The P3s’ midrange was a thing of beauty. They find that middle ground between too warm and rich, and too thin and analytical. Using the same two headphones for comparison, the Audio-Technica ATH-W3000ANVs were richer in the lower midrange while the AKG K-701s were drier and ever so slightly peaky in the upper mids. The P3s’ midrange balance most closely resembled the Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors (IERMs). The IERMs had better inner detail and overall resolution, but the two were more similar than different within the critical midrange between 500 and 3000 Hz.
Upper frequency response through the P3s is slightly rolled off when compared to the high frequency response of the Etymotic ER-4Ps or the Ultimate Ears IERMs. But unlike some earphones that exhibit serious treble truncation, such as the Urbanears Bagis (which take a dive at 2 kHz) the P3s’ treble roll-off is more gradual, which is why the P3s have far more air and imaging specificity than the Bagis. The P3s never sounded hooded, but they did lack some upper frequency air. This lack of air combined with the P3s’ full-bodied midrange and bass, gives them a slightly darker than neutral harmonic balance. Peaky pop recordings, such as much of the Beatles early catalog, were far more listenable through the P3s than through the Etymotic ER-4Ps or AKG K-701s.
Imaging through the P3s was very good but not quite reference quality. The P3s’ spatial recreation reminded me more of an open-back than a closed-back headphone because the soundstage width extended laterally outside my head. The overall soundstage size was nearly as expansive as the AKG K-701s, but localization was not quite as specific. The P3s’ image size was larger than most earphones: the P3 produced a definite outside-of-the-head experience when compared with the Shure SE-215 or the Etymotic earphones. But when put up against full-size headphones such as the ATH-W3000ANVs the P3s didn’t have quite the same level of depth, dimensionality and overall palpability. Listened to alone, without the A/B comparisons, the P3s deliver more than enough spatial info to be completely involving. During the review period I spent far more time enthralled by the P3’s spatial presentation, listening to the subtleties of the new stereo mixes from the Beatles 44.1/24 USB stick “box” set than I had intended because the P3s are so much fun.
I would call the P3s a medium-high resolution transducer. I never felt as if I had to strain to hear low-level details, but the last nth degree of inner detail wasn’t quite as easy to grasp as through the Ultimate Ear IERM or Audio-Technica ATH-W3000ANV. The resolution differences were primarily due to slightly less high frequency air from the P3s when compared to these two competitors.
Dynamic contrast through the P3s was quite good, but was not quite as forceful as the ATH-W3000ANVs or HiFiMan HE-300s. Given its lack of isolation, you will get maximum dynamic contrast in a home listening environment where external noise walla can be contained or eliminated. Out in the world, with the noise floor constantly changing, don’t expect the same levels of dynamics as in a controlled, lower-noise environment.
I keep coming back to the Beatles catalog as reference tracks for bass resolution and intensity. Take “Dr. Robert” for instance. Paul’s bouncy bass lines come through with excellent pitch definition and I swear I can even hear ever-so-slight differences in the volume/attack of each string as his bass run works down to the low E string on his bass guitar. On “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” the bass drum and bass co-exist beautifully without any of the bass energy obscuring the transient details.
The P3s handled Benjamin Zander’s recording of Mahler’s 1st Symphony [Telarc] with almost as much suavity as the far more expensive Audio-Technica ATH-W3000ANV full-size, over-the-ear headphones. Especially in the midrange between 500 Hz and 2500 Hz the P3s were especially adept and even a smidgen more neutral and harmonically balanced than the ATH-W3000ANVs.
The Hard Road Trio’s three part harmonies on “Beacon” from their new album Monticello [CDBY] showcased the P3’s combination of resolution and musicality. The two female voices and one male voice melded beautifully yet still retained their individuality in the mix. While I hesitate to use the word “musical” to describe the P3s because for many audiophiles that is synonymous with euphonic and subtractive colorations, the P3s are musical due in large part to their very un-hi-fi-ish harmonic balance. B&W’s designers avoided the temptation to add extra sparkle in the 2kHz to 4kHz region. While this makes for a less spectacular and detailed headphone, the final result is a more honest and musically satisfying transducer.