The B&W P3 is the second full-size headphone in the B&W line, alongside the P5 headphone (click here to read the review) and the C5 earphone (click here to read the review). Priced at $100 less than the top-of-the-line P5, the P3 shares many of the P5’s attributes, such as a removable/replaceable cable and Mylar diaphragm drivers. There are two primary differences between the P3 and P5. First, the P3s use smaller 30mm driver diaphragms as compared to the larger 40mm diaphragms used in the P5s. Second, the P3s provide ear pads clad in what B&W terms “bespoke acoustically transparent cloth” and that use more memory foam to make a tighter seal with the ear, while the P5 provides larger ear pads that are covered in soft leather and that arguably offer better overall noise isolation. The P3’s comfortable on-ear design allows some outside sounds in, making it ideal for situations where you need to know what’s going on around you.
Designed to be portable with its folding lightweight design, the P3 offers listeners an alternative to noise-isolating earphones or bulky over-ear cans. Does the P3 deliver the level of sound quality upon which B&W has built their well-deserved reputation? Most definitely. Thrifty audiophiles who’ve been lusting after the just-outside-their-budget P5 headphones may find the P3 checks all the boxes on their wish lists while still leaving money in their pockets.
• Folding portable on-ear headphones with closed back design.
• In-line remote to control playback and adjust volume on iPod, iPad, and iPhone (with iPod cable).
• Built-in microphone on remote for receiving calls on an iPhone (with iPod cable).
• Custom-made, ultra-light acoustic removable/replaceable fabric ear pad covers.
• 30mm Mylar® diaphragms and ultra linear neodymium magnets.
• 2 cables included: 1 detachable straight cord with stereo mini plugs (3.5mm on player end, 2.5mm on headphone) and a detachable mic/remote control cord with stereo mini plugs (3.5mm on player end, 2.5mm on headphone) for use with iPod, iPhone, or iPad.
• Protective hard plastic carrying case included.
• A hard plastic case.
• Two cables—one with a standard stereo mini-plug, the other with an iPod/iPhone/iPad/ mini-plug and remote controls for iPod/iPad/iPhone.
B&W’s first earphone, the C5, taught me a lot about fit, because it was, for me, an earphone where there was a very fine line between a loose fit (which yielded inadequate bass) and an overly tight fit (which made the sound bass-heavy). Happily, B&W’s on-ear P3 headphone is much more forgiving when it comes to fit. Sure, for optimum performance the P3s’ need to fit well, but the sonic differences between a bad fit (pretty much impossible), an okay fit, and a perfect fit are less pronounced than with the C5’s in-ear design.
The P3 headphones employ an adjustable headband with over 1 1/2” of sliding extensions on each side. The connecting pieces between the band and the driver units are rigid steel loops that hold the driver units so they can pivot about 35% on a vertical plane. The band has no provisions for lateral adjustments, but the loops have some flex to supply a lateral shift if needed to fit your head.
The headband exerts some inward pressure, and the greater the inward pressure the more perceived bass you will hear. If you want to hear what the bass increase would be like if more pressure was applied, merely press in on both earpieces slightly—the bass will increase in proportion to the inward force used. If you prefer the sound with more pressure you could wear a skullcap (which will push the ear cups down tighter on your ears). You could, but I do not recommend it, bend the headband to make a tighter seal, but this could affect the sliding efficacy of the extenders.
Athletes who are looking for earphones for active workouts may find the P3s don’t stay in place quite as well as an in-ear such as the Etymotic ER-4P. Especially if you spend much of your workouts on your side or in a prone position, the P3s can shift around. However, when I was vertical no amount of head-shaking while on a treadmill could unseat the P3s.
The P3s’ ear pads use a memory foam material that actually molds to the shape of your ears. I noticed that every time I wore the P3s, the bass would improve during the first several minutes of use as the ear cups’ seal became tighter as the foam slowly adapted to my ear shape. Readjusting the P3s after fifteen or twenty minutes of wearing-time I found that small changes in headphone position changed the bass response so I could dial-in the bass.