Bowers & Wilkins is best known for its big, booming audio products (for example the four-foot-tall 800D speakers used at Abbey Road Studios). For the company's first-ever headphones, though, it's gone small, with the compact P5 headphones. They'll probably cost more than the player you'll plug them into, but that investment delivers no-compromise audio in a portable package.
The design is a sleek combination of form and function, with a well-padded headband connected to the ear cups using elegantly curved wires. A rugged industrial-looking joint lets the cups swivel freely for maximum comfort. The rectangular ear pads are mounted at an angle, with a plush covering that seals out most external noise and seals in your music (making it much less likely your commuting companions will shiv you when the train goes into a tunnel). The whole shebang folds flat for easy storage. The P5s come with a quilted carry bag that strikes me as a tad feminine, but to each his own-my pair is none the worse for wear after tossing them in my briefcase for a month.
I listened to a wide range of audio with the P5s-everything from classical to jazz to rock, DVD movies and audiobooks, and admire the way B&W balanced the sound to suit multiple musical preferences.
Playing Miles Davis's "So What" produced a natural-sounding crispness in the high-hat and piano parts, a live-performance feel to the brass and an indisputable authority in the plucked bass. Melissa Etheridge's hard-driving "Fearless Love" has rock-friendly boom in the tom-toms, and the vocals maintain smoky power even through a pocket-sized player.
Those who feed their ears via iPhone or iPod get a bonus here, with a volume control and microphone built into the audio input cable. You don't have to be an Apple acolyte to get full value for your B&W P5 investment, though, even at an upscale $300.