead to slight listening fatigue after a few hours.
These headphones simply ooze luxury as soon as you get them in your hands, whether you go for tan leather, the black version I tested, or the newly added Royal Burgundy hue. Also they may be barely a year old at this point, but B&W has already introduced a handful of PX8 special editions: the James Bond 007 edition commemorates the spy’s 60th anniversary in film, while the orange hued McLaren special edition gives a nod to the F1 racing team.
The machined metal buttons on each ear cup felt satisfyingly crisp every time I pressed one, and the textured finish on the multi-fuction playback control made it easy to find by touch alone.
Inside, the carbon dome drivers are angled for a consistent distance to your ears, which B&W says guarantees an accurate soundstage. It worked a charm on the PX7 S2, so I was happy to see the design return here.
Features & battery life: built to last
Pretty much all the physical controls are contained on the right ear cup, with just a single button on the left one for swapping between noise cancelling modes. The power switch doubles up for Bluetooth pairing, there are individual volume keys and the play/pause button’s double-tap functions can be customised through B&W’s extensive smartphone companion app.
Music by Bowers & Wilkins also runs you through the pairing process, although Google Fast Pair takes a lot of the hassle out for Android phone owners. It lets you adjust the treble and bass (no custom EQ, though) and set how sensitive the wear sensor is. Glasses wearers will quickly find that even the low setting can result in accidental pauses while walking around, yet I had no problems at all once I swapped to contact lenses. Perhaps skinnier glasses frames won’t be quite as prone to this: YMMV.
The biggest new addition is being able to play music from certain streaming services directly through the app, and quickly swap between the headphones and any other B&W kit you might own. Deezer, Qobuz and Tidal make the cut right now, with the latter two offering Hi-Res playback.
As with the PX7 S2, Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless codec wasn’t ready for prime time while the PX8 was in development – but it still supports aptX Adaptive for 24-bit playback from supported devices. Bluetooth 5.2 also does the standard SBC and AAC codecs. I had no stutters or dropouts from a week of listening, even while walking through places with heavy foot traffic like train stations and airport terminals.
There’s no 3.5mm port (something that was also absent on the PX7 S2), but a USB-C to 3.5mm cable is stashed neatly in the hard shell carry case, along with a charging cable. Just keep in mind wired listening is a no-go if the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 runs out of battery. The headphones themselves don’t fold to fit inside: only the ear cups twist flat for stowing, so it’ll still take up a fair bit of space in your travel bag.
Battery life is on par with Sony’s best and ahead of the Apple AirPods Max at up to 30 hours between charges with ANC enabled, but a step behind the Sennheiser Momentum 4. Charging is satisfyingly speedy, though, with a 15 minute top-up good for around seven hours of listening time. You’ve got to check the app to see exactly how much juice you have remaining: there’s no audible report when you power the headphones on, just a chime that kicks in when you’re dipping into the red.
Sound quality & noise cancelling: carbon viber
Under the skin, the PX8 goes above and beyond the PX7 S2 in a few key areas. It uses carbon dome drivers, rather than biocellulose ones, and has a 20mm voice coil instead of a 15mm one. Carbon fibre adds stiffness and reduces harmonic distortion at the top end of the frequency range, which should result in better overall resolution and exceptional sound detail.
Guess what? It absolutely does. The PX8 are a delight to listen to, with superb clarity and a balanced tone that rewards critical listening. There’s no musical genre that isn’t done justice: even my back catalogue of early naughties bassline house was suitably energetic, with a deep low end that doesn’t sacrifice definition in pursuit of impact.
All parts of the frequency range flow blend neatly together, with none of the noticeable dips, peaks or gaps in the upper-mids found on lesser headphones. Complicated arrangements and multi-layered tracks are given room to breathe, with an expansive soundstage and impeccable detail.
Interestingly, the Royal Burgundy version introduced in late 2023 brought an entirely new acoustic tune, on top of a bespoke leather treatment inspired by fine wine and some rather spangly gold detailing. According to B&W, it was meant to squeeze every last speck of detail from those bespoke carbon cone drivers.
Tested side-by-side to an older pair that had yet to be updated with the new DSP settings (something existing PX8 owners will be happy to hear is just a firmware update away), the difference was noticeable. Music suddenly had even cleaner, more precise vocal frequencies, while hi-hats and percussion were given just a little more bite. Bowers’ engineers haven’t messed around with bass response, which was already brilliantly well-judged.
There wasn’t a night and day difference between the original PX8 and the PX7 S2, even if the extra level of precision did explain at least some of the PX8’s higher asking price. The improved DSP gives the more premium model some breathing room – although the PS7 S2e also benefit from some tuning magic, so the gap might not be as wide as B&W first thought.
ANC is unchanged from the PX7 S2, with six microphones (three in each ear cup) delivering subtle cancellation designed to reduce background distractions, instead of muting the entire outside world. Think the low-frequency rumble of an air conditioner or a plane’s engines during a flight, rather than passing traffic or chattering colleagues.
Sony and Bose remain my top choice for commuters, as they cope better with higher frequency distractions. The focus here is very much on the music, with ANC adding very little colouration to the sound and letting you concentrate on the details without needing to crank up the volume.
Bowers & Wilkins PX8 verdict
Was there ever any doubt the PX8 would deliver on B&W’s top-tier promise? These headphones are absolutely a step up from the PX7 S2 on the materials front, and also have the edge sonically. Originally we were talking very small gains, but a DSP re-tune has hammered home just how much clarity is available on tap here. Judged solely on sound quality, I could now happily add an extra star to its rating.
The PX7 S2 set a stonkingly good baseline, though, and the PS7 S2e go even further. For many, spending almost twice as much again will be a case of diminishing returns.
We can’t blame B&W for getting in on the trend for beautifully constructed wireless headphones that cost a small fortune. Point the finger at Apple and the AirPods Max instead, for starting it in the first place. The Bowers & Wilkins PX8 is a wonderfully crafted alternative that well-heeled listeners are sure to love – but PX7 S2 owners shouldn’t feel like they’re massively missing out.