The ear-cushion foam has an open-cell structure that easily compresses under pressure. How well these foam pads will hold up under long-term use is up for conjecture. If you plan to use your P3s day-in and day-out, I suggest buying a spare pair of ear pads. Also during warm weather workouts, the pads’ soft absorbent qualities could lead to some eventual funkiness as the fabric retains your perspiration byproducts. I wonder if the pads are washable…
If isolation from outside noise is high on your list of must-have attributes you can cross the P3s off your audition list. The P3s do little to distance you from your environment. Sure, there’s some attenuation from the foam ear pads that muffles upper frequencies, but the P3s do little to reduce outside noise levels in the lower midrange and bass frequencies. Runners and outdoor exercisers will appreciate the connection with the outside world. Subway and airplane passengers will find the P3s less satisfactory. When I wore the P3s at a recent visit to the dentist, they made it difficult to hear the dental hygienist’s voice, but the other sounds in the office were quite obvious.
The P3s’ removable cable is thin, rubbery, and quite flexible. It exhibits some microphonics in the first 17” prior to the union of the left and right side cables, but at moderate listening levels this wasn’t a distraction. The iPod-compatible cable has a built-in microphone and special iPod–compatible tip, while the “regular” cable has a standard stereo mini-plug and no control functions. For most of my time with the P3s I used the regular cable.
Since the P3s came with the iPod cable installed I had an opportunity to switch cables. The job was simple once I figured out the P3 ear pads were removable and the attachments for the cable were nestled under the ear pads. While you must use some care during the re-attachment so as not to bend the connections, the system seems robust and should survive multiple cable swaps. The cable sits in a curved channel that also serves as protective strain-relief.
Although the P3s do fold to reduce their overall bulk, even when folded they take up a lot more space in your bag than typical earphones or custom-fit in-ear monitors. When ensconced in their hard plastic case the P3s occupy about 3” by 5” by 7” of territory and definitely will not fit into your pants pocket unless you wear overalls.
In a time when even $30 earbuds have excellent fit and finish, the physical quality of the P3s still deserves a mention. These are elegantly executed earphones. You can’t tell from photographs, but the black finish on the outside of the headband and cups is rubberized, which gives it a unique look and feel. The P3s’ overall design is minimalist and efficient without feeling cheap.
• Decent bass without going overboard.
• Detailed midrange.
• Sweet extended high-end.
• Fine dynamic contrast.
• Smooth, well-balanced sound.
If I had to describe the B&W P3s’ sound in one phrase, it would be clean, clear, and ever so slightly on the dark side of neutral. In many ways the P3s’ overall harmonic balance reminds me of a pair of B&W 800’s; there’s a sense of ease and overall composure, so that even at high volume levels the P3s never come unglued or sound out of control. Also like the B&W 800 speakers the P3 headphones sound better when paired with a beefy amplifier. The April Music Stello HP-100 dedicated headphone amplifier delivered more forceful bass and greater dynamics than the April Music DP-1’s built-in headphone section, so that I used the Stello HP-100 as my amp of choice for the majority of my P3 listening tests.
Although the P3s sounded best through the Stello HP-100 headphone amplifier, because they have a sensitivity of 111 dB even my iPod Classic and iPod Touch amplifier sections had no trouble driving the P3s to well above my own personal high volume threshold. The main difference through the iPods was a loss of energy at the frequency extremes, where the treble lost some extension while the bass definition and dynamics were diminished. MP3 player owners won’t be disappointed by the P3s’ performance out in the field, but to hear the P3s at their full potential requires something that can control and drive their 30mm Mylar diaphragms with more authority than a tiny MP3 player chip amp can provide.
So how much bass can the P3s produce? As I mentioned earlier, the fit will play a part in how much bass energy you hear. For me the P3s’ bass was pretty much spot on. Compared with the bodacious bass of the Audio-Technica ATH-W3000ANV the P3s’ bass isn’t as extended or “big,” but the P3s do produce some “push” and they give the listener a sense of bass weight and power. The P3s produce more bass, using the same Stello HP-100 amplifier, than do the AKG K-701 headphones. In comparison the AKGs sounded too lean with a bit too much leading edge and too little follow-through while the P3s preserved a better sense of bass bloom, dynamic weight and power.