Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review: A lot of upgrades at no extra cost

·Senior News Editor
·10-min read
Billy Steele/Engadget

Bowers & Wilkins might be a name many associate with high-end home audio gear, but the company has been steadily chugging along with headphones too. Its latest model, the Px7 S2 ($399), is a completely overhauled version of the PX that debuted in 2019. Bowers & Wilkins tweaked the design while enhancing the active noise cancellation (ANC) and re-tuning the audio for new 40mm drivers. At every turn, this new model is a worthy upgrade over its predecessor, and you won’t have to pay more for the improvements either.

Design

For the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins borrowed elements of both the original PX and the Px7 that contribute to the refined look. The company also slimmed down the overall shape and opted for more cushion in the earpads – all while trimming the overall weight. Finer touches like a silver rim where the earcup meets the earpads gives the S2 a more premium look than its predecessor. The textured surface on both the earcups and across the top of the headband enhances the aesthetic as well.

Physical controls remain, which garners no complaints from me. The truth is buttons are still more reliable than touch controls, even on the headphones that get the swipes and taps nearly perfect. The best touch controls are never 100%, but a button you have to press always is. On the back of the right earcup, there’s a power slider that doubles as the Bluetooth pairing control. Just below, a multi-function button is flanked by the volume controls. This center button accepts single, double and triple presses for play/pause, playing the next track and playing the previous track respectively. When you’re receiving a call, one press accepts while a press-and-hold for two seconds will reject it. Pressing this center button once will end a call as well.

On the left side, there’s a single Quick Action button. By default, it cycles between noise cancellation, Pass-Through (ambient sound) and off. However, if you don’t mind using the company’s app to make that change, you can reassign this button to activate your voice assistant of choice. Unlike a lot of headphones, holding the multi-function button won’t trigger Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant.

When it comes to fit, the Px7 S2 are among some of the more comfortable headphones I’ve tested recently. I have a big head: I take my New Era caps in 7 ⅝. So, it can be tough for a set of cans to remain comfy after an hour or two of wear. The S2 fit tightly on me, which is essential for effective noise cancellation, but it never became too much. Not once did I feel like the rim of the earcup was leaving a mark around my ears, thanks to the updated cushion on the earpads. This isn’t always the case.

Software

Bowers & Wilkins Music app
Bowers & Wilkins Music app

The Px7 S2 are Bowers & Wilkins first set of headphones to work with its Music app. Previous models are compatible with its Headphones app, but that software only offers access to basic settings, displayed battery life and provided a collection of soundscapes for relaxing. The Music app has much more to offer as it supports B&W’s speakers: the Formation line, the Panorama 3 soundbar and the Zeppelin.

First and foremost, the software allows you to tweak the EQ settings on the Px7 S2. Unfortunately, the options here are very limited. There are sliders for treble and bass, but nothing for mids or any further fine-tuning. Like the Headphones app, this one still displays a battery percentage and gives you the option of using the software to select ANC, ambient sound or to turn both of those off. You can also manage the priority of the two devices Px7 S2’s multipoint connectivity allows to sync with. As I mentioned, there’s the option to make the “Quick Action” button on the left earcup summon your voice assistant rather than switch between noise settings.

Then there are a couple of handy power and audio management options. First, there’s an automatic standby control that puts the headphones in a “low power state” after 15 minutes of inactivity. Next, there’s automatic pausing powered by the Px7 S2’s built-in wear sensor. The company says you can activate this simply by lifting one earcup, and it gives you the ability to tweak the sensitivity with three settings (Low, Normal and High). During my tests, I actually had to rotate the earcup down towards my neck to trigger this. Completely removing the headphones worked just fine, but the other method could use some fine-tuning. Both the automatic pausing and the standby feature can be turned off if you don’t want to employ them, so there’s no pressure to use either one.

Bowers & Wilkins is already planning an update to the software that will add an in-app music player. This is already a thing for the company’s speakers that are compatible with the Music app, but soon you’ll be able to link a number of streaming services to spin your audio from the same app that organizes your headphones settings. Currently, the app supports Tidal, Deezer, Last.fm, TuneIn Radio, Qobuz, Soundcloud, NTS Radio and Dash Radio.

Sound quality

The Px7 S2 feels less like a successor to the Px7 and more like a completely new set of headphones. The host of changes here combine for a more than worthy upgrade over the 2019 model. There are a few gripes, but on ANC performance and sound quality, the Px7 S2 rivals the best headphones you can buy right now.
The Px7 S2 feels less like a successor to the Px7 and more like a completely new set of headphones. The host of changes here combine for a more than worthy upgrade over the 2019 model. There are a few gripes, but on ANC performance and sound quality, the Px7 S2 rivals the best headphones you can buy right now.

Among the big improvements on the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins says it built an “all-new acoustic platform” powered by fresh 40mm drivers. The company says these custom-designed units offer low distortion and more accurate reproduction, positioned at an angle in the earcups to keep things sounding as natural as possible. Indeed, Bowers & Wilkins has constructed a truly immersive soundstage that envelopes your ears. The bass is nice and punchy while highs provide depth and vocals cut through even the most chaotic genres.

The Px7 S2 excels with hard rock like Gojira’s Magma and Deftones Ohms. When either band is going all out, you still get finer details like texture in the distorted guitars and the subtle nuances of the drum kit. And it remains a wall of sound throughout, never seeming compressed down to a mess of noise. Softer genres meet a similar fate as Chris Stapleton’s combo of southern rock growl and bluesy guitar picking are nice and thick on top of his backing band. Even 1999’s emo classic Clarity from Jimmy Eat World sounds atmospheric and full. Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers showcases the S2’s bass response well, providing some low-end punch while vocals remain crisp and clear among synths, piano, snare and other sounds. Kick drum and deep synthesizer tones get equal room to operate on songs like “N95.” It will be interesting to see if Bowers & Wilkins further refines its sound profile on the upcoming Px8 because what’s here is already impressive.

When it comes to ANC performance, the Px7 S2 is quite good there as well. We’re not talking Bose or Sony levels, but Bowers & Wilkins isn’t far off. The company made big changes to noise cancellation on the S2, using its in-house tech to do the heavy lifting without affecting overall sound quality. It also upgraded the microphones that monitor both the output of the drivers and any environmental noise. The result is some impressive blocking ability, even with things like human voices, which some headphones struggle to counter. I had no problem tuning out the clamor of two kids at home for the summer when it came time to work. Ditto for constant noise like a sound machine or the dishwasher.

Pass-Through, the company’s moniker for ambient sound or transparency mode, gets the job done, but it could use some refinement. Compared to the best natural sound for this feature, Apple’s AirPods Max, the Px7 S2 allows you to hear some of the outside world, but there’s no mistaking that you still have headphones on. Environmental noise is muffled and even when there’s no audio playing it’s not the best for trying to have a conversation.

Call quality

Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review
Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review

Nearly every headphone company touts improved call quality on new models these days, but the actual results can be hit or miss. For the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins changed both the positioning and the angle of the two voice microphones while boosting noise suppression. The company says these tweaks will allow for better performance “even in the noisiest environments.” Thankfully, those claims mostly hold true.

The person on the other end said I sounded as if I were holding my phone up to my face rather than wearing headphones or earbuds. More often than not, headphones make you sound like you’re on speaker phone, but that’s not the case here. They also noticed the Px7 S2 was adept at cutting background noise, like a blaring TV I had on. Even with all of that, I still wouldn’t recommend these as a great choice for regular video or voice calls due to the fact that the ambient sound isn’t that great and I could feel myself getting a bit shouty at times.

Battery life

Bowers & Wilkins promises 30 hours of battery life on the Px7 S2, but the company doesn’t specify if that’s with active noise cancellation turned on or not. With ANC active, that figure would put this model on par with a lot of the best noise-canceling headphones you can currently buy. Some do more and some less, but the Px7 S2 doesn’t woefully miss the mark on its stated figure. What’s more, at the 30-hour mark of what I’d consider regular use – a mix of ANC and transparency mode for music and calls – these headphones still had 33 percent in the tank according to both the company’s app and the Bluetooth menu in macOS.

The company improved its quick charge feature on the S2, adding two more hours worth of play time when you plug in for 15 minutes. That’s now seven hours compared to five hours on the original Px7. A full charge from zero will take two hours, so if you find yourself empty, this short top off will get you quite far.

The competition

The Px7 S2 feels less like a successor to the Px7 and more like a completely new set of headphones. The host of changes here combine for a more than worthy upgrade over the 2019 model. There are a few gripes, but on ANC performance and sound quality, the Px7 S2 rivals the best headphones you can buy right now.
The Px7 S2 feels less like a successor to the Px7 and more like a completely new set of headphones. The host of changes here combine for a more than worthy upgrade over the 2019 model. There are a few gripes, but on ANC performance and sound quality, the Px7 S2 rivals the best headphones you can buy right now.

Price-wise, the Px7 S2 stacks up with the latest flagship model from Sony, the WH-1000XM5. However, Sony’s new gem offers a lot more features for the money, including handy Speak-to-Chat that automatically pauses the audio when you talk and both activity- and location-based sound settings that tweak the audio without you lifting a finger. Sony also outperforms Bowers & Wilkins when it comes to noise cancellation, though the gap narrows when it comes to overall sound quality. I still give the edge to Sony for its pristine details and support for both 360 Reality Audio and LDAC on top of its DSEE Extreme upscaling tech. Bowers & Wilkins upcoming Px8 will probably be better competition for the M5 when it arrives later this year, but the company has already confirmed a $549 price tag for that set.

If you’re looking to save some money, and design isn’t a primary concern, you might consider the Bose QuietComfort 45 as an alternative. Last year, Bose finally released an update to one of the most popular headphone models. Improved ANC is the star, but clear and balanced audio, long battery life and trademark comfort are there as well. The QC45 lacks some polish – there’s no automatic pausing and the multipoint connectivity wasn’t seamless during my review. They’re $329 at full price though, which is a considerable savings over the Px7 S2.

Wrap-up

When most companies update an existing set of headphones, the refresh is modest at best. With the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins has basically created an entirely new product. This is no iterative update as the S2 showcases considerable improvements to both ANC and overall sound. A design overhaul takes things a step further, and though these headphones could use a bit of polish, they stack up well with flagship models from other companies. You won’t get a truckload of features here, but Bowers & Wilkins has nailed most of the basics, including the two biggest challenges for headphones. And it did that without raising the price, which is always an excellent finishing touch.

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